Summary about the Batak tribes from “The Indonesian!” thread:
The Batak Angkola people (990,000 strong) lives in the southern Tapanuli area, around the border between North Sumatera province with West Sumatera and Riau provinces. Batak Angkola people traditionally belief that they and other Batak peoples are descendents of the first human being on earth, Si Raja Batak.
Batak Angkola language is very similar to the Mandailing language, although because the Mandailing were devout Muslims, the Angkolas insists that Mandailing cannot be classified as a Batak ethnicity. Dutch linguist HN van der Tuuk described the border between Mandailing and Angkola languages to be the area between Sipirok and Batang Toru. The Batak Angkola language was written in the Batak alphabet, but now is mostly written in Latin alphabet. Many literary product has been made in Batak Angkola language, the most distinguished being the romance novel Sitti Djaoerah: Padan Djandji Na Toegoe by MJ Soetan Hasoendoetan written in 1927.
Batak Angkola house
Batak Angkola bride and groom
Batak Angkola dance
The southern Angkolas are mostly Muslims, having been forcibly converted by the Padri Wahhabist warriors from Minangkabau in 1820s. The northern Angkolas are mostly Christians, having been converted from animism by Dutch missionaries in late 19th century. However, both Muslim and Christian Batak Angkolas mostly still appreciates the Batak tribal law habatahon. The habatahon put the clan (marga) as the most important institution, and put the greatest respect for a clan that achieved fecundicity, honour, and wealth.
The Batak Dairi people (1.5 million strong) inhabits the area from the southwestern shore of Lake Toba around the town of Sidakalang well into Southeastern Aceh. They are also known as the Batak Pakpak ethnic group. The Batak Dairi language is traditionally written using Batak alphabet of Dairi variation. The Batak Dairi greet each other using the term, njuah juah!
Batak Dairi alphabet
Batak Dairi people are mostly Christians, converted by German Lutheran missionary Ludwig Ingwer Nommensen in the late 19th century. Batak Dairi people traditionally believes that they and other Batak ethnicities are descendents of the first human being on earth, Si Raja Batak. The most important institution in Batak Dairi culture is the clan (marga). The Dairi followed a unique tribal hierarchy, starting from suak (district) led by a Raja Ekuten. Each suak consists of several kuta (villages) led by a pertaki, a village chief. A pertaki is assisted by five deputies (sulung silima), consisting of perisang-isang, pertulan tengah, perekur-ekur, perpunca ndiadep, and perbetekken.
Japanese ambassador Yutaka Iimura dancing Dairi dance after being accorded the Dairi clan name of Purba, becoming Yutaka Iimura Purba Pakpak
Due to the mountainous terrain in which they lived, the Batak Dairi mostly do not engage in rice farming, but they opens plantations of cash crops, mostly coffee and gambier. Gambier, the most important product of Dairi highlands, is a coffee-like shrub which contains chemicals needed to cure hides and cloth-dyeing process.
Batak Dairi house
Batak Dairi dance
The Batak Dairi is known for their strong resistance to Dutch colonisation attempts. In Sidikalang, you can visit the last fort held by Dairi king Sisingamangarja XII where he and his children was killed in a battle with the Dutch in 1907.
The Batak Karo people (800,000 strong) is a Batak tribe that lives in the mountainous central, northern, west, and northwest shores of Lake Toba. As with other Batak ethnic groups, they traditionally believe that they are the descendents of the ifrst human being, Si Raja Batak. They also follows the Batak tribal law the habatahon which put the clan (marga) as the most important social institution. There are five important Karo clans(marga silima): Ginting, Karo-Karo, Perangin-angin, Sembiring, and Tarigan. Intermarriage within one clan is prohibited by the Karo tribal law. A Ginting woman that married a Sembiring man will become a member of the Sembiring clan. A non-Batak man who wishes to marry a Ginting woman must be adopted by a Karo clan other than those of the wife’s, e.g. he must become a Tarigan. Additionally, the five clans are divided into 83 sub-clans.
The Batak Karo language was traditionally written in Batak alphabet of the Karo variance. Batak Karo literature mostly dealt with magic, medicine, and divination as the Batak Karo is considered the most preoccupied with witchcraft and sorcery by other Batak ethnic groups. In traditional Batak Karo society, a medium for spirits is considered as a very respected person.
Batak Karo alphabet
Batak Karo people who lives in the lowlands area are Muslims due to their proximity to Muslim polities on the coastal area. Those who reside in the highlands are Christians due to missionary efforts by German Lutheran pastor Ludwig Nommensen. However, the Batak Karo strongly kept their animist beliefs in spirits and hold many elaborate ceremonies to appease such spirits. For example, the exhumation and storage of the bones of important ancestors in a skull house (geriten) in order to shelter the dead’s spirits (begu). Spirits of ancestors is also worshipped in Guro-guro Aron ceremony to ensure successful harvest.
Traditional Karo house
Batak Karo wedding between a German man and a Karo woman
Tembut Gendala, Batak Karo dance
Due to the fertile soil quality and cool climate, the Batak Karo generally work not as rice farmers but they grow vegetables, corn, and potatoes. A famous product of Karo highlands is the markisa (passionfruit) from Brastagi area, famous throughout Indonesia.
Batak Karo vegetable garden
The Batak Mandailing people (510,000 strong) is a Batak tribe that inhabits the southern frontiers and southwestern coastline of North Sumatera province. There are also large population of Mandailing people in Malaysia, destination of Mandailing refugees running away from the destructive Padri War and subsequent Dutch invasion in the 1830s. The name “Mandailing” could have came from the name of an ancient Hindu kingdom that existed in the area during the 1200s, called “Mandala Holing”.
Batak Mandailing groom and bride in traditional wedding dress
Batak Mandailing language can be written in Arabic (Jawi) alphabet or with the Batak alphabet of Mandailing variation.
Batak Mandailing alphabet
The Batak Mandailing people traditionally lived under small political units called huta (village) led by a raja (king) who ruled in a democratic manner cooperating with a village council consisting of respected village elders, this legislative council being called Na Mora Na Toras. A Batak Mandailing village centred on the house of the king (Bagas Godang) and the adjecant meeting house of the village council (Sopo Godang). Other important structures in a Mandailing village is the mosque (suro), usually located near to river or other water source to facilitate pre-prayer abulations.
Typical Bagas Godang (house of the king) and Sopo Godang (house of village council) in the centre of a Mandailing village (huta)
Meeting of village council (Na Mora Na Toras) in a Mandailing village
Typical Mandailing mosque (suro) located next to a water source
Typical traditional Mandailing house in a huta (village)
Batak Mandailing people is divided into 13 clans (marga) as with other Batak tribes: Hasibuan, Dalimunte, Mardia, Pulungan, Lubis, Nasution, Rangkuti, Parinduri, Daulae, Matondang, Batubara, Tanjung, and Lintang. The most numerous and powerful of these clans are the Lubis and Nasution. A famous Mandailing is the hero of war of independence and commander of Indonesian armed forces in the 1950s and 1960s, Field Marshall Abdul Haris Nasution.
Batak Mandailing people are mostly Muslims, being converted forcibly by Wahhabist Padri forces invading from Minangkabau in 1830s, led by Tuanku Nan Rencah. The Wahhabist Islamic heritage left by the Padris led to many Mandailings to disassociate themselves from the Batak ethnicity, since other Batak tribes mostly are non-Muslims. Batak Mandailing negatively called their pre-Islamic days where the people practised animist Batak spirit-worshipping as Na Itam Na Robi (the dark and ancient times), in accord with Islamic concept of jahilliyah.
Nevertheless, the current Mandailing culture retains strong aspects of its pre-Islamic days, such as the Gordang Sambilan drum ensemble, which is used to call upon good spirits to stave-off plagues, call for rain, bless marriages and births, and to protect spirit of a recently deceased person. The usage of Gordang Sambilan must be sanctioned by the village king and council and should be accompanied by sacrifice of a bull. Additionally, Gordang Sambilan drum ensemble also plays during welcoming of important guests, the celebration of Idul Fitri (end of Ramadan), or celebration of Independence Day on 17th of August.
Gordang Sambilan sacred drum ensemble
The fertile lands of Mandailing people’s abode means most Mandailing live as farmers, growing rice or tending coffee plantations which produce the world-remowned Mandailing coffee.
Traditional wedding between a Romanian man and Batak Simalungun woman
Batak Simalungun people (1.2 million strong) inhabits the northeastern shore of Lake Toba in North Sumatera province. MD Purba (1997) hypothesised that the name “Simalungun” came from the term “Sima-sima ni Lungun” which means quiet place, a reflection of the sparsely-populated nature of the Simalungun homeland when they first arrived. The Simalungun language can be written in the Simalungun variation of the Batak alphabet.
Batak Simalungun alphabet
Despite the close cultural and linguistic relationship between the Simalungun and other Batak tribes, the Simalungun people considers themselves a distinct ethnicity, and they believe that their ancestors moved from Nagaland and Assam in India to North Sumatera in the 5th century AD.
The Batak Simalungun people are divided into four major clans (marga): Sinaga, Saragih, Damanik, and Purba, each of which are divided into dozens of smaller sub-clans. A salient distinction of the Batak Simalungun culture is that clan affiliation is not considered as important to a person’s social standing, instead a person’s place of origin (hasusuran) and role in traditional ceremonies (tibalni parhundul) are the most important method of identification of a Batak Simalungun person. The lack of clan importance is because the kings of the different Batak Simalungun clans have engaged in political alliance (harrunguan bolon) that has lasted for centuries.
The Batak Simalungun people are roughly divided equally in terms of religion. The western Simalungun people mostly embraces Christianity due to the efforts of German Lutheran missionary Ludwig Ingwer Nommensen in the mid-1800s. Meanwhile, the eastern Simalungun people are mostly Muslims due to their close proximity to the Muslim Malay polities located on the eastern seaboard of North Sumatera. However, the Batak Simalungun people are united in their common indigenous culture despite their different religious affiliation.
Traditional Batak Simalungun people mainly engaged in farming rice and corn. The Simalungun homeland is a major producer of corn in Indonesia. Many Batak Simalungun are also involved in cultivating palm-oil (grown in the area of Pematang Siantar) or to lesser extent, tourism (centred in Parapat).
Traditional Batak Simalungun tor-tor dance
Palace of a Batak Simalungun traditional king (raja)
Batak Toba mask
The Batak Toba people (2.5 million strong) inhabits Samosir Island in the middle of Lake Toba, the western, southern, and eastern shores of Lake Toba and the northern hinterlands of Tapanuli (western section of North Sumatera). Batak Toba people are the numerically largest of the Batak ethnicities. They greet each other with the exclaimation, “Horas!” Toba Batak language can be written in the Toba variation of the Batak alphabet or in the Latin alphabet:
Batak Toba alphabet
The first verses of the Gospel of John from the Batak Toba Bible published in 1989
Batak Toba people traditionally believes that they are descended from Si Raja Batak, the first human being in the world. As with most other Batak tribes, Batak Toba traditionally considers the clan (marga) and lineage (tarombo) system as the most important society classification system. They are divided into hundreds of clans and sub-clans. During pre-colonial and pre-independence days, the Batak Toba people lived under a stateless and largely egalitarian society, in which disputes between or within clans are solved by a powerful religious priestly organisation, the raja parbaringin, which specialised mostly in solving agricultural disputes.
Legacy of this egalitarian society can be seen today, in which Batak Toba culture boasts strong gender equality between males and females. Attempts by Dutch colonialists to impose feudalistic social positions such as Tuan Manullang and Tuan Sumurung in 1930s offended the egalitarian-minded Batak Toba greatly, and the Batak Toba always displayed the most resistence to Dutch colonialists. Batak Toba formed most of King Sisingamangaraja XII’s army in its rebellion against the Dutch in early 1900s, while many Batak Toba eagerly joined the Indonesian army during the war of independence.
Traditional Batak Toba culture is famous for its devotion to sorcery and magic potions due to the strong past influence from the priestly clique (raja parbaringin). The most famous Batak Toba artistic products is the ancient magical scriptures (pustaha) and the carved magic potion containers made of wood or stone.
19th-century Batak Toba magical script (pustaha)
Batak Toba wooden magic potion container
Batak Toba people are known in Indonesia as very musical people. A Batak Toba song popular throughout Indonesia is “O Tana Batak!“, a joyful ode to the beauty of Batak Toba homeland. Traditonally, Batak Toba culture is rich with musical activities such as the gondang sabangunan ensemble and the tor-tor dance which functions as medium to call upon the blessings from good spirits.
Gondang Sabangunan ensemble
Tor-tor dance in front of traditional Batak Toba house
The Batak Toba people are mostly Christians due to the efforts of German Lutheran missionary Ludwig Ingwer Nommensen in the 1860s-1870s. Today, most Batak Toba belongs to the HKBP (Huria Kristen Batak Protestan), the Batak Protestant Church. However, there are some Batak Toba Muslims, those who live in the Asahan river valley near to the Malay-influenced eastern seaboard of North Sumatera. A famous Muslim Batak Toba clan is the Marpaung clan.
However, most Batak Toba remain attached to their indigenous traditions. There was some tension when the Batak Protestant Church issued an edict (Siasat Gereja) prohibiting spirit-related gondang sabangunan ensemble and the tor-tor dance. However, this attempt was unsuccessful due to strong resistance from the community.
Traditional Batak Toba scarf (ulos)
Batak Toba puppet-head (si gale-gale)
Most rural Batak Toba people engaged in rice-farming, exploiting the rich soil of their homeland. Many Batak Toba people has moved to all corner in Indonesia, where they engaged in all sorts of trade. There are a significant portion of Batak Toba people in the leadership of Indonesian military such as Lieutenant-General Adolf Sagala Rajagukguk (former Army chief-of-staff in 1980s) and Brigadier-General Rudolf Adolf Butar-Butar (former North Jakarta garrison chief). Many Batak Toba becomes prominent lawyers, such as the flamboyant Hotman Paris Hutapea. The HKBP is also the largest of the many Protestant denominations in Indonesia, hence the Batak Toba are prominent in the leadership of national Protestant and Christian organisations. For instance, a Batak Toba priest, Riyandi Hutasoit, is the chairman of PDS (Peace and Prosperity Party), the largest Christian political party in Indonesia.