Cultural Heritage Sites - Northern Nias
Researchers and tourists often ask the Museum about where to go to see examples of Nias cultural heritage. Culturally Nias can roughly be divided in a southern and northern part. Between the south and north there are differences in dialect, styles of traditional dress and songs and dances. But the most obvious difference is the architecture; northern houses are oval shaped and southern houses are rectangular. Compared to South Nias the cultural sites in the north are more spread out, and it is common to see a singular traditional house or megalith. The ‘modernization’ through colonialization and Christianity started in the north, and cultural practices were abandoned earlier than in the south. But there are still many interesting sites to see around the northern part of the Island. Culturally the ‘North’ includes West Nias, Nias (Induk) and North Nias Regencies as well as Gunungsitoli Municipality. Roads in this region can be rough, but most of the sites mentioned here are accessible by vehicle.
For information about how to get around on Nias and where to stay visit our tourism website: www.visitniasisland.com
Gunungsitoli is the largest town and the only municipality on Nias Island. Even though Gunungsitoli have no actual authority over the rest of island anymore, it is still seen by most people as the capital of Nias. The Museum is located just north of the city center.
With Gunungsitoli as a base it is easy to find interesting examples of the unique northern style of architecture. Compared to the south, villages in the north are much smaller and individual traditional houses can be seen in random locations around the countryside. Not far from town are the two most interesting villages in Gunungsitoli:
- Tumöri in west Gunungsitoli sub-district is the most accessible traditional village near town, only 15 minutes’ drive from the city center. There are ten traditional houses here that are between 50 to 120 years old. Despite their age the buildings are very well preserved. What is unique about Tumöri is that this is really a living village, but still kept in the traditional style. Houses are brightly painted and have both electricity and plumbing. What makes it special is the combination of new and old.
- Sihare’o Siwahili village is only 5 minutes from Tumöri. The houses are in similar style but more traditional. It offers an interesting contrast to Tumöri.
Not far from town other interesting examples of traditional houses and megaliths can be seen:
Gunungsitoli Town (Kota):
- Iraonogeba village has a beautiful traditional house at a popular viewpoint with sweeping views over Gunungsitoli. At the house there is also a small shop where visitors can buy cold and hot drinks. Follow the signs to RRI (Radio Republik Indonesa) and look for the large antenna. Turn off at the Wisata (tourism) sign. Apart from the Museum this is the closest location to town where you can see a traditional house.
- Lelewönu Niko'otanö village has four traditional houses and is located at the foot of Tögi Ndrawa cave, which is famous for archaeological excavations that found evidence of 12.000 years of human habitation. From the town center drive inland (west) from the hospital towards Alasa. On the way to the village and past it, there are several other traditional houses along the road.
Gunungsitoli Selatan sub-district:
- Lölölakha village was until recent roadworks very hard to get to. Now it is possible to drive here in c. 45 minutes from the city center. This settlement has five very original traditional houses, and some ‘hybrid’ houses where new and old styles are mixed. The old houses here are very well maintained but not modernised.
- Onozitoli Idanoi village have some interesting megaliths that mark the ancestral home of the Harefa clan, a large and well known family on Nias Island.
Gunungsitoli Idanoi sub-district:
- Dahana village is located 30 minutes drive south of town, near the airport. This village is fairly spread out, but there is a cluster of five traditional houses here. On top of the hill near the main cluster is a very interesting anthropomorphic megalith with human features.
- Hilimbawö Desölö village is not far from Dahana and has one traditional house.
- Bawö Desölö village is just behind Hilimbawö Desölö and has three traditional houses.
- Onowaembo village has seven traditional houses and several megaliths.
- Lölö'ana'a village has one of the rare ‘transition’ houses where it is possible to see the change from southern to northern style of architecture.
West Nias Regency
West Nias Regency (Kabupaten Nias Barat) is one of the smaller districts on Nias and covers the central interior and mid-west coast of the island. Culturally West Nias is an interesting region because it is the most traditional part of northern Nias and there are many heritage sites here. Some of the highlights are:
- Sisarahili village in Mandrehe sub-district.
- Simae'asi village in Mandrehe sub-district.
- Onolimbu village in Lahömi sub-district.
Below is a list of villages with traditional houses and megaliths in West Nias Regency:
- Sisarahili village has three traditional houses and nearby interesting megalithic sites called Tekhemböwö and Hiligoe.
- Simae'asi village has eight traditional houses.
- Zuzundrao village has three traditional houses and several megaliths.
- Hayo village has three traditional houses.
- Iraono Gambö village has two traditional houses and some megaliths.
- Tuhemberua village has a very interesting megalithic site.
- Doli-doli village has a traditional house and a megalith.
- Bukit Tinggi village has a traditional house.
- Lölözirugi village has a megalith.
Mandrehe Utara sub-district:
- Ononamölö I village has two traditional houses.
- Balödanö village has one traditional house.
- Sihare'ö village has one traditional house.
- Hilimböwö Lahagu village has one traditional house.
- Hilimayo village has one traditional house.
Mandrehe Barat sub-district
- Fadoro Sifulubanua village has three traditional houses.
- Orahili Badalu village has three traditional houses.
- Lasara Bahili village has two traditional houses.
- Lasara Faga village has two traditional houses.
- Ononamölö III village has one traditional house and some megaliths.
- Gunung Baru village has three traditional houses.
- Hilifadölö village has two traditional houses.
- Onolimbu village has six traditional houses and a several megaliths.
- Iraono Gaila village has five traditional houses.
- Lölöwa'u village has three traditional houses and several megaliths.
- Sisobambowo village has three traditional houses, one of them very tall.
- Lasara Bale village has three traditional houses.
- Sitölubanua village has three traditional houses.
- Onowaembo village has two traditional houses.
Lölöfitu Moi sub-district:
- Tulumbaho village has an interesting ‘transition’ house where it’s possible to features from both southern and northern type of architecture.
Nias is the name of a regency/district in east-central Nias, south of Gunungsitoli town. Originally Nias Island was administered as one regency (Kabupaten Nias), but during a reform towards greater regional autonomy in Indonesia Nias was split into two, then five regencies. Nias people often refer to this district as Nias Induk. Today most visitors bypass this region as they head south for the more famous surfing areas and traditional villages. It is known that there are many interesting cultural sites in the interior such as megaliths and traditional houses. Unfortunately they are scattered in remote areas and since the access is so bad very few people visit this area. Two highlights of Nias Regency are:
- Holi village in Ulu Gawo sub-district.
- Hilimbaruzö megalith in Tuhemberua village, Ma'u sub-district
Below is a list of villages with traditional houses and megaliths in Nias Regency:
- Sifaoro'asi Ulu Hou village has two traditional houses. Some unique artefacts from these houses are now on display at the Nias Heritage Museum. Wood carvings from Bawolato are very intricate and differ from the style of other areas on Nias.
- Bawolato village has one traditional house.
Ulu Gawo sub-district:
- Holi village has three traditional houses.
- Sifaoro'asi village has two traditional houses. This village can only be reached on foot.
Idano Gawo sub-district:
- Oladanö village has two traditional houses.
- Maliwa'a village has a megalithic site.
- Dekha village has one traditional house and two megalithic sites.
- Tuhemberua village has a large anthropomorphic megalith at a site called Hilimbaruzö I.
- Lewa-lewa village has a megalith.
- Lahemo village has an old megalith and ancestral graves from the Ho clan, who were one of the first families of Ono Niha people to arrive to Nias Island.
- Lalai Satua village has three traditional houses and many megaliths.
- Lölöwua village has three traditional houses and one megalith.
- Botombawö village has two traditional houses.
- Dahadanö has two traditional houses and several megaliths.
- Lasara Botomuzöi village has one traditional houses and a megalithic site called Sigelo Galua.
- Ononamölo I village has one traditional house.
- Hiliwa'ele village has one traditional house.
- Lasara Buakhe village has one traditional house.
- Sisobahili Tanöse'ö village has two traditional houses.
- Dima village has two traditional houses.
- Mazingö Tanöse'ö village has one traditional house.
- Sisarahili village has one traditional house.
- Sinarikhi village has one traditional house.
North Nias Regency
North Nias Regency (Kabupaten Nias Utara) covers the top part of Nias Island and is known for it’s stunning coastline with many sandy beaches and small offshore islands. This is a very peaceful and beautiful corner of Nias. Compared to the south there is much less cultural heritage sites in the north. For centuries Acehnese slavers raided the north and settlements were small and hidden away deep in the interior. Headhunting parties from the south also regularly attacked northern villages. As a result parts of the north were almost uninhabited. Today there are still traditional houses and megaliths to be seen in the north, but they are fewer and more spread out than in the south.
The best places to see traditional houses in North Nias Regency are in Alasa and Tugala Oyo sub-district, which can be reached in a couple of hours from Gunungsitoli by driving west across the interior of the island. Driving to Alasa is rather straightforward, but reaching Tugala Oyo is more difficult. Getting there requires a drive across the island to West Nias Regency, then a turn north into Tugala Oyo sub-district. This area has notoriously bad roads.
- Humene Sihene’asi village in Tugala Oyo sub-district is the most traditional settlement in North Nias Regency and it has 13 traditional houses in very good condition. Currently access to this village is restricted to motorbikes or four-wheel drive vehicles.
- Ononazara village in Tugala Oyo sub-district has one traditional house. This house is before the suspension bridge over Oyo River and right next to the road.
- Te’olo village in Tugala Oyo sub-district has a large traditional house with some megaliths in front. This house is one km after the suspension bridge across Oyo River and can only be reached by motorbike, or on foot from the bridge.
- Anaoma village in Alasa sub-district has one large traditional house.
- Fulölö village (sub-village III) in Alasa sub-district has a large traditional house which requires a 3 km walk to get to. It is not far from a famous rock which supposedly has animal tracks on it (tapak rusa).
- Ononamolo village in Alasa sub-district has rare (for north nias) anthropomorphic megalith called Gowe Balugu Halu'ana'a at an abandoned village site. Getting there requires a four km walk through the jungle on difficult and narrow trails.
- Banuha Sibohu Tiga village in Alasa Talumuzoi has one rather dilapidated traditional house.
The following villages are all in the ‘true’ north and are accessed by driving north along the coast from Gunungsitoli until reaching North Nias District:
- Lolofaoso village in Lotu sub-district has one traditional house in very good conditions. This is the most accessible house in North Nias as it is right next to the road and not far from the district capital Lotu.
- Sisarahili village (Onombongi sub-village) in Namohalu Esiwa sub-district has a large but plain megalith stone, perhaps the largest in North Nias Regency.
- Onozitoli Sawö and Sanawuyo villages are right next to each other in Sawo sub-district near the northern tip of Nias Island. Within walking distance there are two megalithic sites with several tall but plain megaliths. These sites are the most northern point on Nias Island where megaliths have been found. There is also a very dilapidated traditional house in Onozitoli Sawö village.
In the middle of Nias there are some houses that show the transition between the southern and northern architectural styles. These houses feature a mix of architectural design details from both the south and the north. Transition houses can be seen in the following villages:
- Dekha village, Ma'u sub-district, Nias Regency.
- Lölö'ana'a village, Gunungsitoli Idanoi sub-district, Gunungsitoli Municipality
- Tulumbaho village, Lölöfitu Moi sub-district, West Nias Regency
Inaugurated: October 2008
Area: 230 km²
Population (2010): 125,556
540 / km²
Seat of local Govt:
West Nias Regency
Inaugurated: May 2009
Area: 544 km²
Population (2010): 81,807
150 / km²
Seat of local Govt:
Nias ( Nias Induk)
Inaugurated: May 2009
Area: 980 km²
Population (2010): 132,000
134 / km²
Seat of local Govt:
North Nias District
Inaugurated: 26 May 2009
Area: 1.501 km²
Population (2010): 127,530
85 / km²
Seat of local Govt:
North Nias Architecture
Traditional northern style 'Omo Hada' house
Traditional northern style 'Omo Hada' house
Inner roof of a North Nias traditional house
Facade of a North Nias traditional house.