Nias Island is home to an ancient culture, distinctly different from the rest of Indonesia. The Island is well known for its megalith stones, traditional houses and unique cultural practises. Due to the remoteness of the Island and the resistance of the population, Nias was one of the last islands in the Indonesian archipelago to be brought under full colonial control. For this reason Nias culture remains strong and many interesting cultural heritage sites can be visited across the island.
Traditional houses on Nias have a unique architectural style. They are able to withstand powerful earthquakes, far better than modern houses, even though they are built without using any nails. There are variations in architecture across the island; North Nias houses are free standing and round in shape, while South Nias houses are rectangular and built next to each other. Nias houses are elevated from the ground and are built for defence, as Nias villages used to live in perpetual warfare. Many older Niasans were born in houses like these, but the cost of maintaining a traditional house means that they are becoming increasingly rare.
Megalith stones of various shapes are a unique aspect of Nias culture which can be found all over the Island. They were erected during important events, such as the inauguration of a new village or the wedding of a noble couple. Often different configurations of smaller megaliths can be seen in front of private houses. Larger megaliths with elaborate carvings can be found across the interior, usually marking the centre point of an old village. One hundred years ago, Nias Island was one of the few remaining Megalithic cultures in existence anywhere.
Traditional Dress, Dances and Music
Traditional dresses are worn mainly during dance performances and weddings. Dances are performed throughout Nias during important events and celebrations. The dancing is usually accompanied by traditional music. Fierce war dances and mock-fights are performed by men, while dances like the Maina and Moyo have both male and female participants. The Maina is the best known dance and it is often performed during events. The Moyo dance imitates the flight of an eagle and is often performed by women. The most active dance groups in North Nias can be seen in the Alasa sub-district and in Lotu, the administrative center of the Regency. As a visiting tourist it can be difficult to see a traditional dance performance. The dances are not a tourist gimmick, but are performed within the community during local festivities. Your best bet is to listen for the sound of drums beating and try to get invited to a local wedding. The traditional dancing usually takes place the second day (Nias weddings are a four-day affair).
Museum Pusaka Nias / Nias Heritage Museum
This museum is a must for anyone visiting Nias Island, especially if you are interested in culture and history. It gives a very good overview of many of the unique aspects of Nias history such as tribal warfare, head hunting and spirit-worship. The museum is located in Gunung Sitoli and is one of the best maintained and managed cultural heritage museums in Indonesia. Hundreds of Nias artefacts can be seen here; weapons, jewellery and religious artefacts, traditional architecture.
WW II Relics
During World War II Japan occupied Indonesia, known then as the Dutch East Indies. Nias Island was taken by the Japanese without a fight in April 1942. Initially, most Indonesians welcomed the Japanese as liberators from their Dutch colonial masters. This sentiment changed as people on Nias had to endure many hardships to support the Japanese war effort. Bunkers and fortifications were built around the island in preparation for an allied invasion. Some very interesting war relics can be seen to this day on the west coast of North Nias. Ambukha hill was used as a look out for the west coast, and the Japanese constructed a command centre here. A few kilometres to the north two bunkers were built overlooking the expected allied invasion site at Toyolawa beach.