Archive for 2009 June

Tano Batak Day 6: The Pearl of Lake Toba

 taman_simalem_2Lake Toba is a lake and supervolcano, 100 kilometres long and 30 kilometres wide, and 505 metres (1,666 ft) at its deepest point. Located in the middle of the northern part of the Indonesian island of Sumatra with a surface elevation of about 900 metres (2,953 ft), it is the largest volcanic lake in the world. In addition, it is the site of a supervolcanic eruption that occurred 74,000 years ago, a massive climate-changing event.

This eruption, believed to have been the largest anywhere on Earth in the last 25 million years, may have had catastrophic consequences globally; some anthropologists and archaeologists believe that it killed most humans then alive, creating a population bottleneck in Central Eastern Africa and India that affected the genetic inheritance of all humans today.


Despite the geological historical details that seems to have brought an annihilation to this world, the lake itself is now stunningly beautiful and immense with several cities circling it. Lake Toba is the biggest lake in the Republic, both by area covered and by volume, and also the biggest in South East Asia. On this post are some pictures of the Lake, taken from the north-eastern side, from Kabupaten Karo, somewhere near Merek/Kabanjahe at a location called the Taman Simalem – The Pearl of Lake Toba.

 taman_simalem_1  taman_simalem_3

Taman Simalem is currently under development and has partially been opened for public. This place has not yet been popular as a travel destination unlike Prapat, a region located in Kabupaten Toba-Samosir, which is more frequently associated to the Lake. Taman Simalem is designed to become a resort decorated by a mixed-taste of Batak artwork and contemporary minimalistic architecture.

Paragraph 1 and 2 was cited from Wikipedia.

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Tano Batak Day 5: Thoughts on The Establishment of The Province of Tapanuli

 batakThere was nothing essential this day, it’s another half-day in Prapat, a quarter-day in Pematang Siantar, and a night at Berastagi doing nearly nothing. We spent most of our time on the road laughing and screaming to make ourselves happy while crossing the borders which happened to be so lenghty and exhausting. The infrastructure was terrible and unmaintained but we had no choice. Thus, since I have been lately situated at the region concerned and have heard several opinions about this “Province of Tapanuli” issue, I guess it’s the time for me to write something about it.

This issue was brought into public on February 3, 2009, the day when a riotous incident occurred at the office of the House of Representatives of the Province of North Sumatra that killed Abdul Aziz, the chief of the office. The riots were struggling for the establishment of the Province of Tapanuli which essentially means to separate themselves from the current province.

Despite the issue has become popular just several months ago when an incident occurred, it has been in fact proposed for a long time and become intensely discussed after the autonomy law has been put in place. The Province of North Sumatra was formerly two administrative regions that was fused into one province just after the independence of Indonesia from the Dutch. Keresidenan Sumatra Timur covered the eastern part of the current province including Medan, Asahan, and Labuhan Batu, while Keresidenan Tapanuli covered the western part including Tarutung, Toba-Samosir, and Sibolga. The information on the borders may need to be verified but basically that was the idea.

Due to the differences in cultural and religious background between the two regions (Tapanuli is dominated by Bataknese, particularly Toba, while Sumatra Timur by Melayu people), this particular issue has been (misleadingly) regarded concerning and based on SARA (suku – tribe, agama – religion, dan ras – race) which made everything even more sensitive and complicated. In spite of the fact that these two regions differs culturally, it was for economic and human development purposes the proposal has been made. Identical to the centralised development which is currently happening in Indonesia, which is all the way focused to Jakarta and some cities in Java Island, the same condition is happening here in the Province where developments are focused to Medan and several cities in the eastern part of the Province.

Even so, considering that this is Indonesia and politics do have its invisible hands, that does not necessarily mean and assure that no strings are attached.

Anyway, likewise expansion has been happening in several provinces throughout the Republic, Banten-West Java and Gorontalo-North Sulawesi for example. Banten, which is dominated by Badui people, has become an independent administrative entity and was separated from the Province of West Java, which is dominated by Sundanese, in order to accelerate the economic growth and human development in the region. Development was centrally focused on Bandung, the capital, and on several regions that circles Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia. It is undeniably true that Serang and several cities where Badui people reside are left behind. And in addition to the Banten development roadmap, the newly-established province also put the Islamic Sharia law in action while the Province of West Java does not. Some say that this expansion was greatly influenced by religious purposes.

Gorontalo-North Sulawesi issue was even more interesting. Gorontalo was separated from the Province of North Sulawesi and is dominated by Gorontalo people which happen to be predominantly Muslim. The current Province of North Sulawesi is dominated by Manado people which mostly have Christianity as their belief. On the other hand, it is factual that economic growth has been focused on Manado, the capital, while Gorontalo is left behind. The only dissimilarity of these two particular examples compared to Tapanuli-North Sumatra was that these two had succeeded their mission without any incidents.

Although the provinces of Indonesia might not be considered identical to states (negara bagian), they are starting to look like one due to the fact that each administrative entities do have the rights to enforce its own regional laws. The current system also provides each entity the rights to control its finance and resources.

So, what about this Province of Tapanuli? Should it be realised? And what about Indonesia in general? What if this establishment triggered separative movements amongst the provinces? On the other hand, would it be wise to leave some regions left behind? Anyway, is it money and power these guys are after? And what about SARA that seems to influence these separations (expansions)? Should we just admit it and take it as is? And why this became an issue while Gorontalo and Banten did not?

And historically speaking, it’s also noticeable that provinces in Indonesia were established with regards to religion and culture uniqueness compared to its surroundings, Daerah Istimewa Aceh and Daerah Istimewa Yogyakarta are two clear-cut examples.

As for me, I just regret this had to take a deadly incident.

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Tano Batak Day 4: Prapat – Lake Toba – Samosir

tuktuk_1First of all, I want to say that I have made myself a record! How on earth can I have one blog post each day? Hahaha. I guess this was due to the fact that I had nothing to do but to eat and sleep during my abundant free time. On the other hand, I just could not help seeing my laptop intolerably unoccupied thus blogging was what I did. Anyway, this day is the fourth day of our trip and we’re finally done visiting tombs. I was glad to be able to visit my ancestors, get some insights about my family heritage, and learn the complicated family tree. From this moment on, it will be solely a holiday trip.

We arrived at Prapat at night and stayed in a nice hotel located just at the side of the Lake Toba. The hotel was clean and had large rooms with comfortable spring beds. We directly went to sleep and were too tired to go around check the view at night. We’re going to stay here for 2 nights so there will still be plenty of time for us to do whatever we want, I guess. Anyway, geographically speaking, Prapat, which is located in Kabupaten Toba Samosir, is one of the cities that circles the Lake and has become one popular tourism spot of the Province. Lake Toba and its environs are clean, beautiful, and considerably well-maintained by the government. We started the day by taking a boat from Prapat to Samosir Island. The island contains several small regions: Tuktuk and Tombok, to name some.

Batu Gantung (The Hanging Rock)

batu_gantung_tobaBefore getting to the shore of the island, we stopped at Batu Gantung. It was nothing flashy but just an oddly-shaped rock hanging on a high cliff located at the side of the Lake. Legends say that there was a beautiful young lady from the Sinaga family who was forced to marry a prince. She disagreed and ran away from her house. Unfortunately, she did not realise that she were running on the top of the cliff and heading towards the Lake Toba just below. Just before the edge, she tripped with her feet stuck between roots, died in a very odd position, and turned into rocks. I spent minutes to imagine how this hanging rock could, in any way, look like a lady with her body turned upside-down.


Our next destination was Tuktuk. There were some nice hotel rooms decorated with Bataknese artworks; each with the famous A-shaped roof on the top of the buildings. We only took some photo there and found an oddly-shaped coconut tree.
tuktuk_2Do you see the oddness? This is a perfectly-edged coconut tree. I could not imagine how this coconut tree grew. How do you think it grew? I guess this tree did not naturally grow like that and I don’t look forward to hearing any “stories” behind this. Hehehe.


samosir_souvenirs_1We ended our trip by going to Tomok, a region that used to be covered by water prior to the arrival of the Dutch armies. For your information, the Dutch drained the water to Sungai Asahan for power generation purposes. Tomok is also one of the popular spots for both local and international tourists coming to Lake Toba and Samosir Island. Above are a picture of some souvenirs sold in the souvenir shop. The picture, at the background, shows Bataknese calendar written in Bataknese numbers and at front, miniatures of Bataknese traditional houses.


On the top-left is a picture of a statue of a man and a woman; this small statue is located just near the Tomok bay. On the top-right is a picture of Bataknese musical instrument which are sold as a souvenir in shops throughout the region. The real version of this instrument is bigger and sounds a lot better.

Tomok itself is also a region where the tomb of Raja Sidabutar located. I did not expect to visit anymore tombs but apparently I just did. Again, another legend was told.
sidabutar_2Stories say something about the king, his loyal queen, and his loyal general. The general was famous for his war epic and for his journey from Aceh to Samosir riding elephants. Legends also mention some background story about gecko (cicak) being the tribe’s symbolic animal and about reasons why Bataknese cultural products are often coloured with red, black, and white. Below is a picture of some statues doing the traditional ritual asking for rain. The real ritual is still conducted to date but is forbidden to be seen by visitors.
sidabutar_1That’s all for the day. It will be Berastagi and Siantar for the next 2 days and Medan will finally be the ending point of this homeland journey. Anyway, I’ve just realised that I love taking pictures (of any objects, including of myself although I don’t put any here). I guess this is a sign that I’m about to have a new “toy”. Hahaha.

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Tano Batak Day 3: Porsea – Balige – Tarutung

Departing from Kabupaten Asahan, we entered Kabupaten Tapanuli Utara, a region where Batak Toba people originally came from. This region is situated at the centre of the Province of North Sumatra and contains many small “kampung” (huta) which, some of them, were named after the Bataknese family names who resides in the areas. I bring up the term “Batak Toba” to introduce the fact that there are actually several sub-tribes of Batak such as Toba, Karo, Pakpak, Simalungun, and Mandailing; each has slightly different family names, culture and language.

We started at Porsea, where my mother’s homeland was. It is sometimes confusing when we use the term “homeland” as Batak people mostly tend to migrate. One can say that Porsea is the homeland of the Manurung’s descendants but it does not necessarily mean that the Manurungs had never been elsewhere before. And in addition, it does not, in any way, mean that an area only belongs to one family as many others also resided there. Sitorus, Sirait, and Butar-butar also resides here.

We visited the tomb of my grandfather’s parents from my mother’s side. Our next destination was Balige, we’re heading there simply to check out the tomb of Sisingamangaraja XII. I later found out that Balige is, of course together with several other families, the homeland of Siahaan’s descendants.

Sisingamangaraja XII

 He is regarded as one of the national heroes of Indonesia for his struggle confronting the Dutch invasion to Tapanuli. Legends say that he had some supernatural resistance to fire bullets and by which he could not ever be killed but solely on condition that his hands shall never be desecrated by human blood. The Dutch troops finally revealed his secret and shot his beloved daughter. As expected, he was so devastated by sorrow and sadness that he could not resist to not hug his dear dead covered-with-blood daughter. He was then shot to death by a bullet of the Dutch armies.

Afterwards, we headed to Tarutung, the capital district of Kabupaten Tapanuli Utara. Tarutung is the homeland of Hutagalung’s descendants. Tobing, Hutapea, Hutauruk, and Simorangkir also resides here. We visited another tomb in Tarutung, it was the tomb of my grandfather’s parents (and grandparents) from my father’s side. The tombs is situated at the hillside of a mountain, so high we have to walk so far to arrive there (and we ended up having sore feet). Hahaha.

Dr. I. L. Nommensen

 nommensenWe then visited Salib Kasih, a natural complex built to commemorate the arrival of Nommensen at Tapanuli. Nommensen was a German Christian missionary who came in the 1900s. He arrived at Barus and continued his religious mission to Tarutung. Apparently, he was not the first missionary who came for Bataknese people; he was the third, stories say. But none of his predecessors succeeded their mission and in fact they were killed and eaten (legends say).

Most Bataknese people residing in Tapanuli Utara and Tapanuli Tengah finally converted to Christian from their old tribal religion, Parmalim. Several Bataknese families who resided near Aceh and Padang (northern and southern areas of the Province) converted to Islam, instead.

Everyone is our family and we keep our numbers

As the consequence of keeping our family names, we can always track down our relatives and any inter-relation between several Bataknese families. At least at some point, two people sharing the same family name are of course related to each other (although it will take hours to reveal the links, we love doing this). And even if two people do not share the same family name, one will come up saying that one of his relative does share the same family name and that makes the two person simply a family. This will make one Bataknese person has many ‘additional’ uncles, aunties, siblings, nieces, nephews, and even grandparents. This is practically useful when we’re abroad and have no relative at all. Go search one Bataknese person and we will have one.

In addition to family names, we also have numbers that signify our position in the family tree. For instance, my father is Hutagalung number 14 while I’m Hutagalung number 15. That means my father is the 14th descendant of Raja Hutagalung and I’m the the 15th. My children will be the 16th and my grandchildren will be the 17th. This is essentially useful to find out what we should call somebody sharing the same family name with us if we could not find any direct or indirect familial relation. In many cases, we could.

That’s all for the day. The next day we are going to visit Prapat, Toba Lake, and Samosir Island. I did not expect to know this much about my ancestors and I’m so glad to get the chance to visit my homeland.

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Tano Batak Day 2: Rantau Prapat – Pulo Raja

We spent the whole day in Rantau Prapat, the capital district of Kabupaten Labuhan Batu. The district is comparably small that we could drive west-to-east in 30 minutes. The road is wide with relatively low number of vehicles. There is only one shopping centre called Plaza Suzuya (that’s an odd name and sounds very Japanese to me) and located in the middle of the district. It does not look like any shopping centres in major cities in Indonesia, of course. That does not make me feel ashamed but on the contrary, I wonder why the fact that Labuhan Batu being one of the richest and most resourceful “kabupaten” in Sumatra Utara is not really well-reflected by the conditions of its capital district.

Christian cemeteries

There were not many activities we did during the day, we only visit one cemetery where our relatives were buried. It is a Christian cemetery and this kind of cemetary is commonly decorated with ceramics and marbles. Tombs usually take a lot of space but not as much as that of Chinese. Some of them look very flashy with vibrant colors and unique decorations like a potrait of Jesus Christ or Virgin Mary. Some of them are fenced and built with stone awning. There is also one thing interesting with Batak’s cemetery: there are so many lines written on the “batu nisan”. The first line is “Dison Maradian” and the second is “Ompung XXXX YYYY” while XXXX YYYY is the name of their oldest grand-children born from their oldest male kin. That is one example of patriarchy in Batak culture. Anyway, the third line is finally the name of the person, the fourth signifies when the person was born and died, and the fifth until the tenth are verses of the Bible or sometimes verses of Christian Batak songs.

During our visit, my parents brought up a tickling story that around 20 years ago, when we had been visiting this cemetery, I had asked them one stupid question wondering why everyone buried was named “Dison” with a surname “Maradian”. They had laughed and replied that it was actually not their name as “dison” means “here” (di sini) and “maradian” means “lies” (beristirahat). I did not remember that and I guess it’s totally understandable I had popped that question up considering “Dison Maradian” sounds like a perfect Batak name. Hahaha..

Batak: “Namaku Dison Maradian.”
Jawa: “Wah, kamu orang Batak ya?”

Muslim cemeteries

Afterwards, we spent the whole night in Pulo Rakyat, one of the districts of Kabupaten Asahan. Funny that the district used to be called Pulo Raja as “raja” means “king” while “rakyat” means “people”. We visited another cemetery there but this one was a Muslim cemetery. I do have some relatives who converted to Islam due to marriages and we all do live together in peace and happiness (It’s like I’m stressing something here). Anyway, unlike Christian’s, this Muslim cemetery is relatively smaller and simpler. Rarely I found Muslim tombs with fences and stone awnings. Some tombs were decorated with Arabic calligraphy and the “batu nisan” was smaller and did not contain as much information as those of Christian Batak. But I believe that this differs a lot from place to place and I can’t say too much about Muslim Batak cemeteries.

Satellite TV in every house

Who says that satellite TV is a property for the rich? No, it’s not. Every house here does have satellite TVs regardless the financial situation of the family. I have seen one house, which is in fact non-permanent ones considering that it was not built using bricks and cement but bamboos and woods, that has an enormously gigantic satellite receiver and is even bigger than the size of the house itself. Why? Because here it’s the only way to receive TV signals.

That’s all for today. Tomorrow I am going to visit some areas where Batak people originated from (Yes, because not all area in North Sumatra is the homeland of Batak people). The area I’m going to visit is the very area that at the moment is one hot topic among politicians: Tapanuli. Whoops, that sounds politically spooky. Hahaha.

PS. So what does the monkey on the picture have to do with this post? Well, nothing. I should have put a picture of the cemeteries but I don’t want to make my blog look scary. So I took a picture of a monkey which was for some unexplainable reason sitting near the cemetery gate.

Patron: casino online

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