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(1880-1905)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)
Loeb (1974), pp. 150-157, 150
Ancestral spirits Present, and a major focus of supernatural practice (Source)
Loeb (1974), pp. 154
Beatty (1992), pp. 33-34
Deified ancestor(s) Present, and a major focus of supernatural practice (Source)
Loeb (1974), pp. 152, 154
Beatty (1993), pp. 196
Beatty (1992), pp. 33-34
God(s) Present, and a major focus of supernatural practice (Source)
Loeb (1974), pp. 154

Supernatural Punishment

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

Afterlife and Creation

One's actions while living can affect the nature of one's afterlife One factor in determining one's afterlife (Source)
Loeb (1974), pp. 142, 153
Beatty (1992), pp. 261
The actions of others after one has died can affect the nature of one's afterlife One factor in determining one's afterlife (Source)
Loeb (1974), pp. 142, 153
Myth of humanity’s creation Present, and evolutionary (Source)
Loeb (1974), pp. 150-151
Primordial pair Present, and genealogically linked to humans now living (Source)
Loeb (1974), pp. 150
Culture hero(es) Present, but not a major focus of supernatural practice (Source)
Loeb (1974), pp. 150-157, 152
Lebar (1972), pp. 40

General Features

Forces of nature are controlled by or imbued with the supernatural Present (Source)
Loeb (1974), pp. 150, 152

Classes of Tapu

Kinship tapu Present (Source)
Beatty (1992), pp. 178

Mana

Mana as a personal quality Absent (Source)
Blust (2007)
Keesing (1984)
Blevins (2008)
Mana related to social influence or technical skill Absent (Source)
Mana as a spiritual or religious concept Absent (Source)
Blust (2007)
Keesing (1984)
Blevins (2008)
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
Size of largest ritual social group Larger than a local community, no larger than the largest political community in the culture (Source)
Loeb (1974), pp. 144-146, 150-157
Beatty (1992), pp. 205-213, 215-264
Political and religious differentiation Some overlap (Source)
Loeb (1974), pp. 143, 147, 155

Rites

Piercing Absent from culture (Source)
Loeb (1974), pp. 135-136
Lebar (1972), pp. 41
Genital cutting Present in the culture as a rite or feature of a rite (Source)
Loeb (1974), pp. 136
Scarification Absent from culture (Source)
Loeb (1974), pp. 135-136
Lebar (1972), pp. 41
Tattooing Absent from culture (Source)
Loeb (1974), pp. 136
Tooth pulling Absent from culture (Source)
Lebar (1972), pp. 41
Loeb (1974), pp. 136
Social Environment +
Population 200000 (Source)
Loeb (1974), pp. 128
Suzuki (1958), pp. 2
Population of largest political community 1,000-9,999 (Source)
Loeb (1974), pp. 128, 141
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. 196
Beatty (1992), pp. 4, 6
Marital residence Patrilocal or virilocal - with husband's kin (Source)
Beatty (1993), pp. 196

Conflict

Conflict within communities Moderate (Source)
Beatty (1993), pp. 196
Conflict between communities of the culture Frequent, occurring at least yearly (Source)
Beatty (1993), pp. 196
Conflict with other cultures Occasional, at least every generation (Source)
Loeb (1974), pp. 128
Suzuki (1959), pp. 3
Cultural 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) 35.2 (Source)
Ethnologue (Map of Sumatra) (2014)
Distance to African or Asian mainland (km) 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)
Suzuki (1959), pp. 4
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
Agriculture / Horticulture Principal (Source)
Loeb (1974), pp. 132
Lebar (1972), pp. 39
Land-based hunting performed by individuals Minor (Source)
Lebar (1972), pp. 39
Loeb (1974), pp. 132-134
Land-based gathering Medium (Source)
Loeb (1974), pp. 130-135
Land-based hunting performed by one or more groups Medium (Source)
Lebar (1972), pp. 39
Loeb (1974), pp. 132-134

Water-based means of subsistence

Fishing and water-based hunting performed by one or more groups Minor (Source)
Loeb (1974), pp. 134
Yamamoto (1986), pp. 80
Water-based gathering Medium (Source)
Yamamoto (1986), pp. 80
Fishing and water-based hunting performed by individuals Medium (Source)
Loeb (1974), pp. 134
Yamamoto (1986), pp. 80

Commercial Activity

Trade / wage labour as a source of food Major (Source)
Lebar (1972), pp. 39
Loeb (1974), pp. 136
Physical Environment +

Geographical Range of Culture

Number of islands inhabited by culture Four or more (Source)
Beatty (1993), pp. 194
Ethnologue (Map of Sumatra) (2014)

Features of Island with Largest Culture Population

Latitude 1.2 (Source)
Beatty (1993), pp. 194
Google Maps (2014)
Longitude 97.5 (Source)
Beatty (1993), pp. 194
Google Maps (2014)
Island type (island with largest culture population or largest island if unknown) Continental island (Source)
Encyclopaedia Britannica (Indonesia) (2014)
Island Size (km²) 4772.0 (Source)
Encyclopaedia Britannica (Nias) (2014)
Maximum elevation (meters) 886.0 (Source)
Encyclopaedia Britannica (Nias) (2014)
Post Contact History(1905-2014)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)
Resident missionary involvement in conversion process Present, and from non-Austronesian societies (Source)
Beatty (1992), pp. 4
Adoption of a world religion Present and predominant (Source)
Beatty (1993), pp. 196

Syncretic Movements

Syncretic religious movements Absent (Source)
Beatty (2012), pp. 302-303
Secular History +

Demographic and Social Changes

Foreign government systems Present, and of high importance (Source)
Beatty (1992), pp. 2, 4, 5
Immigration Absent (Source)
Van Oven et al (2011)
Language shift Medium (Source)
Ethnologue (Nias) (2014)
Foreign education systems High (Source)
Beatty (1992), pp. 15-17

Economic Changes

Changes in means of subsistence Low (Source)
Beatty (2012), pp. 195
Beatty (2012), pp. 316-317
Exportation of goods to other cultures Present but minor (Source)
Beatty (1993), pp. 195

Modern Infrastructure

Air travel Present, local only (Source)
Encyclopaedia Britannica (Nias) (2014)
Sea port Absent (Source)
Encyclopaedia Britannica (Nias) (2014)

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), pp. 303, 305
Dominant world religion Christianity (Source)
Beatty (1993), pp. 196
External Links
References
Beatty, A. (1992). Society and Exchange in Nias. Oxford, UK: Clarendon Press.

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

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

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

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

Encyclopaedia Britannica (Indonesia). (2014). In Encyclopaedia Britannica. Retrieved from http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/286480/Indonesia

Encyclopaedia Britannica (Nias). (2014). In Encyclopaedia Britannica. Retrieved from http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/413782/Nias

Ethnologue (Map of Sumatra). (2014). Map of Indonesia, Sumatra. Ethnologue. Retrieved from http://www.ethnologue.com/map/ID_sm_

Ethnologue (Nias). (2014). Nias: A language of Indonesia. Ethnologue. Retrieved from http://www.ethnologue.com/language/nia

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.

Lebar, F. (Ed.). (1972). Eastern Sumbanese in Ethnic Groups of Insular Southeast Asia. Volume 1: Indonesia, Andaman Islands, and Madagascar. New Haven, CT: Human Relations Area Files Press.

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

Scarduelli, P. (1990). Accumulation of heads, distribution of food: The image of power in Nias. Bijdragen tot de Taal-, Land- en Volkenkunde, Deel 146, 4de Afl. (1990), pp. 448-462. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/27864155

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

Yamamoto, Yoshiko. (1986). A Sense of Tradition: An Ethnographic Approach to Nias Material Culture. (Doctoral Thesis). Cornell University, Ithaca, NY.