Originally from the eastern coast of Sumatera, the Kerinci fled from local Muslim Sultanates in an ancient war and moved into their existing homeland high in the Bukit Barisan Mountains near Mount Kerinci in West Sumatera and Lake Kerinci in Jambi. Although the highlands present challenges for living, intensive agriculture coupled with fishing has been sufficient to sustain sizeable indigenous populations.
The Kerinci have been able to resist assimilation with the stronger lowland peoples. They have managed to not only survive but to grow enriched by what they have borrowed from the coastal cultures, but in each case absorbing and reshaping according to their indigenous ethos without losing their own ethnic identity. Today, their isolation is being broken by government-sponsored mass relocations of Jawa, Sunda, and Bali people for plantation projects on their rich soil.
In addition, a world-class national park is being developed by the World Wildlife Fund to preserve the rain forest, flora, and fauna. This will draw even more outsiders into this remote area.
Most of the Kerinci are farmers. Other than their main crop of rice (grown in both irrigated and unirrigated fields), they also grow potatoes, vegetables, and tobacco. Those who live around the base of the mountains are nomadic farmers. These nomadic farmers grow coffee, cinnamon, and cloves. The primary crops harvested from the jungle are resin and rattan. Most of the people living near Lake Kerinci and some other small lakes are fishermen. Their village homes are built very close together.
A village is called a dusun and is inhabited by one clan that has descended from one common female ancestor. In a dusun there are always several long-houses, which are built side by side along the road. The nuclear family is called a tumbi. Once a man marries, he moves out of his family's home and moves in with his new wife's family. Normally, if a daughter is married, she is given a new small house attached to the house of her parents. In turn, her daughters will be given houses attached to her house.
A mother's clan is called the kelbu. This kelbu is considered the most important family unit among the Kerinci people. Even though the Kerinci people are matriarchal, the nuclear family is led by the husband, not the wife's brother (as is common to other matriarchal groups, including the Minang). The mother's brother avoids involvement in clan issues and only gets involved in problems with his sister's immediate family. Inheritance is given to the daughters in the family.
Islam is the majority religion of the Kerinci, but they still hold to animism, especially as it is exhibited by their use of traditional healers and magic to bless their crops. Moreover, in their everyday life they often refer to tataman ('meeting ghosts'), tatampo ('being hit by ghosts'), and tapijek anaok antau ('being stepped on by ghosts').