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An old name for Sumatra was "Swarna Dwipa" (Sanskrit for "Island of Gold"), probably due to the very early export of gold from the mines in the Sumatran highlands.

Due to its location in the India-China trade routes, several trading cities sprang up, especially on the east coast. Because of this, influences from Indian religions were also brought to Sumatra. The best known is Srivijaya, a Buddhist monarchy with present-day Palembang as its centre. Through trade and conquests, this kingdom dominated the region in the 7th-9th centuries and promoted the spread of Malay culture on Sumatra, the Malay Peninsula and west Borneo (Kalimantan). However, the kingdom's influences did not extend much beyond the coastal areas.

The influence of the Srivijaya kingdom waned in the 11th century. The island was repeatedly invaded from Java by Javanese kingdoms. First Singhasari and later Majapahit. During this period, Islam also made its appearance, spread by trade contacts with Arab and Indian traders.

In the late 13th century, the monarch of the Samudra kingdom (now Aceh) converted. The name "Samudra" was pronounced by Ibn Battuta as "Sumatra", hence the name of the island. Samudra was succeeded by the powerful Aceh Sultanate, which lasted until the 20th century. With the arrival of the Dutch, the many Sumatran principalities were gradually brought under Dutch control. Aceh was the main obstacle, given the long and expensive Aceh War (1870-1905).

Sumatra made the sad headlines on 26 December 2004 when the northern province of Aceh was hit extremely hard by metres-high tsunami waves. On 19 November 2005, the islanders were again shaken by an earthquake measuring 6.5 on the Richter scale.

See also the history of Indonesia.



CIA - World Factbook

BBC - Country Profiles

Last updated May 2024
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