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Sumatra Topography.png
Topography of Sumatra
Location of Sumatra within the Indonesian Archipelago
Location Southeast Asia
Coordinates 00°N102°E / 0°N 102°E / 0; 102 Coordinates: 00°N102°E / 0°N 102°E / 0; 102
Archipelago Greater Sunda Islands
Area473,481 km2 (182,812 sq mi)
Highest elevation3,805 m (12484 ft)
Highest point Kerinci
Provinces Aceh
North Sumatra
West Sumatra
South Sumatra
Largest settlement Medan (pop. 2,097,610)
Population59,185,500 (mid 2021 estimate)
Pop. density125.0/km2 (323.7/sq mi)
Ethnic groups Acehnese, Batak, Gayonese, Lampung, Malay, Mentawai, Minangkabau, Nias, Palembang, Rejang, Chinese, Indian, Javanese etc.
Additional information
Time zone

Sumatra [lower-alpha 1] is one of the Sunda Islands of western Indonesia. It is the largest island that is fully within Indonesian territory, as well as the sixth-largest island in the world at 473,481 km2 (182,812 mi.2), not including adjacent islands such as the Simeulue, Nias, Mentawai, Enggano, Riau Islands, Bangka Belitung and Krakatoa archipelago.


Sumatra is an elongated landmass spanning a diagonal northwest–southeast axis. The Indian Ocean borders the west, northwest, and southwest coasts of Sumatra, with the island chain of Simeulue, Nias, Mentawai, and Enggano off the western coast. In the northeast, the narrow Strait of Malacca separates the island from the Malay Peninsula, which is an extension of the Eurasian continent. In the southeast, the narrow Sunda Strait, containing the Krakatoa Archipelago, separates Sumatra from Java. The northern tip of Sumatra is near the Andaman Islands, while off the southeastern coast lie the islands of Bangka and Belitung, Karimata Strait and the Java Sea. The Bukit Barisan mountains, which contain several active volcanoes, form the backbone of the island, while the northeastern area contains large plains and lowlands with swamps, mangrove forest and complex river systems. The equator crosses the island at its centre in West Sumatra and Riau provinces. The climate of the island is tropical, hot, and humid. Lush tropical rain forest once dominated the landscape.

Sumatra has a wide range of plant and animal species but has lost almost 50% of its tropical rainforest in the last 35 years.[ clarification needed ] Many species are now critically endangered, such as the Sumatran ground cuckoo, the Sumatran tiger, the Sumatran elephant, the Sumatran rhinoceros, and the Sumatran orangutan. Deforestation on the island has also resulted in serious seasonal smoke haze over neighbouring countries, such as the 2013 Southeast Asian haze which caused considerable tensions between Indonesia and affected countries Malaysia and Singapore. [2]


Sumatra was known in ancient times by the Sanskrit names of Suwarnadwīpa ('Island of Gold') and Suwarnabhūmi ('Land of Gold'), because of the gold deposits in the island's highlands. [3] The earliest known mention of the current form "Sumatra" was in 1017, when the local king Haji Sumatrabhumi ("king of the land of Sumatra") [4] sent an envoy to China. Arab geographers referred to the island as Lamri ( Lamuri , Lambri or Ramni) in the tenth through thirteenth centuries, in reference to a kingdom near modern-day Banda Aceh which was the first landfall for traders. The island has also been known by other names, including Andalas [5] or Percha Island. [6]

In the late 13th century, Marco Polo referred to the kingdom as Samara, while his contemporary fellow Italian traveller Odoric of Pordenone used the form Sumoltra. Later in the 14th century the local form "Sumatra" became popular abroad due to the rising power of the kingdom of Samudera Pasai and the subsequent Sultanate of Aceh. [7] [8]

From then on, subsequent European writers mostly used Sumatra or similar forms of the name for the entire island. [9] [10]


Batak warriors, 1870 Batak Warriors 60011135 edit.jpg
Batak warriors, 1870

By the year 692, the Melayu Kingdom was absorbed by Srivijaya. [11] :79–80

Srivijayan influence waned in the 11th century after it was defeated by the Chola Empire of southern India. At the same time, Islam made its way to Sumatra through Arabs and Indian traders in the 6th and 7th centuries AD. [12] By the late 13th century, the monarch of the Samudra kingdom had converted to Islam. Marco Polo visited the island in 1292, and his fellow Italian Odoric of Pordenone in 1321.

Moroccan scholar Ibn Battuta visited with the sultan for 15 days, noting the city of Samudra was "a fine, big city with wooden walls and towers", and another two months on his return journey. [13] Samudra was succeeded by the powerful Aceh Sultanate, which survived to the 20th century. With the coming of the Dutch, 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).

The Free Aceh Movement fought against Indonesian government forces in the Aceh Insurgency from 1976 to 2005. [14] Security crackdowns in 2001 and 2002 resulted in several thousand civilian deaths. [15]

The island was heavily impacted by both the 1883 Krakatoa eruption and the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami.


Historical population
1971 20,808,148    
1980 28,016,160+34.6%
1990 36,506,703+30.3%
1995 40,830,334+11.8%
2000 42,616,164+4.4%
2005 45,839,041+7.6%
2010 50,613,947+10.4%
2015 55,198,752+9.1%
2020 58,557,211+6.1%
2021 59,185,500+1.1%
sources: [16] [17]

Sumatra is not particularly densely populated, with 125 people per km2 – about 59,185,500  people in total (according to official estimates as at mid 2021). [18] Because of its size, it is nonetheless the fifth [19] most populous island in the world.


Speakers of Acehnese.

There are over 52 languages spoken, all of which (except Chinese and Tamil) belong to the Malayo-Polynesian branch of the Austronesian language family. Within Malayo-Polynesian, they are divided into several sub-branches: Chamic (which are represented by Acehnese in which its closest relatives are languages spoken by Ethnic Chams in Cambodia and Vietnam), Malayic (Malay, Minangkabau and other closely related languages), Northwest Sumatra–Barrier Islands (Batak languages, Gayo and others), Lampungic (includes Proper Lampung and Komering) and Bornean (represented by Rejang in which its closest linguistic relatives are Bukar Sadong and Land Dayak spoken in West Kalimantan and Sarawak (Malaysia)). Northwest Sumatra–Barrier Islands and Lampungic branches are endemic to the island. Like all parts of Indonesia, Indonesian (which was based on Riau Malay) is the official language and the main lingua franca. Although Sumatra has its own local lingua franca, variants of Malay like Medan Malay and Palembang Malay [20] are popular in North and South Sumatra, especially in urban areas. Minangkabau (Padang dialect) [21] is popular in West Sumatra, some parts of North Sumatra, Bengkulu, Jambi and Riau (especially in Pekanbaru and areas bordered with West Sumatra) while Acehnese is also used as an inter-ethnic means of communication in some parts of Aceh province.


Baiturrahman Grand Mosque in Banda Aceh Meuseujid Raya.JPG
Baiturrahman Grand Mosque in Banda Aceh
Religion in Sumatra – 2010 Census [22]
Other religions/
No answer

The majority of people in Sumatra are Muslims (87.1%), while 10.7% are Christians, and less than 2% are Buddhists and Hindus. [22]


Sumatra is one of seven geographical regions of Indonesia which includes its adjacent smaller islands. Sumatra was one of the eight original provinces of Indonesia between 1945 and 1948. Including adjacent archipelagoes normally included with Sumatra (such as the Riau Islands, Nias and the Bangka-Belitung group), it now covers ten of Indonesia's 37 provinces, which are set out below with their areas and populations. [23]

Provinces within the region of Sumatra
NameArea (km2)Population
Flag of Aceh, Indonesia.svg  Aceh 57,956.004,073,0064,486,5704,993,3855,274,8715,333,700 Banda Aceh
Flag of North Sumatra.svg  North Sumatra
(Sumatra Utara)
72,981.2311,642,48812,326,67813,923,26214,799,36114,936,200 Medan
Flag of West Sumatra.svg  West Sumatra
(Sumatra Barat)
42,012.894,248,5154,846,9095,190,5775,534,4725,580,200 Padang
Flag of Riau.svg  Riau 87,023.663,907,7635,543,0316,330,9416,394,0976,493,600 Pekanbaru
Flag of Riau Islands.svg  Riau Islands
(Kepulauan Riau)
8,256.101,040,2071,685,6981,968,3132,064,5642,118,200 Tanjung Pinang
Flag of Jambi.svg  Jambi 50,058.162,407,1663,088,6183,397,1643,548,2283,585,100 Jambi
Flag of South Sumatra (vectorised).svg  South Sumatra
(Sumatra Selatan)
91,592.436,210,8007,446,4018,043,0428,467,4328,550,900 Palembang
Flag of Bengkulu.svg  Bengkulu 19,919.331,455,5001,713,3931,872,1362,010,6702,032,900 Bengkulu
Flag of Lampung.svg  Lampung 34,623.806,730,7517,596,1158,109,6019,007,8489,081,800 Bandar Lampung
Flag of Bangka-Belitung.svg  Bangka Belitung Islands
(Kepulauan Bangka Belitung)
16,424.14899,9681,223,0481,370,3311,455,6781,473,200 Pangkal Pinang


Map of geological formation of Sumatra island Sumatra Volcanoes.png
Map of geological formation of Sumatra island
Mount Sinabung, North Sumatra Sinabung.jpg
Mount Sinabung, North Sumatra

The longest axis of the island runs approximately 1,790 km (1,110 mi) northwest–southeast, crossing the equator near the centre. At its widest point, the island spans 435 km (270 mi). The interior of the island is dominated by two geographical regions: the Barisan Mountains in the west and swampy plains in the east. Sumatra is the closest Indonesian island to mainland Asia.

To the southeast is Java, separated by the Sunda Strait. To the north is the Malay Peninsula (located on the Asian mainland), separated by the Strait of Malacca. To the east is Borneo, across the Karimata Strait. West of the island is the Indian Ocean.

The Great Sumatran fault (a strike-slip fault), and the Sunda megathrust (a subduction zone), run the entire length of the island along its west coast. On 26 December 2004, the western coast and islands of Sumatra, particularly Aceh province, were struck by a tsunami following the Indian Ocean earthquake. This was the longest earthquake recorded, lasting between 500 and 600 seconds. [24] More than 170,000 Indonesians were killed, primarily in Aceh. Other recent earthquakes to strike Sumatra include the 2005 Nias–Simeulue earthquake and the 2010 Mentawai earthquake and tsunami.

Lake Toba is the site of a supervolcanic eruption that occurred around 74,000 years ago, representing a climate-changing event. [25]

The most important rivers in Sumatra belong to the catchment area of the South China Sea. Heading north to south, the Rokan, Siak, Kampar, Indragiri, Batanghari flow into the Malacca Strait, while the island's largest river, the Musi, flows into the sea at Bangka Strait in the south.

To the east, big rivers carry silt from the mountains, 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 lowlands. 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. [26]

Sumatra is a highly seismic island, huge earthquakes have been recorded throughout history, in 1797 an 8.9 earthquake shook Western Sumatra, in 1833 a 9.2 earthquake shook Bengkulu and Western Sumatra both events caused large tsunamis. They are very common throughout the coastal area of the west and center of the island, tsunamis are common due to the high seismicity in the area. [ citation needed ]

Largest cities

Medan, the largest city in Sumatra Medanskyline2013.jpg
Medan, the largest city in Sumatra

By population, Medan is the largest city in Sumatra. [27] Medan is also the most visited and developed city in Sumatra.

RankCityProvinceCity BirthdayArea
(in km2)
2010 census
2020 census
1 Medan North Sumatra 1 July 1590265.102,097,6102,435,252
2 Palembang South Sumatra 17 June 1683374.031,455,2841,668,848
3 Bandar Lampung Lampung 17 June 1682169.21881,8011,166,066
4 Pekanbaru Riau 23 June 1784633.01897,767983,356
5 Padang West Sumatra 7 August 1669694.96833,562909,040
6 Jambi Jambi 17 May 1946205.00531,857606,200
7 Bengkulu Bengkulu 18 March 1719144.52308,544373,591
8 Dumai Riau 20 April 19992,039.35253,803316,782
9 Binjai North Sumatra 90.24246,154291,842
10 Pematang Siantar North Sumatra 24 April 187160.52234,698268,254
11 Banda Aceh Aceh 22 April 120561.36223,446252,899
12 Lubuklinggau South Sumatra 17 August 2001419.80201,308234,166

Flora and fauna

Sumatran tiger Sumatran tiger.jpg
Sumatran tiger
Rafflesia arnoldii Rafflesia sumatra.jpg
Rafflesia arnoldii

Sumatra supports a wide range of vegetation types that are home to a rich variety of species, including 17 endemic genera of plants. [28] Unique species include the Sumatran pine which dominates the Sumatran tropical pine forests of the higher mountainsides in the north of the island and rainforest plants such as Rafflesia arnoldii (the world's largest individual flower), and the titan arum (the world's largest unbranched inflorescence).

The island is home to 201 mammal species and 580 bird species. There are nine endemic mammal species on mainland Sumatra and 14 more endemic to the nearby Mentawai Islands. [28] There are about 300 freshwater fish species in Sumatra. [29] There are 93 amphibian species in Sumatra, 21 of which are endemic to Sumatra. [30]

The Sumatran tiger, Sumatran rhinoceros, Sumatran elephant, Sumatran ground cuckoo, Sumatran orangutan and Tapanuli orangutan are all critically endangered, indicating the highest level of threat to their survival. In October 2008, the Indonesian government announced a plan to protect Sumatra's remaining forests. [31]

The island includes more than 10 national parks, including three which are listed as the Tropical Rainforest Heritage of Sumatra World Heritage SiteGunung Leuser National Park, Kerinci Seblat National Park and Bukit Barisan Selatan National Park. The Berbak National Park is one of three national parks in Indonesia listed as a wetland of international importance under the Ramsar Convention.

Rail transport

Several unconnected railway networks built during Netherlands East Indies exist in Sumatra, such as the ones connecting Banda Aceh-Lhokseumawe-Besitang-Medan-Tebingtinggi-Pematang Siantar-Rantau Prapat in Northern Sumatra (the Banda Aceh-Besitang section was closed in 1971, but is currently being rebuilt). [32] Padang-Solok-Bukittinggi in West Sumatra, and Bandar Lampung-Palembang-Lahat-Lubuk Linggau in Southern Sumatra.

See also

Related Research Articles

Alor Island Island in Indonesia

Alor is the largest island in the Alor Archipelago and is one of the 92 officially listed outlying islands of Indonesia. It is located at the eastern Lesser Sunda Islands that runs through southeastern Indonesia, which from the west include such islands as Bali, Lombok, Sumbawa, Komodo, and Flores.

West Sumatra Province of Indonesia

West Sumatra is a province of Indonesia. It is located on the west coast of the island of Sumatra and includes the Mentawai Islands off that coast. The province has an area of 42,012.89 km2, with a population of 5,534,472 at the 2020 census. The official estimate as at mid 2021 was 5,580,232. West Sumatra borders the Indian Ocean to the west, as well as the provinces of North Sumatra to the north, Riau to the northeast, Jambi to the southeast, and Bengkulu to the south. The province is subdivided into twelve regencies and seven cities. It has relatively more cities than other provinces outside of Java, although several of them are relatively low in population compared with cities elsewhere in Indonesia. Padang is the province's capital and largest city.

North Sumatra Province of Indonesia

North Sumatra is a province of Indonesia located on the northern part of the island of Sumatra. Its capital and largest city is Medan. North Sumatra is Indonesia's fourth most populous province after West Java, East Java and Central Java, and also the most populous in the island of Sumatra. It covers an area of 72,981 km2. According to the 2020 census, the province's population in that year was 14,799,361. The mid-2021 official estimate is 14,936,148.

Jambi Province of Indonesia

Jambi is a province of Indonesia. It is located on the east coast of central Sumatra and spans to the Barisan Mountains in the west. Its capital and largest city is Jambi. The province has a land area of 50,160.05 km2, and a sea area of 3,274.95 km2. It had a population of 3,092,265 according to the 2010 census and 3,548,228 according to the 2020 census. The official estimate as at mid 2021 was 3,585,119.

Bengkulu Province of Indonesia

Bengkulu is a province of Indonesia. It is located on the southwest coast of Sumatra. It was formed on 18 November 1968 by separating out the former Bencoolen Residency area from the province of South Sumatra under Law No. 9 of 1967 and was finalized by Government Regulation No. 20 of 1968. Spread over 19,813 km2, it is bordered by the provinces of West Sumatra to the north, Jambi to the northeast, Lampung to the southeast, and South Sumatra to the east, and by the Indian Ocean to the northwest, south, southwest, and west.

Bangka Belitung Islands Island province of Indonesia east of Sumatra

The Bangka Belitung Islands is a province of Indonesia. Situated off the southeastern coast of Sumatra, the province comprises two main landmasses—Bangka and Belitung—and numerous smaller islands. Bangka Belitung is bordered by the Bangka Strait to the west, the Natuna Sea to the north, the Java Sea is to the south and the Karimata Strait to the east. The province's capital and largest city is Pangkal Pinang. Bangka Belitung covers an area of 16,424.06 km2 (6,341.37 sq mi) and has a population of 1,455,678 according to the 2020 census.

Mentawai Islands Regency Regency in West Sumatra, Indonesia

The Mentawai Islands Regency are a chain of about seventy islands and islets approximately 150 kilometres off the western coast of Sumatra in Indonesia. They cover 6,033.76 km2 and had a population of 76,173 at the 2010 Census and 87,623 at the 2020 Census. Siberut at 3,838.25 square kilometres is the largest of the islands. The other major islands are Sipura, North Pagai, and South Pagai. The islands lie off the Sumatran coast, across the Mentawai Strait. The indigenous inhabitants of the islands are known as the Mentawai people. The Mentawai Islands have become a noted destination for surfing, with over 40 boats offering surf charters to international guests.

Pekanbaru City and capital of Riau, Indonesia

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Nias Island off the west coast of Sumatra, Indonesia

Nias is an island located off the western coast of Sumatra, Indonesia. Nias is also the name of the archipelago of which the island is the centre, but also includes the Batu Islands to the south-east and the small Hinako Islands to the west. Nias Island covers an area of 5,625.0 km2 (2,171.8 sq mi). It is mostly a lowland area rising to around 800 m (2,600 ft) above sea level. There were 756,338 inhabitants on the island at the 2010 Census; at the 2015 Census this had risen to 798,506 and the 2020 Census resulted in a total of 880,550.

Simeulue Regency Regency in Sumatra, Indonesia

Simeulue Regency is a regency in the Aceh special region of Indonesia. It occupies the whole island of Simeulue, 150 km off the west coast of Sumatra, with an area of 1,838.09 square kilometres. It had a population of 80,674 at the 2010 census and 92,865 at the 2020 census; the official estimate as at mid 2021 was 93,762.

Teluk Dalam is a town and district in the South Nias Regency, North Sumatra province, Indonesia. Following the splitting off of parts of the original district to form new districts, it is now mainly confined to the town, and its area is now 41.30 km2 (15.95 sq mi). In English, Teluk Dalam means "Deep Bay". As of mid 2021, Telukdalam had a population of 25,780 and a population density of 624.2/km2. Telukdalam has various tourist sites, such as Sorake Beach, Lagundri Beach and Bawömataluo which hosts Nias traditional houses of hundred years ago.

Batu Islands Island group in Indonesia

The Batu Islands are an archipelago of Indonesia located in the Indian Ocean, off the west coast of Sumatra, between Nias and Siberut. The three primary islands, of approximately equal size, are Pini, Tanahmasa, and Tanahbala. There are seventy-five smaller islands, of which the largest are Sipika, Tello and Sigata, Simuk and Bojo ; less than half are inhabited. The total land area of the seven administrative districts is 1,201.1 km2. The islands are governed as a part of South Nias regency within North Sumatra province. In Indonesian and Malay, batu means rock or stone.

Banyak Islands

The Banyak Islands are a group of inhabited islands located between Simeulue and Nias off the western coast of Sumatra in Indonesia's Aceh Province. Surveys of the area approximate around 71 islands and additional mangrove stands in shallow off-shore areas, although locals count 99 islands. The largest island in the group is Tuangku, with the principal town of Haloban. Two other major islands located either side of Tuangku are Bangkaru and Ujung Batu. Tuangku is separated from Bangkaru by a fault line.

Simeulue Island in Indonesia

Simeulue is an island of Indonesia, 150 kilometres (93 mi) off the west coast of Sumatra. It covers an area of 1,838.09 square kilometres, including minor offshore islands. It had a population of 80,674 at the 2010 census and 92,865 at the 2020 census. The official estimate as at mid 2021 was 93,762. Its capital is Sinabang.

Southeast Aceh Regency Regency in Sumatra, Indonesia

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Index of Indonesia-related articles List of Indonesia-related articles

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Architecture of Sumatra

The Indonesian island of Sumatra is the sixth largest island in the world. The rich ethnic diversity and historical heritage in Sumatra is reflected in the range of architectural styles in the island. The vernacular style is the native Sumatran ethnic groups architecture of dwellings, while the Hindu-Buddhist architecture reflected through the cultural historical heritage of candis built in Sumatra. The third wave is Islamic architecture adopted in mosques and palace in Sumatra, especially in Aceh, North Sumatra, and Malay cultural sphere in the island.

On February 20, 2008, an earthquake with a moment magnitude of 7.4 struck off the coast of Sumatra at a hypocentre depth of 26 km. The earthquake had an epicenter located on the island of Simeulue, northwest from Sinabang, a small town on the island. Three people were killed and an additional 25 seriously injured as a result of the earthquake.


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Further reading