The Gayo of Indonesia
The Gayo inhabit the remote central highlands of the Aceh province, which is located on the large island of Sumatra. Their homeland lies across the Bukit Barisan Mountains, also known as the "Parade of Mountains." Extending for more than a thousand miles throughout Sumatra, this range reaches heights of over twelve thousand feet. Like most Sumatran peoples, the Gayo speak a Malayo-Polynesian language.
The Gayo are close neighbors to the radical Islamic Acehenese people, who conquered them and forced them into slavery during the seventeenth century. However, the region remained basically unknown and unexplored. Then, from 1904 until 1942 the Dutch occupied the area, and many Gayo initially resisted and were killed. Eventually, however, the Dutch presence enabled the Gayo to develop a thriving cash crop economy of vegetables and coffee. Education was greatly improved, and the country as a whole was modernized.
What are their lives like?
The chief occupation of the Gayo is agriculture, but they also raise some cattle and horses. Although rice is their staple food, dried fish and meat are also eaten.
The Gayo live primarily in extended households in small, isolated mountain villages. The most important house in the village is the umah (dwelling house). This house is built on pillars and is inhabited by a number of related families. The house has two galleries, one for the men and the other for the women. The individual family's sleeping quarters are located in the middle of the dwelling.
Each village also has a meresah (men's house), which is the traditional place in which boys over the age of eight, unmarried men, widowers, and strangers spend the night. This house is also used for religious and training purposes.
Gayo marriages are exogamous; that is, they marry outside of their own groups. However, marriages between second cousins are allowed. Most men marry local women, since a woman's family does not wish to lose touch with her, and the man wishes to know something about the woman whom he is marrying.
Polygamous marriages (having more than one spouse) are rare, though permitted. First marriages are usually arranged by the families on both sides. The engagement lasts from one to three years, in order to give the man time to acquire the bride price, and the woman, the dowry. Weddings are then celebrated according to Islamic tradition.
The Gayo have no written language, and their folklore consists only of legends and customs that are often shared through performed poetry.
What are their beliefs?
The Gayo have been Muslims at least since the seventeenth century, but the number of mosques within their homeland remains small. As a result, the Gayo have little knowledge or real concern for Islam.
The majority of people in the rural areas still believe in friendly and unfriendly spirits and ghosts, and in saints, both living and dead. All these must be appeased through gifts and cult practices. In the few modern towns, these beliefs are less prevalent, but healing by the use of exorcism is common.
What are their needs?
The geographical remoteness of the Gayo has made it difficult to reach them with the Gospel. Today, they are still without the Scriptures, Christian radio broadcasts, the Jesus film, or missionary efforts. Although a small percentage of the people have been exposed to the Gospel, the Gayo are resistant to change. Consequently, only a handful of them have become Christians.
Their religious beliefs in Islamic law and animism (the belief that non-human objects have spirits) keep them spiritually bound and unaware of the freedom offered by Jesus Christ. They need to know that Jesus is the true God and wants to set them free. Only prayer and intercession can reveal this Truth to them.
- Ask the Lord of the harvest to send full-time missionaries to work among the Gayo of Indonesia.
- Pray that the Lord will raise up linguists who can develop a written script for the Gayo.
- Pray that the Jesus film will soon be produced in their language.
- Pray that the Lord will strengthen, protect, and grant boldness to the small number of Gayo believers.
- Pray that the Gayo will hunger to know Jesus and that God will reveal Himself to them through dreams and visions.
- Take authority over the spiritual principalities and powers that have kept the Gayo bound for many generations.
- Ask God to raise up a mighty army of prayer warriors who will intercede for the Gayo.
- Pray that strong local churches will be raised up among the Gayo of Indonesia.
Latest estimates from the World Evangelization Research Center.
- People name: Gayo
- Country: Indonesia
- Their language: Gayo
- Largest religion:
- Christians: <1%
- Church members: 20
- Scriptures in their own language: None
- Jesus Film in their own language: None
- Christian broadcasts in their own language: None
- Mission agencies working among this people: 0
- Persons who have heard the Gospel: 27,600 (14%)
- Persons who have never heard the Gospel: 169,100 (86%)
- Major peoples in size order:
- Major religions:
- Number of denominations: 113
© Copyright 1997
Bethany World Prayer Center
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