Land and people North Sumatra
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The People of North Sumatra

The term Batak is used to refer the original resident of North Sumatra. The areas referred to as their country is stretching from Medan up to the areas around lake Toba and further South in Mandailing regency, the border of West and North Sumatra. The country has active volcanoes such as Mount Sinabung at Berastagi and child of Toba. Todays lake Toba is supposed the crater of 70.000 years ago super volcanic eruption, which vulcanologists consider the eruptions were 3 times at different places. While Samosir island is crater basin that getting presure from below to experience uplift continuously. While mount Sinabung is a continuous active volcano and during 2015 and 2016 many times eruptions causing some people died, those who did not care of the reminder by officials.

Four sub-group is known for this Batak tribe those are Batak Karo, Batak Toba, Batak Mandailing, and Batak Simalungun. There is no physical and social differences, just a slight different in not visible behavior and dialect. Their different names refers the area where they live. Most of them are a Christian or Catholic, since around 18th century many Christian missionaries live in North Sumatra.

They also have Mongoloid characters, and speak Malayu- Polinesian language as the other part of Sumatra. Among them Toba was the latest area to open with other part of Sumatra, but soon getting so famous due to their natural beauty around Lake Toba with Samosir island on it. Historical remains of the Batak Toba in the past is still preserved well such as ancient king burial, slaughting altar, and the Tor Tor dance. These are all on the beach of Samosir island.

Lake Toba and Samosir Island

Now on the beach of Samosir island and across the lake called city of Parapat have been developing very fast as a tourists resort area with dozens of hotel small and big, nice roofed boats to cross the lake or sight seeing between island and places on the bank of the lake. The people of Batak is the resident of North Sumatra highland such as the present district of Tanah Karo, Simalungun, Tapanuli utara, Tapanuli Tengah, Tapanuli Selatan, Dairi and Ashan. That is also the ethnic of Batak is further grouped according to their district into sub ethnic of Karo, Simalungun, Pakpak, Toba, Angkola, and Mandailing. According to the record in 1930, the Karo were 120.000 persons, the Simalungun were 50.000, the Toba were 400.000, the Mandailing were 160.000 persons.


Batak language also has the variation which are spoken by sub ethnics such Karo dialect, Pakpak dialect, Simalungun dialect, and Toba dialect spoken by the Toba, angkola and Mandailing. Figure in 1930 for the whole North Sumatra in 1930 was 2.500.000 and only 30 years later had double the number into 5.000.000 Compared to the size of North Sumatra which is 70.787 square kms, the density is only 70 person per square meter.

As other ethnic of Indonesia the Batak also has house and village certain pattern which is specific for them. Terminologies such as huta at Batak Toba refers a territory of one clan, The Karo use the name kesain, while kreta for the Karo is bigger then huta in Toba, which consist of various clans. In the past both kuta and huta were enclosed by tight woods as a wall of resistence against the attack of other huta or kuta. Within a kuta or a huta there are some rows of houses among which is open place as a yard for the place of ceremony of marriage, death and others. Some hutas had deep canal around, or high wall for their resistance. In it's court yard also built the farming rice granary which was also used as sleeping place by younger generations.

Batak Villages

Every villages of Karo, Simalungun and Mandailing have public hall for meeting, while for Batak Toba they have a spot of land near the main gate of huta. A typical mark of huta is a banyan tree at the front, which is considered as the symbol of nature. This idea reminds about villages in Bali. The pattern has now experienced much changes especially those resistance aspects as the war among kuta and huta has been in exist anymore. Lumban refers to an area settled by part of clan, and only exist in Toba. Sasor is a new small settlement, built because the huta has been full. The sasor after years can be developed into a huta if physical and spiritual characters have been fulfilled, and is given the approval by the bius. The terms of bius, partahian, urung and partumpukan each is used by the Batak of Toba, Angkola, Karo, Simalungun and Pakpak refers a unit of some hutas or kutas. In this case clannish border is neglected. The establishment of a huta must be followed by a ritual and paid the debt to the main huta. The ritual is started with the offering to the god of the earth called Boraspati ni tano. The offering consist of Batak land product, and conducted by a shaman called "datu". This ceremony reminds about the same process of building a house in Bali which is called "Ngeruak" which is addressed to the god of rice "Dewi Sri", or the mother earth "Pertiwi". The son of Pertiwi is often referred as "Banaspati". So it should have been relation between the Batak and Balinese in some aspect of life under the Hindu influence.

Batak house is called "Uma" or "Jabu" Toba, which shows they have same root with Balinese and other Indonesian ethnics. The Uma or Jabu is built on many wooden poles, but do not as high as those house on stilt on the islands. Their wooden board wall is made sloping, with roof made of palm black fibres. The size around 10 to 10 meters elongated east-west orientation. Doors are constructed on the west and east sides at Karo and Simalungun, while at Toba entrance is from the roof, and on the west and east side of the house have high caps the place to put buffalo horns. The peak of the house is made half circle. At Karo there is an ayo beside on Uma. An ayo is decorated with geometric ornamentations with colors red, white, yellow and black. On the right and left are put sculptures, human head or lion's head sculptures. The wall is tied with rope made of black palm fibre to look like lizard. A typical aspect of Karo house which can not be found at other Batak houses is the bamboo terrace constructed at the front of the house as the place of the girl to meet with youth for a visit. A Batak house in general is a home for more than one families connected on genealogy, only in Toba that a house is for big families, as they live in virilocal system. In general the Batak live as farmer, grow rice with irrigation system, except at Karo and Simalungun there are still working at dry land by clearing and burn forest. At the dry land the owner of the land is the Kuta or huta, they have the right on the land, but there also land owned individually, for example what is called panjaean land, which is given to their son after his marriage as the capital for their life while pauseang land is the land given to a daughter after her marriage with same purpose as Panjaean.

Farming and Living

In general the Batak still cultivate the land by simple way, only once a year s harvest can be yielded. Women do not involve in process of cultivation. Other short live horticultures are not grown except on the shore of lake Toba. Their tools of cultivating land is still simple such as ; hue, plough, poles, and knife to harvest. The plough in Batak language is called "tenggala" exactly the same name as Balinese used in Batak, the tenggala is drown by buffalowm while in Bali by 2 cows. Other subsistence for most of Batak society is growing pigs, cows, and chicken, for , meat supply to big city like Medan as well as the need of ceremony.

The land of Batak Toba has the most beautiful scenery such as the view of Lake Toba with it's Samosir island. On the northern wall of Toba crater is a magnificent water fall called Sipiso-piso. This natural setting combined with tradition of the Batak on the island of Samosir has been one of the most visited destination is Indonesia. Combined with specific fauna of Orangutans at Mount Leuser national park, north Sumatra has become very famous destination. An example of tour program to this natural beauty can be visited here Bohorok tour.

Marriage Tradition

Marriage tradition in Batak society in the past born kinship system at the same level of understanding between sub-ethnic of the Batak with some different terminologies for certain kinship aspects. The ideal marriage according to Batak old tradition is merry the daughter of mother's broder's daughter. A youth was not free to choose his partner, he must follow the family tradition. Today this tradition is not followed by a large part of the society anymore. The initiative of delivering a plan of marriage was taken by the family of the youth by sending a formal messengers to the family of the girl. If the plan has been accepted by the family of the girl, then a discussion will take place between the family of the youth and the girl. This is concerning the amount of gift to be given to girl family, which were consist of sum of money, accessories, buffaloes, and pigs. The amount of gift that will be given to the brother of girl's mother, the amount of gift that will be given to the brother of girl's grand mother. The amount of gift to be given to the sisters of girl's mother, the amount of gift to be given to the brother of girl's mother. Besides the family of the girl there are also gift for brothers of girl's father. During the feast of marriage, usually the buffaloes and pigs were cooked for the members of Kuta or Huta that participated the feast. During the feast that the gift is given according to the tradition. Living tradition after marriage normally with the family of husband or virilocal, while there were some live with wife family or uxorilocal when the family of husband was poor.

A large part of Batak society are monogamy, while polygamy is not practiced, although customary low does not prohibit this practice. In case a window with her children then married a second husband, she and her children have no right on the wealth of the family. If the husband is dead, the widow must merry the brother of her husband or one of husband relative. If she doesn't want to, she ask divorce, and only the son can decide the divorce, or the grandchild. Procedure of normal divorce is that, the husband present his problem to the head of the customs who will call an elders to call the family of both sides. In this meeting will be decided who has been wrong. If the wife has been wrong she has to return double of the amount of gift received during marriage ceremony. If the husband is wrong, all his lost as a result of giving gifts and other will not be returned.

The clan of Batak people. Batak people introduces clan before western tradition influenced them which is shown by their naming tradition.

The Kinship of Batak People

Sub Ethnic Family Group Family Sub Family
Batak Karo - Makaro-Karo Sitepu
    Ginting Suka
Sembiring Keloko
Parangin-angin Kutabuluh
Tarigan Tambun
Batak Toba Lontung Situmorang
Lumban Pande
Lumban Raja
Ompu Sunggu
  Suruba Nai Ambaton
Nai Rasaon
Sibagot Nipohan
Borbor Lubis
Simalungun   Purba

Batak society also introduces social layers, which is not noticeable as Bali. Their social layers based on : age, title, original resident of an area, marriage status. The older the person more privilege the have in society. There are some profession considered more respectable then others, and those who built the Kuta considered have more privilege compared to those coming later. Although the people of Batak have been following Christianity and Islam, the original ideas on belief which is written on a wood skin is still alive. This concept is called "Tarombo", Tarombo explain about the creation of man kind, genealogical lineages, and the concept of universe creation, and the spirit who control nature's phenomena. Concept about psyche are two types, one is the spirit got from the women of the mother called "Tondi" which make human being alive, and spirit got at the same time as Tondi, but it makes human being respected by others called "Sahala". Sahala can decreasing or increasing which shows by the full and increase of human grace. If Tondi left the body temporary will cause sickness, and leaving forever means death. When human being is dead his/her Tondi become "Begu". The Bagu can act as human being, only it acts in the night. Ancient Batak knew many kind of Begu or holy spirit from dead person and also Begus that reside the mountain, dense forest big trees and others

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Among various tour packages and tour options in Bali there are some tours which can be said always on the publications and interest a large part of travellers to Bali. Kintamani mountain tour sits at the first number as the most popular sightseeing tour, second is Taman Ayun and Tanah Lot tour, third is Uluwatu temple tour.

  1. Kintamani tour bring combination of watching barong dance, beautiful temple architecture, beautiful natural views, dance, carving, accessories and painting bul see description
  2. Taman Ayun and Tanah Lot temples are two historical heritages from 17th, Taman Ayun palace temple which is always found near palaces of Balinese king starting 18th century bul see description
  3. Uluwatu temple located on steep drop cliff on the southernmost tip of Bali island. bul see description