Batak people and their architecture

View of a batak maindailing village, 1910
Edited by Own Villa, with fragments from “Les Batak” by Achim Sibeth
August 2018
The Batak are one of the many ancient populations of Indonesia. They live in the volcanic regions of northern Sumatra, around the great Lake Toba which encloses the sacred island of Samosir, venerated for centuries on their ancestral land, hidden from the eyes of foreigners.
Family photo, around 1900. A “raja” toba in ceremonial clothes. The Dutch colonial government had given the Raja white jackets with silver buttons and a hat with a silver band for their functions
Feared because of their reputation as savage head hunters, avoided by their neighbours, the Batak had only fleeting contact with the outside world. The ancient isolation of the Batak region was broken in the 19th century by the missionaries, and then by the integration of Sumatra into the Dutch colonial empire. The Batak were pacified, their warrior customs banned, their wizards hunted.

One of the most stunning aspects of their tradition is to be found in their architecture. Just as the layout of the Batak villages vary, so does the architecture of their houses (“rumah”), rice grenadines (“sopo”) and meeting houses (“bale”).”
These three types of buildings are common among all Batak, but with differences in their outward appearance and their internal structure.

 The construction of Own Villa was initially inspired by this fascinating culture. The breathtaking roof shape and size, as well as the core concept of a wooden pillar-based structure, were some key influences during the development of Own Villa’s design.
“Own Villa” Village – Photograph by Giacomo Novello
“Own Villa” Village – Photograph by Giacomo Novello
Looking at the traditional Toba house (“rumah adat”), it is essentially a rectangular infrastructure composed of impressively large wooden pillars resting on flat stones that protect the residents from humidity. At the front of the house are two rows of pillars that support the entrance. The pillars are connected to each other by inset planks which help not only to stabilise, but also to form a more closed structure that was used to keep livestock. Between the two central pillars at the front are the stairs that allow immediate access to the house.
Book cover, “Les Batak” by Achim Sibeth

To find out more about the history and traditions of the North Sumatran Batak we would like to recommend a very thoughtful and beautifully illustrated book: “The Batak” by Achim Sibeth.

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