Rejang people

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Rejangese people
Tun Hejang / Tun Ejang
COLLECTIE TROPENMUSEUM Dansende gadis (maagden) te Kesambe bij Tjoeroep Benkoelen TMnr 10004603.jpg
A group of dancing virgins at Curup, Rejang Lebong, Bengkulu, Indonesia in 1939.
Total population
Circa 1.2 million (2016 estimate)[citation needed]
Regions with significant populations
 Indonesia 1.5 - 2 million[1]
          Bengkulu, 1.1 million[citation needed]
          South Sumatra 30,000[citation needed]
          Others 70,000[citation needed]
Rejangese language, Indonesian language
Sunni Islam (predominantly), Christianity
Related ethnic groups
Bidayuh, Lembak people, Serawai people, Basemah people

Rejangese people (Rejangese language: Tun Hejang or Tun Ejang) are an Austronesian ethnolinguistic group, native to the some parts of Bengkulu Province and South Sumatera Province in the southwestern part of Sumatera Island, Indonesia. They occupied some area in an cool mountain slopes of the Barisan mountain range in both sides of Bengkulu and South Sumatra. With approximately more than 1,3 million people, they form the largest ethnic group in Bengkulu Province. Rejangese people predominantly live as a majority in 5 out 10 regencies and city of Bengkulu Province, while the rest of them who lives in South Sumatera resides at 7 villages in the district called as Bermani Ulu Rawas. The Rejangs are predominantly an Islam adherent group with small numbers following a religion other than Islam. According to research, Rejangese people are the descendants of the Bukar-Sadong people who moved from the Northern Borneo (Sarawak).


The etymology of the name of Rejang or in Rejang language itself as Jang is remains unclear.[2] It is not clearly known when the name Rejang people was used or when did they first regard themselves as Rejang. Another question that is yet to be certain if the name Rejang itself is a term or reference name that was given by other neighboring ethnic groups. According to the locals of Lebong Regency, it is believed that the word Rejang means "to cross over". This belief if based on a widely spread myth among the Rejang community in Tapus, which is believed to be the oldest Rejang settlement. The belief mentions that the ancestors of the Rejang people came from a distant land where its exact location is unknown. Hence, some scholars believe that the term Jang or Rejang has a correlation with the possibility of Rejangese people in ancient time did not reside in Sumatra.

On the basis of that belief, therefore according to Professor Richard McGinn's observation that presents a theory or hypothesis that the ancestors of the Rejang people originate from a region in the northern part of West Borneo that is known as Sarawak today, from which the ancestors of the Rejang people crossed over the Karimata Strait from Borneo to Sumatra with unclear reason. The term Jang or the verb Mɕrɕjang (the archaic form is Mɕghɕjang) means "passed" or specifically means "passed the strait". However, the meaning of Jang word which is the native term used by Rejangese people to describe themselves as a single entity remains unclear. The usage of that word also limited just for describing the entity of Jang and uncommon in the daily conversation. Upon their arrival at the estuary of the Musi River, they went upwards Musi River and Rawas River towards the upstream to the place where majority of the Rejang settlements are today in the interior of Bengkulu Province.[3] The term Rejang is also the same as the Rejang River in Sarawak, Malaysia, the place where it is thought to be the land of origin of the Rejang people before settling in Sumatra.[4]

Apart from that among the community of Taba Anyar Village, there is a story that the term Rejang and Lebong are correlated and is used as the name for Rejang Lebong Regency came from the common practice of merajang rebung (meaning "chopping bamboo shoots") in the Rejang community that is still seen today. Bamboo shoots have long been consumed as a food source in the interior of Bengkulu Province. From the common practice of chopping bamboo shoots, then came the term Rejang and Lebong. Nevertheless, this one story is doubted by many parties due to the impression of simply rhyme matching the terms alone.


The population is not well measured, with estimates from 250,000 to a million. The 2000 Indonesian census estimated the population at around 350,000.[5]


Rejang village heads in Curup, Bengkulu, South Sumatra, Indonesia, circa 1939.

In Bengkulu Province, the Rejangese people are prevalent in Rejang Lebong Regency (districts of Lebong Utara, Lebong Selatan, Curup and Kepahiang), in North Bengkulu Regency (districts of Taba Penanjung, Pondok Kelapa, Kerkap, Arga Makmur and Lais),[6] in Kepahiang Regency,[7] in Lebong Regency and in Central Bengkulu Regency.[8] Majority of them lived in along the slopes of Bukit Barisan mountain range.


Ancestors of Rejang people are ancient Austronesian peoples. Their migration to Sumatra occurred as a result of several waves of migration 1,200 years ago from Tonkin, Indochina through Borneo.[9] Some linguist argue on the basis of the analysis of Rejang language, that the main role in the formation of Rejang people was played by settlers from the island of Kalimantan.

In the first half of the 19th century, the lands of Rejang people were captured by the Dutch colonialists (the Dutch were in power along the coastal areas of Bengkulu was officially established on April 6, 1825,[10] but many internal areas were not colonized until the 1860s). According to reports of Dutch officials in Bengkulu, the Rejang was divided into 5 linguistic and tribal groups, each of which was subject to a separate leader. The traditional culture of Rejang people was badly affected, when at the end of the 19th century, gold was found in their lands and a large number of miners who did not belong to their people went to this region.[11] The rapid spread of monetary relations led to the decline of local traditional way of life, but the natives retained their customary law, dancing and singing. In 1945 the lands of Rejang people became part of Indonesia.

Ethnic relations[edit]

Neighboring ethnics includes the Serawai people, Bengkulu’s Malay people (Melayu Bengkulu), Kerinci people, Pasemah people, and Lembak people. Rejangese people had always sharing some vocabularies with these people because of the proximity between them. In this common era, there are many inter-ethnic marriage between Rejang with its neighboring ethnics.

Suggested relation with ethnics from Borneo includes Bidayuh, Bukar, and Sadong.[4]


The Rejang people have a language of their own with the same name. Rejang language is the main language used to carry out conversations at home or among the extended families. While in public places or while conversing with non-Rejang people, the language that is used is Bengkulu language. Bengkulu language at this moment is seen as a lingua franca to carry out communication between the native Rejang people and the non-native ethnic people. Bengkulu language is a variant of the Malay language with its own native speakers in Bengkulu Province. Bengkulu language is known for its similarities with Minangkabau language and Palembang Malay.

According to the observations and research made by Professor Richard McGinn from University of Ohio, the Austronesian languages expert suggest a hypothesis or theory that the Rejang people originate from outside of Sumatra and migrated there for reason yet to be known. Sarawak is the region where it is said to be the birthplace of the Rejang people before migrating to Sumatra. The Rejang language according to Professor Richard McGinn does not have a single related language in Sumatra. Based on his observations the closest language to the Rejang language is the Bukar Sadong language in Sarawak that is classified under the Bidayuh people or previously known as "Land Dayak" people.[12][13] However, the language of the Rejang people are quite different from the Rejang-Baram languages of Borneo.[14]

As Rejang language belongs to the Malayo-Polynesian languages group of the Austronesian languages family,[14] this language possesses a number of similar vocabularies with a variety of other indigenous languages and spoken in farther locations in Indonesia. The word tun which means "people" in Rejang language[15] have a form of equivalence to tou/tow and to-ono from Minahasan language[16] and Tolaki language[17] respectively. Next, the word nopoe which means "snake" in Kepahiang dialect of the Rejang language shares a resemblance with nipa used in Central Flores languages.[18] And the word nangai which means "estuary" shares a similarity with nanga widely used in Bukar Sadong language an indigenous language in West Kalimantan.[19]

Rejang language consists of five major dialects[14] with distinct variations and differences among the dialects itself in various degrees. Four of the five dialects are used in Bengkulu Province and the other one is used in North Musi Rawas Regency, South Sumatra Province. The five dialects are:-

Speakers of these various Rejang dialects are able to mutually understand each other with the level of understanding of above 80%, except for Rawas dialect. Rawas dialect is almost unrecognizable when spoken to speakers of other dialects.


Before the 20th century, the Rejang people have used their own written script in official correspondence, a script that is known as Buak Rikung.[23] Today, the Rikung script is commonly known as Kaganga alphabets,[23] and it is taught in schools in Rejang Lebong Regency and North Bengkulu Regency. This script is a type of abugida and is a developed from Indian scripts. The main characteristics of the script are the sharp and bold straight lines in contrary to Javanese script and Balinese script that are more wavy. The evolution of the Rejang script that led to its sharp, straight and bold lines is said to be the consequences of the adaption of writing on wood, bones, bark cloth, bamboo, buffalo horn and (now lost) copper plates.[24] It is harder to make curvy lines on materials of hard surface, as a result curvy lines evolved into straight and sharp lines.

The term rikung in Rejang language bears the meaning to scythe or to mow grass or at a cornering angle. According to folk tales, the Rejang script was first written with sharp tools including sickle which produces sharp lines. According to other tales, Rejang script is referred to as rikung due to its cornering angles. There are 19 main consonants (buak tu'ai) in Rejang script, changes in vowel sound (tando ketikeak) and 9 doubling consonants (buak ngimbang).[25] These 28 alphabets are assigned single or double diacritic marks to produce sounds other than "a" and also produce diphthongs.[26]


Folk religion[edit]

Not much is known about the religion or the beliefs that is practiced by the ancestors of the Rejang people. The most clearest and important relics that exist today that states about the spiritual or religious experiences of the old Rejang society are the rɕjung and kɕdurai agung tradition. Both of these traditions are inseparable from each other. Rɕjung is a pile of land produce or food and cakes[27] that are arranged in a similar manner. Its height could reach up to 2 meters. Allegedly, rɕjung symbolizes the shape of a mountain especially Kaba Mountain that is situated in an important position in the spiritual condition of the Rejang people. Rɕjung is carried out during a procession or a kɕdurai agung (meaning, "big feast") ritual.[28] Rɕjung is the offering for the gods that are worshiped through the kɕdurai agung.[29]


Rejang people usually live in the valleys of mountain river area that is known as in the upper of Ketahun River region in Lebong Regency.[30] The main livelihood is agriculture especially as rice cultivators,[31] although they are also considered good fishermen and hunters, and today they also often seek out work as hired workers on plantations and in forestry. The introduction of monetary relations at the end of the 19th century led to large losses of traditional material culture and lifestyle assimilation of other ethnic groups. Today, even the Rejang people would even buy clothings from other neighboring people groups. However, the culture of the Rejang people is considered slightly maladaptive, because they miss out on many of the benefits of modern civilization and they treat foreigners with disdain.[32]

The main social structure is made up of rural hamlet (talang), consisting of 10 to 15 houses.[33] Traditional families are usually large and extended. The kinship is counted only on the patriarchal lineage. Children from the intermarriage of Rejang women with other ethnicity receive a lower status in the community than pure blooded Rejang children. Noble families of kutei (meaning, "community")[34] are distinguished, who are considered to be the founders of the village or the whole populated area. Leaders are chosen from their noble class to form a leadership system called, tui kutei or tuei kutei or tuwi kutei.[35] Rajang people have a common law for all customary matters;[34] which differs significantly from both state legislation and the norms of Islam. The leaders have long lost the possibility of absolute rule over their fellow society, but retained their functions as judges.

Rejang people are known for their song and dance art, including popular female dances. In Rejang society, women do occupy high position. In their customary law, severe penalties such as adultery are provided; which is in line with Islamic laws that makes it easier for the Rejang people and also one of the earliest people group to convert to Islam.[34] In the present era, despite a number of them still adhere to traditional cultural practices, many Rejang people have received higher education and have been represented in various modern skilled professions or as government employees.

Pencak Silat is one of many kind of Rejangese culture. The Pencak Silat origin from Rejang land well known as Silat Jang Pat Petulai.[36]


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Further reading[edit]

  • Rois Leonard Arios (2011), Sistem Pewarisan Suku Bangsa Rejang, BPSNT Padang, Departemen Kebudayaan dan Pariwisata, ISBN 978-602-8742-35-1 

External links[edit]