Ya’ahowu – Welcome to North Nias!
Where is Nias Island?
North Nias Regency is located in the northern part of Nias Island. Situated just north of the equator, Nias Island is the largest in a string of islands west of Sumatra marking the western limit of the Indonesian archipelago. Nias Island lays 120 kilometres from the mainland, between Simeulue Island in the north and Mentawai Islands in the south.
What is North Nias Regency?
Indonesia is divided into 34 Provinces. Nias Island is part of North Sumatra Province. Each province is further divided into regencies. North Nias is one of five regencies on Nias Island. The word regency originates from colonial times, and is essentially the same as a district or a county, which is the administrative level below province or state. The name for North Nias Regency in Indonesian is Kabupaten Nias Utara.
North Nias Regency sits on the top ¼ of Nias Island, covering and area of 1.501 km². From North to South the regency is 52 kilometers long and 54 kilometers wide. More than half of the coastline consists of long, sandy beaches. There are 13 small islands off the coast that belongs to North Nias. Just like the rest of the Island, the north is very green. Most of the forest in the hills consists of cocoa and rubber trees, while coconut palm trees dominate the coast. A few flat areas in the valleys and along the coast are used for rice plantations. The interior of Nias Island is covered in hills, with the highest peak reaching 395 meters.
The whole of Nias Island covers an area of 5.121 km². As a comparison with other islands, Nias is a little bit smaller than Bali, and a bit larger than Lombok. It is roughly ten times the size of Phuket.
For a long time Nias Island was administered as one regency, and most decisions concerning the Island were made in Jakarta. In 2003 the administration of Nias was split into North Nias and South Nias regencies. A few years later during a nation-wide drive for greater regional autonomy, Nias was split into five regencies.
North Nias Regency was inaugurated on May 26, 2009, and is one of the youngest regencies in Indonesia. The head of a regency is called a Regent, or Bupati in Indonesian. The Bupati is the most senior government official in the Regency. In North Nias the office of the Bupati and the local government are based in Lotu, a large village in the center of the regency.
Each regency is further divided into sub-districts, called kecamatan in Indonesian. North Nias is divided into 11 kecamatans. Each sub-district is further divided into villages, called desa in Indonesia. A desa is an administrative unit, and there can be several small villages under one desa. Each desa has an elected Village Chief. There are 112 desas or administrative villages in North Nias Regency.
Being close to the equator the climate on Nias is tropical and the temperature does not vary much over the year, usually staying around an average day temperature of 32° Celsius, and 22° at night. As in many other tropical destinations Nias is humid and has a dry and wet season. Traditionally the rainy season lasts from July to December, but in recent years the usual weather patterns have changed, and it can now rain or be sunny on any given day of the year. During the rainy season is not uncommon to have heavy rains during the night and blue skies during the day. The driest part of the year is between January to March.
The people of Nias call themselves ‘Ono Niha’, which means the children of the human beings in Nias language. The ethnicity and language of Nias people is distinctly different from other Indonesian people in the region. Their origin and when they came to Nias is not exactly known. An early theory was that Nias people were related to tribal people in Nagaland in northeast India and Burma due to the similarities in cultural practices, such as head hunting, megalithic culture and giant pig-feasts. This has been disapproved by recent DNA testing and current research points to links with people in Taiwan and the Philippines.
Majority of Niasans use the indigenous language ‘Li Nono Niha’ on a daily basis. While young people today also speak Indonesian, it is not uncommon to meet older people in the interior who do not understand Indonesian. In larger towns and villages along the coast other ethnic groups such as Acehnese, Chinese, Bataks and Javanese can be found in small numbers.
During the 2010 national census the population of North Nias Regency was 127.530. The total population of Nias Island is around 760.000. Protestant Christianity is the main religion, but there are also Catholics and other Christian denominations. The Muslim population (6 %) tend to live in fishing villages or in the larger villages and towns. The different communities coexist in harmony throughout Nias Island.
The people of North Nias are exceedingly friendly and hospitable. Visitors are generally greeted with curiosity and a big smile. Safety is not an issue, and North Nias enjoys much lower crime rates than most developed countries.
Agriculture is the most important economic activity in North Nias, mainly the harvesting of rubber and coconuts. There is also rice farming and cocoa harvesting, but to a lesser extent. There are very few commercial plantations here, and most farmers operate on subsistence level, growing a variety of crops. Along the coast many people make their living from fishing. There are no large industries on Nias and the vast majority of the population work as farmers, fishermen or civil servants. For this reason the local government is interested in developing sustainable tourism in order to create new economic opportunities for the local community. Work in the tourism industry would also be a way to entice young educated Niasans to stay on the Island instead of leaving for the mainland.