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Batak Kingdom

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    Posted: 21-Dec-2007 at 07:26
"Sumatra, Java, Bali and the islands farther east had close cultural contact with South India during the first two centuries A.D. The Dravidian tribal names among the Batak in Sumatra are indicative of early association. The so called East Indian islands of Indonesia were called Savagam or Savaganadu.

Among the discoveries at Arikamedu are celladon-ware sherds which are stated to have been common in China and South East Asia. Therefore, Roman ships proceeding to China and South East Asia touched ports in Tamilnadu."  (Trade and Commerce During the Sangam age by N.K. MANGALA MURUGESAN)

Some Batak scholar said the Batak's ancestor is from somewhere around Cambodia, Myanmar or Thailand and some opinion said from Elam(Elamite; Iran today). Shocked

And other opinion believed that Batak, Karen, Batak philipines, Toraja derived from same Ancestors. Smile Please share your opinion or maybe you have some articles related to this thread. HugThanks alot.



Edited by nainggolan - 21-Dec-2007 at 07:28
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The Trans-Sumatra Trade and the Ethnicization of the 'Batak'

Early visitors to Southeast Asia were fascinated by rumours of a cannibal tribe called the Batak in the interior of Sumatra. When John Anderson travelled along the east coast and its interior areas in the early part of the nineteenth century, he met a Batak who told him of having eaten human flesh seven times, even mentioning his preference for particular parts of the body. Two other Batak confirmed having also participated in this practice and 'expressed their anxiety to enjoy a similar feast upon some of the enemy, pointing to the other side of the river. This they said was their principal inducement for engaging in the service of the sultan.  Such reports simply reinforced myths and partial truths which had circulated about these people since Marco Polo's oft-quoted story of a Sumatran people (presumably  the Batak) who consumed their ill (Latham 1978:255). European perceptions were also influenced by stories commonly told in east coast Sumatra by 'downstream' (hilir) people that those 'upstream' {hulu), that is, in the interior, were hostile and grotesque. A Portuguese chronicler even repeated downriver stories of an inland group possessing tails 'like unto sheep' (B. Andaya 1995:542).

It has been suggested that lurid details of cannibalistic practices may have been provided by the Batak themselves in an effort to prevent outsiders from penetrating into their lands. From early times, therefore, cannibalism became associated with Batak identity and had the desired effect of limiting the intrusion of Europeans until the nineteenth century. But perhaps a more important reason for the late entry of Europeans in Batak lands was the fact that, from the beginning of sustained European involvement in the area in the sixteenth century until the establishment of plantation and other export industries in the nineteenth century, European orientation was toward the sea and the coastal polities.

With hindsight it is easy for historians to see that the Batak were fortunate in avoiding the Europeans in these early centuries. Yet European involvement often resulted in the keeping of records and the accumulation of written materials which have been crucial in the reconstruction of the history of many Southeast Asian societies.  The lack of a European presence in the Batak lands until the nineteenth century has meant that historians have had very limited or no access to any contemporary European accounts of the Batak in the pre-modern period.

The ethnonym 'Batak' is very likely an ancient name, but no one has been able to give a satisfactory meaning of the term. Perhaps the very first time that the name appears in written sources is in the Zhufan zhi, written by Zhao  Rugua, Inspector of Foreign Trade in Fujian, sometime in the mid-thirteenth century. It mentions a dependency of San-fo-tsi (Srivijaya) called Ba-ta, which may be a reference to 'Batak' (Hirth and Rockhill 1966:35,62,66). The next definite identification of Batak comes from Tome Pires' Suma Oriental, which was written in Melaka sometime between 1512 and 1515. It mentions the kingdom of Bata, bordered on one side by the kingdom of Pasai and the other by the kingdom of Aru (Cortesao 1990, 1:145). From the sixteenth century onward, references to the Batak as inhabitants of the interior of north Sumatra, and also  of certain kingdoms along the northeast coast, become more frequent.

Today, the Batak groups are listed as the Karo, the Simalungun, the Pakpak-Dairi, the Toba, and the  Angkola-Mandailing. It was the Europeans who first placed these clusters of communities in and around Lake Toba who spoke a similar dialect and shared customs under one rubric, the Toba. Following this usage, I will apply the term 'Toba' in this essay to the communities living on Samosir and the lands surrounding Lake Toba, including those of Silindung.

There is a growing tendency to use the word 'Batak' to refer solely to the Toba, since many of the other groups prefer to be regarded as non-Batak and as Mandailing, Karo, Simalungun, and so on, in the ongoing process of redefinition of ethnic groups. In the nineteenth century, however, the term 'Batak' appears to have been applied to all these different groups. In writing this essay, I have been very much aware of the uneven distribution of source materials. Any systematic study of the Batak began with the arrival of European missionaries in the nineteenth century. With the penetration of the area by the Dutch colonial administration later in the century, more studies were commissioned and travel reports published in governmental and scholarly journals. The continuing presence of German and Dutch missionaries and teachers in north Sumatra has assured an ongoing literature on various aspects of Batak society, particularly its religious beliefs. In addition, Indonesian government encouragement of local culture in the 1970s and ethnic chauvinism and pride since the 1990s have fostered Indonesian and local scholarship on Batak society.

For the period before the nineteenth century, there have been a few archaeological studies, particularly by E. Edwards McKinnon and John Miksic, which have considerably advanced our understanding of early settlements in the Batak areas. Nevertheless, much still needs to be done to gain a more comprehensive understanding of northern Sumatran communities for the first 1800 years AD.

With the unevenness of the sources in terms of both period and content, I was confronted with a historiographical problem. Would it be possible to reconstruct the history of an area on the basis of sources which pre- and post-date the events themselves? Should a historian undertake such a task as a legitimate historical enterprise? Both questions I have answered in the affirmative, but with certain reservations. In the following pages I attempt to provide a historical overview of economic and political events in the region of the Straits of Melaka as a basis for suggesting a Batak response to such events.

This reconstruction is based on archaeological findings, as well as nineteenth- and twentieth-century compilations of origin tales of the various Batak marga. I have also drawn on a knowledge of the better-documentedneighbouring communities of the Malayu (Malay), Minangkabau, and Acehnese, as well as groups in the region confronted with similar conditions as the Batak, in order to discuss the Batak situation. The result is a historical reconstruction that combines available documentary evidence, historical imagination, and thirty years' experience in researching and writing about societies in the region. I have tried to proceed with caution, and some of the reconstructed scenarios may eventually prove wrong. Nevertheless, I believe that this essay has advanced certain ideas that may be worth investigating further, if new materials come to light, or if historiographical methods become further refined in the future. In short, I hope that scholars will view this venture as a genuine attempt to advance the study of a society whose pre-modern history has been shrouded in mystery for far too long.

One of the analytical tools that I use is ethnicity. There has been a considerable amount of literature written on ethnicity, principally by sociologists and anthropologists. The aim of most of these studies has been to determine the factors which contribute to the formation of ethnic identity. In the past there were those who argued that each group recognized certain 'primordial' elements as the core of their identity, while others claimed that each ethnic community is the outcome of specific historical circumstances and situations. More and more, however, studies have taken the middle ground and acknowledged the importance of 'primordial' sentiments, but argue that such sentiments are in fact constantly undergoing change in response to specific circumstances.

A factor noted in the formation of ethnic identity is the desire to maximize the advantages of the group. Many have focused on the economic benefits to be gained from creating a particular ethnic unity. A view with less emphasis on the material and more on the psychological advantages is Horowitz's idea of 'group entitlement'. According to Horowitz, a group's enhancement of status and prestige in the eyes of others serves to bolster the individual's own sense of pride and self-worth (Horowitz 1985:185, 226-7). Basic to the notion of ethnic identity is the fact that ethnic consciousness arises through contact with others who are different. As Eriksen explains, 'ethnicity is essentially an aspect of a relationship, not a property of a group' (Eriksen 1993:11-2). Once difference is established, it is necessary to exploit this difference through the establishment of ethnic markers or boundaries. Barth suggests that one focus on 'boundaries', rather than the 'cultural elements' contained within such boundaries (Barth 1969:11). In other words, how a group defines and continues to maintain itself against another can be far more revealing of ethnic identity than obvious outward signs such as dress, food, or even language. An ethnic group then creates legitimacy and group loyalty through the process of 'inventing traditions' and 'imagining communities'. (to be continue, 370-10)

Edited by nainggolan - 21-Dec-2007 at 08:21
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While social scientists have been at the forefront of such studies, historians are still to be convinced of the value of 'ethnicity' as a useful or even valid historical pursuit. They may share the Comaroffs' concern at the lack of agreement on whether ethnicity is an analytic object, a conceptual subject, or both (Comaroff and Comaroff 1992:49). The reluctance of historians to engage the concept of ethnicity in their studies has resulted in an unreflective acceptance of ethnic communities as somehow fixed forever in time. Yet anthropological studies have demonstrated the fluidity and complexity of ethnic identities, particularly in Southeast Asia. Edmund Leach's classic 1954 study of the Kachin in Burma reveals the ease with which a Kachin could become Shan and a Shan Kachin through a preference for one over another form of social system (Leach 1954). Viewing the ethnic problem from a different perspective, O'Connor argues that ecological adaptation, language, and agricultural techniques are significant shifts which can explain the so-called 'rise' and 'fall' of ethnic groups (O'Connor 1995:987).

Among the insights of particular relevance for this essay are: (1) contact with another group is essential to ethnic consciousness; (2) the group is created to promote its advantage; and (3) certain ethnic markers are emphasized, 'invented', and 'imagined' to provide the primordial sentiments for group solidarity. These insights are useful in assessing historical inter-group relations within Sumatra, where borderlands provide the opportunity for individuals to move in and out of ethnicities. Evidence of ethnic shifts from Batak to Malayu and vice versa has been noted by both Milner (1982) and Perret (1995); less well documented but equally revealing have been the historical ethnic shifts between the Batak and the Minangkabau, and the Batak and the Acehnese.

Before examining these ethnic shifts, a significant question that must be asked is why there should have been a need for a larger ethnic identity in the first place (Kahn 1993:15). In an effort to seek an answer, I have attempted to describe the process of 'ethnicization' of the Batak. I use this term to indicate a deliberate decision by the Batak to emphasize their ethnicity for a particular advantage. On the basis of origin tales and linguistic evidence, I have assumed that the Batak occupied the area around Lake Toba in the interior of northern Sumatra in the first millennium AD (Bellwood 1997:122).n International trade, I argue, was a major catalyst in the movement of Batak from the Toba highlands towards both coasts, though personal and environmental reasons also contributed to the out-migration. The interior redistribution centres and the international marketplaces on the coasts exposed the Batak to new peoples, new ideas, and new products. In searching for economic advantage in the highly competitive market environment, they sought support among their kinfolk, both real and fictive, by ethnicizing their Batak identity. The last part of the essay then suggests which boundaries were erected by the ethnicized 'Batak' as part of a strategy to maximize economic advantage and emphasize their unique self-worth.

The camphor and benzoin trade

The camphor (Dryobalanops aromatica Gaetn.f.) and benzoin {Styrax benzoin, Dryander) trade provided the first, though indirect, evidence of Batak participation in international commerce. These forest resins were among the products in greatest demand at the major port-cities in the Straits of Melaka from the early fifth century, and in Srivijaya between the seventh and eleventh century. Camphor and benzoin trees grow in the areas of northern Sumatra now occupied by the Batak (Wolters 1969:111-2,124-5,230-1).12 Camphor was a highly prized luxury item and so valued in China that it was placed on a par with gold (Donkin 1999:127).13 Benzoin was regarded as a substitute for myrrh (Commiphora tnukul Engl.) in southern China by the sixth century, and later came to replace it as a permanent, valuable commodity in China, Western Asia, and Europe (Wolters 1969:111). In addition to their muchvaunted medical qualities as a cure for a host of illnesses and complaints, camphor and benzoin were difficult to obtain, which further contributed to the high prices they could command in the marketplace.

The camphor tree is one of the largest of the dipterocarps in western Indonesia, reaching a height of between sixty and seventy metres. It grows at altitudes of 60 to more than 365 metres above sea level on well-drained soils and often on steep ridges. These conditions are met in the Batak lands between Singkel and Air Bangis in northwest Sumatra. Benzoin trees grow in the same areas and under similar conditions. They are found in clumps from the north of Padang Sidempuan to the area around Tarutung, as well as in three locations from the mountain valley of the Lai Cinendang, a tributary of the Singkil River, northward to Sidikalang . Camphor crystallizes in the wood of the tree from an oleoresin present in the tree itself and accumulates irregularly in the cavities of the trunk. Only after twelve years does the tree produce the camphor, with the oldest trees supplying the greatest quantity and others yielding nothing at all (Burkill 1966, 1:876-81).

Camphor was presumably collected by Batak men under a special leader known in later centuries as pawang, whose spiritual prowess was employed in locating the elusive commodity. Nevertheless, even with the aid of religious practitioners and adherence to strict taboos, including the use of a special camphor language, expeditions were not always successful. Writing in the late eighteenth century, William Marsden claimed that not even 10% of all trees cut down yielded any crystallized resin or camphor oil (Marsden 1966:150). Benzoin trees were tapped for their resin after seven years, but stopped producing after about ten to twelve years. While it may have been easier to collect, the finest quality could only be obtained in the first three years of tapping. After that the quality deteriorated, hence its market value lowered (Marsden 1966:154-5,184).

O.W. Wolters has shown that camphor and benzoin were appearing in China, India and the Middle East by the early sixth century, though not in any sizeable quantities. But by the eighth century camphor was being included in the tribute to the Chinese emperor from non-Indonesian rulers, indicating the growing value of the product in China. It also implies that there was very likely an increase in the export of camphor from Indonesia (Wolters 1969:230-1, 233, 235-7). The export of benzoin to China may have begun as early as the fifth century, though some believe that it began as late as the eighth or even the ninth century (Katz 1998:259). The increased demand for camphor and benzoin was met by Srivijaya, a kingdom founded in the late seventh century on the Musi River in Palembang (Wolters 1969:246-9; Coedes and Damais 1992). Through a series of campaigns Srivijaya overcame its competitors and became the dominant entrepot in the area.

A Srivijayan inscription placed at Ligor (Nakhon Si Thammarat) in AD 775 indicates an expansion of Srivijayan power across the Straits of Melaka. A consequence of, and perhaps even an important motivation for, this expansion would have been the control of camphor supplies from the Isthmus and the Malay Peninsula. In the annals of the Liang dynasty, which ruled China from 502 to 556, there is a reference to camphor coming from both Funan and Langyaxiu. It is believed that the latter is somewhere on the eastern side of the Malay Peninsula, while the civilization of Funan was centred in the south of modern Cambodia. Funan must have imported and redistributed the camphor, since it did not produce the Dryobalanops aromatica variety brought into China (Ptak 1998:137). Srivijaya's incursion into the Malay Peninsula would have prevented the further export of camphor to ports on the Mekong Delta. By the latter part of the eighth century, therefore, Srivijaya may have succeeded in monopolizing the sale of camphor and benzoin in the region.

Edited by nainggolan - 21-Dec-2007 at 14:22
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