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Batak Houses of North Sumatra

Wooden houses with high boat-shaped roofs and finely-decorated carvings are an image you have maybe seen on some postcards as one of the unique things that exist only in Indonesia. Those are the famous houses and architecture of six Batak tribes that inhabit northern and central Sumatra. This traditional Batak house is Rumah and some of these huge, communal longhouses have been standing for three hundred years.

The Batak people have six tribes: Batak Toba, Batak Karo, Batak Pakpak, Batak Simelungun, Batak Angkola, and Batak Mandailing. The Batak Toba people are concentrated around Lake Toba, the world’s largest caldera lake. Their houses are unique in Indonesia and they built their houses in groups of eight or ten and in that way the small villages were made. Houses were standing side by side because of the frequent wars among tribes in the past. They were also built on stilts because it is wet all year long in that area of Sumatra and they wanted to avoid dampness.

The Batak Toba house is organized vertically into three zones. The lower region, the area beneath the house on piers, functioned as a work area and as an outdoor pen for animals. The floor of the house was a living are and all the houses had ladders that were used to climb to the living area from the ground. When they were under attack, they just retracted themso that enemies couldn’t enter the house.

Today ladders are replaced with stars. Third, the highest and most significant level was the upper floor where the families kept their valuables, and it was also the place of worship because of the ancestral shrines. Toba Batak houses are mostly made of wood and bamboo with thatched roofs. Batak people didn’t use nails, spikes or screws to build houses, they tied everything together sith fiber from ijuk palm.

The roof is the most prominent part of the house, and it can be 15 meters high. The Karo tribe, from the north side of the lake Toba, have the slightly different roof and decorate their walls of the house differently. Karo houses are very long, and usually, eight families use to live in them.

Today nobody is building Batak houses any more, but you can see their rich history in many museums across Indonesia.■

Bali Pocket Magazine