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Monday, May 7, 2012


The cultures in Aceh are strongly influenced by Islam, but there are still traces of Hinduism, which was former religion in Aceh. The Hindu flavor is mainly noticed in traditional ceremonies. There are three mayor ethnic groups in Aceh; Acehnese, Gayo and Alas. The Acehnese inhabit mainly the coastal areas of the province. However, in west and south Aceh, they intermingled with Minangkabaus, which reflected in language, design and customs. The Gayo and Alas groups are numerically smaller and inhabit the highland of Aceh. The Gayo to the north and the Alas to the south. Their languages are distinctive and related to the Batak languages in Sumatera Utara (North Sumatera Province). 

In Aceh there are 50 types of dance, 20 kinds of music, 10 form of literature and 9 tradition arts. Aceh Traditional Dances: In old times dances were either performed at the courts for sultans and their guest or in the villages as entertainment after hard work in the fields. Today dances are mostly performed at special government functions, but in many areas local dancing traditions and groups carry on the heritage. 

Each region of Aceh has own version of dances or its own indigenous ones. The costumes used are basically long sleeved tops and sarongs wrapped around the waist and colors are often brilliant. Women usually wear head pieces, but the use of jewelry depends on the aspect of life that is depicted by the dance. The Acehnese dance all have certain characteristics in common. Islamic values are often spread in Aceh through the dances. The dances deal with daily social activities. All Acehnese dances are performed by a group and are dynamic with stepping feet, beating of chests, hips and shoulder. Starting slowly the rythm increases during the dance. Songs and poem are always recited by dancers themselves.

Some of the popular dances are : 

Ranub Lampuan (Aceh Barat/West Aceh)


“Ranub” is Acehnese for betel leaf. It is traditionally used for chewing after meals and is served as a way of showing respect to guest. “Serving betel leaf to the guest” as a dance has become a popular way of welcoming prominent guest to Aceh and also at opening ceremonies . Nine women perform to the music from the “seurunee kalee” instrument. At the end of dance , the performers offer “sirih” (betel) to the guests who are supposed to receive it. However no one forced to chew it.

Peumulia Jamee


A similar dance to the “Ranub Lampuan” is the “Peumulia Jamee”. The difference is that the betel is omitted, and the music make one imagine exotic Arabian night and a song is sung, starting with the Arabic greeting “Assalamualaikum …”

Seudati (Aceh Barat/West Aceh, Aceh Utara/North Aceh)


The “Seudati” dance existed in pre-Islamic times, but became a way to spread Islamic value to the Acehnese people. The name can de derived from the “syahadatain” which means confession of faith by saying ” Kalimah Syahadat”. “Seudati” is performed by 8 male dancers commanded by a leader (“syeikh”) and his assistant (“apet syeikh”) . Two narattors read a poem. It is danced in standing position and starts with “saleum” (salam). Only stepping feet, snapping fingers and beating of chests accompany the movements. The Seudati Inong is the same dance, but performed by women.



“Saman” the most popular dance in Aceh and the dance that has become well-known abroad with the name “Thousand hands”. It has its origin from the Alas ethnic group and is normally performed to celebrate the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad S.A.W. and other important occasions. Eight to twenty male performers kneel in a row on the floor and make different kinds of torso movements accompanied by songs, clapping hands, slapping chests, slapping hands on the floor, etc. The songs are praises to Allah or prayers. The dance starts with slow movements and increases its tempo gradually to great speed and finally come to a sudden stop. There are many different regional versions of “Saman”.

Meuseukat (Aceh Barat/West Aceh)


“Meusekat” is almost the same as “Saman”. The only difference is that “Meusekat” is performed by women and originates in west and south Aceh.
Pho (Aceh Selatan/South Aceh, Aceh Barat/West Aceh)
The word “pho” derives from “pheubae po”. “Peubae” means weeping and “po ” is an honorable indicator. The dance was developed from the old dance “bineuh” and originated in the 16th century in south Aceh. It was beginning performed at the death of Sultan or noble man as an expression of loss and sadness. Over the years it started to appear in the “manoe pucok” ceremony (“bathe” and “new bud” respectively) in the days before a wedding when the bride is bathed. During this ceremony the bride is seated in full traditional attire and accompanied by her parents. After a “peusejuk” ( a cooling ceremony) the dancers appear. They led by a “syeh” who produces songs that decribes the life of the bride from birth until marriage. It is about how much the parents have done, how much they have spent on her and how they have taken care of her. Now the moment of departure has come and the bride will leave her parents for a new life with her husband as wife and mother. the newlyweds are also blessed and wished a prosperous future. The songs are often so sad not only the bride and parents, but also the participans, sob togeter.



“Laweut” was developed in early days of Islam in the Pidie area of northern Aceh and means a kind of prayer to the Prophet Muhammad S.A.W. ” Laweut” is also called “Seudati Inong” for its similarity to the “Seudati” dance and that it is performed by women, 8 of them with a “syech” ( leader). Normally it is performed in a standing position, accompanied by song and sound of snapping fingers, stepping feet, beating thighs and clapping hands from dancers.

Tarek Pukat


The “Tarek pukat” dance depicts the life of the fishermen in the coastal area. This includes making nets, rowing boats, catching fish and pulling the net which actually is meaning of “Tarek Pukat”. The dance is cheerful, dynamic and accompanied by songs or instruments. Each dancer has a rope and during the dance these ropes are woven into net.

Marhaban (Aceh besar/Great Aceh)


This dance was normally only used for celebration of the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad S.A.W. , but due to its popularity has begun to appear also on other occasions. There are 20 performer, 10 women and 10 men, accompanied by special tambourines. The dance is often followed by prayers to the Prophet.

Rapai Geleng (Aceh Barat/West Aceh, Aceh Selatan/South Aceh)


“Rapai” is the name of a tambourine used to accompany songs and dances. “Rapa-ii Geleng” is a dance specially developed with this tambourine in mind. The movements are almost the same as in the “Saman” dance, but the 11 to 20 male dancers handle one tambourine each, which gives the dance a very distinct and enjoyable flavor. A song with Islamic teachings accompanies the dance.

Perang Sabil (Aceh Besar/Great Aceh)


“Perang Sabil” is a new creation, composed in order to commemorate the war against foreign invaders. This very dynamic dance, accompanied by music, is performed by 8 women and 8 men. The women carrying rencongs (Acehnese blade) and the men swords (“Peudeung”). The dancers describes how the rencong and Peudeung is used in a real war and the dance itself can be hurtful enough if a dancer loses his concentration.



“Bines” comes the Alas people and is developed from the folk tale “odeni maleleng”. This tale tells us about the fate of young woman committing adultery and punished by her own village people with death. The mother of girl walks crying around the body of the girl, laying on leather pad. The dance describes the grief of the mother and a sad song in local language accompanies the movements.



“Didong” is the most popular Gayo dance, and dance groups of 20 to 40 men and women compete in different aspects of dance, such as song, movement and voice. It can be performed at any kind of occasion.

Ul-Ula Lembing


A dance strongly influenced by Malay traditions and very popular in east Aceh. It is performed by four couple in traditional Malay attire.

Alee Tunjang


Originally a dance for the start of the harvest that depicts traditional rice milling. Performed by four couple moving beautifully to the music from “serunee kalee” . They carry “lesung” (rice mortar) and “alu” (pestle), 2 to 3 meters long.

Daboih (Aceh Barat/West Aceh, Aceh Selatan /South Aceh)


The famous “Daboih” is hardly a dance, but merely a show of the performers ability to withstand different kinds of sharp blades. The actors stab themselves to the special sound of tambourine “rapa-ii”. The show can be rather dramatic at times. Even electric chain saws can be used ! Keep away if you have a bad hearts.

Lansir Madam (Pulau Banyak/ Banyak Island)


Lansir Madam is an odd remnant from colonial era and can be described as a “Dutch Square dance”. 


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