The Jambi people (also known as the Melayu Jambi) primarily live in four of the six districts that comprise the Jambi Province of central Sumatra. These districts are Tanjungjabung, Batanghari, Bungo-Tebo, and the capital city of Jambi. The Jambi language is a branch of the Melayu (Malay) language cluster. Their culture is greatly influenced by the Minangkabau culture.
Most of the area the Jambi inhabit is a lowland basin of dense jungles, peat bogs, swamps, and rivers--all drained by the mighty Batang Hari River (655 kilometer long) and its tributaries. The rivers are important to them not only as a means of transportation but as a source of fish. They are adept swimmers and fishermen. They use eight types of traditional fishing tackle, as well as the modern pukat ('fishnet'). They are great eaters of ikan (fish) and complain that a meal is incomplete without its distinctive flavor.
Most of the Jambi make their living by fishing. For catching fish they use different types of traps ranging from the traditional to the modern. Some of the types of fish they catch are: ringau, kelemak, toman, pati, baung, juaro, bujuk, seluang, gabus, betok, and serapil. In addition to fishing, farming and plantation work are important occupations for the Jambi people.
The Jambi are proud of their status as descendants of an ancient Melayu kingdom that dates back to the 7th century. This pride, in fact, has threatened their economic development due to their unwillingness to accept modernization. This is evident as transmigrants from other parts of Indonesia are better off economically than most of the Jambi themselves.
Travel between neighboring rural villages is more often done by river than by land. This is due to the Jambi mainly living in thick jungle areas with wide marshes, making land travel very difficult. The Jambi have many different kinds of ceremonies and rituals, which they celebrate at special occasions.
These would include: birth of a child, naming a child, first hair cut, ear piercing for two-year old girls, and circumcision for sons between six and ten years old. When the children come of age, (15 year old girls and 17 year old boys), there is a ceremony to file their teeth as a symbol of their adulthood.
Almost all of the Jambi are Muslims. All villages have a mesjid ('mosque') or langar ('prayer house') with many having a madrasah ('Islamic school'). For the Jambi, all principles and guidelines governing human life have been passed down from their ancestors, who in turn received them from the official Islamic written sources of revealed truth, the Qur'an (Islamic Holy Book) and the Hadith (guidelines for faith and practice derived from the Prophet Muhammad's life). They also believe that religious leaders, dwarfs, and dukun (shaman/healer/occultist) possess supernatural powers.