Also known as: Niasan

Nias is a large island off the west coast of Sumatra. Despite its long history of interaction with the Islamized peoples of Sumatra, the people of Nias maintained their indigenous religion, as well as their political independence, until the early twentieth century. However, Nias religion has identifiable Hindu elements, presumably dating to the time prior to the Islamization of Indonesia. The high god of Nias was called Lowalangi, and was conceived as a cosmic herdsman who kept human beings as his pigs.

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Traditional Culture(1865)Expand All +
Belief +

Supernatural Beings

Nature Spirits Present, and a major focus of supernatural practice (Source)
Loeb (1974), pp. 134, 152, 154
Nature god(s) Present, but not a major focus of supernatural practice (Source)
Hummel & Telaumbanua (2007), pp. 19-25
Loeb (1974), pp. 150-157
Ancestral spirits Present, and a major focus of supernatural practice (Source)
Hummel & Telaumbanua (2007), pp. 19-25
Beatty (1992), pp. 33-34
Deified ancestor(s) Absent (Source)
Hummel & Telaumbanua (2007), pp. 19-25
Beatty (1993), pp. 33-35
God(s) Present, and a major focus of supernatural practice (Source)
Hummel & Telaumbanua (2007), pp. 19-22

Supernatural Punishment

Supernatural punishment for impiety Present (Source)
Loeb (1974), pp. 143, 153
Loeb (1928)

Afterlife and Creation

One's actions while living can affect the nature of one's afterlife One factor in determining one's afterlife (Source)
Hummel & Telaumbanua (2007), pp. 42-56
Loeb (1974), pp. 142, 153
The actions of others after one has died can affect the nature of one's afterlife One factor in determining one's afterlife (Source)
Hummel & Telaumbanua (2007), pp. 42-56
Loeb (1974), pp. 142, 153
Myth of humanity’s creation Present, and evolutionary (Source)
Hummel & Telaumbanua (2007), pp. 15-17
Loeb (1974), pp. 150-151
Primordial pair Absent (Source)
Hummel & Telaumbanua (2007), pp. 15-17
Loeb (1974), pp. 150-151
Culture hero(es) Present, but not a major focus of supernatural practice (Source)
Hummel & Telaumbanua (2007), pp. 19-25
Loeb (1974), pp. 150-157

General Features

Forces of nature are controlled by or imbued with the supernatural Present (Source)
Hummel & Telaumbanua (2007), pp. 20

Classes of Tapu

Social hierarchy tapu Present (Source)
Hummel & Telaumbanua (2007), pp. 27-30
Kinship tapu Present (Source)
Beatty (1992), pp. 178

Mana

Mana as a spiritual or religious concept Absent (Source)
Blust (2007)
Keesing (1984)
Blevins (2008)
Mana as a personal quality Absent (Source)
Blust (2007)
Keesing (1984)
Blevins (2008)
Mana related to social influence or technical skill Absent (Source)
Practice +

General Supernatural Practices

Headhunting Present (Source)
Loeb (1974), pp. 145
Costly sacrifices and offerings Present (Source)
Suzuki (1959), pp. 5
Loeb (1974), pp. 154
Largest religious community Larger than a local community, smaller than the society (Source)
Hummel & Telaumbanua (2007), pp. 27-30
Suzuki (1958), pp. 5
Political and religious differentiation Some overlap (Source)
Hummel & Telaumbanua (2007), pp. 26-30, 55-56
Loeb (1974), pp. 141-143, 155

Rites

Tooth pulling Absent from culture (Source)
Loeb (1974), pp. 135-136
Hummel & Telaumbanua (2007), pp. 30-47
Scarification Absent from culture (Source)
Loeb (1974), pp. 135-136
Piercing Present in culture, but not as a rite or feature of a rite (Source)
Loeb (1974), pp. 135
Hummel & Telaumbanua (2007), pp. 30-47
Tattooing Absent from culture (Source)
Loeb (1974), pp. 136
Genital cutting Present in the culture as a rite or feature of a rite (Source)
Loeb (1974), pp. 136
Hummel & Telaumbanua (2007), pp. 36
Social Environment +
Population 170000 (Source)
Crawfurd (1856), pp. 300
Suzuki (1958), pp. 2,6
Population of largest political community 1,000-9,999 (Source)
Loeb (1974), pp. 141-143
Crawfurd (1856), pp. 300
Beatty (1993), pp. 193
Importance of Patrilateral descent High (Source)
Beatty (1993), pp. 195
Importance of Matrilateral descent Low (Source)
Beatty (1993), pp. 195
Polygamy Full polygyny (Source)
Beatty (1993), pp. 4,6
Marital residence Patrilocal or virilocal - with husband's kin (Source)
Beatty (1993), pp. 196

Conflict

(No) external warfare Occasional, at least every generation (Source)
Loeb (1974), pp. 128, 144-146
Suzuki (1958), pp. 3
Hummel & Telaumbanua (2007), pp. 58-60
Conflict within community Moderate (Source)
Loeb (1974), pp. 143-144
Beatty (1993), pp. 196
(No) internal warfare Frequent, occurring at least yearly (Source)
Beatty (1993), pp. 196
Isolation +
Contact with other cultures Frequent, through trade, warfare, travel, etc. (Source)
Loeb (1974), pp. 136
Beatty (1992), pp. 3-5
Distance to closest landmass inhabited by a different culture (km) 0.0 (Source)
Suzuki (1958), pp. 2
Hummel & Telaumbanua (2007), pp. 14-15
Distance to nearest continent 407.4 (Source)
Beatty (1993), pp. 194
Daft Logic Distance Calculator (2014)
Pre-Austronesian population Present: Clear evidence of human occupation prior to Austronesian settlement (Source)
Bellwood (1995), pp. 109
Hindu / Buddhist influence on supernatural belief Evidence of influence (Source)
Loeb (1974), pp. 150, 154
Islamic influence on supernatural belief No evidence of influence but in a region where contact is likely (Source)
Beatty (1992), pp. 3-5
Christian influence on supernatural belief No evidence of influence but in a region where contact is likely (Source)
Beatty (1992), pp. 3-4
Subsistence and Economy +

Land-based means of subsistence

Animal husbandry as a source of food Medium (Source)
Loeb (1974), pp. 132-133
Land-based hunting performed by individuals Absent (Source)
Hummel & Telaumbanua (2007), pp. 51
Land-based gathering Medium (Source)
Loeb (1974), pp. 132-135
Land-based hunting performed by one or more groups Medium (Source)
Loeb (1974), pp. 132-135
Hummel & Telaumbanua (2007), pp. 51
Agriculture / Horticulture Principal (Source)
Beatty (1993), pp. 195
Loeb (1974), pp. 132

Water-based means of subsistence

Fishing and water-based hunting performed by one or more groups Minor (Source)
Loeb (1974), pp. 132-135
Fishing and water-based hunting performed by individuals Medium (Source)
Loeb (1974), pp. 132-135
Water-based gathering Minor (Source)
Loeb (1974), pp. 132-135
Hummel & Telaumbanua (2007), pp. 47-53

Commercial Activity

Trade / wage labour as a source of food Medium (Source)
Loeb (1974), pp. 132-138
Metalworking Present (Source)
Loeb (1974), pp. 136
Physical Environment +

Geographical Range of Culture

Number of islands inhabited by culture Four or more (Source)
Beatty (1993), pp. 194

Features of Island with Largest Culture Population

Island type (island with largest culture population or largest island if unknown) Continental island (Source)
Mohamad et al. (2021)
Island Size (km²) 5450.0 (Source)
Beatty (1993), pp. 194
Maximum elevation (meters) 866.0 (Source)
Beatty (1993), pp. 194

Location

Latitude 1.2 (Source)
Beatty (1993), pp. 194
Google Maps (2014)
Longitude 97.5 (Source)
Beatty (1993), pp. 194
Google Maps (2014)
Post Contact History(1865-2014)Expand All +
Religious History +

Conversion

Role of social status in conversion process Primarily a bottom-up process, although those in power showed little or no reluctance. (Source)
Beatty (2012), pp. 306-307
Use of force in conversion Low (Source)
Beatty (2012)
Adoption of a world religion Present and predominant (Source)
Beatty (1993), pp. 196
Resident missionary involvement in conversion process Present, and from non-Austronesian societies (Source)
Beatty (1992), pp. 4

Syncretic Movements

Syncretic religious movements Absent (Source)
Beatty (2012)
Secular History +

Demographic and Social Changes

Foreign government systems Present, and of high importance (Source)
Beatty (1993), pp. 194-195
Immigration Absent (Source)
Van Oven et al (2011)
Language shift Low (Source)
Eberhard (2020)
Foreign education systems High (Source)
Beatty (1992), pp. 15-17

Economic Changes

Changes in means of subsistence Medium (Source)
Beatty (2012), pp. 195
Beatty (2012)

Modern Infrastructure

Air travel Present, local only (Source)
'Nias' (2008)
Sea port Absent (Source)
'Nias' (2008)

Loss of Autonomy

Nature of loss of autonomy Largely involuntary (Source)
Beatty (1993), pp. 195
Loss of political autonoomy High (Source)
Beatty (1993), pp. 194-5
Current Culture(2014)Expand All +
Belief +

Religious Demographics

Unofficial religious syncretism High: (Source)
Beatty (2012)
Dominant world religion Christianity (Source)
Beatty (1993), pp. 196
Beatty (2012)
External Links
References
Beatty, A. (1992). Society and Exchange in Nias. Oxford, UK: Clarendon Press.

Beatty, A. (1993). Nias. Encyclopaedia of World Cultures (Volume 5: East and Southeast Asia) (pp 194-195). New York, NY: G.K. Hall and Co.

Beatty, A. (2012). 'The Tell-Tale Heart: Conversion and Emotion in Nias'. Ethnos, 77 (3), 295-320. DOI: 10.1080/00141844.2011.609943

Bellwood, P. (1995). Austronesian Prehistory in Southeast Asia: Homeland, Expansion and Transformation. P. Bellwood, J.J. Fox, & D. Tryon (Eds.), The Austronesians: Historical and Comparative Perspectives (pp 113-114). Canberra, Australia: ANU Press.

Blevins, J. (2008). Some Comparative Notes on Proto-Oceanic *Mana: Inside and Outside the Austronesian Family. Oceanic Linguistics, 47 (2), 253-274. Retrieved from http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/ol/summary/v047/47.2.blevins.html

Blust, R. (2007). Proto-Oceanic *Mana Revisited. Oceanic Linguistics, 46(2), 404-423. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/20172322

Brunton, R. (1989). The Abandoned Narcotic: Kava and Cultural Instability in Melanesia. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.

Crawfurd, J. (1856). A descriptive dictionary of the Indian Islands and adjacent countries. London, UK: Bradbury & Evans. Retrieved from https://archive.org/details/adescriptivedic00crawgoog/page/n304/mode/2up

Daft Logic Distance Calculator. (2014). http://www.daftlogic.com/projects-google-maps-distance-calculator.htm.

Eberhard, D. M., Simons, G. F., & Fennig, C. D. (eds.). (2020). Ethnologue: Languages of the World (23rd ed.). Dallas, TX: SIL International. Retrieved from http://www.ethnologue.com

Google Maps (2014). Retrieved from maps.google.com

Hummel, U. & Telaumbanua, T. (2007). Cross and Adu: A Socio-Historical Study on the Encounter between Christianity and the Indigenous Culture on Nias and the Batu Islands, Indonesia (1865-1965). Utrecht, Netherlands: Universiteit Utrecht.

Keesing, R. M. (1984). Rethinking "mana". Journal of Anthropological Research, 40(1), 137-156, http://www.jstor.org/stable/3629696.

Loeb, E. M. (1928). Mentawei social organization. American Anthropologist, 30(3), 408-433. DOI: 10.1525/aa.1928.30.3.02a00030.

Loeb, E. M. (1974). Sumatra: Its History and People. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia: Oxford University Press. (Originally published 1935).

Mohamad, G. S., Adam, A. W., Leinbach, T. R., Wolters, O. W., McDivitt, J. F., & Legge, J. D. (2021). Indonesia. In Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Retrieved from https://www.britannica.com/place/Indonesia

Nias (2008). Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Retrieved from https://www.britannica.com/place/Nias.

Suzuki, P. (1959). Critical Survey of Studies on the Anthropology of Nias, Mentawai and Enggano. Leiden, Netherlands: Martinus Nijhoff.

Suzuki, P. T. (1958). Critical survey of studies on the anthropology of Nias, Mentawei and Enggano. The Hague, Netherlands: Koninklijk Instituut voor Taal-.

Van Oven, M.; Hammerle, J.M.; Van Schoor, M.; Kushnick, G.; Pennekamp, P.; Zega, I. ... & Kayser, M. (2011). Unexpected Island Effects at an Extreme: Reduced Y Chromosome and Mitochondrial DNA Diversity in Nias. Molecular Biology and Evolution, 28 (4), 1349-1361. DOI: 10.1093/molbev/msq300