Lake Toba, Indonesia 

Lake Toba (or Danau Toba) is the largest volcanic lake in the world, 100 km long, 30 km wide, as deep as 505 m (1,666 ft), and elevation of 900 m (3,000 ft). A supervolcanic eruption occurred here 75,000 years ago, a massive climate-changing event, perhaps the largest on Earth in the last 25 million years, and may have had global catastrophic consequences; some scientists believe that this eruption may have wiped out much of humanity and may have created a population bottleneck that affected the genetic inheritance of all human survivors. Read more.

The region is now home to the Batak people. The Batak make up several closely related ethnic groups of central Sumatra and constitute six tribes: Angkola/Sipirok, Karo, Mandailing, Pakpak/Dairi, Simalungun and Toba. They possess their own written language and several dialects, part of the Austronesian family. Descendants of a Proto-Malayan people, they lived until 1825 in relative isolation in the highlands around Lake Toba.

The Batak had felt Indian influences by the 2nd or 3rd century CE and had borrowed ideas of government, writing, elements of religion, arts, and crafts. They did not, however, develop a unified state and today are found in six cultural divisions. Within these are exogamous patrilineal clans known as marga. A price is paid for a bride, who then becomes a member of her husband's group. Among the Toba Batak a village consists of several clan houses, but in the Karo division all dwell in one or more longhouses.

Ancestors, plants, animals, and inanimate objects are considered to possess souls or spirits that can be coerced or enticed by male priests. These priests are aided by female mediums who, in trance, communicate with the dead. Cannibalism was once practiced, but victims were confined to prisoners and those guilty of incest.

Today most of the Batak are literate, as is the case of many in the other groups. Many are Christians who occupy places of importance in trade and in the Indonesian government. Muslim missionaries have been active in regions to the north and south of the Toba. The Batak today are about one-third Christian, one-third Muslim, and the balance still adherents of traditional beliefs. [- Source: Encyclopedia Britannica, 2008.]

Click here to read more about the Batak.


Lake Toba from afar (more)

Largest lake in SE Asia (1, 2)

In a volcanic crater (1, 2)

Erupted ~70K years ago (1, 2)

Village of Tuk-Tuk

A resort on Tuk-Tuk

Golden sunset (more)

Riot of colors (1, 2, 3)

On a ferry to Samosir

Wedge shaped island (more)

Home of Toba Batak people

Island vista

A Batak home

More Batak homes

Samosir Island Vista

Samosir Island Vista

Ferry terminal, Parapat

The town of Parapat

Ferry to Samosir island

Unloading in Tuk-Tuk

Frolicking kids

Samosir island vista (more)

A mid-range hotel

Lotus flowers (more)

Samosir coastal loop road

Bike wash

Evening on Lake Toba (more)

Poised to jump into lake

Samosir island at dusk

Batak weaver on loom

Her output

Batak cemetery

A rich family's memorial

Batak church on Samosir

Batak folk music and dance

Batak folk music and dance

Boarding the ferry in Parapat

Motobiking around the island

Tabo Cottages (1, 2, 3)

Leaf bug

Stone Chairs, Samosir Island

This site is where Batak tribal matters were discussed and law breakers tried. Several restored homes, stone chairs, and other megaliths survive. The "chairs, arranged under a hariam tree, are 300 years old and were used as a site for village councils, where disputes were settled and punishments decided. The chief would sit in the armchair, whilst other village elders sat in the surrounding chairs. The person on trial would sit on the small chair closest to the table — having been incarcerated for seven days in the small cage close to the stone chairs. A medicine man would consult his diary to decide on the best day for any punishment to be meted out." A stone figure, said to be the god of justice, occupies one of the chairs.

Guides today relish recounting gruesome events that took place in the adjoining courtyard of megaliths. "The criminal sentenced to death would be blindfolded, tied hand and foot and bodily carried to the large stone block. He would then be sliced with a small knife and chilli, garlic, and onion were reputedly rubbed into the wounds before a mallet—like a meat tenderizer—would be used to prepare the 'meat' for consumption (by pounding the man...). Having been suffciently trussed and pummelled, the unfortunate would be carried to the block and his head cut off. The (strength-giving) blood was drunk by the chief [who would also sample certain parts], before the meat was distributed to the villagers," who, the guides claim were required to partake of it. Finally, the bones "were collected up and thrown into the lake — which was unclean for a week and no activity occured during this time." The tradition ended in 1816. [Source: Footprint Indonesia Handbook, p.500]

The compound of the
Batak king Raja Siallagan

Megaliths at the entrance

Houses in the compound

Stone chairs, once part of
a courthouse (1, 2)

Prison-until-execution area
under king's house (more)

The Batak god of
justice (more)

Beheading area, at times
followed by cannibalism

Beheading demo (more)

A surviving statue

A house in the compound

A house on higher ground

Royal grave (more)

Museum Huta Bolon Simanindo, Samosir Island

This restored site at the northern tip of Samosir island was once home to Rajah Simalungun, a Batak king, and his 14 wives. At least ten generations of his dynasty lived in this royal compound in houses similar to those that survive, including a granary and a rice pounding house. A museum on site has a host of brass pots and pans, sculptures, carvings, musical instruments, Topeng masks, a long boat, and more.

Site entrance

Site map

The king's house (1, 2)

Rice pounding house (right)

Museum (front entrance)

Batak drums

Batak sculpture (info, more)

Topeng masks (info)

Brass pots and pans (more)

Batak boat

Batak royal complex

Sigalegale puppet dance

Carved wooden pillar (more)

Other houses (more)

Royal cemetery

Traditional house (inside)

Pematang Purba, A Batak Royal Complex between Berastagi and Lake Toba

Pematang Purba ("Purba" is the dynasty's name) is a village about an hour drive north of Lake Toba, with restored houses of the Simalungan Batak chiefs. The dynasty lasted from 1624 to the late 1940s when it got absorbed in the Indonesian republic.

Among the tribal houses is the Rumah Bolon, or long house of the Batak chief. It was built by the XII Chief of the Bataks, Tuan Rahalim. The long house was built of solid teak and stand on twenty poles. The roof gables are ornately decorated with designs in red, black and white, the traditional Batak colours. These colours carry special significance, white denotes the holy spirit, red denotes the way of life, and black denotes black magic.

In the middle of the living quarters is a pole with buffalo horns. These signify the supremacy of the Batak chiefs. The more horns there are, the more powerful the chief is regarded. The buffalo motif is carried out into the design of the longhouses as well, and appears on the roof ridge.

The inside of the Batak longhouse is dark and a bit spooky. The long house consists of living quarters, with cooking area, and a sleeping quarters with apartments for each of the chief's 24 wives (some accounts say 12 wives, I am not sure which one is correct) ... The Batak kings (or chiefs) are all Christians, so you can see Christian motifs mixed with their age-old animist motifs in the design of their houses as well as in their graves, which are located within the longhouse compound. [Source: AsiaExplorers website].

The kings of the dynasty

The king's living area

The king's living area

Musical instruments

King's bedchamber,
on top of bodyguard's room


The wives living area (more)


Elevated room for the queen,
i.e., the primary wife

Entrance to the wives
living room

Rumah Bolon, the longhouse
of the chief (1, 2)

Back side of Ruman Bolon

A traditional house

Another traditional house

a 120m waterfall (more)

Fish-shaped restaurant


Trans-Sumatran Highway




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