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Puppeteer of the Toba Batak

The Batak are an indigenous people in the north of the Indonesian island of Sumatra .

Ethnicity and history

Batak village on Samosir
Batak court on Samosir

The Batak people are divided into six ethnic groups, whose original settlement area is on Samosir , the island in Lake Toba . The largest group are the Toba, who settle around the southern half of Lake Toba and on Samosir. To the south follow the Angkola, which can be combined with the mandailing further south to the border of Western Sumatra. The last two groups mentioned are mostly Muslim and have given up many traditions, all other Batak are predominantly Christianized and have preserved many old customs. The Karo live north of the lake in the highlands of Kabanjahe and Berastagi . In the east of Lake Toba the Simalungun live around Pematang Siantar . The Pakpak, also called Dairi, settle in the northwest and west of the lake around Sidikalang .

A total of around 4.9 million of the total of 6 million Batak live in the Toba highlands (2000 census). For economic reasons, however, more and more people are moving to the capital of North Sumatra, Medan , where around 20,000 to 30,000 Batak already live. Batak people also live in Jakarta and other cities in Sumatra and Java.

There are various theories about the origin of the Batak. One says that the Batak probably came in several waves of immigration from the mountainous regions of Thailand and Burma and from there first reached the west coast of Sumatra. Linguistic evidence, on the other hand, seems to indicate that the first Austronesian- speaking ethnic groups reached Sumatra from Taiwan and the Philippines via Borneo and Java about 2,500 years ago . In any case, the Batak withdrew to the Toba highlands at some point and lived there for a long time, largely isolated from the coastal inhabitants. Although Marco Polo already reported rumors about man-eating mountain tribes, which he calls "Batta", when he passed Sumatra in 1292, it was not until 1824 that the first Europeans traveled to the land of the Batak.

Compared to the other peoples of Indonesia, the Batak came under the influence of Dutch colonial rule late . Not until 1907, with the death of the last charismatic priest-king of the Batak, Sisingamangaraja XII. , who had waged a long guerrilla war against the Dutch, the Dutch gained complete control of the Batak.

Culture and religion

Ancestral home of the Toba Batak
Toba-Batak's magic book, folded like a leporello album
Dancing Sibaso shaman in trance at a Perumah-bégu ceremony , Karo Batak region, Sumatra (1914/1919)
Batak totem

According to legend, all Batak descend from a godly hero named Si Raja Batak ("King of the Batak"), who was born on a sacred mountain near Lake Toba.

The Batak developed a warlike culture with many fights between the individual villages and practiced headhunting with ritual cannibalism . Their ethnic religion is animistic with Hindu influences. There is evidence of the ritual ingestion of hallucinogenic mushrooms and the use of pupuk as a magic agent. Central is the evocation of the “great shaman” in the form of the tiger spirit, the incarnation of the mythical ancestors and thus of one's own origin. Important functionaries of the old religion of the priests datu - occupying a high social position - and the sibaso called Shaman .

The Batak bury the most distinguished of their dead in ancestral houses, which are decorated with carvings similar to residential houses, or in stone tombs, the tugu. The ancestor worship , which is central in traditional belief , is expressed above all in the festival of the transfer of bones. It is a second burial in which the remains of deceased family members are reburied in sometimes elaborately designed tugu.

The religions introduced later, such as Christianity and Islam , were strongly influenced by this belief. Christian missionary work goes back largely to the work of the German missionary Ludwig Ingwer Nommensen and to the Rheinische Missionsgesellschaft from around 1860. From 1866 to 1872 Nommensen was supported on site by August Schreiber . About 85 percent of the Batak are Christians today, with most of the independent Batak Church Huria Kristen Batak Protestan (HKBP) founded in 1917 .

There are minorities of Muslims (10%) and many Batak who practice their original religion. Even among the Christianized Batak, elements of the ancient ancestor cult play an important role, including the practice of occult practices, e.g. B. the so-called "Begu-Ganjang" belief.

The Porhalaan , a lunar calendar, played an important role in the Batak culture , but it was not used for calculating the time, but for cultic purposes.

The social structure is mainly determined by a complicated clan culture. An essential element is the Marga (clan), whose name is now used by most Batak like a surname. For example, marriages of members of the same Marga are strictly forbidden, even if the persons concerned are only largely related to one another; a marriage between cousin and cousin of the maternal line ( boru ), on the other hand, is not a problem and is even often arranged. Even married women continue to use the name of their birth Marga with the prefix Boru and do not take the surname of their husbands.

The Batak are considered to be outstanding singers and musicians and play an important role in contemporary Indonesian music. Modern music is known as batak rock .

Opera Batak is the name of the traveling theater, which is accompanied by an orchestra consisting of two hasapi (boat-shaped lutes), sarune (oboe), sulim (flute), garantung ( xylophone with five plates) and usually a beer bottle as a clock. Otherwise, the Batak use forms of the widespread double-headed drum gendang and the hump gongs in traditional music , which are called ogung by the Toba, Pakpak and Mandailing . Instead of the drums, the Karo-Batak beat the bamboo tubes zither keteng-keteng during the ceremonial music in the house . The jew's harps , which are rare today, are among the few instruments that were previously played by women. The two types of jew's harps, saga-saga (made of palm wood) and genggong (made of metal), were primarily used for courtship at night.

Batak languages

There are six different Batak languages with Angkola, Mandailing, Toba, Pakpak, Simalungun and Karo Batak . All of them have their own alphabet and their own sound system with their own corresponding characters. Three language groups are grouped together: North Batak (Pakpak and Karo Batak, also Karonesian), Central Batak (Simalungun Batak) and South Batak (Angkola, Mandailing and Toba Batak). It is possible to communicate within one of these language groups, as the languages ​​are very similar. However, it is not easy to communicate across groups. For supraregional communication one had to use a lingua franca , for which mostly the Malay language , which had been spread by traders for many centuries , was used, from which the today's national language of Indonesia , Bahasa Indonesia , arose.

Each of the six languages ​​mentioned has its own script . After gaining knowledge of the Batak script, the researchers quickly agreed that the scripts - like all Indonesian scripts - can be derived from an Indian script. It is still unclear from which of the numerous Indian scriptures it can be derived. One assumes, however, a derivation from the old Javanese Kawi script, from which an early Sumatric script is said to have developed. The characters are very similar and closely related to the Sumatran writing systems of Lampung and Rejang . The Batak scripts have eighteen consonant characters. Without further modification, the sound a is inherent in every consonant. There are four vowel signs to denote other vowels.


House of the Toba Batak
House of the Karo Batak (1900/10)
Toba Batak village (1910/36)
Karo Batak village (around 1900)

The Batak houses with their mighty, curved gable roofs are reminiscent of the houses of the residents of Toraja Land in Sulawesi . They are wooden skeleton structures that are traditionally covered with straw. Today, a corrugated iron sheet has often taken the place of straw.

The different groups of the Batak each developed characteristic house and architectural forms. A three-part structure consisting of a substructure, wall zone and roof can be roughly distinguished. The houses stand on stilts, their front and rear walls are inclined outwards and provided with carvings or decorative lacing. Symbolically, the unadorned substructure corresponds to the sphere of the underworld and animal desires. Sometimes rubbish is stored here or pigs are kept. The location of the residents above - it corresponds to the wall zone from the outside - is the human sphere. The large area of ​​the voluminous and decorated roofs is almost free of practical use.

On the symbolic level, this is the zone of the ancestors and gods. According to another opinion, the roofs are supposed to remind of the boats with which the ancestors of the Batak once came across the sea. Among the Karo Batak, the gable ends of a house are often decorated with carved buffalo heads. Paintings can be found in the wall zone, but especially on the gable sides. The predominant colors are white, black and red, which are supposed to symbolize heaven, hell and earth.

With the Karo-Batak, large house types are common, in which several families of one clan live together in a single large room. In contrast, the houses of the Toba-Batak are much smaller and designed for a single family. In view of the social developments, which also initiate a trend away from the large association of the clan in Sumatra, the house types of the Toba-Batak have a better chance of survival and have been preserved in larger numbers.

The traditional architectural language is a living element of cultural identity for the Batak ethnic groups. Elements of traditional architecture can also be found in part in modern administrative buildings, shops or Christian churches.


  • Johann Angerler: Bius, Parbaringin and Paniaran. About democracy and religion among the Tobabatak North Sumatra. Leiden Ethnosystems and Development Studies (LEAD), University of Leiden, 2009, ISBN 978-90-8570-290-0 (doctoral thesis; PDF download available from
  • David Gintings: The Society and Culture of the Batak Karo . Medan 1993.
  • Claire Holt: Batak Dances: Notes. In: Indonesia. Volume 12, October 1971, pp. 65-84 ( PDF download available from
  • Uli Kozok: Batak's lawsuit. Death, wedding and love laments in oral and written tradition . University of Hamburg, 2000 ( full text ; alternative download - dissertation).
  • Julia Linder: Second burial with the Toba Batak in Sumatra, Indonesia. The dynamic between history and ritual change. Religious-historical developments in reaction to Christianity. Row: look into cultures. Sidihoni-Verlag, Rottenburg, 2015, ISBN 978-3-9814706-3-5 .
  • Helga Petersen, Alexander Krikellis (ed.): Religion and healing art of the Toba-Batak on Sumatra. Narrated by Johannes Winkler (1874–1958). Köppe, Cologne 2006, ISBN 3-89645-445-5 .
  • Christine Schreiber: Sidihoni. Pearl in the heart of Sumatra. I. Stations and pictures of a field research. Life and funeral, tradition and modernity among the Toba-Batak. tb, Tübingen 2005, ISBN 3-925882-28-6 , taken over by Sidihoni-Verlag 2011, new ISBN 978-3-9814706-2-8
  • Achim Sibeth: Batak: Art from Sumatra . Frankfurt 2000, ISBN 978-3-88270-399-3 .
  • Achim Sibeth, Helga Petersen, Alexander Krikellis, Wilfried Wagner: Religion and healing arts of the Toba-Batak on Sumatra: handed down by Johannes Winkler (1874-1958) . Cologne 2006, ISBN 978-3-89645-445-4 .
  • Achim Sibeth, Bruce W. Carpenter: Batak Sculpture . Singapore 2007, ISBN 978-981-4155-85-4 .
  • Achim Sibeth: Batak. Live with the ancestors. People of Indonesia . Stuttgart 1990.
  • Roxana Waterson: The Living House. An Anthropology of Architecture in South-East Asia . Oxford University Press, Singapore 1990, ISBN 0-19-588941-X .
  • Johannes Winkler (medic) : The Toba-Batak on Sumatra in healthy and sick days - A contribution to the knowledge of animistic paganism. Belser-Verlag, Stuttgart 1925.

Web links

Commons : Batak  pictures and media files
  • Lau Jambu: Batak Portal. Own website, 2008, accessed on July 29, 2014 (Indonesian).
  • Simon Ager: Batak script and languages. In: Omniglot. Own website, 2008, accessed on July 29, 2014 (English; writings and translations).
  • Uli Kozok, Leander Seige: Introduction. In: transtoba2. Own website, June 2008, accessed on July 29, 2014 (software transliteration of Latin script in Toba Batak script; GPL).

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Peter Bellwood: Prehistory of the Indo-Malaysian Archipelago ; University of Hawaii Press, Honolulu, 1997 2 . ISBN 0-12-085370-1
  2. ^ Marco Polo ( Henry Yule , Cordier H.): The Travels of Marco Polo: The Complete Yule-Cordier Edition ; Dover Pubns, 1993; Volume 2, Chapter 10, p. 366.
  3. Mircea Eliade : Shamanism and shamanic ecstasy technique . Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main 2001, OA 1951, ISBN 3-518-27726-X . 2001, pp. 323-345.
  4. ^ Franz Simon, Artur Simon : Toba-Batak (Indonesia, North Sumatra). Feast of the bone transfer. Ulaon panongkokhon saring-saringa (link not available); Encyclopaedia Cinematographica, Publ. Wiss. Film, ethnology. 17: 193-229 (1992)
  5. Apriadi Gunawan: Superstition plagues Batak community ; Jakarta Post newspaper article from June 18, 2010
  6. Achim Sibeth, Living with the ancestors BATAK (see LIT); The following researchers are mentioned by Uli Kozok: William Marsden ; HN van der Tuuk ; Johannes Winkler; Petrus Voorhoeve; J. Edison Saragih
  7. Erich Lehner: Architectural tradition and ethnic identity. Building types of the Karo-Batak and Toba-Batak on Sumatra ; archimaera, issue 1/2008