There are a lot of different ethnological groups in Sumatera. The people living in a wide area around Lake Toba are known as “The Batak”. Numbering somewhere around seven million people, the Batak are divided into six subgroups; TOBA, SIMALUNGUN, KARO, MANDAILING, PAKPAK, NIAS each with their own language and different customs. Three of those groups are: The Toba Batak – probably the most famous of those groups. They are to be found around Lake Toba and on Samosir Island. Secondly, The Simalungun, you can found at Pematangsiantar and Haranggaol, and third: The Karo – people living in the highlands surrounding well known Berastagi.

CHESS AND MUSIC

Today the Bataks are still very well known for their ability to play chess on a high level. Dutchman Max Euwe, the former number one chess player in the world, once visited Lake Toba and was challenged by the local Batak champion. Max Euwe lost. The Bataks used to carve their own chess pieces. Nowadays replicas can still be bought at the souvenir shops in Tomok, Ambarita and Tuk-tuk. One other favourite occupation of the Bataks is making music. It seems that almost every little boy is born with a guitar. Hear them playing guitar and singing every evening. The Batak are a very flamboyant and open minded people and it’s a pleasure to spend time with them.

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BATAK IN PHILLIPINES

Although there are ethnological groups with the same name – Batak – on the Phillipines and in Malaysia, it is not known where the Batak originally came from. The Batak used to have their own script. This is not being used anymore and only some of the very old Batak still have the ability to read and write this old script. You can still find this script on the Batak calendars that are sold in the souvenir shops. The Batak are subdivided in clans – so called ‘marga’. A marga can consist of several different family names (even up to around 300). People are not allowed to marry someone from within the same marga.

BEAUTIFUL BATAK TOMB

In the 19th century Christianity came. It was not before around 1900 however that the first missionary reached Lake Toba. Back then most of Sumatera was still covered with dense rainforest and the highlands surrounding Lake Toba were very difficult to get to. Because of this former isolation, the local religion is still strong and intermingled with Christianity. Most people still believe that the souls of the dead are wondering around Samosir. Because of this believe the graves are very beautiful (the souls must be happy) and very often more money goes in building a tomb than in building a home.

HORAS!

‘Horas!’ is what you will hear a lot around Lake Toba. It means ‘ Hello!’, congratulations! and also is intended to wish you well. The Bataks are still mostly active in agriculture, although a lot of them – especially at Tuk-tuk and Parapat own a little restaurant or ‘losmen’. Especially Berastagi is well known for it’s fertile soil and a lot of fruits and vegetables are even being shipped to Java and Malaysia. Pematang Siantar is a well known Batak Simalungun city. You can get here anything you want, from clothes to computers. A lot of Bataks also live in the capital of North Sumatra – the city of Medan. Medan is a large, noisy city and currently has about 5 million inhabitants and is rapidly growing.

RARE SPECIES

Although most of the dense rain forest has dissapeared over the years, the surroundings of Lake Toba are still to be considered among the most beautiful in the world. Steep cliffs, nice sandy beaches, jungle – it’s all there. If you like, you can have encounters with such rare species as the Sumatran rhinoceros, the Sumatran tiger, the Rafflesia flower (the largest flower in the world, named after it’s discoverer Raffles). You need to have time on your hand, because a jungle trek to see a Sumatran tiger could take as long as four weeks and you will need very hard to get official papers. If you are sincerely interested, please ask Budi. Remember that you need to be in very good shape in order to be able to go on jungle treks like the one mentioned above.

BIG BANG

What must have been the world’s largest eruption resulted in a caldera of almost 100 kilometres by more than 30 kilometres. This explosion occurred about 100.000 years ago. In the course of the centuries that followed, gradually the caldera was filled with the water that we now know as Lake Toba. Lake Toba is the largest lake in South East Asia and is the deepest in the world, with a depth of around 450 meters. Samosir Island was formed during a second eruption, that occurred about 30.000 years back, according to geologists.

The first eruption had catastrophic impact on flora and fauna. A layer of ash was formed around the caldera that stretched from the west to east coast of Sumatra and was several hundreds of kilometres long. The same ash was even discovered in India, some 3000 kilometres away! This layer around Lake Toba was several hundreds of metres thick at some places. This formed a barrier for thousands of years and nowadays some animal and plant species are either to be found at the north side of Lake Toba or at the south side, but not both. Most famous example of this, might be the orangutan, that is only to be found at the north side of Lake Toba.

FLORA AND FAUNA

In Lake Toba and the small rivers around and also in the rice fields a lot of small, beautiful fish can be found. A lot of species are wellknow aquarium inhabitants. In Lake Toba itself there are also fresh water shrimp and goldfish,lot of birds, monkeys, tigers, rhino’s, hornbills,butterflies. Several different species of orchids, including flesh eating “bunga piala” – a kind of orchid that has a valve that will close once an insect enters the flower. Large waringin trees.Rafflesia. A very large Waringin tree, near the village of Onan Runggu. See Belindo Trips.

Thanks to the altitude (about 900 meters above sea level) and because of the cool water of Lake Toba, the weather on Samosir Island and elsewhere around Lake Toba is always very pleasant. The average maximum temperature is about 26 degrees centigrade. The monsoon usually is from october until march. This doesn’t mean that it will rain all day. It does rain a bit more frequent, but you will also have the sun every day. In the rainy season the average temperature drops about 2 degrees.