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(so͝omä`trə), island (1990 pop. 36,471,731), c.183,000 sq mi (473,970 sq km), Indonesia, in the Indian Ocean along the equator, S and W of the Malay Peninsula (from which it is separated by the Strait of Malacca) and NW of Java (across the narrow Sunda Strait). The westernmost and second largest island of Indonesia, Sumatra is c.1,110 mi (1,790 km) long and c.270 mi (435 km) wide and is fringed with smaller islands off its western and eastern coasts. The Bukit Barisan, a volcanic mountain range with more than 30 active volcanoes, traverses its length, reaching 12,467 ft (3,800 m) at Mt. Kerinci. Rising in the Barisan range are several large rivers, including the Hari, Indragiri, and Musi; some rivers are being developed for hydroelectric power. In the north is the great salt lake Toba. Because of the hot, moist climate and heavy rainfall, the vegetation is luxuriant, and much of the eastern half of the island is swampland. The interior is covered largely by impenetrable rain forests. Among the native animals are elephants, clouded leopards, tapirs, tigers, Malayan bears, and snakes.


Sumatra has great natural wealth; about 70% of the country's income is produced there. The island has some of Indonesia's richest oil fields, its finest coalfields, and deposits of gold and silver. Its offshore islands are known for their tin and bauxite. Most of the country's rubber and coffee is grown in Sumatra; pepper, tea, sugarcane, and oil palms are also grown on plantations. The Deli region around Medan is famous for its tobacco. Rice, corn, and root crops are raised for local consumption. Timber cut includes camphor and ebony.


Sumatra comprises eight provinces of Indonesia. It is a sparsely settled island, with principal centers at Medan and Palembang; also important are Jambi, Padang, and Bandar Laumpung. There are state universities in Jambi, Medan, Padang, Pakanbaru, and Palembang. The four largest ethnic groups are the Acehnese, Batak, Minangkabau, and coastal Malays. In the interior highlands are found the Gayo-Alas and the Rejang-Lebong groups. Islam is the predominant religion, though there are many Christians among the Batak and the Gayo-Alas. Chinese, Arabs, and Indians live on the coasts, and some 15 different languages are spoken on the island.


Modern humans have lived on Sumatra for at least 60,000. Sumatra had early contact with Indian civilization, and by the 7th cent. A.D. the powerful Hindu-Sumatran kingdom of Sri Vijaya (with its capital in or near Palembang) flourished under the house of Sailendra. The kingdom extended its control over a large part of Indonesia and also over the Malay Peninsula. By the 14th cent., Sumatran supremacy had waned, and the island fell under the Javanese kingdom of Majapahit. The Arabs, who may have arrived as early as the 10th cent., established the sultanate of Achin (now Aceh), which reached its height in the 17th cent. and controlled most of the island.

The first European to visit Sumatra was Marco Polo, who was there briefly c.1292. Following the Portuguese, who came in 1509, the Dutch arrived in 1596 and gradually gained control of all the native states including Achin. The British had brief control over parts of the island in the late 18th and early 19th cent. The Achinese (Acehnese) launched a rebellion in 1873 and were not subdued by the Dutch until 1904. In World War II, Japanese troops landed (Feb., 1942) in Sumatra and occupied it throughout the war.

After Indonesian independence was granted (1949), all of Sumatra was included in the new republic. Since then there has been much indigenous agitation and repeated demands for local autonomy. The Acehnese have waged occasional guerrilla warfare against the government, and in 1958 a full-scale rebellion was launched by dissident army officers. It spread to other islands before being quelled by the government. Sentiment for autonomy or independence remains strong among the Acehnese. Guerrilla attacks and demonstrations in AcehAceh
, special region (1980 pop. 2,875,634), 21,387 sq mi (55,392 sq km), N Sumatra, Indonesia, formerly known as Atjeh or Achin. The capital and largest city is Banda Aceh.
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 increased in 1999 and 2000 after the end of Indonesian authority in East TimorEast Timor
or Timor-Leste
, Tetum Timor Lorosae, republic, officially Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste (2015 est. pop. 1,241,000), 5,950 sq mi (15,410 sq km), in the Lesser Sundas, Malay Archipelago, off the SE Asia mainland.
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. Indonesian legislation in 2001 granted Aceh limited local autonomy, including the right to implement Islamic law, but sentiment in favor of independence remained strong and fighting escalated. A peace pact with the rebels (Dec., 2002) only paused the conflict for a few months. In Dec., 2004, an earthquake and resulting tsunami devastated the coastal Aceh and North Sumatra. Most of Indonesia's 167,000 deaths from the event occurred on Sumatra. In Aug., 2005, a new peace accord with signed with Aceh's rebels; it led to rebel disarmament and, in 2006, the beginning of the establishment of local self-government. Aceh and North Sumatra suffered disastrous flooding from heavy rains in Dec., 2006; more than 400,000 were displaced. Earthquakes in 2007 and 2009 caused significant destruction and deaths in the area around Padang, and a 2010 temblor's tsunami devastated coastal areas in North and South Pagai in West Sumatra's Mentawai islands.


See F. M. Schnitger, Forgotten Kingdoms in Sumatra (1989).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia™ Copyright © 2013, Columbia University Press. Licensed from Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



an island in the western part of the Malay Archipelago; one of the Greater Sunda Islands. Lying on both sides of the equator, Sumatra is part of Indonesia. Area, 435,000 sq km. Population, 20.8 million (1971). The coastline has slight indentations. There are occasional dunes along the southwestern coast, and coral reefs occur along the shoreline. The numerous small islands near Sumatra have a total area of approximately 30,000 sq km.

The western section of Sumatra consists of a system of mountains—the Barisan and other ranges—stretching along the entire southwestern coast. The mountains are composed chiefly of Paleozoic metamorphic rocks with granitic intrusions. Meso-zoic and Cenozoic extrusive and sedimentary deposits and laterites are common. The island has many volcanoes, some of which are active, including Kerintji (3,800 m). Mud volcanoes and karst plateaus are also found. The eastern part of the island is a level alluvial plain up to 250 km wide, a large part of which—approximately 150,000 sq km—is marshy. The coastal zone and river deltas are submerged at high tide. The climate is equatorial and humid. The mean annual temperature on the plains is 25°–27°C, and the annual precipitation totals 1,500–3,000 mm; in the mountains the annual precipitation may reach 4,000 mm. Sumatra has a dense river network. The principal rivers are the Musi, Hari, Indragiri, and Kampar. Lake Toba is the largest lake.

Two-thirds of Sumatra is forested. The plains up to elevations of 50–60 m have wet tropical forests with multiple strata, sometimes located on marshy ground. There is an abundance of dipterocarps, with some fig, palm, bamboo, and camphor trees. The lower stratum has treelike ferns, and the ground cover consists of ferns and a few grass species. Mangrove forests occur along the coast, and the mountains have forests of evergreen oak and chestnut and communities of laurel, beech, and softwoods. Forests with heavy brush cover and some heather and low ferns are found above 2,500 m. Sections of savanna, in which cogon (Imperata cylindrica) is widely distributed, occur in the comparatively dry intermontane basins. Forest animals predominate in the north, including the Sumatran, or Asian, two-horned rhinoceros, Asiatic elephant, Asiatic tapir, sun bear, water buffalo, pig-tailed macaque, orangutan, and gibbon. Reptiles include large snakes, the flying dragon (Draco volans), and the Malayan, or false, gavial (Tomistoma schlegeli). The bird and insect population is varied. The natural flora and fauna of Sumatra are protected in seven national parks (1969).

The island has large deposits of petroleum (Minas, Kenali-Asam, Talang Akar, and Talang Jimar), natural gas, and coal. The chief crop is rice. Rubber-bearing plants, coconut palms, coffee, and spices are cultivated on plantations. Sumatra supports a fishing industry. The principal cities on the island are Medan, Palembang, and Padang.


Some of the first states in Indonesia, including Srivijaya and Malayu, formed on Sumatra in the second to fifth centuries A.D. Srivijaya subjugated almost all of Sumatra in the seventh century. From the late 13th to early 16th centuries, the Sumatran states were vassals of the empire of Majapahit, which ruled all of Indonesia; independent principalities formed after the empire’s disintegration. Sumatra was a Dutch colony from the early 17th to early 20th centuries. It became part of the Republic of Indonesia when the republic was formed on Aug. 17,1945. During the colonial war against the Republic of Indonesia (1945–59), the Netherlands tried to set up a puppet state on Sumatra in order to keep the island regions under its control. In 1949, Sumatra joined the United States of Indonesia, which became a unitary state—the Republic of Indonesia—in 1950.

The artistic culture of Sumatra has played a significant role in the development of Indonesian art. The typical dwellings of Sumatra are houses on strong poles. They have high, two-sided, saddle-like roofs (among the Toba Bataks), four-sided roofs and ornamental superstructure with four gables (among the Karo Bataks), or several high, saddle-like roofs decorated with ornamental designs (among the Minangkabau). Small brick Buddhist temples from the 11th to 14th centuries have been preserved. Traditional crafts include plaiting, weaving, and jewelry making.


Antipov, V. I. Indoneziia. Moscow, 1967.
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


A squall, with wind speeds occasionally exceeding 30 miles (48 kilometers) per hour, in the Malacca Strait between Malay and Sumatra during the southwest monsoon (April through November).
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Scientific & Technical Terms, 6E, Copyright © 2003 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.


a mountainous island in W Indonesia, in the Greater Sunda Islands, separated from the Malay Peninsula by the Strait of Malacca: Dutch control began in the 16th century; joined Indonesia in 1945. Northern coastal areas, esp Aceh province, suffered devastation as a result of the Indian Ocean tsunami of December 2004. Pop.: 24 284 400 (1999 est.). Area: 473 606 sq. km (182 821 sq. miles)
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
References in periodicals archive ?
In December 2004, a devastating 9.1 magnitude quake off the Sumatra island triggered strong tsunami waves in the Indian Ocean, killing over two lakh people in dozens of countries, including many in India and Sri Lanka.
On the same occasion, President Director of Hutama Karya Bintang Perbowo said that the 140.9 km physical construction of the Trans Sumatra toll road Bakauheni - Terbanggi Besar section has been completed so that it can be operated immediately.
North Sumatra Crop and Horticulture Agency programme subdivision head Yusfahri confirmed that at least 10 countries - Japan, South Korea, China, Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam, Singapore, the Philippines, Australia and Brazil - routinely imported durians from the province in the last seven years.
The areas that were affected were South Lampung in Sumatra and the Serang and Pandeglang regions of Java, west of the capital Jakarta.
In North Sumatra, 11 children studying at an Islamic village school died after their classroom wall collapsed when a nearby river overflowed on Friday.
'We need to work hard to ensure that South Sumatra will be haze-free.
According to data from the Central Statistics Agency (BPS) of West Sumatra, 56,313 foreign tourists visited West Sumatra last year and 75 per cent of them were from Malaysia.
The orangutan, now the most endangered great ape on earth, was discovered in North Sumatra, Indonesia.
3 (BNA): Indonesia issued a tsunami warning yesterday after the powerful and shallow 8.2 magnitude earthquake struck off the west coast of the island of Sumatra.
The shallow quake, which hit southwest of the island of Sumatra on Wednesday, had a depth of 10 kilometers (six miles).
Indonesia issued a tsunami warning on Wednesday after a massive and shallow earthquake struck off the west coast of its island of Sumatra, a region devastated by the 2004 Indian Ocean quake and tsunami.