Who are the Aceh People?
The Aceh people (pronounced ah-CHE) live on the northern tip of the island of Sumatera in the province of Aceh. Their provincial capital of Banda Aceh 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. The Aceh people speak their own language, and the majority also speak the national Indonesian language. The Aceh are a blend of many races, which explains why they are fairer skinned and taller than most other Indonesians.
What are their lives like?
Most Aceh are either farmers or fishermen. The traditional Aceh home consists of a sleeping room and a large living room, which may also serve as the kitchen containing a rectangular clay hearth filled with ashes. These houses generally stand on stilts two meters high. Families use the space underneath the house for cattle stalls, chicken coops, or to store tools and firewood. The floors and walls are made of bamboo or wood from coconut trees. Roofs are covered with clay tiles or thatch made of palm leaves. The trend today, however, is building more modern cement homes. Traditionally, most Aceh, both men and women, wore a sarong, a modest and colorful skirt. In recent years there has been a move towards Islamic dress and now the majority of women wear a head covering with their daily dress. The traditional Aceh weapon is the rencong, an ornate sword. It is worn by the male and folded into the sarong as one of the accessories to their ceremonial dress. The women run the households. Most men have no say in matters that deal with the home or even child rearing. All of the children, even the youngest, are expected to help the family work. Inheritance occurs according to Islamic Law with the males receiving a double portion, yet houses and land are always passed down to the women.
What do they believe?
The Aceh people are strict Sunni Muslims and have been very instrumental in spreading Islam throughout Indonesia and other parts of Southeast Asia. It is often stated that “to be Aceh is to be Muslim.” The Aceh people strongly and even violently oppose other religions. The Aceh Province is the only province in Indonesia where Shari’a Islamic law has been formally instituted. However, until this day other ethnic people groups in the province have been free to worship according to their own religion. In spite of their dedication to Islam, many Aceh people are still influenced by animistic beliefs in spirits and various superstitions. These beliefs are focused upon seeking protection through magic by either appeasing or controlling both good and bad spirits.
What are their needs?
The special province of Aceh is rich in natural resources including agriculture, mining, and industry. Tourismis a potiential industry that needs to be further developed before this potential can be reached due to the rough terrain and lack of infrastructure. In order to reach their full economic potential, the Aceh people need to develop the skill level of their human resources as well as catalyze the creation of new jobs. In addition, unrest and violence associated with an independence movement has plagued the province for decades.