As fine veins the vast network of rivers in southern Sumatra cross an area as big as Ireland ( 104,000 sq.km. ). Five mighty rivers, a dozen important side rivers and a thousand small streams connect the scattered settlements in this vast and low populated province.
Near Palembang, most big rivers come together in the slow flowing Musi River, the biggest and widest of all. The Musi springs at the western side of the province as a small and twinkling stream, far away in the forest-covered Bukit Barisan, near the high peaks of Gunung Dempo ( 3159 metres ) and Gunung Patah ( 2817 metres ).
After she has left the cool highlands, the river falls and streams between the hills, along coffee plantationa and corn-, and ricefields. When reaching the flat lowlands, the river slows down, and crawls over the gradually descending plains towards the damping swamps along the coast.
A thousand years ago, Palembang was the capital of the powerfull maritime principalty of Srivijaya which had a vast trade network with Thailand, the Malay peninsula and the coastal areas of Java. The name comes from from limbang ( washing of gold ore ) and the early wealth of Palembang most likely originated from the gold from the river.
Old travel reports tell that the palace of the ruler contained a bassin wich was connected to the Musi River by a channel, which was a very big course of wealth for the king. Every day, the king threw one bar of gold into the bassin, which was shining like a goldfish. Above the river there was a refined smell of incense from the convents of Palembang, where more than one thousand monks lived and studied on buddhist writings.
Nowadays the river is dominated by the famous Ampera Bridge of Palembang. A little further upstream the Musi comes together with two main siderivers, the Ogan and the Komering, and widens towards a few hundred metres; ships until about 10,000 tonnes regularly make the hundred-kilometre trip from the coast to Boom Baru, a riverport of Palembang. Along the shores of the Musi are piledwellings; some are a high as five metres above the waterlevel when it's low tide.
Sumatra Selatan is the living area of the Malay and the centre of the Malay language and culture. Malay is closely related with the Minangkabau language, and it's probable that Sumatra Selatan was populated by colonists from the Minangkabau region in the first centuries after Christ, which came to the coast to trade. Through the centuries their language changed from the one in the highlands. In the province, more than fifteen related Malay dialects are sporen currently.
On a small hill west of the city, Bukit Seguntang, the first king of Srivijaya and the ancestor of all Malay rulers descended. A second, and probably older, Bukit Seguntang is located near the village of Pariangan in the Minangkabau highlands.
For over three hundred years, Palembang was the most important centre of trade in Southeastern Asia, from the end of the 7th to the start of the 11th century. In that time, the city consisted of, just like nowadays, many kilometres of the Musi shorts. While the ruler lived on the shore, his subjects built houses on the river itself.
They populated a big fleet which formed the base of Srivijaja's rule over the sealane. Little remained from those times, but 24 archeological spots have been located, including the old palace, and the future promisses more interesting discoveries.