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The province of Daerah Istimewa Aceh (D.I. Aceh) is westernmost province of the Republic Indonesia with the Indian Ocean to the west, the Strait of Malaca to the east and the Sea of Bengal to the north. In the southeast Aceh shares the border with province of Sumatera Utara (North Sumatera Province). Aceh covers an area of almost 60000 sq. km including well over one hundred island, mainly on west coast. The inland is dominated by the mountain range Bukit Barisan with plateaus Tangse , Gayo and Alas. The highest peaks are Leuser (3466 m), Ucop Molu (3187 m), Abong-Abong (3015 m), Peut Sago (2780 m) and Geureudong (2295m). A coastal plain dominates the western and northern coastal areas. The Province has several lakes of which the laut tawar in central Aceh (60 square km), Aneuk Laot in Pulau Weh (Weh Island) and Laut Bangko in south Aceh are most well-known. The big rivers Alas and Tripa are popular among white water lovers


Aceh has tropical climate with dry season between March and August, rainy season between September and February. Local variation occur as Aceh is big province with central highlands and both a west and coast. Most rain falls in southtern part, averaging 1000 to 2000 mm per year. Temperature in the coastal areas range between 23 and 32 degrees centigrade with relative humidity between 65 and 75 %. The year isd often divided into westen and eastern seasons. Western season has mainly winds from the west, which make the waves are big on the west coast. Eastern season has mainly wind from the east and waves are smaller on the west coast. This is importand especially for the west coast and far north. Western season normally during the second half of the year and eastern season normally in first half.


The province of Aceh is the westernmost of all 27 provinces in the Republic of Indonesia. It consist of two municipalities i.e. the Capital Banda Aceh, and town of Sabang in Pulau Weh (Weh Island). The rest of the province is devided in nine regencies (Kabupaten), with a capital each :
The regencies are divided into total 136 sub regencies (Kecamatan) and the sub regencies divided into total 5463 vilages (Desa).
The correct name of Aceh is " Daerah Istimewa Aceh " ( D.I Aceh) with means " the special province of Aceh". Only Aceh, Yogyakarta (in Java) and Jakarta (capitall city of Indonesia) have this special "DI" status. It gives the Acehnese the autonomy to control religion and culture according to their own preferences. This safe-guard the special character of culture and religion in Aceh. The head of the province is governor. On all governmental level, four pillars of power are important. Civilian, religious, cultural and armed forces (military and police). They are allways represented wherever you go. The head of the village is in Aceh called "Keuchik" (In Indonesian "Kepala Desa"). You are likely to have pleasure of meeting many of them or even staying with them, when traveling in remote areas. They can be very helpful.


Aceh is often called "Serambi Mekka " (The Frontporch of Mekka). No wonder that the dominant religion in Aceh is Islam (Moslem). Of Aceh's more than 3.5 million inhabitants, 96% are Moslem and remainder are Christians; Bhuddish, Hindu etc. Even though the Acehnese are very strong believers and often called fanatics by other Indonesian, They are very open minded and understanding towards other people's religious needs.Churches and temples are always found in towns of Aceh. In 1990 there were a total of 2359 Mosques, 6408 Meunasah (Moslem house of worship), 2955 Mushallas (simple place of worship), 91 church and 6 Budish Temples. Islam literally means peace, surrender, obedience and submission. Islam (Moslem) stands for complete submisson and obedience to the only God, Allah. Islam (Moslem) claims the right to govern and control every aspect of lives of its believers. It recoqnizes man's material, intellectual and emotional urges and the need to fulfill them. Yet, in achieving these goals, Allah can not be forgotten. With that mind, Moslem perform five obligations, The so called Five Pillar of Faith, i.e. confession of faith (Syahadat), prayers five times a day (Shalat), fasting in month of Ramadhan (Puasa), almsgiving (Zakat) and pilgrimage to Mecca if capable (Haji). At the age of seven, children start to learn the prayers and tenets of Islam and to recite from the Koran (Al Qur'an). Boys and girls start to have religious duties and obligations at the onset of puberty. Knowledge and understanding of Islam make an individual into moral being capable to distinguish right from wrong. The religious leaders who teach the children ( Teungku/TGK) make children into rational beings. Communion with Allah can only be achieved through prayers five times a day. The title "Teungku (TGK)" is given to prominent religious leader. Title " Teuku (T)" is used descendants of important land owning families during the sultanate and title "Cut","Cut Nyak" and "Po Cut" are used for female of these fammilies.


Over 80 % of the population of D.I. Aceh is involved in agriculture. 4.22 % of the land is designated for agriculture. 2.25 % for plantations, 3.30 % for small farm, 0.30 % for river fishing , 7.80 % for grass field. Lakes and rivers cover 6.58 %, town and villages cover 0.99 % and 74.56 % rest of aceh is covered by forrests. The main agricultural product is rice, with a production of around 1.100,000 ton per year. Other important products are : Peanuts, 18.825 ton; Green peas , 5.841 tons; Sweet potatoes, 25.215 tons; Cocoa, 118 tons; Rubber, 15.232 tons; Coffe, 34.338 tons; Clove, 6219 tons; Nutmeg, 2809 tons; Pepper, 33 tons; and Betel nut 6.670 tons. Aceh has long coast line and fishing industry is important. The main agricultral export commodities are rubber, coffe, copra, palm kemels and wood. Other natural resources are oil and gas, but also cement, gypsum, coal,iron, lead, zinc, gold, and copper. The oil and gas fields of Aceh have an especially great impact on the whole of the Indonesian economy. The most important oil and gas fields are Rantau Panjang, Rantau Kuala Simpang and Lhokseumawe, all on the east coast.


The cultures in Aceh are strongly influenced by Islam, but there are still traces of Hinduism, which was former religion in Aceh. The Hindu flavor is mainly noticed in traditional ceremonies. There are three mayor ethnic groups in Aceh; Acehnese, Gayo and Alas. The Acehnese inhabit mainly the coastal areas of the province. However, in west and south Aceh, they intermingled with Minangkabaus, which reflected in language, design and customs. The Gayo and Alas groups are numerically smaller and inhabit the highland of Aceh. The Gato to the north and the Alas to the south. Their languages are distinctive and related to the Batak languages in Sumatera Utara (North Sumatera Province). In Aceh there are 50 types of dance, 20 kinds of music, 10 form of literature and 9 tradition arts, some of which are described below. Try to get copy of " The Craft of Aceh " by Barbara Leigh.

Music and Instrument

Acehnese music performed on tradition string, wind and percussion instruments. Most of them seem to have Chinese origin, but at least the "arbab" is indigenous. The "arbab" is a three string zither made of wood from the jack fruit tree. The strings are made of very strong bambo, rattan, or from horse tail horse. One example of wind instrument is the "seurunee kalee ", which is a single reed wood-wind with one hole in the back and seven in the front. Other include various kinds of bamboo fluetes, such as "buloh peurindu", "bansi" and "suling". Gong are made of brass or dried goat skin and are sounded with padded wooden hammers. They come in three sizes and called "gong" , "canang", and "mong-mong". The "Rapaii Pasai" is tambourine made of goat skin. The "Rapai Pasai", for example, was introduced by the Sanudra Pasai Kingdom as an instrument to call citizen to gather. The "Tak Tok" is made of bamboo and is very simmilar to Javanese "angklung". The players of traditional instruments are usually men, while women sing and play tambourines. A traditional band consists of leader, four or five players and one or two boy sopranos.


In old times dances were either performed at the courts for sultans and their guest or in the villages as entertainment after hard workk in the fields. Today dances are mostly performed at special government functions, but in many areas local dancing traditions and groups carry on the heritage. Each region of Aceh has own version of dances or its own indigenous ones. The costumes used are basically long sleeved tops and sarongs wrapped around the waist and colors are often brilliant. Women usually wear head pieces, but the use of jewelry depends on the aspect of life that is depicted by the dance. The Acehnese dance all have certain characteristics in common. Islamic values are often spread in Aceh through the dances. The dances deal with daily social activities. All Acehnese dances are performed by a group and are dynamic with stepping feet, beating of chests, hips and shoulder. Starting slowly the rytm increases during the dance. Songs and poem are always recited by dancers themselves.
Some of the popular dances are :

Ranub Lampuan (Aceh Barat/West Aceh)

"Ranub" is Acehnese for betel leaf. It is traditionally used for chewing after meals and is served as a way of showing respect to guest. "Serving betel leaf to the guest" as a dance has become a popular way of welcoming prominent guest to Aceh and also at opening ceremonies . Nine women perform to the music from the "seurunee kalee" instrument. At the end of dance , the performers offer "sirih" (betel) to the guests who are supposed to receive it. However no one forced to chew it !

Peumulia Jamee

A similar dance to the "Ranub Lampuan" is the "Peumulia Jamee". The difference is that the betel is omitted, and the music make one imagine exotic Arabian night and a song is sung, starting with the Arabic greeting "Assalamualaikum ..."

Seudati (Aceh Barat/West Aceh, Aceh Utara/North Aceh)

The "Seudati" dance existed in pre-Islamic times, but became a way to spread Islamic value to the Acehnese people. The name can de derived from the "syahadatain" which means confession of faith by saying " Kalimah Syahadat". "Seudati" is performed by 8 male dancers commanded by a leader ("syeikh") and his assistant ("apet syeikh") . Two narattors read a poem. It is danced in standing position and starts with "saleum" (salam). Only stepping feet, snapping fingers and beating of chests accompany the movements. The Seudati Inong is the same dance, but performed by women


"Saman" the most popular dance in Aceh and the dance that has become well-known abroad with the name "Thousand hands". It has its origin from the Alas ethnic group and is normally performed to celebrate the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad S.A.W. and other important occasions. Eight to twenty male performers kneel in a row on the floor and make different kinds of torso movements accompanied by songs, clapping hands, slapping chests, slapping hands on the floor, etc. The songs are praises to Allah or prayers. The dance starts with slow movements and increases its tempo gradually to great speed and finally come to a sudden stop. There are many different regional versions of "Saman"

Meuseukat (Aceh Barat/West Aceh)

"Meusekat" is almost the same as "Saman". The only difference is that "Meusekat" is performed by women and originates in west and south Aceh.

Pho (Aceh Selatan/South Aceh, Aceh Barat/West Aceh)

The word "pho" derives from "pheubae po". "Peubae" means weeping and "po " is an honorable indicator. The dance was developed from the old dance "bineuh" and originated in the 16th century in south Aceh. It was beginning performed at the death of Sultan or noble man as an expression of loss and sadness. Over the years it started to appear in the "manoe pucok" ceremony ("bathe" and "new bud" respectively) in the days before a wedding when the bride is bathed. During this ceremony the bride is seated in full traditional attire and accompanied by her parents. After a "peusejuk" ( a cooling ceremony) the dancers appear. They led by a "syeh" who produces songs that decribes the life of the bride from birth until marriage. It is about how much the parents have done, how much they have spent on her and how they have taken care of her. Now the moment of departure has come and the bride will leave her parents for a new life with her husband as wife and mother. the newlyweds are also blessed and wished a prosperous future. The songs are often so sad not only the bride and parents, but also the participans, sob togeter


"Laweut" was developed in early days of Islam in the Pidie area of northern Aceh and means a kind of prayer to the Prophet Muhammad S.A.W. " Lawaeut" is also called "Seudati Inong" for its similarity to the "Seudati" dance and that it is performed by women, eigh of them with a "syech" ( leader). Normally it is performed in a standing position, accompanied by song and sound of snapping fingers, stepping feet, beating thighs and clapping hands from dancers

Tarek Pukat

The "Tarek pukat" dance depicts the life of the fishermen in the coastal area. This includes making nets, rowing boats, catching fish and pulling the net which actually is meaning of "Tarek Pukat". The dance is cheerful, dynamic and accompanied by songs or instruments. Each dancer has a rope and during the dance these ropes are woven into net.

Marhaban (Aceh besar/Great Aceh)

This dance was normally only used for celebration of the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad S.A.W. , but due to its popularity has begun to appear also on other occasions. There are 20 performer, 10 women and 10 men, accompanied by special tambourines. The dance is often followed by prayers to the Prophet.

Rapai Geleng (Aceh Barat/West Aceh, Aceh Selatan/South Aceh)

"Rapai" is the name of a tambourine used to accompany songs and dances. "Rapa-ii Geleng" is a dance specially developed with this tambourine in mind. The movements are almost the same as in the "Saman" dance, but the 11 to 20 male dancers handle one tambourine each, which gives the dance a very distinct and enjoyable flavor. A song with Islamic teachings accompanies the dance.

Perang Sabil (Aceh Besar/Great Aceh)

"Perang Sabil" is a new creation, composed in order to commemorate the war against foreign invaders. This very dynamic dance, accompanied by music, is performed by 8 women and 8 men. The women carrying rencongs (Acehnese blade) and the men swords ("Peudeung"). The dancers describes how the rencong and Peudeung is used in a real war and the dance itself can be hurtful enough if a dancer loses his concentration.


"Bines" comes the Alas people and is developed from the folk tale "odeni maleleng". This tale tells us about the fate of young woman committing adultery and punished by her own village people with death. The mother of girl walks crying around the body of the girl, layng on leather pad. The dance describes the grief of the mother and a sad song in local language accompanies the movements.


"Didong" is most popular Gayo dance, and dance groups of 20 to 40 men and women compete in different aspects of dance, such as song, movement and voice. It can be performed at any kind of occasion.

Ul-Ula Lembing

A dance strongly influenced by Malay traditions and very popular in east Aceh. It is performed by four couple in traditional Malay attire.

Alee Tunjang

Originally a dance for the start of the harvest that despicts traditional rice milling. Performed by four couple moving beautifully to the music from "serunee kalee" . They carry "lesung" (rice mortar) and "alu" (pestle), 2 to 3 meters long.

Daboih (Aceh Barat/West Aceh, Aceh Selatan /South Aceh)

The famous "Daboih" is hardly a dance, but merely a show of the performers ability to withstand diffeerent kinds of sharp blades. The actors stab themselves to the special sound of tambourine "rapa-ii". The show can be rather dramatic at times. Even electric chain saws can be used ! Keep away if you have a bad hearts.

Lansir Madam (Pulau Banyak/ Banyak Island)

Lansir Madam is an odd remnant from colonial era and can be described as a "Dutch Square dance".

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