Introduction / History Pasemah was the name given by a foreigner to this people group due to a difference in pronunciation. Their name is actually Besemah, which is more consistent with how they themselves and other people groups around them would pronounce the name. The center of the Besemah territory is the volcanic peak, Mount Dempo. Besemah communities spread from that volcano's slopes to the west, south and southwest along the Bukit Barisan mountain range. Historically, their political center was Pagar Alam, which helped protect the Besemah from their aggressive neighbors, mostly the Rejang. The Besemah live in South Sumatra province across a few districts in the Lahat regency and the entire Pagar Alam municipality. Some Besemah also live in the South Ogan Komering Ulu (OKU) regency. Their communities in the Lahat regency are in the Tanjung Sakti, Jarai, Fajar Bulan, Kota Agung and Besemah Air Keruh (extension of the districts of Ulu Musi and Lahat) districts. In the South OKU regency, they live the Muara Dua Kisam district and because of that Besemah in the area are often called the Kisam people .They also live in Bengkulu province in North Kaur district.
What are their lives like? Agriculture is the principle economic activity of the Besemah and is based on three key crops: rice, rubber and coffee. Planting and harvesting is carried out by groups of five to ten people working in a wage or share cropping system. Besemah houses are built from wood, with tin roofs and usually have three to four rooms including a closed kitchen in the back part of the house. The traditional Besemah house is built on raised platforms as high as 1.5-2.5 meters off the ground. The area under the house is used for various purposes, such as a place to cool down on hot days, or a place to store tools, food and other items. The Besemah recognize three types of marriage: (1) belaki, where groom pays a bride price, pays for the wedding and the newlyweds live with the husband's family; (2) ambil anak, in which the husband moves in with the wife's family and does not need to pay for anything, neither the bride price nor for the wedding; (3) semendean, in which the wedding cost is split and the newlywed couple are free to choose where to live. These days, many youth follow yet another pattern for marriage, eloping.
What are their beliefs? For the most part, the Besemah are Muslim. Islam entered the southeastern part of the Besemah area in the 16th century. The west and northwest areas converted to Islam in the 19th century. The form of Islam followed at that time was the Sufi Islam, which later spread to all of Sumatra. The teachings of Sufi Islam are focused on feelings and stress the importance of knowing God more than merely observing religious rituals. In the Besemah highlands, there are 26 historical sites including ruins, cemeteries and domes enclosing statues of Buddha that have been considered sacred places since the 2nd century. There are also large stone statues depicting such scenes as a soldier riding an elephant, a man wrestling with a snake and a large ocean wave. Besemah people still use these statues as sites for making sacred oaths and calling upon their ancestors' spirits for blessing and seeking their protection against natural disasters.
What are their needs? One primary need of the Besemah people is for better medical care. They also need help and training to increase crop production through use of appropriate technology for packaging coffee for sale. Coffee has good potential to be developed as an industry for the area.
Sumatra island, Sumatera Selatan Province; east down Lematang and Ogan river valleys, south of Muaraenim town, east and southeast of Lahat town; Bengkulu Province; central Bukit Barisan highlands west to Indian Ocean along Bengkulu coast; Lampung Province, 4 separate enclaves. (Source: Ethnologue 2016)