Who Are The Batak People, And Where Do They Live?

By Benjamin Elisha Sawe on March 14 2018 in Society

Traditional Batak houses on Samosir island, Indonesia. Editorial credit: akedesign / Shutterstock.com

The Batak people are the indigenous tribes of the North Sumatran Island and are one of the biggest tribes in Indonesia. They live in the highlands of Sumatra on Tapanuli region and they hold on to their ancient traditions of mutual assistance, especially in farming. By the turn of the 21st century the Batak population was estimated to be about 6.1 million people, representing only about 3% of the total Indonesian population. The Batak tribe is thought to be the descendants of the proto-Malayan people who lived in a relative isolation until as recently as 1825 in the highlands around Lake Toba in Sumatra.

History of the Batak

The Batak people are comprised various ethnic groups who are known to live in the North Sumatra region of Indonesia. The different ethnic groups that form the collective Batak people speak the Simalungun Karo, Pakpak, Toba, Mandailing, and Angkola languages. These languages are distinct and they are classified under the Austronesian language family. They are believed to have reached Sumatra an estimated 2,500 years ago. They are thought to have come from the Philippines and Taiwan passing through Java or Borneo. The southern Sumatra region according to archeological studies shows that the part had Neolithic settlers compared to the northern Sumatra, which had agricultural settlers who settled there much later after the people of the southern Sumatra.

Where Do They Live?

Presently, the Batak live in the North Sumatra province, the Karo lands extending to the modern day Aceh areas specifically East Aceh Regency. Some Batak people have migrated to the regions of the prosperous Riau province. In the northeast Sumatra, Padang highlands and the southern Sumatra roads are well developed where they use to transport their produce, and ferry oil from their oil wells but in the other parts of the areas where the Bataks live trails are used. There are also well-developed railways in some of the regions as well as air transport.

Batak Traditions

Due to their location, which is in the most interior part, they are believed not to have been affected colonization by the Europeans. However, there is evidence indicating that they engaged in with their neighbors for many years. They practiced a religion known as Tamil Shaivism as well as Buddhism and other cultural faiths. They migrated to occupy the current regions of Karo and Simalungun, and the migration may have been caused by the trading relations, between them and the Tamil traders. The Batak people in the past relied heavily on agriculture and hunting, and farming was made possible by the fresh water of the Lake Toba. They farmed mostly rice and other horticultural products like collecting forest products such as animals from the wild, hardwoods and honey among other.

Culture of the Batak People

The Batak people believe that they originated from their ancestor Si Raja Batak, and as such, their clans, which are referred to as marjas, are organized in a patriarchal order meaning that the father and son relationship is emphasized. There are beliefs from other communities that the Batak practiced canibalism. Some of the Batak people were recruited as mercenaries by the neighboring kingdoms. Today, some of the Batak people have risen to prominent positions, especially in the field of law.

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