At the northern end of Sumatra is Aceh, with its capital at Banda Aceh. Aceh was an old kingdom, and was one of the first parts of Indonesia to convert to Islam, about 1400.
Aceh maintained its independence until 1871, when the Dutch started a war to conquer the kingdom that lasted over 30 years. During the independence struggle in the 1940s, Aceh remained free of Dutch control, and contributed help to the new Republic.
During the 1950s, Aceh was one of several areas to revolt against the central government. In 1989, guerilla warfare broke out again in Aceh, led this time by the Gerakan Aceh Merdeka (Free Aceh Movement), unrest that continues today.
Medan is one of the largest cities in Indonesia. Originally this area was ruled by the Sultans of Deli.
The western part of Sumatra is the home of the Minangkabau. Many famous Indonesians have been Minangkabau, including Mohammed Hatta. This area was the center of the Padri War against the Dutch in the 1820s and 1830s.
Padang is the capital of Sumatera Barat province.
Bukittinggi is the university center of the Minangkabau area. It was a center of support for the Republic in the 1940s. In 1958, it was a center of the PRRI revolt against the central government.
Nias is known for its unusual megalithic culture and its "stone jumpers".
The Batak people of northern Sumatra live in many groups, some Muslim, but some are now Christians. They resisted takeover by their neighbors in Aceh and Minangkabau as well as the Dutch.
In 1950, Sumatra was reorganized into North, Central and South Sumatra provinces. At that time, Aceh was incorporated into North Sumatra, even though it had been a separate province before. In 1957, Central Sumatra province was divided into Jambi, Riau, and West Sumatra provinces. Also in 1957, Aceh was made a province again after rebels there agreed to a cease-fire. Aceh was made a Daerah Istimewa (Special Area) in 1959.