NIAS, the largest island in the chain off the west coast of Sumatra, Dutch East Indies, lying about 1° N., 97° 30' E.
Coco-nut oil is produced on Nias and also more especially on the Nako group. A Dutch commissioner is established at Gunong Sitoli on the east coast, a settlement of Malay and Chinese traders.
In many parts of the world it is held that the human body is the seat of more than one soul; in the island of Nias four are distinguished, the shadow and the intelligence, which die with the body, a tutelary spirit, termed begoe, and a second which is carried on the head.
The inhabitants of Nias, an island to the west of Sumatra, have the strange belief that to everyone before birth is given the choice of a long and heavy or short and light soul (a parallel belief may be found in early Greek philosophy), and his choice determines the length of life.
Unlike Java, Sumatra has a series of considerable islands (Nias Islands, Mentawi Islands, &c.) arranged like outworks in front of the west coast, which faces the open Indian Ocean.
Nias has an interesting native population, apparently of pre-Malayan origin; and the Mentawi islands (q.v.) are inhabited by a race generally held to be a Polynesian settlement which has escaped fusion with Malayan stock.
To the government of the west Coast belong the following islands: Simalu; Banyak Islands, a small limestone group, well wooded and sparsely peopled; Nias; Batu Islands (Pulu Pini, Tana Masa, Tana Bala, &c.);; Mentawi and Pegeh or Nassau Islands.
In 1863 there was an expedition against Nias, and in 1865 another against Asahan and Serdang (east coast).
The natives, about 3000 in number, are of Malayan or pre-Malayan stock, akin to those of the island of Nias to the north-west.
It attained its climax of power in the time of Sultan Iskandar Muda (1607-1636), under whom the subject coast extended from Aru opposite Malacca round by the north to Benkulen on the west coast, a sea-board of not less than 110o miles; and besides this, the king's supremacy was owned by the large island of Nias, and by the continental Malay states of Johor, Pahang, Kedah and Perak.