Aru Kingdom

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Aru Kingdom
1565 map of Sumatra with south orientation on top, showing "Terre Laru" on center-lower left
Capital Kota Rentang
Religion Animism, Hinduism, Islam
Government Monarchy
 •  Established 1225[1]
 •  Defeat of Aru Kingdom to Sultanate of Aceh 1613
Succeeded by
Sultanate of Deli
Today part of  Indonesia

The Aru (or Haru) was a major Sumatran kingdom from the 13th to the 16th century. It was located on the eastern coast of North Sumatra, Indonesia. In its heyday the kingdom was a formidable maritime power, and was able to control the northern part of the Malacca strait.[2]

The kingdom was initially established as a Batak Karo polity.[3] The indigenous population practiced native animism as well as Hinduism. Around the 13th century Islam came into practice alongside existing faiths.[4] Aru's capital was located around present-day Medan city and Deli Serdang. The people of the kingdom are believed to have been descendants of the Karo people from interior North Sumatra.[2]


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Traditionally, the location of Haru or Aru kingdom is connected to the site of its successor state, the Sultanate of Deli, which was in and around the city of Medan and Deli Serdang today, as suggested by British orientalist Winstedt.[5] Groenveldt, a Dutch historian however, suggested that center of Haru Kingdom was located further southeast, near the estuarine of Barumun and Panai River, in Labuhan Batu Regency, thus related and connected to the earlier Pannai Kingdom. Gilles suggested that the capital was located near Belawan Harbour, while another opinion suggested the estuarine of Wampu River by Haru Bay, Langkat Regency.[3]

The Kota Cina archaeological site in Medan Marelan,[6] and Benteng Putri Hijau in Deli Tua, Namorambe, Deli Serdang Regency, are a few archaeological sites near Medan, which are connected to the Aru Kingdom.[7] The Benteng Putri Hijau archaeological site is under threat of residential development.[8] Another archaeological site is Kota Rentang in Hamparan Perak area, Deli Serdang Regency. Archaeological expert suggests that this was the capital of Aru Kingdom.[9]


The earliest historical record mentioning Haru Kingdom was a Chinese chronicle dated from the Yuan Dynasty (late 13th century). Another Chinese record came from a later period, the Yingyai Shenglan (1416) of Ming Dynasty. The Kingdom of Haru was also mentioned in two Javanese records, the Nagarakretagama (1365) and Pararaton (c. 15th century).[10]

The Malay Annals mentioned Haru Kingdom as one of a few influential kingdoms in the region, whose prestige rivals those of Pasai and Malacca Sultanate.[11] The Portuguese record Suma Oriental written in early 16th century mentioned Aru as a prosperous kingdom.[12]



An imposing traditional Karo house. The people of Aru Kingdom believed was ethnically related or belongs in the same stock as Karo people of Tanah Karo

The population of the Aru Kingdom believed was the descendants or related to the Karo tribe that inhabit the Tanah Karo further inland. This suggestion is based on a plausible etymology of similar sounding names, between "Aru" or "Haru" with "Karo".[2]

The Benteng Putri Hijau archaeological site, an ancient fortress near Medan, shows several layers of cultures estimated dated between 12th to 18th century. The fort is quite similar to Karo and wider Batak tribes tradition of constructing huta or kuta, a walled compound completed with parik (moat) as a defensive structure to protect the village against incessant tribal warfare. The artifacts among others are stone tools, Chinese ceramics, tin bullets and Aceh coins.[7] Fragment of lingam was discovered at the nearby site of Sukanalu, suggested that the population of Aru adhere both native animism and Hinduism prior of Islamisation that started to enter the region circa 13th century.[7]

The Haru Kingdom was mentioned in a Chinese chronicle of Yuan Dynasty. According to this source, in 1282 Kublai Khan demanded Haru to submit to China's suzerainty, which was responded graciously by sending tribute to Yuan's court in 1295. Marco Polo however, did not mention Aru in his report as one of the 8 kingdoms of Sumatra during his journey in 1292.

The Haru Kingdom has mentioned in two Javanese sources originated from circa 14th century. According to Pararaton, Haru kingdom was mentioned among polities that Gajah Mada intended to unite under Majapahit suzerainty in his Palapa oath.[13] In 1339 a Javanese Majapahit naval expedition attacked several coastal states in Sumatra; although failed to capture Samudera Pasai, Javanese expedition manage to gain control of Haru and Pane (Pannai).[3][9] The Nagarakretagama (1365) canto 13 mentioned Aru as one of Majapahit vassal states in Sumatra.[10]

According to Hikayat Raja-raja Pasai and Malay Annals, Aru Kingdom was Islamized by Nakhoda Ismail and Fakir Muhammad, they also converted Merah Silu, the first king of Samudera Pasai in mid-13th century. According to Yingyai Shenglan (1416), a Chinese Ming dynasty report composed by Ma Huan about Zheng He expedition, the king of Haru and his subjects has embraced Islam. After 13th century, Islam slowly began to gain followers among the population of Aru. However, native animism or paganism still pervasive, especially among population of the interior region, and a few Hindus still survives.


The map of Malacca Sultanate, Aru shown on the east coast of North Sumatra, Southeast from Peureulak

The discovery of Muslim graves headstones in Kota Rentang suggests that the ruling elites of Aru Kingdom — King and his family, has converted to Islam. These Islamic headstones are made from volcanic tuff with Arabic Jawi script similar to those found in Aceh and other Malay states. Archaeological site in Kota Rentang in Hamparan Perak, Deli Serdang believed was the capital of Aru Kingdom. There are numbers artifact discovered in this site, including Islamic headstones, ceramics and pottery fragments from China, Thailand and Sri Lanka, also Arabic coins from 13th to 14th century. Other artifact includes traces of timberworks, building stones and remnant of wooden ship.[9]

In the 15th century, the Malay Annals mentioned the Haru Kingdom as one of a few influential kingdoms in the region, which its prestige rivals those of Pasai and Malacca Sultanate.[11] During that period, the kingdom was a formidable maritime power controlling northern part of Malacca strait.[2]

The Malaccan Malay and Portuguese sources mentioned about the demographic composition, and sometimes rivalry, between Muslim minority of the coast and native pagan heathen majority of the island, and their notorious practice of cannibalism. According to Afonso de Albuquerque, the rulers of the small kingdoms of northern Sumatra and the Sultans of Malacca used to have cannibals as executioners, reserved as a punishment for special crimes: "There are in Malacca ... others are boiled, others are roasted and given to eat to peoples who are like savages and come from a country called Aru."[14]

The Portuguese record Suma Oriental written in early 16th century mentioned the Aru Kingdom as a prosperous kingdom with plenty of rice, meat, fish and wine. The kingdom also had ample of camphor, benzoin, gold, lignaloes, rattan, honey and slaves.[12] According to Suma Oriental, Aru has a town in the land of Arqat, where a large slave market was held in certain months. Many people went there to buy slaves, while other people went there to pay the ransom to buy the freedom of their relatives (whose were sold as slaves). The coastal area of Aru kingdom, however, was invested by Celates robbers.[12]

Duarte Barbosa (1480-1521) wrote about the kingdom of Aru which was then ruled by cannibal adherents of paganism. Two decades later, Mendes Pinto also record the presence of the people of "Aaru" on the northeast coast of Sumatra where he also visited the local Muslim king.[15]


The conquest by Iskandar Muda of Aceh, 1608-1637. Kingdom of Aru was defeated by Aceh in 1613

Aru Kingdom steadily grew weaker in the 16th century, caught in a regional rivalry between the more powerful neighbours — Portuguese Malacca and the Sultanate of Aceh. Because of the incessant pressure from Aceh, circa early 16th century, the capital of Aru moved inland, from coastal Kota Rentang shifted southward to Benteng Putri Hijau.[9] The fall of coastal Kota Rentang port city to Aceh probably took place in 1539, some historian suggested that this event marked the end of Aru kingdom as a maritime power.[1] Aru's influence fell and reduced to become a regional small polity, and ceased to exist around early 17th century due to various factors. Among others are the rivalry with Aceh and other neighboring polities in Sumatra and Malay peninsula, coupled with the loss of its coastal port that rendered the kingdom isolated from the world trading network.

In 1613, Aru kingdom was defeated by Aceh, during the reign of expansive and ambitious Sultan Iskandar Muda of Aceh. The discovery of tin bullets suggests that Benteng Putri Hijau was a battle site.[7] The Haru Kingdom was dissolved in the early 17th century. Its successor state was Deli which was reduced as an Aceh protectorate (1632–1669) and later conquered by Siak (1669–1854).



Within the Kingdom of Aru, there were three religions adhered by its people; Islam faith adhered by kingdom's elites; the royal family and coastal society, Hinduism adhered by Tamil settlers, and native pagan animism adhered by the larger Karonese population of the hinterland. The Kingdom of Aru was initially built upon the larger Karo society, which was a pagan animist culture.[3] The traditional animist beliefs system of Karonese is called Pemena.

Chinese Ming source Yingyai Shenglan (1416) mentioned that King of Aru and his subjects have embraced Islam. The conversion to Islam highly possible took place earlier, since late 13th century. Islamic gravestones discovered in Kota Rentang confirmed that Islamic society has formed their root in the kingdom.[9]

Archaeological remnant also uncover the fragment of lingam, which suggests that part of Aru's society, possibly Tamil settlers, adhered Hinduism.[7] Tamil traders have been settled in the kingdom, thus brought Hindu influences with them, and they has integrated into Aru society.

Economy and way of life

The people of Aru made their living by fishing and farming. However, since their lands are not suitable for rice farming, most of them grows coconut and banana instead, or trading forest commodities such as rattan, camphor and frankincense. They raised poultry, duck, and goat, and they consumed milk. When they went into the forest, they will bring poisonous arrows and bow for protection. Both men and women covered their body by wrapping themselves in a cloth, however the upper parts were left uncovered. They traded their commodities with foreign goods, including Chinese ceramics, silk, colourful beads etc.[16]

Archaeological findings and artifacts shows that Aru Kingdom has established trading relations with India and China. According to a Chinese source, compared to Malacca and Pasai, Aru was not a great center of commerce. It seems that Aru failed to compete with Malacca and Pasai to attract regional and global Muslim traders. This has led Aru kings to occasionally turn to piracy and raids,[2] aided by the Celates (Orang Laut), sea gypsies aligned to Aru.[12]


The Chinese sources mentioned that the culture of Aru; such as customs, marriage, funeral, language and trade, are quite similar to those of Malacca, Pasai and Java. The natural resources and commodities being traded there are also quite similar to those of other polities in the region.

According to Malay Annals, Aru Kingdom has adopted the etiquette and culture of Malay court;[11] their kings uses Malay styles and titles such as "Raja Pahlawan" and "Sri Indra". However, this Malayization acculturation was not conducted thoroughly, as the traces of non-Malay culture — the native Karonese elements, still survives.

Aru Kingdom maintained a close cultural and trading relations with their kin up in the hinterland — the Karo people of Karoland. By that time, the Karo people still practiced a native form of animism and paganism, which include a notorious practice of ritualised cannibalism.[14] Thus, from the perspective of foreign records, the Aru country notoriously known as the origin of savage cannibals.[12]


  1. ^ a b Brahma Putro (1981). Karo, dari jaman ke jaman, Volume 1 (in Indonesian). Yayasan Massa Cabang Medan. 
  2. ^ a b c d e Dominik Bonatz; John Miksic; J. David Neidel, eds. (2009). From Distant Tales: Archaeology and Ethnohistory in the Highlands of Sumatra. Cambridge Scholars Publishing. ISBN 9781443807845. 
  3. ^ a b c d Slamet Muljana (2005). Runtuhnya kerajaan Hindu-Jawa dan timbulnya negara-negara Islam di Nusantara (in Indonesian). PT LKiS Pelangi Aksara. p. 15. ISBN 9789798451164. 
  4. ^ "Kerajaan Aru (Haru), Penguasa Maritim yang Terlupakan". Wacana (in Indonesian). 25 September 2010. 
  5. ^ A Note on Aru and Kota Cina (Part 1)
  6. ^ "Museum Kota Cina, Situs Awal Perdagangan Penting di Pantai Timur Sumatera Abad XI". (in Indonesian). 3 January 2016. 
  7. ^ a b c d e Repelita Wahyu Oetomo (8 June 2014). "Benteng Putri Hijau Berdasarkan Data Sejarah dan Arkeologi" (in Indonesian). 
  8. ^ "Perumahan Kepung Situs Kerajaan Haru". Serambi Indonesia (in Indonesian). 27 October 2011. 
  9. ^ a b c d e Juraidi (23 August 2008). "Menelusuri Jejak Kerajaan Aru". (in Indonesian). 
  10. ^ a b Riana, I Ketut (2009). Kakawin dēśa warṇnana, uthawi, Nāgara kṛtāgama: masa keemasan Majapahit (in Indonesian). Penerbit Buku Kompas. pp. 96–102. ISBN 978-9797094331. Retrieved 5 February 2015. 
  11. ^ a b c "Penafsiran Kuasa Raja Dalam Beberapa Teks Sastera Melayu Lama". Perpustakaan Nasional Republik Indonesia (in Indonesian). 2 October 2012. 
  12. ^ a b c d e Tomé Pires (1990). Armando Cortesão, ed. The Suma oriental of Tome Pires, books 1-5, Volume 1 of The Suma Oriental of Tome Pires and the Book of Francisco Rodrigues, Francisco Rodrigues, Volume 1 of The Suma Oriental of Tome Pires: An Account of the East, from the Red Sea to Japan, Written in Malacca and India in 1512-1515, and The Book of Francisco Rodrigues, Rutter of a Voyage in the Red Sea, Nautical Rules, Almanack and Maps, Written and Drawn in the East Before 1515, Francisco Rodrigues. Asian Educational Services. ISBN 9788120605350. 
  13. ^ Mangkudimedja, R.M., 1979, Seat Pararaton. Alih aksara dan alih bahasa Hardjana HP. Jakarta: Departemen P dan K, Proyek Penerbitan Buku Sastra Indonesia dan Daerah.
  14. ^ a b Paul Michel Munoz (2006). Early Kingdoms of the Indonesian Archipelago and the Malay Peninsula. Continental Sales, Incorporated. p. 313. ISBN 9789814155670. 
  15. ^ "Inquiry of a Chinese trader about the Batak People in North Sumatra, 1 March 1701". Arsip Nasional Republik Indonesia. 
  16. ^ Suprayitno. "Kota Rentang dan Hubungannya Dengan Kerajaan Aru" (in Indonesian). 
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