part2 batak trades link

INThe Trans-Sumatra Trade and the Ethnicization of the ‘Batak’ 377
to Padang Lawas via Sipirok and the valley of the Batang Toru (see map 2).
Padang Lawas appears to have been a collecting centre. From here there was
a route leading directly to Barus, as well as two alternative routes southward.
One of the southern routes went via Padang Sidempuan to the valley of the
Batang Angkola, while the other passed near Sibuhuan in Padang Lawas
across the mountains into the Angkola valley near Si Abu. From the Angkola
valley the route continued southward through Bonan Dolok to Penyabungan
and Hutanopari in the Batang Gadis valley. It then crossed the mountains at
Muara Sipongi to Rao.
From Rao one could go directly to Muara Takus in the valley of the Batang
Mahat, a tributary of the Kampar Kanan. But the more frequently used route
passed through the valley of the Batang Sumpur, a tributary of the Sungei
Rokan Kiri, and then through Tanjung Medan and Lubuk Sikaping via Bonjol
into Minangkabau territory. The Batak most likely transferred the products
to the Minangkabau, who then completed the journey through their own
lands downriver to the Malayu in Srivijaya. There were again two alternative
routes leading from Bonjol to Buo, from which place it was possible to reach
the headwaters of the Batang Hari, which is the major river through Jambi
(Edwards McKinnon 1984, 2:340-2). From the Batang Hari the goods could
be sold to the Malayu downriver and then transported by sea to Srivijaya.
Another possibility was to use the tributaries linked by land routes leading
from the Jambi River to the Musi River in Palembang. One such route
followed the tributary Tembesi River, which flowed down along the Jambi-
Palembang border. From Ulu (upriver) Tembesi it was only eight days’ travel
to Palembang and about twelve to Jambi (B. Andaya 1993:102).
The method used to transport the camphor and benzoin in earlier centuries
is not mentioned explicitly in the sources. From available evidence it
appears that cargo was carried by men on their backs travelling on foot along
narrow footpaths. Miksic describes a series of footpaths which ran from the
interior along the hills to both the east and west coasts. Such trails were found
on the summits of the Batak highlands, as well as along the upper reaches
of rivers such as the Panai and Bila (Miksic 1979:97,106). Even as late as the
mid-nineteenth century the Dutch linguist Van der Tuuk recalled an evening
when he hosted half a dozen Toba Batak in Barus who had transported their
cargo of benzoin on their backs (Nieuwenhuys 1962:46). Though horses are
mentioned as an item of trade, it is difficult to find evidence of horses being
used to transport export products. Marsden writes that there were numerous
horses in the Batak lands and that the Batak supplied many to Bengkulen.
Nevertheless, they kept their finest for ritual purposes and apparently as
special delicacies for their festivals: ‘Horse-flesh’, according to Marsden, ‘they
esteem their most exquisite meat, and for this purpose feed them upon grain,
and pay great attention to their keep’ (Marsden 1966:381). Such precious ani378
Leonard Y. Andaya
mals would most likely not have been used as beasts of burden.
For nearly four centuries Srivijaya controlled the trade in forest products
in the region. Its success as a major entrepot to traders from around the world
aroused the envy of other major kingdoms seeking economic dominance in
the area. In 1025 the southern Indian kingdom of the Colas launched an attack
and subdued Srivijaya and its dependencies along the Straits of Melaka.15
Although Srivijaya recovered and reconstituted the kingdom on the Batang
Hari River in Jambi, the name Srivijaya disappeared from the records and
was replaced in the eleventh century by that of an entity known as ‘Malayu’.
Following the Cola invasion, the temporary weakness of Srivijaya and its
Jambi successor, Malayu, as well as the increasing volume of Indian Ocean
trade, enabled several polities to emerge as suppliers of camphor and benzoin.
Nevertheless, Srivijaya continued to maintain its overlordship into
the thirteenth century. Although its secondary centres and feeder ports had
always had some direct trade with foreign merchants, after the late eleventh
century this privilege emerged as a regular pattern. This development was
tolerated as long as the vassal areas did not challenge Srivijaya’s orientation
away from the trans-shipment trade to the direct export trade in Indian
Ocean commodities (Soo 1998:306-8). Two of the most important of these
alternative ports were Barus and Kota Cina.
Barus and Kota Cina
The location of the Tamil inscription dated 1088 from Lobu Tua near Barus
is the strongest evidence so far for Barus’ return to prominence after the
late seventh century. The inscription was erected by a Tamil merchant
guild, the Ayyavole-500 (The Five Hundred of the Thousand Directions’),
which enjoyed the patronage of the Cola dynasty in Tamil Nadu, the Tamil
homeland in southern India. By the end of the eleventh century the guild in
India had begun to include several ethnolinguistic groups among its ranks
and had become established in a number of coastal towns. The Lobu Tua
inscription refers to the guild ‘having met at the velapuram in Varocu, also
called the […] pattinam […]’. ‘Varocu’ is the name for Barus, but there is a
difference of opinion about the meaning of the terms velapuram and pattinam.
Subbarayalu (1998:30-3) believes that the former refers to the harbour, while
the latter describes the town itself. Christie (1998:257), on the other hand,
interprets ‘pattinam’ as designating Barus as a commercial centre of the first
15 Edwards McKinnon (1996:88) suggests that the Tamil merchant guild may have been the
instigator of Cola intervention in Srivijaya territories, with a view to gaining economic advantage
in the increasingly profitable international trade flowing through the Straits of Melaka.
The Trans-Sumatra Trade and the Ethnicization of the ‘Batak’ 379
rank, and ‘velapurarrC as referring to the enclave of Lobu Tua as a trading settlement
of secondary rank.16 Permission was required for admission to the
city, and prices in the trade in aromatics (kasturi) were calculated in gold.17
As an international port, Barus would have had a mixed population, though
its core inhabitants may have been Batak. Direct overland routes from the
nearby camphor forests directly to Barus helped assure the city’s reputation
as a reliable supplier of that prized commodity. Camphor from Barus could
command such high prices that Batak collectors working on the right bank
of the Singkel River in the sixteenth century did not sell their product at the
nearby port of Singkel, but took it to the more distant port of Barus (Miksic
Ptak (1998:139-40) believes that, though Barus was frequented by Indians
and other traders from the west, it was not a major port for the export of
camphor to China. Song and Yuan texts, that is, information from the tenth
to the fourteenth century, do not indicate a regular trade contact between
west-coast Sumatra and the southern Chinese ports of Guangdong, Fujian
and Zhejiang.18 The strong Chinese trade in camphor and benzoin was
most likely focused on another port located on the northeast coast bearing
the revealing name Kota Cina (‘Chinese Stockade’).19 Chinese traders were
more familiar with Sumatra’s northeast coast and the Straits of Melaka20 and
would presumably have gone to Kota Cina, rather than to Barus itself, to
16 Joustra explains that ‘lobu’ means ‘abandoned settlement’ (Joustra 1910:28). ‘Lobu Tua’,
meaning ‘the old abandoned settlement’, could have been the name of an earlier centre which
later moved to the town of Barus.
17 In Sanskrit the word ‘kasturi’ refers to musk. Since musk does not occur in the Barus area,
Subbarayalu has suggested that the term may have been used to refer symbolically to aromatics
in general (Subbarayalu 1998:31-2; Edwards McKinnon 1996:91).
18 This may account for Edwards McKinnon’s speculation, based on Chinese ceramic evidence
at Lobu Tua, that the site was abandoned at about the time of the foundation of Kota Cina
(Edwards McKinnon 1996:89).
19 The name originates from a common practice among’the Chinese to create a fortified
enclosure to protect themselves and their goods while awaiting a shift in monsoon winds before
resuming their journey to India (Miksic 1996:292).
20 Pulau Kompei on Aru Bay is another important place on the northeast Sumatran coast
which produced trade ceramics in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. This is probably the site of
the Kompei mentioned in Chinese sources as having sent a mission to China in AD 662. Wolters
has suggested that ‘P’o-lo’, which sent a mission to China in the seventh century, was located
in northeast Sumatra. On the same coast flourished Panai between the tenth and fourteenth
centuries, and Aru from the late thirteenth to the early seventeenth century. Milner et al. suggest
that Aru and Deli were different names for the same place. According to Tengku Luckman,
the kingdom of Serdang then split off from the from the old Deli kingdom in the seventeenth
century. Between the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries Asahan, on the same coast, became
a prominent kingdom and an outlet for products from the Batak interior (Nik Hassan Shuhaimi
1984:110; Wolters 1969:187, 193, 220; Milner, Edwards McKinnon, and Tengku Luckman 1978:
18-9; Tengku Luckman 1986:39; Hirosue 1988:40-1).
380 Leonard Y. Andaya
obtain forest resins. The existence of Song and Yuan sherds in interior sites
in Kota Bangun and Deli Tua appears to support this contention. Moreover,
there would have been the added attraction of gold from the nearby mines
in such areas as the Bohorok and Pengkuruan Rivers, some fifty kilometres
west of present-day Medan (Nik Hassan Shuhaimi 1984:109-10).
Although Miksic stresses the Chinese component of the settlement,
Edwards McKinnon argues that Kota Cina was predominantly a Tamil
trading settlement established by merchants like those responsible for the
Lobu Tua inscription in Barus. The existence of permanent religious structures,
including a Siva sanctuary and a Buddhist vihara, is indicative of the
economic importance of the Tamil community for whom they were built
(Edwards McKinnon 1987:86-7). Nevertheless, the Chinese were also a major
presence in the city, judging by the ‘tens of thousands of Chinese porcelain
sherds’ from between the twelfth and fourteenth centuries found on the site
(Miksic 2000:111). Kota Cina was inhabited between the late eleventh and
the fourteenth century, and grew from a small village into a large settlement
of some 10,000 inhabitants by the middle of the twelfth century (Edwards
McKinnon 1996:89; Miksic 1996:292). The ruined site was mentioned by John
Anderson on his trip to east-coast Sumatra in the early nineteenth century
and was only ‘rediscovered’ in 1972 (J. Anderson 1971:294). Located some
three to four miles from the port of Belawan Deli, near the confluence of the
Belawan River (known also as Hamparan Perak or Buluh Cina) and the Deli
River, it was once accessible to sea-going ships (Edwards McKinnon 1984,
The rise of Kota Cina should be viewed in the context of Tamil trading
activity in Sumatra in this period. So far there are three known Tamil settlements
in Kota Cina, Lhok Cut (Aceh), and Lobu Tua, and possible settlements
at Neusu (Aceh, thirteenth century), Bahal 1 (Tapanuli Selatan in the
Padang Lawas area), Buo (West Sumatra), and Kota Kandis on the Batang
Hari in Jambi (Edwards McKinnon 1996:87). It is noteworthy that the Tamilinspired
Buo inscription, the bronze imagery, and a possible temple foundation
at Kota Kandis on the Batang Hari are located on a major route between
the resin forests in the Batak lands and Srivijaya/Malayu. Other Tamil
inscriptions reinforce the view of a fairly extensive Tamil trade involvement
in Sumatra. A provisional reading of the Tamil inscription found at Neusu
appears to refer to trade regulations, while, the nearby site of Lhok Cut is
believed to be the remains of an eleventh-century port. Two further Tamil
inscriptions dating from the second half of the thirteenth century have been
found. The first is a late thirteenth-century inscription found at Batu (or
Bandar) Bapahat, near Suruaso, in the Minangkabau highlands. Though no
transcription or translation has been made, nor any archaeological context
provided, the inscription may relate to the Minangkabau trade in camphor
The Trans-Sumatra Trade and the Ethnicization of the ‘Batak’ 381
and gold.21 The second inscription is from Porlak Dolok near Paringginan in
the Padang Lawas area and dates from either 1258 or 1265. From what can be
inferred from a very damaged text, the inscription commemorates an offering
made by the ruler as a meritorious act (Christie 1998:259-63). The sustained
Tamil economic activity in north and west Sumatra from the eleventh
to the fourteenth century provided the economic stimulus for the increasing
participation of the Batak communities in the camphor and benzoin trade


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