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 truly felt that. The kind villagers anointed me their Rajah, or King, just for the period of my short stay.

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

The Bataks have a wonderful tradition of yelling out “Horus!” when greeting people. This habit became rampantly infectious after a while.

The village 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.

Siallagan Village does feature some modern creature comforts. You know, electricity and the ubiquitous satellite dishes so as to enjoy TV. Nevertheless, the village folk are rightly proud of their heritage.

Siallagan 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 neat and tidy.  Those unique houses line up side-by-side.  They even face a large, paved public space. Because this is where important ceremonies take place. Surrounded the space on all sides is a stone wall.

The wall was once reinforced with sharpened bamboo spears.  This was their way of protecting the villagers from attacks by marauders.

The houses are enormous and feature massive U-shaped roofs. The interior of each dwelling consisted of three levels. A basement on the bottom level held the animals. A steep staircase leads to a narrow doorway. This is the middle level where the family lived. They are clever people.  Directly above that living space food and provisions are kept. For convenience, of course.

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.

Traditional houses

The village leader’s house stood out from the others. His house was different because it was covered in intricate carvings of various designs. Ordinary villagers’ houses were plainer.  Carving designs include stylised geckos and, most noticeably, carvings of women’s breasts.  These latter objects represent fertility. It was obvious that individual Rajah’s liked differently shaped breasts.

Visitors can expect to take part in a traditional dance. Which was a great way to feel welcomed. Simple preparations include wearing genuine village headwear. The music, as played by the village band, is infectious. This dance is simple to follow 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 each dance, we all yelled out an enthusiastic “Horus!” It was a very joyous experience for which participated enthusiastically.

Holding court

After the welcome dance, we were led to a meeting place. This was comprised of several carved stone chairs called Batu Parsidangan. The village elders met here to make important decisions. One of those was to decide when to execute the prisoner they had captured. We were overjoyed when our guide was led in to be the condemned prisoner. He looked really good laying on the execution stone.

At this meeting, the village witch doctor would consult his wooden carved calendar to decide on a perfect day for this important event. Prior to his execution, the prisoner would be tortured in novel ways.  Thereby ensuring the evil spirits would be forced to leave the prisoner’s body.

It was vitally important to exorcise these evil spirits from the body. We were told that parts of the prisoner’s body would be eaten by the victors. Yes, 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.

Modern changes

Fortunately, they live far more peaceful lives now.

Times have changed. No more executions! These days the only danger awaiting a stranger entering Huta Sialligan is to experience the culture and openness of the villagers.

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