Banda Aceh

The province of Aceh at the northernmost tip of the island of Sumatra is often said to be the cradle of Islam in Indonesia, as well as the entry port of Malay-Islamic Civilization, which extended as far as Patani in southern Thailand. The first Islamic kingdom said to have arisen in Aceh is that of Peureulak, established in the early 9th century with its capital at Bandar Kalifah, a port city receptive to traders from across the Indian Ocean and their religions. Al-Idrisi in 1154 is said to have noted a significant Islamic presence upon his travels through Southeast Asia. More evidence lauds the succession in the 1290s of the kingdom of Samudra-Pasai, or Samudera Darussalam, at Lhokseumawe where the adoption of the official titles of sultan and malik are attested to by royal tombstones such as that of the first ruler Malikul Saleh. These headstone profiles resemble stupas and were imported from Cambay in Gujarat, India. Furthermore, records by the travelers Marco Polo and Ibn Battuta, dating to the 1290s and the 1340s respectively, attest to an established Muslim culture. The establishment of the sultanate in Bandar ("town of") Aceh in the sixteeenth century by the Lamurai kingdom eclipsed these kingdoms while attracting displaced Muslim traders from the recently Portuguese seized Goa and Malacca in 1511. This powerful succession of sultans transformed Aceh into one of the most economically powerful regions in Southeast Asia as well as a religious center. Sultan Ali Mughayat Shah (1514-1530), the first sultan, renamed the kingdom Aceh Darussalam and took military action to defend the neighboring region of Pasai from Portuguese aggression. Sultan Alauddin Riayat Shah II (1537-1571) continued the defense against Portuguese and Malaysian invasion with Turkish assistance. The seventeenth century marked Aceh's Golden Age under Sultan Iskandar Muda Meukuta Alam (debatable, either 1607 or1581-1636), often referred to as the Alexander the Great of the East. During his reign, Iskandar Muda controlled the straits of Malacca by consolidating the northern pepper ports of Sumatra to centralize all trade at Bandar Aceh, which was known as Kuta Raja (City of Kings). Though pepper was the principal export, trade was greatly enhanced and regulated and involved a spectrum of good including petrol, sulphur, gold, silver, copper, iron, tin, coffee, cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, sesame, camphor, benzoin, and betel-nut. As well as imposing commercial taxes on trade, Iskandar Muda perpetuated a division between European traders through trade regulation. The Sultan used these profits to expand his empire to include a greater area of Sumatra as well as Natal Tiku, Pariaman, Nias and Johor on the Malaka Peninsula. After the brief reign of of Iskandar Muda's son, Iskandar Thani, the region is said to have gone into a period of decline, insighting Dutch and British competition over the port cities. Notably, however, during this period four queens reigned, the first of whom was Iskandar Muda's daughter. These rulers represent four of the 34 female rulers ever to hold power in an Islamic country. The Acehnese retained a strong matriarchal society until pressure from the male dominated uleebalang, or district council, displaced the last of these queens, after which this tradition migrated south to form Sumatra's matriarchal Minangkabau culture. By the 1820's Aceh was a site of British and Dutch rivalry. The London Treaty, or Anglo-Dutch treaty of 1824, signed between the British and Dutch, declared the surrender of the island of Sumatra to the Dutch in exchange for Dutch possessions in India and Singapore, though Aceh was to retain its independence. However, the subsequent signing between the two European powers of the Sumatra Treaty in 1871 authorized the invasion of Aceh, and in 1873 the Dutch invaded starting the 30-year Aceh War, the longest battle ever participated in by the Dutch and one of the bloodiest in Indonesia. The Sultanate was officially annexed in 1874, and the Dutch finally declared victory in 1903, sending the last sultan, Tuanku Muhammad Daud Shah, into exile in Ambon in 1907, though guerrilla resistance continued through the Dutch occupation until WWII. Between the 1920s and the 1940s the Acehnese formed an ulama encouraging an increasingly orthodox Islam. The Japanese occupation of Indonesia from 1942 through 1945, successfully prevented the Dutch from returning. In 1952, after a period of conflict over Aceh's degree of autonomy within the newly formed Republic of Indonesia, Aceh was declared a separate Islamic Republic by Darul Islam (House of Islam) party leader Daud Bereueh. The province operated as a separate country until 1959 when Indonesian President Sukarno granted Aceh the status of Daerah Istimeway or "Special Province" within Indonesia. Presently, Aceh is considered one of 17 regions within the Republic of Indonesia, and though semi-autonomous, resistance continues in the region. Today, Banda Aceh, split in two by the Kali Aceh (Aceh River) is also divided into north and south sections, which are both surrounded by small village settlements. Major landmarks of the city include the Masjid Baiturrahman, surrounded by narrow shop-filled alleys, the nearby Pasar Aceh produce market, and the Pasar Ikan or fish market further upstream. 


Ed. Mohd. Taib Osman. 1997. Islamic Civilization in the Malay World. Kuala Lumpur: Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka and The Research Centre for Islamic History, Art and Culture, 247. 

Dumarcay, Jacques. 1991. The Palaces of South-East Asia: Architecture and Customs. Oxoford: Oxford Universtiy Press, 86-87, 91-92, 108. 

Dumarcay, Jacques and Michael Smithies 1998. Cultural Sites of Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 9-10, 23-25, 32, 103 

From Aceh: Art and Culture by Holly S. Smith. (Oxford University Press, New York, 1997.), 1 -13., online special, Aceh, March 22, 2003

Associated Sites
Variant Names
Bandar Aceh