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Traditional Handicrafts

Handicrafts employed many women in Aceh.

posted by davidhong

Aceh Traditional Jewelry

Below is few samples of Aceh Traditional Jewelry traditionally used by people in Aceh.

posted by davidhong

Aceh Traditional Dresses & Costumes

Standard traditional Acehnese clothing for men includes full cut black trousers, a black top with long-narrow sleeves with one botton at the neck. A silk cloth (kain songket) is bounded around the waist, and a rencong is tucked into the belt. On the head is a kupiah meukeutob topped with a gold star shaped ornament (tampok kupiah). It is bound with a woven square of silk.

The women wear gold embroidered, black trousers which are narrow at the ankle and very broad at the waist. The blouse is also embroidered, and is yellow, green or red in colour. The sarong is a women silk fabricdecorated with gold or silver thread (kain songket). This is held in place a large gold belt. On the head is adorned with an array of golden flowers with called Bungong Ok and Patam Dho or Kulah Kama. Necklaces cascade from the neck to the waist. The arms are adorned with many bracelets, and the fingers are graced with rings, too.

posted by davidhong

Aceh Traditional House

Acehnese villages usually lie in the middle of cultivated areas where the houses are hidden among the trees for shade and coolness. An older traditional house is built without using any nails. The house held together with cord or pegswhich are made too small for its hole and is kept in place by large wedges.

An Acehnese house stand on pillars which is well designed for the climate. It is composed of five divisions (rueung). 16, 20 or 24 sturdy pillars, usually 6-8 feet in height, rise perpendicularly up from the floor, providing space for air circulation and for people to move about comfortably.


Various Designs

posted by davidhong

The songs and dances of Aceh generally reflect prayers art.  Aceh's dances are dynamic and performed collectively rather than individually.

The Identity of the Acehnese Dances

In all Acehnese tradional dances red colours of stripes are clearly seen in the cloth.  The characteristics of these dances represent:(1) Islamic Value, Islam plays an important role in the life of the Acehnese people.  Besides, the dances are also the medium of communication in spreading the faith in the society. (2) Democratic.  In accodances with the democratic Islamic value, the art growing in the Acehnese society is to dealt with the daily humanism activities (3) Collective. None of the Acehnese dances is done by only a dancer; rather, the dances are always played together by a group of dancers, which describes the characteristic of the people of the Acehnese who love to work together, friendly and in unity. (4) Dynamic. The sounds of stepping feet, beating the chests, thigh or shoulders with the movements which starts slowly and gradually become faster and faster, and followed by songs and sounds of rapa'i (kind of tambourine) show a great dynamic of Acehnese traditional dances. (5) Vocal. None of the Acehnese tradional dance that has no vocal.  All are followed by songs and poems recited by the dancers.

In old times dances were either performed at the courts for sultans and their guest or in the villages as entertainment after hard work 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

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 Samudra 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 Aceh there are 50 types of dances, 20 kinds of music, 10 forms of literature and 9 traditional arts. Some popular dances are the Seudati, Laweut, Pho, Meuseukat, Guel, Ula-ula, Lembing, Rapa-ie Geleng, and Saman Lokop. Popular music forms include: are Rapa-ie, Seurunee Kalee, Rebana and Tob Daboh. Some of the popular dances are:

Ranub Lampuan
"Ranub" is Acehnese for betel leaf. Betel leaf (or sirih) in Acehnese is called' ranub'. It is a kind of vine tree which is easily found in the region. Betel leaf plays an important part in the Acehnese's life since it is used as an extra chewing after meals. Also, the leaf is also used as a sign of respect to the guest. Serving the betel leaf to guests has now developed as a kind of dance. It is very popular in Aceh and usually played "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 The dance is performed by 9 women dancers and accompanied by the sound of the traditional musical instrument of 'seurunee kalee'. At the end of the dance, the dancers come to the guests and give 'the sirih'. It should be noted that the guests are expected to take the sirih although they do not have to chew it.

Peumulia Jamee
This dance is almost the same as the 'ranub lam puan' dance. It is also performed to welcome guests. Whenever this dance is performed, the ranub lam puan is omitted. This dance is also as a symbol of hospitality. The dance is accompanied by 'seurunee kalee', and its music is reminiscent of long-gone exotic Arabian nights. The dancers sing a welcoming song beginning in the traditional Islamic fashion, "Assalamu alaikum


The "Seudati" dance existed in pre-Islamic times, but became a way to spread Islamic value to the Achehnese 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. 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" 

"Meusekat" is almost the same as "Saman". The only difference is that "Meusekat" is performed by women and originates in west and south 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. " 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 traditional musical instruments.. Each dancer has a rope and during the dance these ropes are woven into net. The dance expresses hard-work which is done cheerfully and dynamically in hope that they have a good catch.

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
"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.

Prang Sabil
"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.

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

posted by davidhong

Daily Attitudes

The exchange of greetings and pleasantries is important in the people's daily lives. Older people, particularly community and religious leaders, are treated with great deference. It is highly disrespectful, for instance, to address an older person with the word kah, for "you". The word to use is droeneuh. People of higher rank and new adult acquaintances are normally addressed as Teungku, although it refers primarily to religious leaders.

The fasting month of Ramadhan and Fridays are of high religious significance to Moslems. During the month of Ramadhan, all adults are required to fast, but without upsetting the normal daily activities. From dawn to dusk, people refrain from eating, drinking and smoking. Restaurants are usually closed during the daytime during the whole fasting month. On Fridays, male adults and children take part in the noontime congregational prayers. Some offices and shops are closed until the end of the prayers.

Strangers visiting a village, for example, would do well to at least let the village head know of their arrival. Better yet, he could introduce himself to people and get acquainted with them. When two people meet, they greet each other by saying assalamu alaikum ("may peace be with you"). The reply is waalaikum salam ("peace be with you, too"). The first to greet the other is usually the person arriving. After exchanging  those words, they usually shake hands. The same greetings are exchanged between speaker and audience at formal gatherings.

Giving or receiving something from another person is always done with the right hand. The use of the left hand is strictly taboo. So is it when raising or waving the hand to greet someone. The use of the left hand in any form of social contact, in short, is regarded an insult.

The head is the most respected part of a person's body, and to touch it is the greatest insult one could deliver to any adult person, whatever his standing in the society. It is also impolite to point at an older person with the forefinger.
posted by davidhong

The Acehnese

Situated in the Special Region of Aceh (Now called Nanggroe Aceh Darrussalam) the northernmost provincial-level unit of Sumatra, the more than 3.4 million Acehnese are most famous throughout the archipelago for their militant resistance to colonial and republican rule. Renowned throughout the nineteenth century for their pepper plantations, most Acehnese were rice growers in the coastal regions in the early 1990s. Aceh composed of multi-ethnics groups; they are Acehnese, Gayo, Tamiang, Alas, Simeulue, Kluet and Aneuk Jamee.

Majority of Acehnese are Moslem. Aceh has many different people who have been colored by the Islamic religion. Nevertheless, The Hindu/Budhist religion strongly influenced the culture long before the arrival of Islam. Still today some Hindu/Budhist influences can be encountered in current traditional through adat ceremonies, arts, customs, and everyday life.   Various faiths, such as Buddhist, Hindu, Protestant and Catholic numbered less than 4% of the population.

People living in the Aceh descended from many various tribes and ethnicities. Some physical features resemble those of Chinese European, or Indian heritages. The ancestors of Acehnese may have come from old Malaysia, Cham, Kocincina and Cambodia. The arrival of recent malay with their established culture caused many native people to move inland.

These people are now recognized as the people of Gayo, in Central Aceh, and Alas in Southeast Aceh Regency. The past sailing adventures of Acehnese across the ocean indicated that internationally established contact, especially with the emperrors of China, took place for a long time. Various gifts from China are still found in Aceh at present.

Aceh is well known as the area prossessing special autonomy in religion. This specialty is stated in the Republic of Indonesia, Prime Minister decrees No XII/Missi/1959 dated may 26 1959, which declared that Aceh is a Special Province especially in the regards to culture. Another law: No. 44/1999 about the implementation of the specialties offered to this special region was also passed by Jakarta. This laws primary cover four aspects of Aceh autonomy, namely: traditions, customs, education and religous practices when making state policies in Aceh.

Close family ties typify community life in the rural areas. The village, which in Aceh is called gampong, is the smallest administrative territory. Each gampong is led by a gampong head, who is called a keusyik. He takes care of the daily affairs of administration in the village, together with the religious, the teungku imum. The Keuchik is assisted by "Tuha Peut" or four old and highly respected assistants representing the community, and by a "Teungku Meunasah" or "Teungku Imum", a religious leader. In each gampong there is a building called "Meunasah" functioning as the gampong administration center, religious services education hall, a community hall, discussion center and meeting place for other issues of public interest.

In daily communication, the Acehnese people usually speak Acehnese and Bahasa is also spoken, though mainly in cities. In addition to the Acehnese and Bahasa, there are also several different dialects in some parts of the region. In West and South Aceh, a dialect similar to Minang is found, while in Kuala Simpang they speak a Deli-Malay dialect. In Central Aceh, people speak Gayonese, while in Southeast Aceh people use the Alas dialect. Other local dialects are found also in different areas of Aceh.

The exchange of greetings and pleasantries is important in the people's daily lives. Older people, particularly community and religious leaders, are treated with great deference.

Acehnese traditional arts contain religious, communal, democratic and heroic identity. Acehnese literature is written in Acehnese 'and Malay (Jawi) Arabic words and symbols influence the Acehnese literature in many ways. In regard to literature, the Acehnese are quite creative. Acehnese poets are able to create beautiful poetry without any early preparation. This can be seen, for example, when there is a traditional customary celebration such as a poetry contest (poetic polemics).

Since the time of Kingdoms up to the present, the life of Acehnese people has been led by the following guidance: "Adat bak poe teumeureuhom, Hukom bak Syiah Kuala. Kanun bak Putroe Phang, Reusam bak Laksamana. Hukom ngon adat lagee zat ngon sipheut."

The above expression means that questions concerning customs, or meaning of state regulations are decided by the wisdom of the Sultan and his advisors which in this case is symbolized by Sultan Iskandar Muda. Law (meaning Islamic regulations) is in the hands of religious leaders, symbolized by the great and well-known, Teungku Syiah Kuala (Syeich Abdurrauf).  “Zat ngon sipheut" means that laws and traditions are tied up firmly like substance and its nature (fish and water).

The majority of the population is concentrated in and around the coastal towns and cities, which leaves the hinterland almost empty. The coastal areas are generally livelier. The islands Weh and Simeuleu may even be regarded crowded by Acehnese standards, particularly during the years when Sabang, on Weh Island, was an international free port. Many of the other islands, however, are unpopulated.

The data of 2001 show that Aceh is occupied by 4,225,669 people. The data show that the most density area is Banda Aceh.  Because of continuing political and arm conflicts many villagers moved to coastal cities from 2000-2005; coastal cities were hit hardest by earthquake and Tsunami.

posted by davidhong
Acehnese cannons used during the first Aceh-Holland War

 Acehnese cannons used during the war

posted by davidhong

The History of Indonesia Airline - Garuda

The Acehnese community, in 1948, donated Indonesia’s first two aircrafts to help Indonesia Independence.

On January 26,1949, Indonesia’s first aircraft went into service. It could not fly over Indonesia but was on charter to the Burmese Government; Indonesian Airways, as it was called, was an airline-in-exile and the country was fighting for independence. Few airlines have had a more dramatic birth.

When almost all modern Indonesian territories were being occupied by the Dutch troops at the first aggression, Aceh was the only unconquered region. This region became the financial capital resources for the republic's struggle. In addition to being financial capital region, the spirit of sacrificing their property for the struggle rose among the Acehnese people. This attitude was shown when President Soekarno and his parties visited this region on 15 June 1948.
In a mass meeting held in Blang Padang, Kutaraja (now Banda Aceh), the capital of Aceh region, he told the Acehnese people that although the territory was left just as large as an umbrella, it had to be defended to the of blood drop.

After the meeting, on 16 June there was a special dinner party meeting held for him at Atjeh Hotel. It was here came out the idea of buying a plane and requested that the Acehnese purchase a DC-3 aircraft to be used for independence struggle and to clear Indonesia from the Dutch blockade.

The request of president Soekarno was positively responded with enthusiasm. At that time T Mohd. Daoed Syah called for an immediate meeting with the social leaders and dignitaries present to listen to the elaboration of the idea by the president's parties. Considering that the price of DC-3 plane was $120,000 or equal to 25 kg of gold, the resident concluded that they were able to purchase such a plane. In order to implement the action, he formed a fund collector committee whose members consisted of Acehnese traders and businessmen associated with GASIDA (Association of Indonesian Aceh Traders).

The committee was headed by I Mohd Ali Panglima Polem as the chairman, H. H. Djoened Yusuf as the vice chairman and H, M. Zainoeddin as the secretary. After working hard for some time, the committee was able to collect $140,000. The transfer of the check took place on 20 June 1948 at Aceh State Mansion (Meuligo). The money was used for advanced payment of the plane and the balance would be settled some time later in August IM. Ali Panglima Polem received a telegram that the checks amounting $140,000 and $120,000 was received. That money was used for purchasing two DC-3 aircrafts which were then called RI-001 Seulawah Agam and RI-002 Seulawah Inong.

The two planes were then used for clearing the Dutch blockades to overcome economic difficulties. At first, the plane was flying over Sumatera and Java routes to carry the leaders of the republic and to do other government tasks. After that, it was used for flying over foreign routes up to Calcutta, India. Then it operated in Rangoon, Burma. Commercial operation began on 26 January 1949, since which the RI-OO 1 Seulawah Agam has been registered as the embryo of the Garuda Indonesian Airways.  However, in one of the flights, the plane (RI 001) was shot down by the Dutch army while flying over Riau in a trip from Banda Aceh - Yogyakarta. While the RI-002 was shot down while flying over Rangoon.
At present, the DC-3 Replica of Seulawah Agam can still be seen at the Blang Padang field, Banda Aceh.

Garuda Indonesia today

Garuda Indonesia is now one of the largest airlines south of the equator. Its international flights link Indonesia with dozens of major cities on five continents. Its extensive network of domestic routes links hundreds of far-flung communities throughout Indonesia.

Garuda Indonesia has always played a major role in the development of Indonesia. Every flight, international or domestic, serves as a valuable line of communication, helping to spur trade and commerce.  Garuda Indonesia undertakes is the provision of annual pilgrimage flights for Indonesian Muslims to Mecca.

posted by davidhong
The History of Aceh

Ibrahim Alfian (jp)

Aceh has long played a special and vital role in Indonesia. The area now enjoys special status under Indonesian rule, yet it remains one of the most rebellious provinces in the country.

From time to time throughout the history of the county, the Acehnese have challenged Jakarta's rule, trying to establish an independent Aceh, separate from Indonesia.

At a glance, the reasons behind the Acehnese struggle for independence are not evident. Unlike Irian Jaya or East Timor, Aceh is, after all, overwhelmingly Muslim, like the rest of Indonesia. And the Acehnese make no claim to a distinct ethnicity or, necessarily, political ideology. However, a brief exploration of Aceh's history explains the mix of factors that have led the Acehnese to challenge Jakarta's rule.

Peureulak, Pasai and Aceh Darussalam

According to some historians, Aceh played an important role in Islamizing many parts of Indonesia, including Java, the most populous island. Islam came to Indonesia, and possibly all of Southeast Asia, through Aceh sometime around the eighth century.

The first Islamic kingdom in Aceh, Peureulak, was established in the early years of the ninth century, with Bandar Kalifah as its capital. Bandar Kalifah was described by some historians as a prosperous trading port in what is now Aceh.

Peureulak's prominent role in the Malaka Straits was carried on by the Samudra Pasai kingdom in the 13th century. According to historians, Pasai was formed through the merger of the Peureulak and Pase kingdoms.

The influence of Samudera Pasai, sometimes called Samudera Darussalam, was also felt on the Malaka Peninsula. Some historians say it was Pasai that Islamized the kingdom of Patani in southern Thailand.

Beside being the center of trade and Islamic studies in Southeast Asia, Pasai also exported its culture, and most importantly its language -- Jawi Pasai, more commonly known as Classic Malay -- to ports on a number of islands. Later, this language became the lingua franca among traders in what is now Indonesia and Malaysia. But in its development the language in Aceh grew differently, becoming more and more distinct from the common Malay.

In the middle of the 14th century, Pasai was invaded by Majapahit soldiers from Java. Pasai was defeated after three days of battle. Sultan Ahmad of Pasai left the palace, and many Acehnese were transported to Java as prisoners of war. These people later played an important role in the Islamization of Java.

Historian Teuku Haji Ibrahim Alfian from Gadjah Mada University said a special relation between Majapahit and Pasai was formed after the Majapahit king married a daughter of the Pasai sultan. When his wife's brother paid a visit to Majapahit's capital in East Java, the king of Majapahit awarded his brother-in-law land in Ampel -- what is now Surabaya in East Java. Ampel became the center for the spread of Islam in Java. From Ampel, Islam spread to Gresik, also in East Java, Kudus and Demak in Central Java, and many other parts of the island, particularly along the northern coast.

In the early 15th century, the Malaka kingdom on the Malaka Peninsula became prominent among traders in the Malaka Straits. Malaka wanted traders from Java and other areas under Majapahit's rule to use Malaka ports in their trade, instead of exclusively using the Pasai ports.

According to historian Ibrahim Alfian, Malaka sent representatives to Majapahit, asking Javanese traders to dock in Malaka ports. But the Majapahit authorities told the representatives Majapahit had forged close relations with Pasai and would use Pasai ports for its trade. Malaka then sent representatives to Pasai to ask the Pasai sultan's permission to allow Javanese traders to use Malaka ports. Pasai honored the request, thus beginning the Islamization of Malaka.

Together, Malaka and Pasai grew strong and controlled trade in the straits. As time passed, Malaka's trading ports became more prominent and overshadowed Pasai. But Malaka fell to Portugal in 1511. This shifted the center of trade in the straits from Malaka to Pasai. As a result, Portugal invaded Pasai and conquered it in 1521. Portugal eventually built a fortress in Pasai, bringing to an end this kingdom.

Alexander the Great of the East

In another part of Aceh, namely in Aceh Besar, a small kingdom named Lamurai grew bigger and bigger. Under the leadership of Sultan Ali Mugayat Syah (1511-1530), this kingdom grew strong and was renamed Aceh Darussalam. In 1523, Sultan Ali attacked the Portuguese in Pasai, killing Portugal military commander Horge de Brito. Sultan Ali managed to drive the Portuguese troops out of Pasai. After this defeat, Portugal attempted to conquer Aceh several times, but to no avail.

Aceh Darussalam continued the role of Samudra Pasai in spreading Islam throughout Indonesia, and also promoted the use of Jawi Pasai, or Classical Malay, as the lingua franca of traders.

Aceh continued to develop, growing strong and prosperous. Under the leadership of Sultan Iskandar Muda, Aceh reached its golden era, conquering numerous areas in Sumatra, including Natal Tiku, Pariaman, Nias island and Johor on the Malaka Peninsula. Aceh also launched several offensives against Portugal in Malaka. Although it never truly defeated Portugal, Aceh controlled trade in the straits. Because of his success in expanding Aceh, Sultan Iskandar Muda was often referred to as the Alexander the Great of the East.

Sultan Iskandar Muda passed away in 1636, and was succeeded by his son-in-law, Sultan Iskandar Thani. Five years later, Sultan Iskandar Thani passed away, marking the beginning of Aceh's decline and sparking Dutch and British efforts to dominate the region. After the nationalization of the Verenigde Oostindische Compagnie (VOC), or the United East Indies Company in 1799, the Dutch controlled almost all of the territory that would one day become Indonesia, with Aceh being among the areas resisting Dutch rule.

The Aceh War

In 1824, the Netherlands and Britain signed the London Treaty, also known as the Anglo-Dutch treaty, in which Britain surrendered the island of Sumatra to the Dutch. In exchange, the Dutch surrendered their possessions in India and withdrew all claims to Singapore. In this treaty, the Dutch agreed to allow Aceh to retain its independence.

In a later twist, however, the Dutch signed a treaty with Britain in 1871, called the Sumatra Treaty, in which the British authorized the Dutch to invade Aceh.

Two years later, in 1873, the Netherlands declared war and invaded Aceh Darussalam. But the Dutch found it more difficult than they expected to gain control of the whole of Aceh. The Acehnese resisted the occupation, touching off the Aceh War, the longest war ever fought by the Dutch and claiming more than 10,000 lives.

Many heroes emerged from this war, including Teungku Chik di Tiro Muhammad Saman, Panglima Polem, Teuku Umar, Tjut Nja' Dien and Cut Meutia, to name but a few.

Historians differ on when the war actually ended. Some say 1903, when Aceh's Sultan Muhammad Daud Syah surrendered to the Dutch. But some historians said the Aceh War did not really end in 1903, as the Dutch continued to face guerrilla uprisings in a number of areas even after the sultan surrendered.

Sultan Muhammad Daud himself launched a guerrilla war from Kutaraja, now Banda Aceh, in 1907. Although his efforts failed and he was captured by the Dutch and sent into exile in Ambon and later in Jakarta, his resistance against Dutch rule inspired many guerrilla fighters. The Dutch met particularly staunch resistance in Pidie, Central Aceh, West Aceh and Southeast Aceh. The Dutch managed to take control of these areas and most of Aceh by 1912. But a number of historians claim the Aceh War really did not end until the Dutch surrendered to Japan in 1942.

The surrender of Sultan Muhammad Daud Syah marked the fall of Aceh Darussalam. It also marked the end of the sultanate system in Aceh, which was abolished by the Dutch, making Muhammad Daud Syah the last sultan of Aceh. The Dutch appointed a governor to rule Aceh and installed district chiefs, locally known as uleebalang. The recruitment of uleebalang by the Dutch East Indies deepened the division and conflict with the ulema, who considered the Dutch administration kaphee, the unbeliever according to Islamic teaching.

Over time, reformist uleebalang and ulema began to work together. When the ulema established the Association of All Aceh Ulemas (PUSA) on May 5, 1939, with respected ulema Teungku Mohammad Daud Beureueh as chairman, they chose uleebalang Teungku Mohammad Amin as secretary-general.

National Movement

Under Dutch rule, the Acehnese began to forge cooperation with other areas in Indonesia and were involved in various national and political movements. The Islamic merchant organization Serikat Islam, established in Surakarta in 1912, came to Aceh about 1917. This was followed by Muslim social organization Muhammadiyah in 1923. The organization constructed a Muslim school in Kutaraja, now Banda Aceh, in 1929. And in 1939, the Great Indonesia Party (Parindra) opened a branch in Aceh, becoming the first political party in the area. In the same year, ulema established PUSA, an anti-Dutch organization.

And Aceh became increasingly involved in Indonesia's national movement. When the Volksraad, or parliament, was established, Teungku Nyak Arif was appointed the first representative from Aceh. (Nyak Arif was later appointed Aceh's first regent by Indonesia's first governor of Sumatra, Moehammad Hasan).

The Acehnese, like many others in Indonesia and Southeast Asia, welcomed Japanese troops when they landed in Aceh on March 12, 1942, because of Japan's promise to free them from the shackles of colonization. But the way Japan ruled Aceh did not differ much from the Dutch. Japan again recruited uleebalang to fill the positions of Gunco and Sunco, or district and subdistrict heads. This angered the ulema, and again deepened the division between the ulema and uleebalang. Rebellions against Japanese rule broke out in a number of areas, including one in Bayu, near Lhokseumawe, in 1942 led by Teungku Abdul Jalil, and in Pandrah, Jeunieb, in 1944.

Aceh, a capital of Indonesia

Soon after Indonesia's independence was declared on Aug. 17, 1945, Aceh came to the forefront in support of the new independent country. On Oct. 15, four of the most respected ulema in Aceh -- Teungku Hadji Hasan Kroeeng Kale, Teungku M. Daoed Beureueh, Teungku Hadji Dja'far Sidik Lamdjabat and Teungku Hadji Ahmad Hasballah Indrapoeri -- issued an announcement in the name of all ulema in Aceh, calling on all Acehnese to help defend the new Indonesia. The announcement was endorsed by Aceh regent Teungku Nja' Arif and the chairman of the National Committee, Toeankoe Mahmoed. In the announcement, the four ulema declared war in defense of Indonesia against foreign aggression sabil war, or war in the way of God.

The announcement read as follows:

"The very destructive second World War has just ended. Now, in the West and in the East, four big kingdoms are managing everlasting world peace for the safety of Allah's creatures. And Indonesia, our homeland, has declared its independence to all the world, and the Republic of Indonesia has been established under the leadership of our respected, great leader Ir. SOEKARNO.

"The Dutch is one small, poor country, a country smaller than Atjeh (Aceh), and has been destroyed. They are committing crimes against our nation, the independent Indonesia, attempting again to colonize us.

"If they are successful, they will again exploit all of our people, seize all of the wealth of the state and also of the people, and all the wealth that we have collected will disappear altogether. They will make Indonesians their slaves again, and make efforts to abolish our noble religion of Islam and to crush or inhibit Indonesians' nobility and welfare.

"In Java, the Dutch and their henchmen have committed aggression against the freedom of the Republic of Indonesia, leading to wars in a number of areas that eventually were won by us. Even so, they have not yet repented.

"All of our people have united, standing behind the great leader Ir. SOEKARNO to await orders as to what they must do.

"According to our belief, this struggle is a noble struggle that is called SABIL WAR.

"Therefore, believe, all our people, that this struggle is a continuation of the previous struggle in Atjeh led by the late Tgk. Tjhi' di Tiro and other national heroes.

"That is why all our people must stand up, unite shoulder to shoulder, move forward and follow the steps and struggles of our ancestors. Heed with respect all the orders from our leaders for the safety of our Homeland, Religion and Nation."

Beside moral support, Aceh also gave material support to the young Indonesia. In 1946, Acehnese bought national bonds issued by Indonesia's provisional government in Sumatra, with denominations of Rp 100, Rp 500 and Rp 1,000. In addition, the Acehnese also donated cash to help finance the Indonesian government in Yogyakarta to run its operations and open representative offices abroad. In 1949, the Acehnese donated two airplanes, one of which was the famous Seulawah plane that later became a pioneer in the establishment of national flag-carrier Garuda Indonesia. Because of these donations in the early period of Indonesia, first president Sukarno described Aceh as a capital of Indonesia.

Conflicts in Aceh after Independence

While the ulema and the youths in Aceh fully supported the inclusion of Aceh in Indonesia, a number of uleebalang in Pidie refused to give their support, leading to the infamous Cumbok incident in late 1945.

The uleebalang Cumbok and his supporters fought against supporters of an independent Indonesia. After this incident, there were no significant movements against Indonesia's rule in Aceh until the early 1950s.

More serious conflicts occurred after the leader of the Indonesian Emergency Government (PDRI) in Sumatra, Sjafrudin Prawiranegara, issued Decree No. 8/Des/W.K.P.H, dated Dec. 17, 1949, on the establishment of the Aceh province, with Teungku Daud Beureueh as its governor.

Before his appointment as Aceh governor, Daud Buereueh served as military governor of Aceh, Langkat and Tanah Karo from 1947. But on Dec. 27, 1949, the Dutch East Indies ceased to exist, becoming the sovereign Federal Republic of Indonesia. The council of ministers of the Federal Republic of Indonesia, in a meeting on Aug. 8, 1950, decided to divide Indonesia into 10 provinces, including the province of North Sumatra, which included Aceh. The council of ministers disregarded the PDRI decree signed by Sjafrudin Prawiranegara on the establishment of the Aceh province.

Later in 1950, the Federal Republic of Indonesia ceased to exist, once again becoming the Republic of Indonesia when it joined the United Nations. Prime Minister M. Natsir announced the dissolution of the Aceh province in Kutaraja on Jan. 23, 1951. Daud Beureueh was then appointed a high-ranking official at the Ministry of Home Affairs in Jakarta.

Conflict after conflict shook Aceh, encouraging Daud Beureueh to lend his support to the Darul Islam (House of Islam) movement in Java to establish an Islamic state. And on Sept. 20, 1953, Daud Beureueh declared Aceh's independence from Indonesia, with numerous Acehnese backing this rebellion, which took years to crush.

In 1959, the central government responded by giving Aceh the status of "special territory", through Decree No. 1/Missi/1959, which was issued by a deputy prime minister. This decree conferred an unusually high degree of autonomy in religious, educational and cultural matters. Many observers believed Aceh's status of special territory would lead to greater prosperity and help bring Aceh into the Indonesian mainstream.

Despite some economic gains and wider acceptance of the authority of the Indonesian government, the desire among some Acehnese for an independent Islamic state did not die out altogether. On Dec. 4, 1976, Teungku Hasan M. di Tiro founded the Free Aceh Movement (GAM).

The Indonesian government responded harshly. In the late 1970s, the authorities conducted mass arrests of GAM members and kept a lid on their activities until 1989, when the group, now also calling itself the Aceh-Sumatra National Liberation Front (ASNLF), came out of hibernation and renewed its quest for independence, often through attacks on police and military installations.

The government responded to GAM's campaign of violence with its own campaign of violence, declaring Aceh a Military Operation Zone (DOM). Nine years later, in August 1998, the government lifted the DOM status following increasing protests from locals and human rights activists, who said the imposition of DOM only worsened the situation in Aceh and led to massive human rights violations by military and police personnel.

A team established by the North Aceh district administration reported more than 1,600 cases of human rights violations by the military and GAM during the period DOM was in effect. The campaign of terror led to the deaths and disappearances of at least 760 people. Six hundred women were reported widowed, 10 raped and 1,960 children orphaned during the military operation.

Nevertheless, the period following the lifting of the DOM status was not much improved. According to Saifuddin Bantasyam, executive director of the Care for Human Rights Forum (FPHAM), a great number of people became victims of violence between August 1998, when the DOM status was lifted, to December 1999. The forum's data showed that between Aug. 8, 1998, and Dec. 21, 1999, 534 people were killed, comprising 450 civilians (83.7 percent) and 84 military and police personnel (15.7 percent). The killings were spread across all 13 regions of Aceh, except Sabang, Southeast Aceh and Semeulue.

posted by davidhong