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SUMATRA : Discovering bataks people

Discovering bataks people

Sumatra, Toba Lake, July 2016

Bataks live in a community on Sumatra’s island of Indonesia, in regions that border the breath-taking Toba lake, the biggest volcanic lake in the World. Also called “Toba people”, they are known in Indonesia for their musical abilities, their oratorical capacities, there architecture and their unbroken challenging of the Indonesian authorities.

A territory kept from the foreign incursion

Toba lake and Samosir peninsula are the legendary original country of every Bataks persons. 75 000 years ago occurred an immense volcanic eruption which gave way to a magnificent caldeira. Before the middle of 19th Century no explorer colonial officer or European missionary set their eyes on Toba lake, huge crater of a volcano with an unimaginable size. Indeed, Bataks people stayed protected from foreign incursion thanks to the geographical position of the region, creating access difficulties. Their isolation was first interrupted in 19th Century by missionaries then by the Dutch colonization the Sumatra island.

A trade influenced by China and India

Sumatra is located on the commercial route between China and India. The inland country supplied sailors with spices, camphor, incense, precious stones … By taking part in this vast trade network, Batak country has seen its culture influenced by India. Bataks controlled the cultivation as well as the transport to trade centers. They would trade it for salt, iron, brass, copper, glass and textiles. The Bataks used to trade with the Chinese and border countries in the 10th century. Consequently we can still find pieces of Chinese porcelain undoubtedly exchanged at that time. In the 15th century the Portuguese arrived, first Europeans to penetrate Sumatra. One Century later, the British and the Dutch showed up aiming to create exclusivity on the spice trade, controlling the roads and ports more than the territory. Starting in 1885, the first plantation of tobacco, rubber, palm trees and coffee had been set up.

The traditional Bataks house

With a rectangular form, Toba houses are made by tall pillars placed on flat stones to protect from humidity. No nails are part of those constructions. Imposing steep roofs form the characteristic elements of the houses. They can shelter up to 8 families and has several bedrooms around a common living room, the closest room for the owner!

The bataks culture

Bataks language contains around 200 words derived from “sanscrit”, literary sacred language from the Indian Brahman civilization.
Bataks are skilled wood and stone sculptors. Their wood sculptures represent their ritual customs.
As per the stone sculptures, they are linked to the supernatural with effigies of their ancestors and guardian magical statues. Concerned with the maintenance of links with their ancestors and their protection, Bataks give a certain importance to funeral rituals, centered on their stone sculptures.

A farming paradise

The area around Toba Lake is a real farming paradise: rice fields, black and fertile volcanic soil which favor fruit, spice and vegetable farming. Fishermen sail with their pirogues on Toba Lake in search of fish.  

Bataks berry

This berry with citrus aromas is an essential daily ingredient for the Bataks people. Infused, crushed or grilled, this spice matches perfectly with all their dishes.

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