SUMATRA An ancient name for Sumatra was Swarna Dwipa (Sanskrit for Isle of Gold), apparently based on the fact that mines in the Sumatran highlands were exporting gold from fairly early times. The fascinating history of Sumatra is indeed rich. With its location in the India-China sea trade route, several trading kingdoms flourished, especially on the eastern coast. These early kingdoms were influenced by the religions of India.
One of the most notable of these was the Srivijaya Kingdom. Srivijaya was a Buddhist monarchy centered in what is now the city of Palembang. Dominating the region through trade and conquest throughout the 7th – 9th century, the kingdom helped spread the Malay culture throughout Sumatra, the Malay Peninsula and western Borneo. The empire was a mighty maritime power that extended its influence from island to island.
Following this period, Sumatra was then subject to conquests from Javanese kingdoms, first the Singhasari and subsequently the Hindu Majapahit. At the same time, Islam made its way to Sumatra, spreading through contacts with Arab and Indian traders.
The longest axis of the island runs approximately northwest – southeast, crossing the equator near the center. The interior of the island is dominated by two geographical regions: the Barisan Mountains in the west and swampy plains in the east. The backbone of Sumatra is the Barisan Mountain chain. The frequent volcanic activity of this region endowed the area with fertile land and beautiful scenery such as the spectacular Lake Toba which lies within a massive volcanic caldera.
To the east, wide rivers carry silt from the mountains, forming vast lowlands interspersed with swamps. Despite being mostly unsuitable for farming, the area is currently of great economic importance for Indonesia. It produces oil “from above the soil and underneath” – palm oil and petroleum.
Most of Sumatra was originally blanketed by tropical rainforest, home to species such as orangutans, tapirs and Sumatran tigers and some unique plants like the giant Rafflesia. Visitors to Sumatra will enjoy beautiful tropical panoramas, terraced rice fields, blue mountains, jungle covered hills, white sandy beaches, music, dance, folk art and most importantly the warm and hospitable Sumatran people.