Public Lecture: Nias Culture From the Beginning Until Today

Back on Thursday, March 14th, 2024, the Faculty of Cultural Sciences welcomed one of their alumni named Dr. I Ketut Wiradnyana. He is an archeologist who specializes in prehistory and has done research in Sumatra for a long time. He returned to Udayana University to become a keynote speaker in a public lecture titled Budaya Nias Dari Awal Hingga Masa Kini or “Nias Culture From the Beginning Until Today”.

            The public lecture took place in the faculty’s Soekarno room, inside the Poerbatjaraka building. There were 60 people in the audience, which included undergraduate students from both the archeology and history programs. A few lecturers were also in attendance.

After the opening remarks from Mr. Rochtri Agung Bawono, lecturer in Udayana University’s Archeology program who acts as the moderator of this lecture, Dr. Wridanyana jumps straight into his material. The focus of this public lecture is (of course) Nias Island and its history. Starting from the inter-glacial period, Nias Island is an island that didn’t sink at the time, thus making it a worthy home for humans. For this same reason, Nias Island can be considered an “Old Island”, like the island of Java.

It is possible that Nias Island was part of the human migration route during prehistoric times. This can be tied to the migration activities present during the Paleolithic period in North and West Sumatra. Based on the archeological evidence present, humans and their ancient cultures lived near prehistoric rivers during the glacial period. These rivers flowed when the Sunda Shelf still existed and sank as the sea levels rose. Nias Island, as stated before, did not sink. So, it could be assumed that remnants of that time can be found here.

            Upon entering the Mesolithic period, the historical relics found from this age have the Hoabihn characteristics. According to the data present, the influence of Hoabihn culture can be found in the east and west shores of Sumatra since 12.000 years ago. 2 mesolithic sites on the island possess Hoabihn characteristics, Tebing Rawa and Goa Togi Bogi. Experts have also found arrowheads from this era.

Dr. Wiradnyana stated that migration also happened in the Neolithic period. What’s unique here is that the artifacts from this age are that it’s different from the Neolithic artifacts found in Gayo, Aceh, that have existed since 4.000-5.000 years ago. Nias doesn’t have a natural source of metal. That is why they pillage nearby villages to collect the necessary materials for ceremonial purposes, like making a drum (nekara). Locals also use wood if these materials can’t be obtained.

Many traditions practiced by the people of Nias today have roots in prehistoric human civilizations. Several instances exemplify this connection. For instance, they still maintain the practice of constructing megalithic structures and preparing sacrificial animals for festivities. Furthermore, their local architecture, characterized by closely clustered houses, serves as protection against both earthquakes and invaders. The Hoabihn culture greatly influences the distinct architectural styles, customs, and traditions observed in both the northern and southern regions of Nias.

At the end of this lecture, participants are encouraged to revisit the relics around them to ensure the accuracy of their dating. Are the sites that we believe to be Neolithic truly Neolithic or not? Data, especially data derived from absolute dating methods, can greatly assist us in this regard. Hopefully, all of us, archaeology students or cultural heritage enthusiasts, can increase our efforts to deepen our understanding of our cultural heritages, especially those that exist near where we live.