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The Achehnese of Indonesia

[IMAGE] The Acehnese (pronounced ah-chu-NEEZ) live on the northern tip of the island of Sumatra in the Aceh province, Indonesia. Very few Acehnese live in any other country. They are a blend of many races, which explains why they are fairer skinned and slightly taller than most other Indonesians.

A mountain range with thick tropical forests runs through the middle of the Acehnese province. One of the chief cities in this province, Banda Aceh, is commonly known as "the doorway to Mecca" or "the front porch of Mecca." Historically, Banda Aceh has been a stopping place for Muslims journeying by ship to Mecca, the "holy city," in Saudi Arabia.

The Acehnese are primarily Muslims. Much of their blood has been spilled on the battleground in defense of their faith. During the 17th century Portugal, Great Britain, and the Netherlands battled for political control of the area. In 1824 the Netherlands obtained control; however, the Acehnese resisted Dutch rule. This led to bitter conflict between them, conflict which lasted until after World War II. The Indonesian Republic (United States of Indonesia) was established in 1949.

What are their lives like?
The Acehnese are not as poor as are those in many other parts of Indonesia. Most families are agriculturists. Their diet includes rice served with meat, fish, or vegetables. The meat is usually water buffalo, beef, or chicken; pork is forbidden to Muslims.

Traditional clothing is a colorful skirt, worn by both men and women, called a sarong. Most families live in houses that consist of a sleeping room and a large living room. The living room may also serve as the kitchen and contain a rectangular hearth filled with clay and ashes. These houses generally stand on stilts about 1.8 meters (6 feet) high. Families use the space underneath for cattle stalls or chicken coops, or to store tools and firewood. The floors and walls are made of timber or flattened bamboo. The roofs are covered by clay tiles or thatch made of palm leaves.

Acehnesian households are run by the women. Men have no say in matters that deal with the home or even child rearing! All of the children, even the youngest, are expected to help the family work. Only men may inherit material assets, such as money or a business; but houses and land are always passed down to the women.

The island of Sumatra has a hot, humid climate with an average yearly temperature of about 27 degrees C (80 degrees F). The average yearly rainfall is generally from 305 to 368 centimeters (120 to 145 inches).

The Acehnese speak their own language, but also speak Indonesian as a second language. More than half of the adults can read the Indonesian language. Many people also speak a third language, any one of several minority dialects of Acehnese.

Aceh is the only province in Indonesia where Islamic law applies. This law exercises very strict control over the society and is rigidly enforced.

The Acehnese are fierce enemies with their southern neighbors, the Bataks, and have fought off and on with them throughout the years.

What are their beliefs?
The Acehnese are strict Sunni Muslims and have been very instrumental in the spreading of Islam throughout Indonesia and other parts of southeast Asia, often at the point of the sword. It is often stated that to be Acehenesian is to be Islamic.

In spite of their dedication to Islam, many Acehenese are still influenced by "animistic" ideology (belief that non-human objects have souls) and various superstitions.

There are some small groups of non-Acehnese living in Aceh who practice Buddhism, Hinduism, and even Christianity.

What are their needs?
Though sophisticated and intelligent, the Acehnese are living in spiritual darkness and ignorance. Only portions of the Gospel have been translated into the Acehnese language. They desperately need the light of the Gospel; only it can pierce the darkness that surrounds them.

The Acehnese are very resistant to Christianity; some are openly hostile. From 1979 to 1981 more than ten church buildings were burned and more than fifty Christians were killed in the Aceh province. (The victims were non-Acehnese who were living in the area.)

The Acehnese believe that their land is holy and that Christians living there only pollute it. Any Acehnese person who openly confesses his belief in Christ will be killed. As a result, very few missionaries serve there.

There are fewer than 300 known Christians among the Acehnese. Islamic law is strictly enforced and puts tremendous pressure on these believers.

Prayer Points

  • Ask the Lord to send qualified linguists to translate the Bible into the Acehnese language.
  • Pray that God will strengthen and encourage the small number of believers living among the Acehnese. Pray for His protection over them from physical harm.
  • Pray that God will raise up qualified laborers who can effectively cross the Muslim cultural barriers.
  • Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal to the Acehnese that Islam is a religion of death, but that believing in Christ will give them life.
  • Pray that the hostility towards Christians will cease and that they will be allowed to freely preach the Gospel.
  • Pray that the non-Acehnese Christians living in Sumatra will be given open doors and opportunities to share Christ with the Acehnese.

Latest estimates from the World Evangelization Research Center.


  • People name: Achehnese
  • Country: Indonesia
  • Their language: aceh
  • Population: (1990) 2,920,900
    (1995) 3,156,900
    (2000) 3,398,900
  • Largest religion: Muslims (Shafiites) 99.9%
  • Christians: <1%
  • Church members: 316
  • Scriptures in their own language: Portions
  • Jesus Film in their own language: Available
  • Christian broadcasts in their own language: Available
  • Mission agencies working among this people: 18
  • Persons who have heard the Gospel: 1,231,500 (39%) Those evangelized by local Christians: 95,000 (3%)
    Those evangelized from the outside: 1,136,500 (36%)
  • Persons who have never heard the Gospel: 1,925,400 (61%)
  • 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 1.0%
  • Number of denominations: 113

© Copyright 1997
Bethany World Prayer Center

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