Peoples & Societies

Lampung Culture

The term “Lampung” is actually a generic term and refers to three ethnic groups: the Abung, a people that inhabited the mountains in the north of the province; the Pubian, from the eastern lowlands; and the Paminggir, who lived along the southern coasts. Paminggir people have also settled outside of Lampung province. The inhabitants of Kroë coast (Bengkulu, west coast), for example, and of the mountain area of Liwa Sukan Kenali (Bengkulu, south of Lake Ranau) belong to this ethnic group. Moreover, in Anjar Kidul, situated in Banten on West Java, four Lampung villages with Paminggir people have been documented since the mid-sixteenth century.

The three groups consider themselves related to one another. They share a mythical founding father, Si Lampung, and a history that describes the migrations from the land of origin, Sekala Barak (to the south of Lake Ranau). The name of the founding father Si Lampung allegedly means “floating on the water." Family groups that left that region formed endogamous (marrying within the local community or clan) units (buwei), whose territories were called marga (or mega). This name is also used in many literary sources to specify the buwei themselves. A marga would consist of several villages named tiyuh, and each tiyuh would in turn comprise various suku, or patrilineal clans. The eldest male descendants of the founder of each buwei, tiyuh , and suku were held in high regard and bore the title of penyimbang. This term was derived from the word simbang, which means “to replace,” referring to their role as representatives of the founding fathers. The three separate penyimbang occupied themselves—each at his own level—mainly with the administration of adat justice. Adat, derived from an Arabic word, refers to customs and traditional practices. Conventional political leaders were unknown to the peoples of Lampung.

It is possible to recognize various elements in the traditions of the marga—as described in scarce nineteenth-century sources—that can be traced back to prehistoric roots. As is the case for all Indonesian peoples, the foundations of Lampung culture were laid down in the late Stone Age as speakers of Austronesian lan­guages spread across the archipelago. Ancestor worship can be linked to these ancient roots, as can the practice of headhunt­ing and ideas about cosmology. The traditions of the Dong Son culture subsequently developed on Sumatra in the Bronze and Iron Ages. Occupational diversification enabled a more hierarchi­cal society to come into being, in which the struggle for higher social status—with elaborate feasts of merit—became a feature of Lampung culture.

Presumably not long after the start of the common era, Indian merchants brought Hinduism and Buddhism to Sumatra, and in the thirteenth century Arabian tradesmen introduced Islam. After the Europeans arrived in the archipelago in the sixteenth century, the Lampung were confronted with Christian ideology and other Western influences. In the nineteenth century, cultural intermingling was present in nearly all aspects of daily life within the tiny village communities surrounded by pepper and rice gardens, resulting in a multitude of extraordinary interchanges. Lampung art forms show a great deal of this intermingling of cultural traditions.

Adapted from

Nico de Jonge, "Lampung Ship Cloths: Ancient Symbolism and Cultural Adaptation in South Sumatran Art," in Eyes of the Ancestors: The Arts of Island Southeast Asia at the Dallas Museum of Art, Reimar Schefold, ed. in collaboration with Steven Alpert (Dallas: Dallas Museum of Art; New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2013), 81-82.