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Jambi is a province of Indonesia located on the east coast of central Sumatra. The capital of the province is Jambi city. Jambi province is divided into nine regencies (kabupaten) and one city (kota). The population is of mixed origin with 38% being Malay, 28% Javanese, 10% Kerinci, 5% Minangkabau, 3% Banjarese, 3% Sundanese and 2% Buginese.

Introduction to Jambi
The land of the Batang Hari river

The low populated province of Jambi concludes an area the size of Switzerland (53,500, that is irrigated by the Batang Hari river, the longest river on Sumatra and her side rivers.

The Batang Hari springs on Gunung Rasam (2585 meters) in West Sumatra and lingers for about 800 kilometers towards the east to Selat Malakka ('Malacca Strait'). Her most important side rivers are Tebo, Tabir, Merangin, Tembesi and Asai, they flow through rock layers which hold gold, which are released during heavy rain. Gold is still being found, and the legendaric Svarnabhumi (Land of the Gold) from the classical Indian writings might have pointed to these regions.

At the mouth of Batang Hari used to be an old harbor, known as Melayu. From 7th century Chinese sources we know that a ruler with 5,000 men used to live here. At the end of the 7th century, trade had developed sufficiently to draw it's attention from the nearby Srivijaya (Palembang). In 686 Malayu was conquered by Srivijaya.

At the start of the 10th century a giant complex with Hindu-Buddhist shrines appeared near Muara Jambi, 26 kilometers downstream of the current capital. It also contained water reservoirs and channels. After an Indian attack on Srivijaja in 1025, Malayu managed to remain independent for a while, but after 1275 it was ruled by the Javanese. Survivors of the old royal court seem to have moved more upstream towards the western highlands; in the Kerinci area many city names show Buddhist elements. The name Malayu probably means 'people from the hills' (from the South Indian words mala 'hill' and ur 'people'; the Indian influence is also visible in the name of Jambi's biggest river: Hari is an incarnation of the Indian god Visnu.

In the 16th century, Islam settled in Jambi. Following the stories a sultanate was founded by a Turkish man with the remarkable Malay name of Paduka Berhala (His Excellence the Idol). His son, Orang Kaya Hitam overwon the Javanese rule around 1600, just when Dutch merchants appeared in the region.

In 1707 the Dutch founded a post at the mouth of the Batang Hari to rule over the pepper trade, but in 1734 they were forced out. After a treaty (1833) the post was used again, but only in 1901 the area became under direct influence of the Dutch; in the inlands it took until 1916 before the last fights were stopped. Nowadays the growing economy of Jambi is based on forestry and plantations.

The very heterogeneous population lives in a number of big cities and villages along the rivers. In the jungle there are about 5,000 Kubu, which resist every try to put them in fixed residences. Besides several fertile highlands Jambi consists of lowland hills, former swamps and swamps near the coast. Less fertile lowlands are suffering from the heavy rains all year long, making them useless for agriculture.

In the rain-forest it once was no lack of animals. Nowadays bears, deer, elephants, tapirs and tigers are threatened by growing wood-cutting concessions, plantations and transmigration settlements. There are two nature reserves: National Park Kerinci-Seblat in the west, and a small, swampy coastal area, Kuala Berbak, three hours downstream from Jambi City along a branch of the river Batang Hari, and between October and December it's a meeting place for birds for resting. A third reserve is Bukit Duabelas ('Twelve Hills') in Central Jambi is proposed, and it does also have high importance for the Kubu living there.

Last revised on November 03, 2009
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