Who are the Kerinci?

The Kerinci are the original ethnic group that lived on the east coast of Sumatra. The Kerinci fled from local Muslim sultanates in an ancient war. They moved into their existing homeland high in the Bukit Barisan mountain range around Mount Kerinci in the Jambi Province. The villages in this area are in the lowlands, grouped around a large lake in the valley.

In the past, the Kerinci resisted assimilation from the lowland peoples of Sumatra. However, influence by the Javanese, Sundanese, and Balinese who immigrated into Sumatra to work in the fertile plantations is now seen among the Kerinci.

What are their lives like?

Intensive agriculture and fishing have been enough to sustain the Kerinci. Most Kerinci are excellent farmers. In addition to their primary crop of rice, they also plant potatoes, vegetables, and tobacco. Those living in the foothills of the mountains are slash-and-burn farmers, moving to new fields every few years. They plant coffee, cinnamon, and cloves. The primary forest products are rattan and resin. Most Kerinci living near Lake Kerinci and other smaller lakes are fishermen.

They build their houses very close to the neighboring houses. Their hamlets are called dusun, and inhabited by close relatives. Each dusun has several long houses, located along the length of the road.

The basic family unit is called the tumbi. After a man marries, he goes to live with the family of his wife. Normally, the daughter has a room made that is joined to her parents’ house after she is married. In a similar manner, this woman’s daughter will have a similar room when she is married.

The ancestral line from the mother’s side is called kelbu. The kelbu is the most important unit for the Kerinci and consists of closely related relatives.

Even though the Kerinci adhere to the matrilineal system, the basic family unit is led by the husband rather than the wife’s brother, as practiced by the Minangkabau. Unlike in the Minangkabau, the wife’s brother only plays a role in his sister’s affairs, not in the whole family. The inheritance is given to the female children.

What are their beliefs?

Islam is the main religion, although the Kerinci retain many animistic beliefs. These relate mostly to areas of healing and agriculture. In their daily lives, they use the phrases tataman (met with a ghost), tatampo (hit by a ghost), and tapijek (stepped on by a ghost) on a regular basis, demonstrating their strong belief in the spirit world.

What are their needs?

The Kerinci are truly dependent upon the fertility of their soil and good irrigation. However, they also need to improve the quality of appropriate technology so they can increase the productivity of their farm lands and rain forests.

The potential for tourism around Lake Kerinci has not been developed at all, although there are already two weekly flights to Riau and Jambi. These flights could be a starting point for developing tourism in the Kerinci area.

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