Acehnese Cultures

In addition to its unique blend of local, Indian, Chinese and Islamic influences, the extraordinarily diverse society of Indonesia is also home to the world's largest Muslim population. Although it is widespread throughout the archipelago, the heart of Islamic culture is the island of Sumatra, and especially the Aceh province in the North. Due to the diverse culture inherited from the Hindu-Buddhist era as well as many elements of local tradition, Islam in Indonesia has developed a rich and colorful accent.

In Aceh, there are several dances and songs performed at different occasions or rituals. Although there are differences between them, they all originate from zikir, the Islamic meditative prayer. They share certain traits like call-response style of singing, repetitive songs and an increasing rhythmic speed. Also striking is the similarity of these traditions to the local non-Islamic traditions such as the Gamelan. Both styles are mainly percussive and performed by large ensembles. In addition, in Gamelan as well as styles originating from zikir, different parts are played and/or sung by sub-groups in the ensemble. The whole of the ensemble, creating together, establishes the music.


The Seudati dance has existed since pre-Islamic times. "Seudati" is performed by 8 male dancers commanded by a leader (syeikh) and his assistant (apet syeikh). Two narrators read a poem. It is danced in a standing position and starts with saleum (salam). The movements are accompanied by the stepping of feet, the snapping of fingers, and the beating of chests. At some point in history, it appears that this performance became a way to spread Islamic values among the Acehnese. The name is probably derived from syahadatain which connotes the confession of the Islamic faith by saying shahada (“oath”). Seudati Inong is a similar dance, but performed by women.


Tari Saman, the Acehnese traditional dance, is comparable to Balinese dance styles. Created by Sheikh Saman, who was a native Acehnese religious leader in the16th century, this dance is widely known in Aceh. Performed by a group of dancers wearing colorful and bright traditional clothing, the dance is related to the Acehnese dance style known as Pok Pok Ane. It involves the singing of a poem, combined with hand clapping, pats on the chest, and thigh slapping. A group of eight to twenty male performers kneel in a row on the floor and make several types of torso movements accompanied by songs, clapping hands, slapping chests, slapping hands on the floor, et cetera. The dance starts with slow movements and increases its tempo gradually to a great speed and finally come to a sudden stop. The movements are so harmonious and vigorous that spectators are often left in awe. The songs are prayers or praise of the God. Saman can be found throughout Aceh with regional variation. This dance has become well known under the name "A Thousand Hands" outside of Indonesia. It is normally performed to celebrate the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad and other important occasions.

Rapai Geleng

Rapai is the name of a tambourine used to accompany songs and dances. Rapai Geleng is a dance created especially with this tambourine in mind. The movements are almost the same as in the Saman dance, but the male dancers here handle one tambourine each, which gives the dance a very distinct flavor. A song with Islamic teachings accompanies the dance.

Sanggar Seni Seulaweuet

Hailing from Aceh, Sanggar Seni Seulaweuet, led by Said Rahmat, is dedicated to the preservation and dissemination of Acehnese traditional music and dance. They seek to create and increase awareness both in Indonesia and abroad. Having performed at a variety of occasions in Malaysia, China, USA and Turkey, the group is also a school for Acehnese youth to learn the rich culture of the region. Joining the festival with 18 musicians and dancers, this group will present several different dances of the region.


  • Said Rahmat, director
  • Zul Ikram, arranger
  • Imam Juaini, coreographer
  • Aris Munandar
  • Taufiq Hidayat
  • Muksalmina
  • Ghazali
  • Suryadi Putraga
  • Rahmat Hidayat
  • Kurniawan
  • Muhammad Imam Fuadi
  • Farhan Jihadi
  • Zaki Al-Fuad
  • Robi Paldhi
  • Zahidi
  • Muhammad Syafrizal Alim
  • Agustiar
  • Salamuddin