The spread of Islam
The exact ingress of Islam in Nias is believed to be through trading activities. The well known Moslem figure of Nias was Balugu Luaha Nasi Zebua from Ononamölö I Lot who traveled to Minang region (West Sumatra) and embraced Islam there.

Around 1645 Tengku Polem, the descendant of Iskandar Muda of Meulaboh (West Aceh) arrived in Nias. Tengku Polem assimilation with Nias people was strengthened when he married a Nias girl, Bowo Ana’a, the daughter of Balugu Harimou Harefa.

At around 1669 AD (1111 Hijriah) Datuk Raja Ahmad of Pariangan, Padang Panjang (West Sumatra) landed in Teluk Belukar and introduced Islam to the local people. The beginning of Islam spread in Nias was marked by the erection of the first surau (the small place of prayers – a small mosque) in Gunungsitoli at around 1673 AD (1115 H) which was the rudiment of the construction of Mesjid Ilir (Ilir mosque) in around 1907.

The Protestant Mission
The history of the Christian church in Nias began through the Rhenish Missionary Society – Rheinische Mission Gesellschaft (RMG). The first missionary to enter Nias was Rev. E. Ludwig Denninger. He was one of the few RMG missionaries who worked among the Dayaks in Kalimantan (Borneo), the middle part of Indonesia.

In 1859, the RMG missionaries could not continue their work among the Dayaks, because the Dutch, who were colonizing Indonesia, did not permit them.* Therefore, these RMG missionaries moved to Padang, West Sumatra, the western part of Indonesia. They had planned to do mission among the Bataks in north Sumatra. The Dutch also did not give permission for the missionaries to go inland among the Bataks, because they did not control that region.

In 1861, while waiting in Padang for permission to go inland to work among the Bataks, Denninger started evangelistic ministry among dock-workers from Nias, on the west coast of Sumatra. Later, the Dutch permitted the missionaries to move inland to work among the Bataks. At the time, Denninger was unable to move inland with the other missionaries because of the illness of his wife. Instead, Denninger continued his ministry to the Niasan dockworkers in Padang, West Sumatra. Some of these migrants from Nias invited him to come and work on their island. In Padang, he baptised the first Niassan, a girl called Ara in 1863.

Denninger decided to move to Nias, so he could minister more effectively. He arrived on 27 September 1865, and settled in Gunung Sitoli. This port was the main town and the only seat of Dutch colonial authority in the island at that time. Two more missionaries of the Rhenish Mission arrived to join Denninger in the ministry. The work was not easy. The pioneers met many difficulties and discouragements at the beginning, especially due to the hostility of the daring headhunting and murderous chiefs and unhealthy conditions in the island. It was not until nine years later in 1874 that the first nine converts were baptized. After twenty-five years (1865-1890), there were 906 converts in three stations.

In 1936 the first Synod of Christian Church in Nias was convened which marked the establishment of Banua Niha Keriso Protestant (BNKP) – the first and main organization of Protestant Churches in Nias.

The Roman Catholic Mission
The ingress of Roman Catholic mission in Nias began with the arrival of two young priests, Fr. Jean Pierre Vallon and Fr. Jean Laurent Berard sent by Bishop of Florens, France. They departed on 14 December 1831 and arrived in Nias in March 1832.

Fries in Amoeata Danö Niha wrote that in 1854 the Dutch government in Batavia (Jakarta) sent van Hesserle, a Roman Catholic “messenger” to Nias who stayed in Sogawugawu. Not long after his arrival, he died.

The next main stage of Roman Catholic mission in Nias was realized when, Mgr. L.T. Brans, Bishop of Padang asked the permission of the Dutch colonial government to spread the Roman Cathloic mission in Tapanuli (Nias was then part of the Tapanuli Residential government).

After the Second World War, the Catholic Mission grew and spread from Gunungsitoli to northern part of Nias and from Telukdalam to the southern part of Nias.

* According to Fries in his book Amoeata Danö Niha the reason for Mission’s pulling out from Kalimantan (Borneo) was the murder of seven missionaries there in 1859 leaving only two in Banjarmasin.

Dermawan, 2003: A Study of The Nias Revival In Indonesia, AJPS 6:2, pp. 247-263.
Fries, E. ?: Amoeata Danö Niha (The Characteristics of Nias Island) in Li Niha (Nias Language).
BPS Kabupaten Nias (2004) – Profil Dearah dan Informasi Kabupaten Nias Selatan.

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March 2023