The powerful state of Srivijaya flourished in the 7th -13th centuries in what is now thought to be the Palembang area. By the end of the 14th century ships and traders from all over Eurasia arrived at Sumatra’s ports to quench a rising demand for spices in Europe and China. Mainly Arab, Persian and Indian merchants carried these and other exotica to growing markets and brought with them to Indonesia the Islamic faith. This commerce brought great wealth and new ideas to Sumatra and surely accounts for Sumatrans highly developed entrepreneurial skills and their love of chess. Most of the Batak peoples of the Lake Toba region survived this early religious onslaught only to succumb peripherally to Christian missionaries at a later date. The Batak cultures are vibrant and varied, their ritual and utilitarian objects are highly prized worldwide. The instruments of the magician priests’ wands-figures, horns and containers, in which to store and use “Pupuk” a magic potion, prepared from body parts of a kidnapped or murdered child is one of the more unique aspects of this culture. Their ornaments are quite varied including immense sliver double spirals joined by a central loop ear pendant-headdress ornaments called Padung Padung. The “Singa”, a mythical animal, whose real meaning has been lost in time but still appears as architectural elements-on jewelry, containers, Sarcohagi, bamboo, bone and beaded and cotton textiles. In basketry, copper, iron and brass the Batak used this motif as well in their distinctive powerful designs. The matriarchal Minangkabau of west Sumatra are distinguished by their superb ceremonial textiles-often embellished abundantly with gold or silver wrapped thread. Elaborate headdresses made of wrapped textiles embellished with gold and silver ornaments. Jewelry, a sign of wealth, is worn ceremonially in layers, necklaces of gold, silver and coral-bracelets of gold, silver and enamel—filigree and gold and silver foil beads wrapped around resin and huge Niello silver or gold buckles worn on ornate padded belts all represented the status of the wearer. The lustrous silk Plangi and Tritik shoulder cloths of Palembang-the wide variety of silk and cotton textiles in the techniques of warp and weft Ikat, supplementary weft weaving and metal thread embroidery from Lampung in the south all attest to the great accomplishments of the artisan of this area. The Acehnese in the North produced silver and copper gold beads for decorating and wearing as well.
An island 60 miles off the Sumatran coast where a rich megalithic culture thrived in the central and southern parts. The ritual display of wealth called for refined delicate gold crowns, earrings and necklaces. Headhunting warriors and noblemen in festive attire wore coconut shell neckwear, Japanesque shaped metal jackets and helmets, wood shields, swords and scabbards—attached to which were a basketry ball with Talismans and animal teeth. Giant clam shell bracelets were worn also which was made by rubbing the shell with a stone and worn as a symbol of prowess. Niasans are also known for their figurative and architectural wood sculpture.