Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Acehnese people

The Acehnese (also Achinese) are a people in Aceh(pronounced ah-CHE), Indonesia. Their homeland is located in the northern-most tip of the island of Sumatra and had a history of political struggle against the Dutch. Their language, the Acehnese, belongs to the Western Malayo-Polynesian branch of the Austronesian language family.

They were at one time Hinduized, as is evident from their traditions and the many Sanskrit words in their language. They have been Muslims for several centuries and are generally the most conservative Muslim ethnic group in Indonesia.

People living in the Aceh descended from many various tribes and ethnicities. Some physical features resemble those of Chinese European, or Indian heritages or Arab. 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.

The Aceh today is the province of Aceh. Their provincial capital of Banda Aceh, which is commonly known as "the Veranda of Mecca." It has been a stopping place for Southeast Asian Muslims journeying by ship to Mecca, their "holy city," in Saudi Arabia.

Traditionally, there have been a large number of Acehnese agriculturists, metal-workers and weavers. Traditionally matrilocal, their social organization is communal. They live in gampôngs(kampong), which combine to form districts known as mukims.

Acehnese in broad definition
Aceh is a diverse region occupied by several ethnic and language groups. The major ethnic groups are the Acehnese (who are distributed throughout Aceh), Gayo (in central and eastern part), Alas (in southeastern), Tamiang (in Aceh Tamiang), Aneuk Jamee (descendant from Minangkabau, concentrated in southern and southwestern), Kluet (in South Aceh), and Simeulue (on Simeulue Island). There is also a significant population of Chinese, who are influential in the business and financial communities. In narrow defination, Acehnese is the Acehnese race only.

Acehnese Language
The Acehnese language is widely spoken within the Acehnese population. This is a member of the Aceh-Chamic group of languages, whose other representatives are mostly found in Vietnam and Cambodia, and is also closely related to the Malay group of languages. Acehnese also has many words borrowed from Malay and Arabic and traditionally was written using Arabic script. Acehnese is also used as local language in Langkat and Asahan (North Sumatra), and Kedah (Malaysia), and once dominated Penang. Alas and Kluet are closely related languages within the Batak group. The Jamee language originated from Minangkabau language in West Sumatra, with just a few variations and differences.

Aceh was once a meeting point for people from many nations, and among the present day Acehnese can be found some individuals of Arab, Turkish, and Indian descent.

Before the tsunami, the region of Meureuhom Daya (Lamno) used to have an unusually high number of people with fair complexions, blue eyes and blond hair, and local traditions attributed to Turkish or Portuguese ancestry.

Acheh's origin as Cham
Aceh's origins are unquestionably Cham, as the Champa king Syah Pau Kubah sent his son Syah Pau Ling to rule over Aceh when the southern capital Vijaya (Champa) in 1471 AD, was sacked by the Vietnamese. Acehnese is the only other non-Chamic language in the 11 language Aceh-Chamic languages group.(source: Acheh Sultanate, wikipedia) Note: Intrapura was the Northern capital of Cham(located around Hue, Vietnam)which fell in 982, some of the North Cham migrated to south and form the South Cham kingdom.

Acheh Diaspora
Due to conflict since Dutch invasion to Aceh until Martial Law in Aceh and 2004 Indian Ocean Earthquake, many Acehnese fled abroad. The most significant number of Acehnese can be found in Malaysia and Scandinavia countries. Acehnese immigrant also can be found significantly in Singapore, Thailand, Australia, United States and Canada.

2004 Tsunami
Aceh came to international attention as being one of the hardest-hit regions of the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake with 120,000 people dead.

Acehnese Refugee

Aceh, was one of the areas hardest hit by the earthquake and tsunami in December 2004. About 165,000 people were killed, and half a million were left homeless. Infrastructure and livelihoods were destroyed. The impact of the tsunami was compounded in March 2005 when a second earthquake struck the area, killing some 900 people on the nearby islands of Nias and Simeulue and displacing tens of thousands.

These destructive events had one indirect benefit for Aceh: the end of a civil conflict that had raged for 29 years and cost some 15,000 lives. The conflict contributed to poverty in the province and devastated the private sector. Supply chains were disrupted because farmers could not harvest their crops, and palm oil plantations, a key sector for the local economy, were neglected. The conflict also spurred many of Aceh's best and brightest business people to leave the province and settle in Malaysia, Medan, or elsewhere.

Malaysia has told more than 25,000 Indonesian tsunami refugees to leave by early January 2009 or face deportation.

The refugees, from Aceh province, have been allowed to work in Malaysia since their homes were destroyed by the Asian tsunami in December 2004. The Malaysian authorities have allowed the refugees to work in Malaysia for four years without paying any taxes, so they could earn money to rebuild their homes. But the government say conditions have now improved in Aceh and it is time for people to go home. Malaysian officials say any refugees who stay on illegally after the deadline will be fined, deported and banned from re-entering the country.

Acehnese in Malaysia
Early Acehnese are normally assimilated with the local Malay community, and considered themselves Malay. The recent one are mainly refugee after Tsunami 2004, if earlier are mainly escaping from political problem in Acheh.

1. Penang

Penang in Malaysia, which has a large Acehnese community. The majority of Indonesian migrants in the early days of Penang were Acehnese. Achenese traders had already settled along the Pinang River when Francis Light arrived.

Francis Light wooed Tunku Syed Hussain, an Acehnese Arab, to move to Penang to help spur on the island's economic growth. Syed Hussain claimed to be the grandson of Sultan Jamal Syah of Aceh (1703-1726), who married the daughter of a Sultana of Aceh.

Lebuh Acheh and nearby Lebuh Armenian were designated as the settlement area for the Malays, particularly from Acheh, in the northern region of Sumatra as well as Arab settlers.

Many of the settlers here are Muslim Malays and during its heydays, Lebuh Acheh and the surrounding area was where the Haj activities were centred during the time when the Muslim pilgrimage traveled by ship. Each year, when the pilgrimage period begins, Lebuh Achec would be filled with pilgrims from Sumatra, Thailand and the Northern Malay Peninsula busy making their travel arrangements for the Haj. During that time, Lebuh Acheh was a community bustling with travel agencies, restaurants, shops and lodging-houses – a place where the pilgrims mingled, shopped and attended religious gatherings while waiting for their ships to depart and take them to Mecca.

When George Town was established, it drew some trading activities away from Aceh, which was already an established trading hub in northern Sumatra. To ensure that the new trading port survives, Captain Francis Light set up the prototype of a "free trade zone". He managed to attract Tengku Syed Hussain Al-Aidid, an Arab trader who was also a member of the Acehnese royal house, to move to Penang. He did this by making a very attractive offer to this very powerful Acehnese leader: that he and his entire clan may live above British laws, and that within Tengku Syed Hussain's jurisdiction, Mahomedan Laws (that is to say, Syariah Law) prevails over colonial laws.

From the time of his arrival in 1792 until his death in 1840, Tengku Syed Hussain transformed the character of Acheen Street. He founded the Acheen Street Mosque in 1808, so that his people have a permanent place of worship. His properties include the four-storey warehouse, now called Gudang Acheh, at the junction of Acheen Street and Beach Street (Lebuh Pantai).

Syed Hussain also owned the four-storey building at the junction of 'Beach Street' (today Lebuh Pantai) and Acheen Street, later known as 'Gedong Aceh'. The Gedong Aceh served as a kind of market place for buying and selling spices from Aceh. It was the first high-rise landmark in George Town and is to this day still popularly referred to as 'Rumah Tinggi'.

Leaders of the community in Lebuh Acheh were Arab merchants and Achehnese pepper merchants from Northern Sumatra. One of the more famous of these merchants was Syed Mohamed Alatas, whose mansion still stands along Lebuh Armenian until today. In the middle of the 19th century, it is said that there were about 300 traders in the area. Interestingly enough, there were also a minority community of Jewish settlers on nearby Lebuh Armenian at the time.

Lebuh Aceh Mosque
FOUNDED by Tengku Syed Hussain Al-Aidid in 1808, this Malay mosque has, in its premises, shophouses, a cemetery, mid-19th century houses and an octagonal minaret. The features are an indication of a complex of activities of the early Muslims in Penang who are of Malay, Arab, Indian Muslim and Achenese heritage.

Another symbol of the Islamic community is the Lebuh Acheh Mosque, reflecting an area once richly populated by people from Acheh, Indonesia, confirmed by the existence of graveyards with stones resembling those of Sumatra’s and Riau’s. This area was a service centre for those going to make the pilgrimage to the holy land of Mecca by sea, when Penang was one of the departure points. Pilgrimages by sea however, has become less popular beause of the improvement in modern aircraft.

Jalan P. Ramlee was named after Malaysia's most famous entertainer, the late Tan Sri P. Ramlee, whose real name is Teuku Zakaria bin Teuku Nyak Puteh. P. Ramlee was born in his grandmother's house located an on off shoot of the main road. P. Ramlee is of Acehnese descent, which may be incidental considering Jalan P. Ramlee itself borders on Acehnese settlements that follow the meandering Sungai Pinang River nearby.

There is a town called Pantai Acheh in Penang.



Bota is a small town near the Perak River in Perak, Malaysia. It is under the administration of the Perak Tengah district. It comprises two geographical areas: Bota Kiri and Bota Kanan (Left Bota and Right Bota, respectively) as it is divided by the Perak River.

Sultan Mukaddam Shah resided at Bota Kanan.He had a beautiful daughter Puteri Limau Purut and as a customary, was bethrothed since childhood to a relative Raja Mansur. So, when Sultan of Acheh( Probably the 12th Sultan of Acheh i.e. Sultan Iskandar Muda who reigned from 1607 till 1636),asked for her hand in marriage, the request was refused.

To avenge himself, the Sultan of Acheh attacked Perak, landing at Bota Kanan at midnight. Perak was taken completely by surprise. Acheh carried off the Sultan of Perak and his entire family, including Puteri Limau Purut and her caperon Che Esah Gerbang.

Perak chiefs sent for Bendahara Garang Megat Mujanas, Megat Iskandar and his two brothers. Raja Mansur who at that time stationed at Intan was also called. It was decided to send the Bendahara Garang and his party to Acheh to negotiate for the safe return of the Royal Family and Raja Mansur to hold the fort during absence.

The Bendahara Garang was successful. He brought Puteri Limau Purut and the others back but Sultan Mukaddam mangkat in Acheh. He was interred in Acheh and was later known as Marhum Hilang Di-Acheh.

Keramat Panjang" Mausoleum

On the peak of Bukit Tempurung one of the three hills on Bukit China, in the direction of North East is the site of the Keramat Panjang Mausoleum. Among the thousands of chinese graves there exist until today a dozen of muslim graves on the top of this hill lock. It is believed that one of these graves belongs to a famous Achenese warrior known as Panglima Pidi who was killed together with his companion Syamsudin Al-Sumaratani during a failed attempt attacked against the Portuguese in the early 17th century. Start climbing from the side facing the Jalan Bukit Serindit and Jalan Puteri Hang Li Poh junction in the direction of South West to reach this site.

(still under draft, to be continue...)

Related articles:
1. Malaysia orders Aceh refugees out, BBC dated 26 August 2008, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/7582793.stm
2. The Historical Place of Acehnese: The Known and the Unknown(2007),by Graham Thurgood, California State University, Chico, USA, Presented in First International Conference of Aceh and Indian Ocean Studies, 24 – 27 February 2007
3. World Acehnese Association, http://www.waa-aceh.org/en/

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