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For other uses, see Gayo.
Gayo people
Urang Gayo
COLLECTIE TROPENMUSEUM Een Gajo (Aceh) in bruidskleding naar de adat TMnr 10002771.jpg
A Gayonese bridegroom in traditional attire.
Total population
approximately 85,000
Regions with significant populations
Bener Meriah Regency 15% - 20%, Central Aceh Regency 15% - 20% and Gayo Lues Regency 20% - 40%.
Gayo language
Related ethnic groups
Alas, Karo

The Gayo people are an ethnic group living in the highlands of Aceh Province, Sumatra, Indonesia. Gayo means nice.[citation needed] The Gayo tribe has a population of 85,000 and they live predominantly in the mountains. Most Gayo live in three regencies in Aceh: 15-20% in Central Aceh, 15-20% in Bener Meriah, and 20-40% in Gayo Lues. Some of them live in several districts in other regencies, such as Serbejadi District, Simpang Jernih District in East Aceh Regency and Beutong District in Nagan Raya Regency. Their homeland lies in the Barisan Mountains which has elevations of over 12,000 feet and extends more than one thousand miles. The Gayonese language has four dialects: Lut, Serbejadi-Lukup, Lut and Luwes. Their language does not have a writing system, but folk tales, stories and poetry are passed down in oral tradition. The traditional house of the Gayo is called Umah.


In the 11th century, the Linge Kingdom was established by the Gayo people during the reign of Sultan Makhdum Johan Berdaulat Mahmud Syah from the Perlak Sultanate, as it was told by two rulers who were ruling during the Dutch East Indies era; namely Raja Uyem and his son Raja Ranta, whom is Raja Cik Bebesen, and also Zainuddin from the rulers of Kejurun Bukit. Raja Linge I is said to have four children. The eldest was his daughter, Empu Beru or Datu Beru, and the remaining are Sebayak Lingga (Ali Syah), Meurah Johan (Johan Syah) and Meurah Lingga (Malamsyah). Sebayak Lingga wandered off to Karo land and founded a country there and he was known as Raja Lingga Sibayak. Meurah Johan ventured on to Aceh Besar and established his kingdom by the name of Lam Krak or Lam Oeii or also known as Lamuri or Lamuri Sultanate. This would mean that the Lamuri Sultanate was founded by Meurah Johan, while Meurah Lingga who was living in Linge, Gayo and the rest became kings of Linge for generations. Meurah Silu migrated to Pasai and became an officer to the Pasai Sultanate there. Meurah Mege himself was buried in Wih Ni Rayang at the slopes of Keramil Paluh in Linge, Central Aceh, which until today it can still be found and are considered sacred by the locals. The cause of migrating was unknown. However according to history, Raja Linge favoured his youngest son, Meurah Mege, causing the rest of his children to prefer to wander away.[1]

Linga dynasty[edit]

No documentation were recorded on the rulers of Sebayak Lingga Karo. During the era of Dutch East Indies, the monarchy was appointed again but for two eras only.

  • Raja Sendi Sibayak Lingga, as chosen by the Dutch East Indies.
  • Raja Kalilong Sibayak Lingga

Dutch colonization[edit]

Villagers of Lahat killed by the Korps Marechaussee te Voet during the so-called Gayo-Alas expedition of 1904 led by colonel G. C. E. van Daalen

After initial Dutch resistance, which many Gayonese and Dutch were killed, the Dutch occupied the area from 1904-1942.[2] During this time, the Gayonese developed a thriving cash crop economy in vegetables and coffee. Since the Dutch colonization, the Gayonese have gained access to higher levels of education, and participated to some degree in the Islamization and modernization of their homeland.[3]



The Gayonese practise a local form of Islam. It is worth mentioning that the first Sultan of Aceh Darussalam was a Gayonese: Sultan Johan Alam Syah bin Adi Genali. In ancient times, the Gayonese believed in good and bad spirits and in holy men, both dead and alive. They would regularly give ritual offerings and sacrifices to the spirits, to holy men, and to their ancestors.[3]

Traditional dance and arts[edit]

Didong dancing by Gayonese men.
Tari Saman dance.
Tari Guel dance.
  • Didong
  • Didong Niet
  • Tari Saman
  • Tari Bines
  • Tari Guel
  • Tari Munalu
  • Tari Sining
  • Tari Turun ku Aih Aunen
  • Tari Resam Berume
  • Tuah Kukur
  • Melengkan
  • Dabus

Traditional cuisine[edit]

  • Masam Jaeng
  • Gutel
  • Lepat
  • Pulut Bekuah
  • Cecah
  • Pengat
  • Gegaloh


  1. ^ M. Junus Djamil (1959). Gadjah Putih. Lembaga Kebudayaan Atjeh. 
  2. ^ M.H. Gayo (1983). Perang Gayo-Alas Melawan Kolonial Belanda. Balai Pustaka. 
  3. ^ a b

Further reading[edit]

  • Bowen, J. R., Sumatran Politics and Poetics: Gayo History, 1900-1989, Yale University Press, 1991 ISBN 978-0-300-04708-0