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The Semendau of Indonesia

[IMAGE] The 114,000 Semendau live along the highland plateau of the Indonesian island of Sumatra, located on the equator. Other Semendau are also found in the adjacent islands, especially those off the east coast of Sumatra and the coast of Borneo. The Semendau are a subgroup of the "Pasemah," a mixture of three related people groups living in this area.

It is believed that the Semendau once lived on the coast of Borneo and later expanded into Sumatra and the Pasemah Peninsula as a result of their trading and seafaring way of life. Their culture has been strongly influenced by other peoples, including the Siamese, Javanese, and Sumatrans.

The Bukit Barisan Range is central to the historical and cultural development of the Semendau. It is the source of large rivers which flow through highland plateaus before dropping onto the lowland plains, coastal marshes, and Bangka Straits on the east and Indian Ocean to the west.

What are their lives like?
The Semendau are mainly a rural people, living in villages rather than towns. Much of the country is covered by jungle. The villages, which range in population from 50 to 1,000, are located along the coasts, rivers, and roads. Their thatch-roofed houses are built on pilings that raise them four to eight feet off the ground. The wealthier people live in houses built with plank floors and tile roofs.

Farming is the primary occupation of the Semendau and accounts for about 80% of their jobs. Rice, rubber, and coffee are the three major crops; rubber being the chief cash crop. Wet rice plots are hoed or plowed with oxen or water buffalo. Planting is carried out by groups of five to ten people working either for wages or as part of a rotating work group. Hired workers or the extended family does all of the harvesting.

The diet of the Semendau consists mainly of rice along with corn, yams, sweet potatoes, and fish. Bananas are eaten year-round together with seasonal fruits and peanuts, while chicken and goat dishes are reserved for special occasions. There is no real dry season in the region, so water is plentiful for both drinking and irrigation. However, river and well waters are often polluted and not fit for consumption without first being boiled.

Family relationships among the Semendau are very strong, particularly between parents and their children. A household typically consists of the husband, wife, and children. The basic family philosophy is: "Gather together, whether we eat or starve."

Marriages are usually arranged by the parents. Sons or daughters remaining in the household immediately after marriage take on the responsibility of caring for younger dependents, preserving family land or wealth, and contributing to ritual feasts. Children who marry out of the family break these ties of household responsibilities.

Semendau women usually wear sarongs, (colorful cotton skirts) with long-sleeved blouses. They also wear scarves, but never veils, as do most other Muslim women. Men commonly wear western-style cotton shirts and slacks.

What are their beliefs?
Today, nearly all of the Semendau are Shafiite Muslims. In each village, a mosque serves as the formal religious center, and most of the men attend Friday prayers. However, the historical influence of Hinduism in Sumatra has been great. For example, many rural people still hold some of their beliefs in spirits of the soil and the jungle. Also, while traditional medical treatments are now widely used, shamans (occult healers or medicine men) are still consulted for physical, emotional, and spiritual healings.

What are their needs?
Unemployment in rural areas is high, often making it necessary for males to move to Sumatra's urban centers. Also, many young people drop out of high school, causing unemployment among them to soar as well. Other problems include the escalating costs of higher education and dissatisfaction with the central government. Neither the Bible nor the Jesus film have been translated into the language of the Semendau.

Prayer Points

  • Ask the Lord of the Harvest to call people who are willing to go to Sumatra and share Christ with the Semendau.
  • Ask the Lord to send those who can effectively minister the Gospel to Muslims.
  • Pray that the Holy Spirit will encourage, strengthen, and protect the 23 known Semendau believers.
  • Ask the Lord to raise up Christian health-care personnel who can minister to the physical needs of these people.
  • Pray that God will send qualified linguists to translate the Bible into the Semendau language, Semendo.
  • Ask God to call Christian teachers to work among the Semendau.
  • Pray that a strong local church will be raised up among the Semendau.

Latest estimates from the World Evangelization Research Center.


  • People name: Semendau
  • Country: Indonesia
  • Their language: Semendau
  • Population: (1990) 106,100
    (1995) 114,700
    (2000) 123,500
  • Largest religion: Muslim (Shafiite) 99.9%
  • Christians: <1%
  • Church members: 23
  • Scriptures in their own language: None
  • Jesus Film in their own language: None
  • Christian broadcasts in their own language: Available
  • Mission agencies working among this people: 1
  • Persons who have heard the Gospel: 31,00 (27%) Those evangelized by local Christians: 3,500 (3%)
    Those evangelized from the outside: 27,500 (24%)
  • Persons who have never heard the Gospel: 83,700 (73%)
  • Country: Indonesia
  • Population: (1990) 182,811,600
    (1995) 197,587,700
    (2000) 212,730,600
  • Major peoples in size order: Javanese 26.2%
    Javanese Indonesian 10.7%
    Sudanese 10.6%
    Madurese 10.7%
    Sudanese Indonesian 3.1%
    Han Chinese 2.6%
  • Major religions: Muslims 43.7%
    New-Religionists 35%
    Christians 13%
    Ethnic religionists 2.6%
    Hindus 1.9%
    Nonreligious 1.9%
    Buddists 1%
  • Number of denominations: 113

© Copyright 1997
Bethany World Prayer Center

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