CULTURE AND GEOGRAPHY IN NIAS ISLAND
Nias is an island of the North West of the Indonesian archipelago (also called Nusantara). The Island is a first-class celebrated surfing destination with many Surfcamps and home for international competitions. But, this is not the only treasure this place holds. In fact, Nias possesses a unique and unusual cultural legacy kept by their natural residents (“Ono Nihas”, as they call themselves) almost intact since prehistoric times.
Niassians were primarily traders and warriors. Records state that they have been trading with Aceh (North Sumatra) since the late 17th century. They use to trade pigs since it was their main production. Yet, much of the original culture, still appreciable today, has to do with defensive strategies towards enemies, rituals for boys to become warriors, chantings for encouraging the soldiers, etc. Even now, the local community in Nias lives according to the standards of their ancestors. They respect a series of time-honored rules that organize social life in a highly hierarchical system of castes. To reach a high level in these stratus a man should be able to throw big celebrations, with food and entertainment for thousands of guests.
This culture has a strong oral tradition, writing has not been developed among the Niassians. All in all, they speak Malay-Polynesian, but there are 3 distinct dialects spoken in the island that differ in many words and morphemes (smaller units inside the words).
Nias is the biggest island that faces the west coast of Sumatra. It is surrounded by a series of smaller islands like Senau and Safau, Hinako and the Batu Islands. The Indian Ocean hit the island from the West making it one of the best surfing spots in the world. On the other hand, this is one rare example of these few paradisaical places where you can also profit of the mountain environment.
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If you head to the middle of the island you will find a tropical forest, home to a very particular, endemic fauna that differs from the ones observed in any other part of Indonesia. Although it is a complicated area for settling, most towns were set up here for defensive reasons against aggressors. There is a clear difference between the way people organized their houses between the North and the South.
Read our article about one of the most important war ritual, the passionate Stone Jumping; and find out more about the Niassians and the main characteristics of the emblematic architecture of the island in our article about the Native People in Nias.