Sumatra -Days 14-17 - Batak Cannibalism, Lake Toba!
Jul 4, 2012
|Lake Toba is one of the awesome natural wonders of the world, it is a supervolcano. This is a crater lake so enormous it has an island almost the size of Singapore in its centre. The Toba caldera is the only supervolcano in existence that can be described as Yellowstone's "bigger" sister. The lake is 100 kms long and 30 kms wide, and 505 meters (1,666 ft) at its deepest point. Located in the middle of the northern part of the Indonesian island of Sumatra with a surface elevation of about 900 meters (2,953 ft).
Lake Toba is the site of a supervolcanic eruption that occurred an estimated 69,000 to 77,000 years ago, a massive, climate-changing event. It is estimated to have been a VEI 8 eruption. It is the largest known explosive eruption anywhere on Earth in the last 25 million years. According to the Toba catastrophe theory, it had global consequences, killing most humans then alive and creating a population bottleneck in Central Eastern Africa and India that affected the genetic inheritance of all humans today. However, this hypothesis is not widely accepted due to lack of evidence for any other animal decline or extinction, even in environmentally sensitive species. However, it has been accepted that the eruption of Toba led to a volcanic winter with a worldwide decline in temperatures between 3 to 5 °C (5 to 9 °F), and up to 15 °C (27.0 °F) in higher latitudes.
Lake Toba lies near the Great Sumatran fault which runs along the centre of Sumatra in the Sumatra Fracture Zone. The volcanoes of Sumatra and Java are part of the Sunda Arc, a result of the northeasterly movement of the Indo-Australian Plate which is sliding under the eastward-moving Eurasian Plate.
The subduction zone in this area is very active: the seabed near the west coast of Sumatra has had several major earthquakes since 1995, including the 9.1 2004 Indian Ocean Earthquake and the 8.7 2005 Sumatra earthquake, the epicenters of which were around 300 km (190 mi) from Toba.
The 2004 earthquake physically rolled the Sumatran island and altered the shape of the Earth as was detected by the Grace satellite, moving the island around 60 meters in total.
On 12 September 2007, a magnitude 8.5 earthquake shook the ground in Sumatra and was felt in the Indonesian capital, Jakarta. The epicenter for this earthquake was not as close as the previous two earthquakes, but it was in the same vicinity.
On 26 October 2010, a magnitude 7.7 earthquake occurred 36 kilometers (22 mi) southwest of the nearby island of Pagai-selatan. A 3-metre (10 ft) tsunami immediately followed the quake.
On 10 January 2012, a magnitude 7.3 earthquake occurred within the area.
Most of the people who live around Lake Toba are ethnically Bataks. Traditional Batak houses are noted for their distinctive roofs (which curve upwards at each end, as a boat's hull does) and their colorful decor. The Bataks are a Proto-Malay people descended from Neolithic mountain tribes from northern Thailand and Myanmar (Burma) who were driven out by migrating Mongolian and Siamese tribes. When the Bataks arrived in Sumatra they trekked inland, making their first settlements around Danau Toba, where the surrounding mountains provided a natural protective barrier. They lived in virtual isolation for centuries.
The Bataks were among the most warlike peoples in Sumatra and villages were constantly feuding. They were so mistrustful that they did not build or maintain natural paths between villages, or construct bridges. The practice of ritual cannibalism, involving eating the flesh of a slain enemy or a person found guilty of a serious breach of 'adat' (traditional law) survived among the Toba Bataks until 1816.
Ritual cannibalism is well documented among Batak people, performed in order to strengthen the eater's tendi. In particular, the blood, heart, palms and soles of the feet were seen as rich in tendi.
In Marco Polo’s memoirs of his stay on the east coast of Sumatra (then called Java Minor) from April to September 1292, he mentions an encounter with hill folk whom he refers to as “man-eaters”. From secondary sources, Marco Polo recorded stories of ritual cannibalism among the "Battas". Marco Polo's stay was restricted to the coastal areas, and he never ventured inland to directly verify such claims.
Despite never personally witnessing these events, he was nonetheless willing to pass on descriptions which were provided to him, in which a condemned man was eaten: "They suffocate him. And when he is dead they have him cooked, and gather together all the dead man's kin, and eat him. And I assure you they do suck the very bones till not a particle of marrow remains in them...And so they eat him up stump and rump. And when they have thus eaten him they collect his bones and put them in fine chests, and carry them away, and place them in caverns among the mountains where no beast nor other creature can get at them. And you must know also that if they take prisoner a man of another country, and he cannot pay a ransom in coin, they kill him and eat him straightway."
Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles in the 1820s studied the Batak and their rituals and laws regarding the consumption of human flesh, writing in detail about the transgressions that warranted such an act as well as their methods. Raffles stated that "It is usual for the people to eat their parents when too old to work," and that for certain crimes a criminal would be eaten alive: “The flesh is eaten raw or grilled, with lime, salt and a little rice.”.
The German physician and geographer Franz Wilhelm Junghuhn visited the Batak lands in 1840-41. Junghuhn says about cannibalism among the Batak (whom he called "Battaer"): “People do the honest Battaer an injustice when it is said that they sell human flesh in the markets, and that they slaughter their old people as soon as they are unfit for work...They eat human flesh only in wartime, when they are enraged, and in a few legal instances.” Junghuhn tells how after a perilous and hungry flight he arrived in a friendly village, and the food that was offered by his hosts was the flesh of two prisoners who had been slaughtered the day before, however he maintains that the Batak exaggerated their love of human flesh in order to frighten off would-be invaders and to gain occasional employment as mercenaries for the coastal tribes who were plagued by pirates .
Oscar von Kessel visited Silindung in the 1840s and in 1844 was probably the first European to observe a Batak cannibalistic ritual in which a convicted adulterer was eaten alive. Interestingly, his description parallels that of Marsden in some important respects, however von Kessel states that cannibalism was regarded by the Batak as a judicial act and its application was restricted to very narrowly defined infringements of the law including theft, adultery, spying or treason. Salt, red pepper and lemons had to be provided by the relatives of the victim as a sign that they accepted the verdict of the community and were not thinking of revenge.
Ida Laura Pfeiffer visited the Batak in August 1852 and although she did not observe any cannibalism, she was told that: "Prisoners of war are tied to a tree and beheaded at once; but the blood is carefully preserved for drinking, and sometimes made into a kind of pudding with boiled rice. The body is then distributed; the ears, the nose, and the soles of the feet are the exclusive property of the Rajah, who has besides a claim on other portions. The palms of the hands, the soles of the feet, the flesh of the head, and the heart and liver, are reckoned peculiar delicacies, and the flesh in general is roasted and eaten with salt. The Regents assured me, with a certain air of relish, that it was very good food, and that they had not the least objection to eat it. The women are not allowed to take part in these grand public dinners." (Take this information and decide for yourself what you believe.....Jason and I however will not be making any deep jungle treks here. LOL)
Today there are more than six million Bataks, most of whom are Christian and their lands extend 200km north and 300km south of Danau Toba. Music is a great part of Batak culture and a Batak man is never far from his guitar. The Bataks are also famous for their powerful and emotive hymn singing.
We've found a wonderful traditional Batak house to call “home” at the 'Romlan's' hotel just about 1km from our first nights stay here, the two places don't even compare and we are paying only $3 more per night. First two nights we stayed in the Batak house, the next two were in a second floor room - both over looking the beautiful Lake Toba. I was still recovering from either motion sickness from the bus ride or food poisoning over the last four days, we rested, relaxed, planned the rest of our days in Sumatra and updated the blog. Tomorrow we rent a motorcycle and travel the island.