Located in the mountainous highlands of northern Sumatera, the Batak are one of the largest indigenous groups in Indonesia. They are divided into six groups, the Toba, Pak Pak/Dairi, Karo, Angkola, Mandailing, and Simalungun, and have an estimated total population of more than 3 million.

Linguistic and archaeological evidence indicates that Austronesian immigrants first reached Sumatera from Taiwan and the Philippines through Borneo or Java about 2,500 years ago, and the Batak probably descended from these settlers. While the archaeology of southern Sumatra testifies to the existence of Neolithic settlers, it seems that the northern part of Sumatra was settled by agriculturalists at a considerably later stage. Although the Batak are often considered to be isolated peoples thanks to their location inland, away from the influence of seafaring European colonials, there is evidence that they have been involved in trade with other neighboring kingdoms for a millennium or more.

The Batak speak a variety of related languages, all members of the Austronesian language family. There are two major branches, a northern branch comprising the Pakpak-Dairi, Alas-Kluet, and Karo languages, which are similar to each other, and a distinct southern branch, comprising three mutually intelligible dialects: Toba, Angkola, and Mandailing. Simalungun is an early offspring of the southern branch. Toba people (also referred to as Batak Toba people or simply “Batak”) are the most numerous of the Batak people of North Sumatera, Indonesia, and often considered the classical ‘Batak’, most likely to willingly self-identify as Batak. The Toba people are found in Toba Samosir Regency, Humbang Hasundutan Regency, Samosir Regency, North Tapanuli Regency, part of Dairi Regency, Central Tapanuli Regency, Sibolga and its surrounding regions.

The Batak Toba is known throughout Indonesia as capable musicians, and are perceived as confident, outspoken and willing to question authority, expressing differences to resolve them through discussion. This outlook on life is contradicted by the Javanese people, Indonesia’s largest ethnic group, who are more culturally conciliatory and less willing to air differences publicly.

By Wulung Damardoto
Source: from many sources

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