Aceh History

Sitting at the far northwestern end of the Straits of Malacca, Aceh has long been at the crossroads of trade between east and west. Ships from Arabia, Persia and India came to buy nutmeg, mace and pepper from Sumatra, as well as cloves, camphor and other spices from further east in the spice islands. With the traders came Islam, and by the end of the thirteenth century, the Pasai kingdom emerged as a center of both commerce and Islamic scholarship. Aceh may have been one of the first places in Southeast Asia where Islam was established.

Very early in the sixteenth century came the Portuguese, who took control of Malacca and attempted to control trade in the straits. They weren't very successful, and with help from the Sultan of Turkey, the Acehnese regained control of the straits by the end of the century.

After regaining control of the seas, Sultan Iskandar Muda went on to build Aceh into a major power of the region, controlling the seas with the help of heavy galleys carrying 600 to 800 soldiers. In 1873 the Dutch attacked to start the Aceh War which lasted eight years - and in reality dragged on long after the Dutch declared victory.

After World War II, when Indonesia gained full independence from the Dutch, some mis-steps by the new central government led to resentment, which led to a separatist movement that fought, off and on, for nearly fifty years. The 2004 tsunami brought world-wide attention to the area, and the conflict. In its wake, a peace agreement was reached in 2005 granting the province greater autonomy.