Sumatra (also spelled Sumatera) is an island in western Indonesia, westernmost of the Sunda Islands. It is the largest island entirely within the country of Indonesia. Two larger islands, Borneo and New Guinea, are shared between Indonesia and other countries. Sumatra is the sixth largest island in the world at 473,481 km² with a population of 50,365,538. Its most populous city is Medan, with a population of 1,770,000.
Settler colonies were arriving in Sumatra in 500 BC and several significant kingdoms flourished there. I Ching, a Chinese Buddhist monk, studied Sanskrit and spent four years of his life working in Palembang. The explorer Marco Polo also visited Sumatra in 1292.
Sumatra has a huge range of plant and animal species but has lost almost 50% of its tropical rainforest in the last 35 years and many species are Critically Endangered such as Sumatran Tiger, Sumatran Rhino, and Sumatran Orangutan. However, as of December 2010, scientists confirmed that the island of Sumatra is the home of the second largest tiger population in the world.
87% of Sumatrans are thought to be Muslim with 10% Christian, 2% Buddhist and 1% Hindu.
Indonesia is one of the most culturally, ethnically and linguistically diverse countries in the world, being composed of 17,508 islands, with people of 300 distinct ethnicities speaking 742 different languages and dialects. Indonesia’s national motto is “Bhinneka Tunggal Ika” (many, yet one) also translated as ‘Unity in Diversity.’
Among the distinct ethnicities throughout the country, the Minangkabau people comprise one of the largest and oldest living matrilineal societies in the world, and inhabit the province of West Sumatra, whose capital is Padang.