Dance and Music

Dance and music has always played an important role on Nias. Early visitors describe seeing spectacular dance performances in the villages they stayed in. Many dances and songs were for happy occasions like weddings, while others were preparations for war or expressions of grief. When the majority of the population converted to Christianity, the musical tradition continued and a large part of every church service is devoted to music. Today Nias people are well known for being talented singers and musicians.

Traditional dances

Dancing is an important part of Nias culture, and there are many different types of dances for different occasions.

Fanari Moyo (Eagle Dance): the Moyo dance is performed by a small group of women whose dance resembles the wingbeats of an eagle. This dance symbolizes the tenacity and spirit of the eagle and Nias people. The Moyo dance is often carried out after or before an event or celebration.


'Fanari Moyo' (Eagle Dance): Left: Sifaoroa'si Gomo, South Nias. Right: Afulu, North Nias.

Maena: dancing where large groups of men and women line up in rows and dance. Short verses are sung by the master of ceremony, and the refrain is always repeated by the crowd. This is the most popular and fun dance on Nias. Most weddings or parties end in Maena dancing and most people take part. All Nias people know the steps to this dance.


'Maena' dancing at the Nias Heritage Museum during birthday celebrations in 2015.

Fatele (War dance): Fatele is the famous war dance of South Nias. Basically it is a re-enactment or training for a battle, with many warriors in full regalia taking part. The dance follows a certain script and in similar to a theater performance. The dance is very realistic and the warriors usually get into character to the point where it looks like real fighting is about to break out.


'Fatele' (War Dance) in Bawömataluo village, South Nias. Photo courtesy of Agus Mendröfa.

Famanu - manu (War dance fight): finale of the Fatele war dances where the hero of the village defeat the enemy in a duel (fight one on one).


War faces during 'Famanu - Manu' (War Dance duels) during the Pesta Ya'ahowu festival in Teluk Dalam 2016.

There are many dances that can be categorized as ‘welcoming’ dances which are done as part of the ceremonial arrival of important visitors. There are dances for both hosts and visitors.

Bölihae: this is the first dance in a ceremonial welcome. Visitors walking towards a village are met by representatives of the host, as an early welcome and also to guide the visiting party to the host’s house. By hearing this singing at a distance, the host knows that visitors are approaching.

Fahimba: also called the Himba dance. It is the second stage of a ceremonial welcome performed by the hosts when visitors arrive. This dance involves some theatrics and aspects of a war dance. As guest arrive it is initially not clear if visitors are friendly or intruders. The women in the party place themselves in the middle to avoid any fighting breaking out. The response to this dance by the guest is the Hiwö dance.

Hiwö: dance performed by visitors as they arrive at their host’s house. Male dancers hold hands and dance in a snaking line towards the hosts. This dance involves some theatrics and aspects of a war dance. As guest arrive it is initially not clear if the host will welcome them or treat them like intruders. The women in the party place themselves in the middle to avoid any fighting breaking out. The response to this dance by the host is the Himba dance.


Hiwö dances are today often performed when important guests arrive.

Maluaya: Another welcoming dance from South Nias. It is performed by men and women together in the center court of a traditional village.

Mogaele: This is a dance where female dancers offer betel nuts from special bags (Bola nafo) to important visitors. Today this dance is often performed when VIP guests like government ministers visit Nias.


'Mogaele' dance during Pesta Ya'ahowu celebrations in Teluk Dalam 2016.


In northern Nias the 'Mogaele' dance is called 'Famaola gö afo'.

Manaho: This is a dance to welcome guest which is unique to Batu Islands (Tellos) of South Nias.

Music and traditional musical instruments

Music was and is an important part of Nias culture. Most ethnic Nias people can play an instrument and many are very good singers.

Traditional singing:

Digital StillCamera

"Ho-Ho" singers from  Hilinawalö village in South Nias.

Hoho: in South Nias sung by 5 or 7 men; the leader is called Ere hoho. The songs usually consist of poems, stories and historic anecdotes. In northern Nias hoho is spoken rather than sung.

Hendri Hendri: sung during weddings or traditional feasts as a back and forth dialogue between guest and visitors. The songs can be an introduction or commentary about visitors. Initially men and women sing separately, but are united towards the end.  Finally small groups of women sing a particularly haunting and high pitched song, which is sung at all weddings.

Maola: songs by guest arriving and by hosts welcoming guests during traditional feasts.

Famaola: this song is mainly used north Nias, when male hosts greeting guests before the offering of betel nuts.

Mo'ere: ancestor worship prayers sung by a pre-Christian priest while beating the Fondrahi drums.

Gözö-Gözö: singing while working or while walking.

Famolaya iraono: lullaby to make babies sleep.


There are many well-known songs associated with dances as Maena, Bölihae, Fahimbo and Hiwö.

Lailö: songs for general entertainment. These songs can be both sad and happy and can be sung anytime.

Boli: singing entertainment.

Ngenu-ngenu: singing to express grief and suffering (one to three people)

Boli-Boli: singing for grieving parties. Sung by a minimum of five singers.

There are also many well know songs associated with dances such as the Maena, Bölihae, Fahimbo and Hiwö.

Traditional Nias Instruments

Doli - doli gahe: a very simple instrument consisting of four wooden blocks with different tones. It is usually put across the knees of a sitting person and played using short sticks. There is a more advanced stationary version where the wooden blocks is placed on a stand. In the south this instrument is known as Doli Doli Hakita.


Left: doli doli gahe. Right: doli doli hakita.


Doli - doli haua: a piece of wood approximately 1.3 m long. One end is hanging from a rope, the other is held on the shoulder. By beating the wood with a smaller stick and at the same time twisting it, different tones can be created. Playing this instrument is associated with giving and sharing traditional advice from the ancestors.

Lagia: a type of very simple lute; a string instrument producing a haunting sound.

Raba: instrument from Tello islands. A simple lute with a coconut shell mounted on a wooden handle with one string.


Left: Lagia. Right: Raba from Batu Islands (Tellos).

Göndra: large double sided drum, usually hanging from ropes. Creates a thunderous and dramatic sound often played at beginning of ceremonies, like weddings and arrival of important guests. It is played with flexible bamboo sticks.


The Göndra drum is one of the most important instruments used at official events and ceremonies such as weddings.


Gendang Rafa'i

Rafa'i: small drum with a conical shape. It is placed on the ground and played with the hands. It is mainly used during ceremonies and festivities.

Tamburu: a small double sided drum, held under the arm. Often played during weddings.

Fondrahi: drum made from a long hollow piece of wood, in the past used by pre-Christian priests on religious occasions. It is held under the arm while played.

Tutu: a drum mainly used in South Nias during religious ceremonies. It is a 120 cm long narrow drum covered in skin on one side. It is played with the hands. It is mounted in the roof of a house and played in situ.


Different types of drums from Nias -  Left: Tamburu. Middle: Fondrahi. Right: Tutu.

Tamburana: same as a Tutu but much larger; almost 3 meters long. It is used for very special occasions such as a chief’s death or funeral. It is usually only found in noblemen or chief’s houses.


Tamburana drum in the ceiling of a nobleman's great house (Omo Sebua) in the village Bawömataluo.

Sigu lewuö: end blown flute made from bamboo.

Riri-riri lewuö: simple side blown flute of bamboo. It is rather crude and mostly used by children who sing tones through the tube rather than blowing air through it.

Fifi Wofo: a simple temporary instrument that is blown to imitate the sounds of birds (also known as ufu-ufu). It is used by hunters to attract birds. It can be made very quickly by cutting a splinter of bamboo or other similar woods.


Left: Sigu Lewuö. Middle: Ri-ri Lewuö. Right: Fifi Wofo.


Tutu Hao - unique to Nias

Tutu hau: a bamboo tube which by skilled craftsmanship is turned into a musical instrument. Unique for Nias, not found anywhere else.


Duri Gahe

Duri gahe: two bamboo sticks beaten on the knees. Also known as duri mbalö duhi.



Tamburu Danö

Tamburu danö: a unique ‘temporary” instrument made by digging a hole in the ground, then cover it with mowo wino bark. A string made out of wines is tied over the hole creating a simple string instrument. It is made by children as a game to pass time.


Riti-riti Sole

Riti-riti sole: coconut shell with seeds inside; than when shaken it creates sound.

Tabolia: thick piece of bamboo with a large hole in it. Used like a bell to call people to meetings or as an alarm.

Koko-koko (north), kato-kato (south): similar to a Tabolia, but made from wood. Used as a bell to call people to meetings or as an alarm.


Left: Tabolia made from Bamboo. Middle and Right: Koko-koko made from wood.

Newer musical instruments (imported):

Faritia: small handheld gongs, usually used at weddings.

Aramba: large gong; used during weddings and other parties.


Left: Faritia. Right and Middle: Aramba.


Mage-mage alse known as Koroco.

Mage-mage: similar to a Ukulele or a small guitar.

Ndruri Mbewe: mouth or jaw harp; a small lyre-shaped musical instrument held between the teeth and struck with a finger. It may have been brought to Nias by Missionaries .

Ndruri weto: simple mouth or jaw harp made out of bamboo.


Left and Middle: Ndruri Mbewe. Right: Ndruri Weto.


More recent Nias instruments:

Feta batu: rocks of different sizes and shapes makes different sounds when hit by a stick. Skilled musicians can create music by 'playing' the rocks. Created in the village Bawömataluo by Hikayat Manaö. Inspired by KOMPAS journalist that suggested this way of creating music would be suitable to an island with megalithic stone culture. Feta batu was not traditionally played on Nias.


info_museum_pusaka-nias_8Sumatra d'hier et d'aujourd'hui – Claude Jannel (Musik from Sumatra including Nias).
1980 Le Monde en Musique.

info_museum_pusaka-nias_9Music of Indonesia, Vol. 4: Music of Nias and North Sumatra
1992 Smithsonian Folkways Recordings. 
Available online here 

info_museum_pusaka-nias_10Nias: Epic, songs and instrumental music
1995 PAN Records. Available online here

info_museum_pusaka-nias_11Traditional Nias Hoho Music from Hilinawalö Fau village
Museum Pusaka Nias, 2007

Musical instruments for sale

The following musical instruments are for sale at the museum. Most of them were made in the museum by our staff, others are made by artisans in the community


museum_pusaka_nias_ala_musik_doli_doli_gahe2Doli-Doli Hagita/Gahe Rp 650.000


museum_pusaka_nias_alat_musik_doli_doli_haua2Doli-Doli Haua Rp 150.000


lagia Lagia Rp 650.000


rabaRaba Rp 75.000


gondraGöndra Rp 2.400.000


museum_pusaka_nias_alat_musik_rafaiRafa'i Rp 1.200.000


tamburuTamburu Rp 500.000


fondrahiFondrahi Rp 1.500.000



 Tutu Rp 1.500.000


sigu-lewuoSigu Lewuö Rp 150.000


museum_pusaka_nias_alat_musik_riri_lewuoRi-ri Lewuö Rp 50.000


tutu-haoTutu Hao Rp 300.000


duri-gaheDuri Gahe Rp 120.000 


museum_pusaka_nias_alat_musik_riti_soleRiti-riti Sole Rp 300.000



 Tabolia Rp 300.000

Koko/Kato-kato Rp 300.000


museum_pusaka_nias_alat_musik_faritia2Faritia Rp 1.500.000


museum_pusaka_nias_alat_musik_aramba1Aramba Rp 2.600.000


mage-mageMage-mage/Koroco Rp 300.000


ndruri-mbewe Ndruri Mbewe Rp 350.000


museum_pusaka_nias_ala_musik_ndruri_wetoNdruri Weto Rp 175.000


© Yayasan Pusaka Nias 2017. Designed & Edited by Björn Svensson & Shanti Fowler