Bengkulu province is located on the southwest coast of Sumatra. With an area of 19,919 sq km (7,691 sq mi), Bengkulu is the smallest province in Sumatra. Despite its small population and isolation, it is also a region of awe-inspiring natural beauty. The region is blessed with a wealth of natural riches, nurturing a variety of rare plant and animal species. It is bordered on the east by the Bukit Barisan range which acts as it’s backbone from north to south. The western part of the region is dominated by sunny coastal plains and is bordered by the shores of the Indian Ocean. The entire province is filled with stunning forested landscapes and plantations.
Bengkulu region was part of the Buddhist Srivijaya kingdom. After the Srivijaya kingdom was defeated by the Majapahit kingdom of East Java in the 13th century, Bengkulu came under the influence of the Majapahit until the late 15th century. It is generally believed that before the introduction of Islam in the 12th century to the region, the people who lived within the region developed their own script known as the Rejang script or also known as the Ka-Ga-Nga script to write the five Rejang dialects. In the late 17th century the British controlled most of Bengkulu (Bencoolen, as they called it), and then the region gradually came under Dutch occupation in 1824. Under the leadership of Sukarno, Indonesia gained it’s independence from the Dutch on August 17, 1945.
In general, the culture in Bengkulu province is largely influenced by Islam, but each ethnic group in the region has a unique cultural identity shaped by the ancient myths, the Malay heritages, the physical landscape, and the European colonialists. Islam was introduced to Bengkulu in the 12th century and gradually Islamic values blended with the traditional cultural practices.
Ikan sejerek – bereh secupak (lit. a bunch of fishes – a quart of rice), a popular Bengkulu-Malay expression which roughly means be thankful for what you have today and live a simple, peaceful, and content life. This expression reflects that there is a slower pace of life in every corner of Bengkulu province. Even the provincial capital city moves at a more relaxed speed then many western cultures. The people always seem not to be in a big rush to get things done. It is very common for the locals to take the opportunity to greet and talk to foreign travelers. Life in Bengkulu tends to be much less stressful, where drinking strong black coffee and smoking are popular pastimes for the people.
In Bengkulu province, especially in the rural areas, the kepala desa (village head) and the tetua adat (the traditional leaders and the elders) are still highly respected and valued for their cultural knowledge and leadership. They are frequently asked by the local communities to supervise, to make important decisions, and to give written or oral approval when needed. The old tradition of gotong-royong (mutual co-operation) and musyawarah (consensus) are still strongly retained and demonstrated by the people throughout Bengkulu. These values inspire the people to cooperate and work together to meet their community needs and interests.
Bengkulu province, with a population of 1.7 million inhabitants, encompasses a mix of cultures and ethnic groups with over 8 ethnic groups, each speaking their own language. The interior is mainly populated by the Rejangs (60% of the province’s total population) and the Lembaks, while coastal towns are inhabited by the Bengkulu-Malays, the Serawais, the Kaurs, etc. Foreign travellers who have ever come to this province are usually surprised by the incredibly friendly locals who tend to have the time to greet, to chat, and to help foreign travellers.