Journey Back in Time at Huta Siallagan Lake Toba

Near the shores of Lake Toba in Sumatra, on the island of Samosir, is the ancient village of Huta Siallagan where visitors are treated like royalty.

At least in my case, I was. The kind villagers anointed me their Rajah, or King, just for the period of my short stay.

Huta is the local Batak name for village, and Siallagan is the name of that village. The Batak are the traditional inhabitants of Lake Toba.

It is a fascinating place, and has long been the home of people who all bear the surname Siallagan, as proof that they belong to the village.

Although Siallagan bears some modern creature comforts, such as electricity and the ubiquitous satellite dishes so as to enjoy TV, the village folk are rightly proud of their heritage.

The Siallagans are descendants of King Naimbaton who follow the line of King Isumbaon, second son of the King of Batak, and they can trace their families back for many generations.

The village is neatand tidy, with the unique houses lined up side-by-side facing a large, paved public space where ceremonies take place. It is surrounded on all sides by a stone wall.

The wall was once reinforced with sharpened bamboo spears so as to protect the villagers from attacks by marauders.

The houses are enormous and feature massive U-shaped roofs, There are three parts to each house. The lower level, which forms the basement, is where the animals were kept. A steep staircase leads to a narrow doorway and the middle level where the family lived. Above the living space is where the food and provisions were kept.

Children were important to help the family thrive, and it was not unusual for a couple to produce up to fifteen children, although not all made it to adulthood.

The Rajah’s house is intricately carved with various designs, including stylised geckos and, most noticeably, carvings of women’s breasts, which represented fertility.

Visitors are invited to participate in a traditional dance, and are adorned with genuine village headwear to do so. The music, as played by the village band, is infectious. This dance is simple to copy, and is a lot of fun to perform. Participation also helps to build a bond with the villagers and is a truly great welcome.

After the welcome dance we were lead to a meeting place, which was comprised of carved stone chairs called Batu Parsidangan, where the village leaders made important decisions, such as when to execute the prisoner they had captured.

At this meeting the village witchdoctor would consult his wooden carved calendar to decide on the perfect day for this important event. Prior to his execution, the prisoner would be tortured in novel ways to ensure that evil spirits would be forced to leave the body.

It was vitally important that these evil spirits be exorcised because parts of the body would be devoured to gain strength from the enemy’s soul.

These killings are now ancient history as no execution has taken place in the village for at least 300 years. Whilst the description of the execution was gory, it was refreshingly honest and simply part of the tribal culture in which wars between villages were quite common.

These days the only danger awaiting a stranger entering Huta Sialligan is that they will be roped into experiencing the culture and openness of the villagers.

I found it to be a fabulous experience, and was grateful of the opportunity to participate in the traditions of their village.