Sumbawa is an Indonesian island, located in the middle of the Lesser Sunda Islands chain, with Lombok to the west, Flores to the east, and Sumba further to the southeast. Along with Lombok, it forms the province of West Nusa Tenggara, but there have been plans by the Indonesian government to split the island off into a separate province.[1] Traditionally, the island is known as the source of sappanwood, as well as honey and sandalwood. Its savanna-like climate and vast grasslands are used to breed horses and cattle, as well as to hunt deer.

LocationSouth East Asia
Coordinates8°47′S 118°5′E
ArchipelagoLesser Sunda Islands
Area15,414.50 km2 (5,951.57 sq mi)
Area rank57th
Highest elevation2,850 m (9350 ft)
Highest pointMount Tambora
ProvinceWest Nusa Tenggara
Population1,561,461 (2020 Census)
Pop. density101.30/km2 (262.37/sq mi)
Ethnic groupsSumbawans, Bima people
The caldera of Mt Tambora, 2011

Sumbawa has an area (including minor offshore islands) of 15,414.50 square kilometres or 5,951.57 square miles (three times the size of Lombok) with a population (at the 2020 Census) of 1,561,461.[2] It marks the boundary between the islands to the west, which were influenced by religion and culture spreading from India, and the region to the east that was less influenced. In particular this applies to both Hinduism and Islam.


Sumbawa is a Portuguese corruption of the locally used name Sambawa (still found as such in Makassarese, cf. also Semawa in the Sumbawa language). This name is probably derived from Sanskrit śāmbhawa (शम्भु), meaning 'related to Śambhu (= 'the Benevolent', a name for Shiva)'. [3]


The 14th-century Nagarakretagama mentioned several principalities identified to be on Sumbawa; Dompu, Bima, Sape and one on the Sang Hyang Api island just off the coast of northeast Sumbawa. Four principalities in western Sumbawa were dependencies of the Majapahit Empire of eastern Java. Because of Sumbawa's natural resources, it was regularly invaded by outside forces – from the Javanese, Balinese, Makassar, to the Dutch and Japanese. The Dutch first arrived in 1605, but did not effectively rule Sumbawa until the early 20th century.

For a short period of time, the Balinese kingdom of Gelgel ruled a part of western Sumbawa. The eastern parts of the island, on the other hand, were home to the Sultanate of Bima, an Islamic polity that had links to the Bugis and Makassar peoples of South Sulawesi, as well as other Malay-Islamic polities in the archipelago.

Historical evidence indicates that people on Sumbawa island were known in the East Indies for their honey, horses,[4] sappanwood, which is used to make red dye,[5] and sandalwood, which is used for incense and medications. The area was thought to be highly productive agriculturally. In the 18th century, the Dutch introduced coffee plantation on the western slopes of Mount Tambora, a volcano on the north side of Sumbawa, thus creating the Tambora coffee variant.

Tambora's colossal eruption in 1815 was the most powerful in recorded history, ejecting 180 cubic kilometres (43 cu mi) of ash and debris into the atmosphere. The eruption killed up to 71,000 people and triggered a period of global cooling known as the "Year Without a Summer" in 1816. It also apparently destroyed a small culture of Papuan[6] affinity, known to archaeologists as the "Tambora culture".[7]


Sumbawa is administratively divided into four regencies (kabupaten) and one kota (city). They are:

Bima CityBima207.50142,579159,445155,1400.722 (High)
Bima RegencyWoha4,389.40439,228468,201514,1050.626 (Medium)
Dompu RegencyDompu2,324.60218,973238,061236,6650.635 (Medium)
Sumbawa RegencySumbawa Besar6,643.98415,789440,730509,7530.628 (Medium)
West Sumbawa Regency
(Sumbawa Barat)
Taliwang1,849.02114,951133,054145,7980.671 (Medium)
Total Sumbawa15,414.501,331,5201,439,4911,561,461

The Indonesian Government is currently considering the division of Nusu Tenggara Barat Province to create a separate Sumbawa Island province.[8] There is no information as to whether the remaining part of the present province (i.e. the districts comprising Lombok Island) would then be renamed.


Islam, the dominant faith of the island, was introduced by the Makassarese of Sulawesi.

Sumbawa had, historically speaking, three major linguistic groups who spoke languages that were unintelligible to each other. One group centered in the western side of the island speaks Basa Semawa (Indonesian: Bahasa Sumbawa) which is similar to the Sasak language from nearby Lombok; the second group in the east speaks Nggahi Mbojo (Bahasa Bima). They were once separated by the Tambora culture, which spoke a language related to neither. After the demise of Tambora due to the 1815 eruption, local kingdoms based in Sumbawa Besar and Bima became the two focal points of Sumbawa. This division of the island into two parts remains today; Sumbawa Besar and Bima are the two largest towns on the island, and are the centers of distinct cultural groups that share the island.

The population of the island (including minor outlying islands) was 1.56 million at the latest decennial census in 2020, comprising 29.46%[2] of the population of the entire Province of West Nusa Tenggara's 5.32 million people.[9] Due to lack of work opportunities on the island and its frequent droughts,[10] many people on the island seek work in the Middle East as laborers or domestic servants; some 500,000 workers, or over 10% of the population of West Nusa Tenggara, have left the country to work overseas.[11]


Beach on Moyo Island, North Sumbawa in March 2012

The island is bounded by bodies of water; to the west is Alas Strait, south is the Indian Ocean, Saleh Bay creates a major north-central indentation in the island, and the Flores Sea runs the length of the northern coastline. The Sape Strait lies to the east of the island and separates Sumbawa from Flores and the Komodo Islands, there are a number bays and gulfs, most notably Bima Bay, Cempi Bay, and Waworada Bay.

Sumbawa's most distinguishing features are Saleh Bay and the Sanggar Peninsula. On the latter stands Mount Tambora (8°14’41”S, 117°59’35”E), a large stratovolcano famous for its VEI 7 eruption in 1815, one of only a few eruptions of such magnitude in the last 2,000 years. The eruption obliterated most of Tambora's summit, reducing its height by about a third and leaving a six kilometer-wide caldera. Regardless, Tambora remains the highest point on the island. Highlands rise in four spots on the island, as well as on Sangeang Island. The large western lobe of Sumbawa is dominated by a large central highland, and Tambora, Dompu and Bima each have more minor highlands.

There are a number of large surrounding islands, most notably are Moyo Island, volcanically active Sangeang Island,[12] and the tourist Komodo Islands (administered under Flores) to the east.

Sumbawa is part of the Lesser Sundas deciduous forests ecoregion.

List of offshore islands

[13] There are a number of smaller offshore islands which fall within the regencies based on Sumbawa Island:


We want to say that there has been a decline, but a slow decline. There is no seriousness from the government. (In reference to around 20 children dying from malnutrition on Sumbawa in October, 2012) Ida, Alliance of Prosperous Villages (ADS)[14]
Batu Hijau mine, 2006

Many of the island residents are at risk of starvation when crops fail due to lack of rainfall. The majority of the population works in agriculture. Tourism is just beginning, with a few surf spots renowned for being world class, Jelenga and Supersuck Beaches [13] near the mine, as well as Hu'u and Lakey Beach [13] in the Gulf of Cempi.

Newmont Mine

A large gold and copper mine, Newmont Mining Corporation's Batu Hijau mine began commercial operations in 2000, a decade after the copper and gold were discovered.[15] Newmont holds a 45% stake in the operation through its shareholding in PT Newmont Nusa Tenggara. A local unit of Japan's Sumitomo Corporation has a 35% share. The mine is located in southwest Sumbawa.

Due to the mine, Sumbawa Barat Regency along with other remote mining towns, and Jakarta, have the highest GDP per capita rates in Indonesia, Sumbawa Barat's is 156.25 million rupiah (US$17,170) as of 2010,[16] Newmont and its partners have invested about $1.9 billion in the mine. The reserves are expected to last until 2034, making Batu Hijau one of the largest copper mines in the world.

Harbour of Poto Tano


There is a road network in Sumbawa, but it is poorly maintained and has long portions of rough gravel. Frequent ferry service to Sumbawa (Poto Tano) from Lombok (Labuhan Lombok) exists; however, the ferry service to Flores from Sape is infrequent. Bima is the largest city on Sumbawa and has ferry and bus services directly to Java and Bali, though service breakdowns are common.

The most convenient way to reach Sumbawa is via air. There are commercial flights connecting the island's main airport, the Bima airport, to Denpasar and Makassar.


  1. Jakarta Post, 14 November 2013
  2. Badan Pusat Statistik, Jakarta, 2021.
  3. Noorduyn, J. (1987). "Makasar and the islamization of Bima". Bijdragen tot de Taal-, Land- en Volkenkunde. 143 (2/3): 312–342. doi:10.1163/22134379-90003330. JSTOR 27863842. Sumbawa is a Portuguese corruption, Cumbava or Cimbava, of the original name Sambawa - possibly deriving from Sham- bhawa (Van Naerssen 1938:92) 'related to Shambhu', i.e. God Shiva
  4. Jong Boers, B.D. de (2007), ‘The ‘Arab’ of the Indonesian Archipelago: The Famed Horse Breeds of Sumbawa’ in: Greg Bankoff and Sandra Swart (eds), Breeds of Empire: The ‘invention’ of the horse in Southern Africa and Maritime Southeast Asia, 1500–1950. Copenhagen: NIAS Press, pp 51–64.
  5. Jong Boers, B.D. de (1997), "Sustainability and time perspective in natural resource management: The exploitation of sappan trees in the forests of Sumbawa, Indonesia (1500–1875)" in: Peter Boomgaard, Freek Colombijn en David Henley (eds), Paper landscapes; Explorations in the environmental history of Indonesia. Leiden: KITLV Press, pp. 260–281.
  6. Donohue, Mark (2008-01-03). "The Papuan Language of Tambora". Oceanic Linguistics. 46 (2): 520–537. doi:10.1353/ol.2008.0014. ISSN 1527-9421. S2CID 26310439.
  7. Roach, John (February 27, 2006). ""Lost Kingdom" Discovered on Volcanic Island in Indonesia". National Geographic News. National Geographic Society. Retrieved 13 April 2018.
  8. Officials support new province for Sumbawa | The Jakarta Post
  9. "Indonesia (Urban City Population): Provinces & Cities - Statistics & Maps on City Population". Retrieved 15 September 2014.
  10. "Local Government Asks People to Be Careful of Drought Hazard Threats". Gaung NTB. March 30, 2010. Archived from the original on March 16, 2012.
  11. Frode F. Jacobsen (2009). Hadrami Arabs in Present-day Indonesia: An Indonesia-oriented Group with an Arab Signature. Routledge. p. 30. ISBN 978-1-134-01852-9.
  12. "Warum wird diese Seite angezeigt?". Archived from the original on 29 November 2014. Retrieved 18 November 2014.
  13. West Nusa Tenggara Map, Provincial Tourism and Cultural Office, West Nusa Tenggara, 2008
  14. "Malnourishment 'Not Taken Seriously' as 20 Kids Die in Indonesia's NTB". Jakarta Globe. Jakarta. 2012-10-17. Retrieved 2012-10-21.
  15. Archived October 1, 2011, at the Wayback Machine
  16. "Perkembangan Beberapa Indikator, Utama Sosial-Ekonomi, Indonesia" (PDF). Retrieved 18 November 2014.
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