Native name: Tano Niha
Location South East Asia
Coordinates 1°6′N 97°32′E / 1.1°N 97.533°E / 1.1; 97.533Coordinates: 1°6′N 97°32′E / 1.1°N 97.533°E / 1.1; 97.533
Area 5,121.3 km2 (1,977.34 sq mi)
Highest elevation 800 m (2,600 ft)
Highest point unnamed
Province North Sumatra
Regencies Nias, South Nias, North Nias, West Nias
Population 756,762 (as of 2010 Census)
Density 147.8 /km2 (382.8 /sq mi)
Ethnic groups Nias, Malay, Batak, and Chinese

Nīas (Indonesian: Pulau Nias, Nias language: Tanö Niha) is an island off the western coast of Sumatra, Indonesia. Nias (Kepulauan Nias) is also the name of the archipelago, containing the Hinako archipelago.

Nias Island covers an area of 5,121.3 km2 (1,977.3 sq mi) (including minor offshore islands) which is mostly a lowland area on average 800 m (2,600 ft) above sea level. There were 756,762 inhabitants on the island (including minor offshore islands) at the 2010 Census.



Location of Nias, Indonesia

It is located in a chain of islands parallel to the west coast of Sumatra; Simeulue is about 140 km (87 mi) northwest, and the Batu Islands are located about 80 km (50 mi) southeast. This chain, which resurfaces in Nusa Tenggara in the mountainous islands of Sumba and Timor, is the forearc of the South Sumatra Basin along the Sunda Trench subduction zone.

At Nias the oceanic plate is being obliquely subducted under the Asian Plate at the rapid rate of 52 mm (2.0 in) a year (Milsom).


Nias is the largest of the islands off Sumatra that are part of North Sumatra province. This area consists of 131 islands and Nias Island is the biggest. The population in this area is about 639,675 people (including Ono Niha – the native inhabitant of the Island, Malay, Batak, and Chinese).

Until 2003 Nias was an administrative regency (kabupaten), part of the province of North Sumatra. In 2003 it was split into two regencies, Nias and Nias Selatan (Southern Nias).[citation needed] Subsequently the island was divided further, with the creation of two further regencies from parts of the former Niass Regency – Nias Barat (West Nias) and Nias Utara (North Nias) – and the designation of Gunungsitoli as an autonomous city independent of the four regencies. Gunungsitoli remains the capital city of Nias regency and it is the center of administration and business affairs of the Nias regency. Teluk Dalam is the capital of Nias Selatan.

Name Capital Area (km²) Population
2010 Census
Nias Utara Regency (included in Nias Regency) 127,530
Nias Regency Gunungsitoli 3,495.39 132,329
Nias Barat Regency (included in Nias Regency) 81,461
Nias Selatan Regency Teluk Dalam 1,625.91 289,876
Gunungsitoli * (included in Nias Regency) 125,566
* Autonomous city


Villagers in Bawomataluo on Nias move a megalith for construction around 1915
Nias war dance
An old Nias ceremonial shield

Isolated yet worldly, the Nias Island chain has been trading since prehistory with other cultures, other islands, and even mainland Asia. Some historians and archaeologists have cited the local culture as one of the few remaining Megalithic cultures in existence today. While this point of view is hotly debated, there is no doubt that Nias' relative geographic isolation has created a unique culture. As a culture of traders, the people of Nias find tourists to be a welcome – and historically familiar – phenomenon.[citation needed]

Nias ceremonial stone jump.

Nias is best-known for its diversity of festivals and celebration. The most well-known events are War Dances, performed regularly for tourists, and Stone Jumping, a manhood ritual that sees young men leaping over two meter stone towers to their fate. In the past the top of the stone board is covered with spikes and sharp pointed bamboo. The music of Nias, performed mostly by women, is noted worldwide for its haunting beauty.

Gunungsitoli is home to Nias's only museum, the Museum Pusaka Nias (Nias Heritage Foundation),[1] which houses over 6000 objects related to Nias's cultural heritage. The museum had recently built a new building and had improved their storage and exhibitions when the 2004 earthquake and tsunami occurred. The museum suffered some damage to the grounds and collections, but museum staff are working to recover from this devastating event[2]

The predominant religion is Protestant Christianity. Six out of seven Niasans are Protestant; the remainder are about evenly divided between Muslim (mostly immigrants from elsewhere in Indonesia) and Catholic. However adherence to either Christian or Muslim religions is still largely symbolic; Nias continues into current day celebrating its own indigenous culture and traditions as the primary form of spiritual expression.

The people of Nias build omo sebua houses on massive ironwood pillars with towering roofs. Not only were they almost impregnable to attack in former tribal warfare, their flexible nail-less construction provide proven earthquake durability.

Nias is home not only to a unique human culture but also endemic fauna which differ from other areas of North Sumatra because of the island's remote location separate from Sumatra.


To reach Nias, there is a weekly ship from Jakarta to Gunung Sitoli; there were ferries from Sibolga to Gunung Sitoli, Teluk Dalam, or Lahewa every day; before the Asian financial crisis hit Indonesia, there was a daily flight from Medan to Gunungsitoli. This became less frequent following the crisis.

Since the 1998 Reformation, however, transport links on and to the island have become poor. Internally, the road system is in a very bad condition. Externally the air and ferry links are unreliable. There are two ferry terminals (Gunungsitoli and Teluk Dalam) and an airport (Binaka, near G. Sitoli[3]) on the island, serviced mainly from Sibolga and Medan respectively. However, local ferry companies regularly go out of business (or their boats sink), so only one terminal may be active at any given time. Since the 2005 earthquake, transportation has improved to cope with the increase in travel needs for reconstruction and rehabilitation efforts. Susi Air, SMAC, Merpati Air and UNHAS are the airlines that fly to Gunungsitoli.


Nias is an internationally famous surfing destination. The best known surfing area is Sorake Bay, close to the town of Teluk Dalam, on the southern tip. Enclosed by the beaches of Lagundri and Sorake, the bay has both left and right-hand breaks. As they wait for waves, surfers can often see sea turtles swimming below. There are also two consistent, world-class waves in the nearby Hinako Islands, Asu and Bawa. Many lesser-known, high-quality surf spots with low crowds await adventurous travelers.

Nias was part of the famous Hippie trail of the 1960s, particularly traveled by surfers, which led to Bali. Some claim that the waves at the southern beach of Sorake are better than the ones in Maui. It has been the site of several international surfing competitions in the past, particularly before the 1998 Indonesian Reformation Movement.

Despite the storied history of surfing in Nias, international surfing in Nias has slowed down especially (but not specifically) due to the recent earthquakes.[4][5] The situation is slowly changing, however.[6][7]

Tsunami and earthquakes of 2004 and 2005

On December 26, 2004 the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake struck a few kilometers north of the island, creating tsunamis as high as 10 metres (33 ft). 122 people were killed and hundreds more rendered homeless.

On March 28, 2005, the island was again hit by the 2005 Sumatra earthquake, initially presumed to be an aftershock of the 2004 quake, but now regarded as the second most powerful earthquake ever recorded in Indonesia and among the top 10 most powerful recorded world wide since 1900.[8] At least 800 people were reported dead, with the possibility of more than 2,000 casualties. Hundreds of buildings were toppled and many thousands of people were made homeless. In 2007, almost two years after the earthquake, there were still tens of thousands of internally displaced persons living in camps throughout Nias.

Nias's coastline has changed markedly with the tsunami and earthquake.[9] In some areas, the coast has moved over 50 m (160 ft) inland. In other areas, as much as a further 100 m (330 ft) of land is exposed from the sea. The uplift of land has been recorded as being as much as 2.9 m (9.5 ft).

Following the earthquake, many international aid agencies have moved in to assist in rehabilitation and reconstruction efforts. Oxfam, International Aid, Giving Children Hope, Save the Children Fund, World Vision, Surf Aid, Safe Harbor International and Caritas International are some of the international NGOs represented in Nias. UN agencies represented include UNORC, UNDP, UNICEF, UN-Habitat, WFP, IOM and UNIDO.


See also


  1. ^
  2. ^ Nias Artifacts Damaged in Powerful Earthquake
  3. ^ Falling Rain Genomics. Airport BINAKA
  4. ^ Suwastoyo, Bhimanto (28 March 2006) Mail & Guardian Online. Indonesia's quake-hit surfers' paradise hopes for a break
  5. ^ Rinaldo, Rachel (February 15, 2004) Boots n' All Travel. Strange Days in Nias
  6. ^ (2006) Bali Advertiser. Surf Season
  7. ^ (2009) Indo Surf: Nias Surf
  8. ^ "Largest Earthquakes in the World Since 1900". U.S. Geological Survey. Retrieved July 9, 2011. 
  9. ^ Sieh, Kerry (June 1, 2005), Discover, Caltech. A Geologist in the Field [1]

External links

Media related to Nias at Wikimedia Commons

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