INVIROMENTAL ISSUE IN BATAK LAND ”SLOWLY DYING OUT”MEANS loosing all THE THE BEAUTY OF BATAK LAND HERITAGE.
A Brief History
ISSN 1440 2262
Victoria’s forests have always been an important
resource for the people of this State.
In 1869 just under 20 million hectares of Victoria
was covered by forest, representing 88% of the
State. By 1972 forest cover had been reduced to
8.12 million hectares, 36% of the State.
For many thousands of years most of the area
that is now Victoria was covered by forests, dense
woodland and shrubland. Aboriginal people
moved through this landscape looking for food.
Intertribal gatherings, quests for non-food items
like medicinal plants, ochre and stone, and the
relaying of messages also influenced this
movement and resulted in a large territorial
Trees and forests provided Aboriginal people with
shade, shelter, tools and food. The soft bark of
the paperbark was used to wrap small babies, and
timber was used for making carrying dishes,
canoes and tools for digging and hunting.
Food was obtained from the roots of Bracken
Fern, the pith of Tree Ferns and the fruits of the
Lilly Pilly and Prickly Currant Bush. Bootlace Bush
provided fine silky fibre ideal for nets, and wood
from Silver Wattle and Manna Gum was used for
weapons and tools such as axe handles and
The impact of Aboriginal people on the land was
significant. Their use of fire altered the
composition of plant species found in the bush by
increasing the distribution of plant species which
could survive fire. Areas of land were burnt to
maintain an open forest, encouraging new shoot
growth and easy access for hunting animals.
Aboriginal people saw themselves as part of the
land and believed that it had to be preserved for
The first permanent European settlement in
Victoria was established at Portland Bay in 1834
when the Henty brothers arrived with their flocks
of sheep and established squatting runs in that
area. The following year John Batman settled at
Port Phillip. This resulted in two years of
expansion that saw pastoral runs spreading as far
as Winchelsea, Inverleigh and Bacchus Marsh in
the west and Woodend and Kilmore in the north.
During 1850 the state suffered many months of
drought and a number of fires covering
approximately a quarter of the State resulting in a
disaster known as ’Black Thursday’ (Feb 6 1851).
Close on the heels of the 1851 fires came the rush
for gold with its discovery in the Ballarat area in
1851. The rush brought with it a population
explosion and a large demand for timber for
building, mining and firewood.
The need for food stimulated agricultural
development. Forest clearing began in earnest in
the immediate vicinity of the goldfields and
spread further out as transport links improved.
The Colonial Government’s attitude that wood
should be available at very low cost, lead to the
placing of very few controls on the harvesting of
timber. These controls included an annual licence
that cost little and there were few restrictions on
the size, quantity or species
There are three main roads through the area. East of the mountains the trans Sumatera route crosses the plantation belt south of Tebing Tinggi until Rantau Prapat and Kota Pinang, to go inland over the dry, hilly Padang Lawas plateau towards Padang Sidempuan, which is known as the local market place, after that.
Another two roads lead towards Padang Sidempuan, from the Toba highlands via Tarutung. The one follows the Batang Toru valley along Pearaja and Sipirokk and ends at the eastern coast near Pagarutan. Another, nice route descends towards the western coast near Sibolga.
The route along the eastern coast
Some fifty kilometres east of Tebing Tinggi, an interesting detour from the main road towards the coast near Tanjung Tiram (“Cape Oister”). This village, with it’s fish market and sand beach, is at the mouth of a river past Labuhan Ruku and is the location of a 19th century Malay harbour which is known af Bogak. You can hire a boat to the fishermens island of Pulau Berhala, a three hour journey from the mainland.
Straight south of Labuhan Ruk, near Limau Laras, is a palace, the former seat of the Malay ruler. In the early 19th century this was an important centre for the gold-, and silver songet– weavery, a tradition which is still used in some isolated villages.
Much more south, near Kota Pinang, the main road leads towards inland near the River Barumun, through the enormous Padang Lawas (‘Great Plain’) area. Along the upstream of the river are the mysterious remains of the old Panai principalty, which became famous because of F.M. Schnitget’s romantic explorations in the 1930’s. This area was an important, old crossroads, and offered access to precious tree resins in Bukit Barisan and gold in the south. Panai is named in an Southern Indian Tanjore inscription, being conquerred by the Tamil Chola in 1018.
|Image Sunset over Sibolga|
Most of the remains is concentrated around Gunung Tua in a dry rain shadow area with distinctive savannah-kind vegetation. The most impressive are the three masonry candi or biaro (from the buddhist name vihara, monastry) in Bahal near Portibi, east of Gunung Tua along the banks of the River Barumun. This candi with their buddhist associations probably date back to between the 10th and 13th century. Too bad the sculpturers used the soft vulcanic stone, which eroded badly over the centuries. Bahal I, with it’s sculptured masonry panels, is repaired badly over the last years. Other places offer even less, however some parts still show what kind of temple it once was.
The route through the Toba highlands
Tarutung, south of Soboroborong, is the governmental centre is the district North Tapanuli. In the village of Pagaran is the remarkable sarcofagus of Datu Ompu Panonson Lumban Tobing. Following Barbier, this coffin has been replaced at least three times because is would bring bad luck to the owners.
The route from Tarutung south towards Padang Sidempuan takes you along Sipirok, a village in the shade of the active Gunung Sibualbuali (1820 m), and is known for it’s weavings and ceramics. In the nearby Padang Matanggi Dutch military objects can be seen, built for the defence against the Paderi in the years after 1830. From Sipirok a road runs towards the northeast towards Sipogu along a excavated, burned forest that was once buried by an eruption of Gunung Sibualbuali. Tor Sibohi has a forest park with hot sulphur sources and a new hotel.
The western coast
The western coast of Northern Sumatera, with it’s small coastal plain, steep hills and deep bays, is one of the most beautifull parts of Sumatera. The 66 km long road towards Sibolga from Tarutung follows the Silindung valley through deep ravains and dense forests and akong 1200 u-turn turns. The city of Sibolga is the governmental centre of Central Tapanuli and an important seaport for steam boats and ferries on their way to Nias. This is the western gate to the Tabak highlands, with a view on the remarkable Tapanuli Bay (tapian nauli, ‘nice beach’). The city is known for it’s fish and seafood, andthe bay is scattered with islands. The biggest, Pulau Mursala, has very clear waters and a rich sealife. The English had a trading post as Pulau Puncung Kecil, closer to the mainland, from 1756 until 1824. From here, the first Europeans entered the Batak highlands in 1820.
Pantai Pandan, a traditional fishery village on 11 km south of Sibolga, has nice beaches with shadow-creating coconut-palms. Precious stones, shells and coral is being sold from small shops.
Barus, 65 km north of Sibolga, is the location of an old harbour, and already known since the 6th century among the Arabs as Fansur of Pancur. Barus had an international reputation as the source of campher of good quality (kapur barus. Numerous islamic graves from about the 14th century proove that the city was the centre of the islamic science. In 1668 the Dutch founded a trading post; a good conserved colonial fortress from the 19th century is now being used by the local police.
North of Barus, near the mouth of the river Batang Garigis in Lobu Tuo (‘Old Village’) a Tamil grave pillar from 1088 was found . The inscription, written in Tamil Grantha (locally known as palawa), reminds of the activities of a trading guild of the Tamils, known as ‘the 1500 swami’s from Ayyavole’. It’now being displayed in the national museum in Jakarta. They also found another, not yet decoded inscription from the Tamil. From Barus a road takes you towards the Dairi (Pakpak) highlands, via pakkat and Dolok Sanggul. Just besides the road, bear Sijungkang, is a deserted village with islamic Batak gravestones in black, white and red and a remarkable statue of a woman on an elephant.