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Sumatra (also spelled Sumatera) is an island in western Indonesiamarker, westernmost of the Sunda Islandsmarker. It is the largest island entirely in Indonesia (two larger islands, Borneomarker and New Guineamarker, are shared between Indonesia and other countries), and the sixth largest island in the world (approximately 470,000 km²).


Sumatra was known in ancient times by the Sanskrit names of Swarnadwīpa ("Island of Gold") and Swarnabhūmi ("Land of Gold"), due likely to the gold deposits of the island's highlands. The first word mentioning the name of Sumatra was the name of Srivijayan Haji (king) Sumatrabhumi ("King of the land of Sumatra"), who sent an envoy to China in 1017. Arab geographers referred to the island as Lamri (Lamuri, Lambri or Ramni) in the 10-13th centuries, in reference to a kingdom near modern day Banda Acehmarker which was the first landfall for traders. Late in the 14th century the name Sumatra became popular, in reference to the kingdom of Samudra which was a rising power. European writers in the 19th century found that the indigenous inhabitants did not have a name for the island.


People who spoke Austronesian languages first arrived in Sumatra around 500 BCE, as part of the Austronesian expansion from Taiwan to Southeast Asia. With its location in the Indiamarker-Chinamarker sea trade route, several trading towns flourished, especially in the eastern coast, and were influenced by Indian religions. One of the earliest known kingdoms was Kantoli, which flourished in the 5th southern Sumatra. Kantoli was replaced by the Empire of Srivijaya and then later by the Kingdom of Samudra. Srivijaya was a Buddhist monarchy centered in what is now Palembangmarker. Dominating the region through trade and conquest throughout the 7th to 9th centuries, the Empire helped spread the Malay culture throughout Sumatra, Malay Peninsula, and western Borneo. The empire was a thalassocracy, or maritime power that extended its influence from island to island. Palembang was a center for scholarly learning, and it was there the Chinese Buddhist pilgrim I Ching studied Sanskrit in 671 CE before departing for India. On his journey to China he spent four years in Palembang translating Buddhist texts and writing two manuscripts.

Srivijayan influence waned in the 11th century after it was defeated by the Chola Empire of southern India. Sumatra was then subject to conquests from Javanesemarker kingdoms, first Singhasari and subsequently Majapahit. At the same time Islam made its way to Sumatra, spreading through contacts with Arabs and Indian traders.

A 16th century map of Sumatra
By the late 13th century, the monarch of the Samudra kingdom had converted to Islam. Marco Polo visited the island in 1292 and Ibn Battuta visited twice during 1345-1346. Samudra was succeeded by the powerful Aceh Sultanate, which survived to the 20th century. With the coming of the Dutchmarker, the many Sumatran princely states gradually fell under their control. Aceh, in the north, was the major obstacle, as the Dutch were involved in the long and costly Aceh War (1873-1903).

On 26 December 2004, the western coast and islands of Sumatra, particularly Acehmarker province, were devastated by a nearly 15 meter high tsunami following the 9.2-magnitude Indian Ocean earthquakemarker. The death toll surpassed 170,000 in Indonesia alone, primarily in Aceh.

In 2005 there was an 8.7 magnitude aftershock of the previous earthquake in December 2004. See 2005 Sumatran Earthquakemarker. In addition to the subduction megathrust earthquake off the west coast, Sunda arc, the Great Sumatran Fault, a transform fault, runs the entire length of the island. The pressure on this fault increased dramatically after the December 2004 earthquake, and seismologists suspect another earthquake could occur in the near future. The fault ends directly below the recently devastated city of Banda Acehmarker.


The administrative regions of Sumatra (or the smaller islands nearby) are:


Map of geological formation of Sumatra island.
The longest axis of the island runs approximately 1,790 km (1,100 miles) northwest - southeast, crossing the equator near the center. At its widest point the island spans 435 km (270 miles). The interior of the island is dominated by two geographical regions: the Barisan Mountainsmarker in the west and swampy plains in the east.

To the southeast is Javamarker, separated by the Sunda Straitmarker. To the north is the Malay Peninsula, separated by the Straits of Malaccamarker. To the east is Borneomarker, across the Karimata Straitmarker. West of the island is the Indian Oceanmarker.

The backbone of the island is the Barisan mountains chain, with the active volcano Mount Kerincimarker's 3,805 m (12,467 ft) the highest point, located at about the midpoint of the range. The volcanic activity of this region endowed the region with fertile land and beautiful sceneries, for instance around the Lake Tobamarker. It also contains deposits of coal and gold.

To the east, big rivers carry silt from the mountain, forming the vast lowland interspersed by swamps. Even if mostly unsuitable for farming, the area is currently of great economic importance for Indonesia. It produces oil from both above and below the soil—palm oil and petroleum.

Sumatra is the largest producer of Indonesian coffee. Small-holders grow Arabica coffee (Coffea arabica) in the highlands, while Robusta (Coffea canephora) is found in the low lands. Arabica coffee from the regions of Gayo, Lintong and Sidikilang is typically processed using the Giling Basah (wet hulling) technique, which gives it a heavy body and low acidity.

Most of Sumatra used to be covered by tropical rainforest, but economic development coupled with corruption and illegal logging has severely threatened its existence. Conservation areas have not been spared from destruction, either.

The island is the world's 5th highest island, although only the third highest in the Indonesian archipelago.

Largest cities

The following is a list of urban areas in Sumatra by population based on 2009 calculations compiled by The World Gazetteer.
Rank City, Province Population
1 Medanmarker, North Sumatramarker 3,418,645
2 Palembangmarker, South Sumatramarker 1,271,855
3 Padang, West Sumatramarker 960,184
4 Bandar Lampungmarker, Lampungmarker 916,561
5 Pekanbarumarker, Riaumarker 763,275
6 Jambimarker, Jambimarker 454,686
7 Bengkulumarker, Bengkulumarker 373,243
8 Banda Acehmarker, Acehmarker 287,769
9 Pematang Siantarmarker, North Sumatramarker 209,568
10 Lubuklinggaumarker, South Sumatramarker 189,371

Flora and fauna

Sumatra supports a wide range of vegetation types which are home to a rich variety of species, including 17 endemic genera of plants. Unique species include: Sumatran Pine, Rafflesia arnoldii (world's largest individual flower), Titan arum (world's tallest and largest inflorescence flower).

The island is home to 201 mammal species and 580 bird species. There are 9 endemic mammal species on mainland Sumatra and 14 more endemic to the nearby Mentawai Islandsmarker. The species present include: Sumatran Tiger, Sumatran Orangutan, Sumatran Rhinoceros, Sumatran Elephant, Sumatran Striped Rabbit, Dhole, Dayak Fruit Bat, Malayan Tapir, Malayan Sun Bear and the Bornean Clouded Leopard.

The island has lost 48% of its natural forest cover since 1985, and many of the remaining species are endangered. The Sumatran Tiger, Sumatran Rhino, and Sumatran Orangutan are all Critically Endangered, indicating that the highest level of threat to their survival. In October 2008, the Indonesian government announced a plan to protect Sumatra's remaining forests. However, the construction of illegal roads through prime tiger habitat has continued since then by companies led by Asia Pulp & Paper, the pulp and paper company well known for illegal logging and breaching environmental law.

The island includes more than 10 National Parks, including 3 which are listed as the Tropical Rainforest Heritage of Sumatramarker World Heritage SiteGunung Leuser National Parkmarker, Kerinci Seblat National Parkmarker and Bukit Barisan Selatan National Parkmarker.


Sumatra is not very densely populated, about 96 people per km²—more than 45 million people in total. It is nonetheless the fifth most populous island in the world. The most populous regions include most of North Sumatra and central highlands in West Sumatra, while the major urban centers are Medan and Palembang.

The people composed of many different ethnic groups, speaking 52 different languages. Most of these groups, however, share many similar traditions and the different tongues are closely related. Malay-speaking people dominate the eastern coast, while people in the southern and central interior speak languages related to Malay, such as the Lampung and Minangkabau people. The highland of northern Sumatra is inhabited by the Bataks, while the northernmost coast is dominated by Acehs. Ethnic Chinese minorities are also present in urban centers.

A majority of people in Sumatra are Muslims (87%), while 10% are Christians, 2% are Buddhist and 1% Hindu. Most central Bataks are Protestant Christians, a religion introduced by the Germanmarker Rhenish Missionary Society.

See also


External links

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