Our Beautiful World

Karo Province, Sumatra, Indonesia 
Its People and its beautiful Nature
Part I - Its People

working on this project, Sunday August 29th 2010
arbeider med dette prosjektet, søndag 29. august 2010

The island of Sumatra is one of 13, 000 islands that make up the country of Indonesia.
The Batak-people live in the Northern Central part of Sumatra. Their heartland lies to the west of Medan centred
on Lake Toba.They collectively comprise around four million people, making them one of the largest ethnic groups in
Indonesia. There are more than three hundred distinct ethnolinguistic minorities in Indonesia.

A Karo Batak woman in traditional clothes (1925)
K.J. (Karl Josef) John (Fotograaf/photographer).
This piocture was provided to Wikimedia Commons by the Tropenmuseum as part of a cooperation project. The Tropenmuseum, part of the Royal Tropical Institute,
exclusively provides images that are either made by its own staff, or that are otherwise free of copyright.

The area of Karo settlement, Karoland (Taneh Karo), is apprx 5,000 square kilometers, stretching
between 3N and 1.30 and 2.30 W, almost on Equator. Broadly speaking, Karolands may be divided
into two main areas, the Karo highlands and the Karo Lowlands or Dusun. The lowland lie at an altitude
of apprx 40 to 200m, Dusun from 200 to 700m, and the highland villages at an altitude of 700 to 1,400 m.asl.
The seven highest peaks in the Karo highlands range from 1,815 to 2,417 meters asl. Two of these, Sibajak
(2,070m) and Sinabung (2,417m) are active volcanoes.

The climate and rainfall vary from on epart of Karo country to another. The average daytime temperature in
the Lower Dusun is about 80 F; inland lower because of higher altitude.l In Kabanjahe (1.300m asl) the average
minimum and maximum temperatures are 50F and 85F, and here they distinguish two seasons of the year:
the dry and the wet. Rainfall is heavier in the lowlands than ion the highlands. In the Lower Dusun it averages
about 2,200mm, in the Upper Dusun about 4,000mm, in the highlands it varies between 1,500 and 1,900mm.

Text in this frame from "Kinship, Descent, and Alliance among the Karo Batak "(ISBN: 0520026926 / 0-520-02692-6) by Singarimbun, Masri
(C) 1975, by The Regents of the University of California

Batak housewives are proud and independent
The women share in the profits as well as the labour of the farms.They make their clothing mostlyof indigo-dyed homespun
and for jewelry huge coiled silver-earrings attached for support to their pillowlike headdresses

(c) National Geographic, February 1930

Linguistic and archeological evidence indicates that Austronesian speakers first reached Sumatra from Taiwan and the
Philippines through Borneo and/or Java about 2,500 years ago, and the Batak probably evolved from these settlers.[2]

The term Batak was first used by Malay settlers to describe any non-Muslim in this part of Sumatra.
There are six distinct Batak tribes in this area: Angkola/Sipirok, Karo, Mandailing, Pakpak/Dairi, Simalungun and Toba.
Although these six groups have many things in common, there are differences in their languages, histories and traditions.

Rice is the staple food of the Bataks.
With long wooden pestles the women pound out the white kernels in primitive mortars and gather them in shallow baskets.

(c) National Geographic, February 1930

Of the Batak tribes, the Karo have resisted change from external influences and retained their traditions more than any
of the others. This has not been easy though - forces of change have historically been brought to bear by contact with
Indian-based trading cultures, Dutch colonialists, Christian missionaries, war-time Japanese military occupants and, most recently, by Indonesian government policies.

Toba-Batak House from Indonesia
This picture is licensed under the Creative Commons license

The Batak are well known for the richness of their architecture. Some of their huge, communal longhouses, none of
which are built any more, have stood erect for up to three hundred years. Most of the ones still standing, though literally
on their last legs, are still inhabited today. As many as twelve families may live in one of these houses,
although eight is the norm. They were built from natural materials - mainly wood and bamboo - using no nails, spikes
or screws, but simply held together with fiber from ijuk palm, which is also the principle source of their thatched roof.

The Batak are organized into clans - large family groups, called margas. There are five main clans: Ginting, Karo-Karo,
Perangin-Angin, Sembiring and Tarigan. The Karo believe that these five clans were the origin of their people.
In fact they call themselves "people of the five clans." The clan to which one belongs is very important in Karo society.
Their traditional law, called adat, spells out what kinds of conduct one must follow, particularly obligations to their
clan and to other relatives. These obligations are just as important for in-law relatives as they are for blood relatives.
For example, the adat does not allow two people of the same clan to marry - even if there is no traceable blood relation
between them. This taboo is strictly enforced to this day.
When a woman is married, she transfers into the clan of her husband, which instantly gains her many new relatives.

© 1999 - 2010, Ray Waddington. All rights reserved
The Peoples of the World Foundation
A very elaborate Karo ceremony is the wedding reception. Depending on the wealth of the groom's family
(who pay for the reception), as many as five hundred guests may be invited.
The formal, legal side of the marriage is a much smaller affair. It lasts much shorter and involves far fewer guests.
Once that is over, though, the reception continues for hours. The ladies, in particular, are very colorful in their
traditional clothing. The bride herself may be wearing as much as 2.5 kilograms (5.5 pounds) of solid gold!

One important part of their tradition is music. It is said that every Karo can play the guitar!
While that may not be quite the case, it is these days mainly the younger generation who keep the musical traditions alive.
Young boys are often gathered to sing traditional Karo songs, which they are singing in their Karonese language.
(All Karo these days are able to speak Bahasa Indonesian, the country's national language.)
The songs tell stories from their folk history and legend, as well as of the spirits of the mountains and forests.
In former times it was believed that singers held mystical powers.

© 1999 - 2010, Ray Waddington. All rights reserved
The Peoples of the World Foundation
Throughout the reception members of both families partake in traditional Karonese dancing.
This is very much a laissez-faire style of dancing, with most of the movement done with the hands.
The men and the women dance separately - except of course for the newlyweds themselves. The dancing continues
throughout the ceremony, being interrupted only for the giving of speeches, wedding gifts and eating

Source for above text:
Waddington, R. (2002), The Karo Batak. The Peoples of the World Foundation. Retrieved August 30, 2010,
from The Peoples of the World Foundation.
<http://www.peoplesoftheworld.org/text?people=Karo Batak>

[2] Wikipedia

Suka and Sarinembah not found on map yet. (Google map)
Sinabun g volcano - click here

There were five prominent Karo villages before the political influence of the Acehnese and the Dutch on the Karo people.
Each one of these five villages was established by a Sibayak, a founding community. The Sibayak of Suka whose family
name was Ginting Suka established the village of Suka. The Sibayak of Lingga called Karo-karo Sinulingga established
the village of Lingga. The Sibayak of Barusjahe whose family name was Karo-karo Barus pioneered the village
of Barusjahe. The Sibayak of Sarinembah, called Sembiring Meliala established the village of Sarinembah.
The Sibayak of Kutabuluh named Perangin-angin established the village of Kutabuluh.

Ricefields above Lake Toba, worlds largest crater-lake.
The crater is probably the result of one of the most forceful volcano-eruptions in history of the Earth.
It is almost 87 kilometer long and 27 kilometers wide.
(c) National Geographic, February 1930

Each one of these five villages has its own satellite villages inhabited by the extended families of the main village inhabitants.
The satellite villages were established for the convenience of the villagers whose fields were relatively far from the main
villages. The purpose was to save them time when travelling back and forth from the village to their fields.
Today, these satellite villages have developed and matured to be independent of the main villages. In the old times,
these satellite villages used to ask for help from the main villages to deal with natural disasters, tribal disputes,
diseases and famine.

Today one of the main settlements in the Karo area is the town of Berastagi. The administrative centre is the town of Kabanjahe.
Source for this part: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Karo_people_(Indonesia)

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