Reflection – Trip to North Sumatra, Indonesia
I have recently returned from my 3 week trip around Sumatra, Indonesia. The main reason for my visit was to see my relatives, after a long 10 year absence. I only remember certain people and faces from my last visit, such as “opung” which is my grandma and “tulang kumis” which literally translates to moustache uncle (because he had a moustache the name stuck with him haha). It was a shock, but expected, to meet all these other people who I could not remember. I have so much family in northern Sumatra it is not funny.
Sumatra is one of the main islands of Indonesia, it is the big island on the left if you see the map of Indonesia. Sumatra is famous for many things including the Sumatran tiger, coffee (God bless this creation) and Late Toba. Sumatra is also the home of many ethnic groups different in language, religion and culture. Batak people predominate the highlands of northern Sumatra while the other areas are occupied mainly by Acehnese, Minangkabau, and in the coastal areas the Malays.
I stayed about 1 week near Lake Toba at a village called Sijambur. Lake Toba is the home of mainly Batak people specifically Batak Toba. Supposedly, Batak people originated from the island in the center of Lake Toba called Samosir. Much of Lake Toba area, particularly the Island of Samosir, still retain the traditional old school Batak houses. These beautiful wooden houses stand tall and thin with small steps leading inside a wide room. The roof reminds me of the ships the Viking’s had, thus I felt a sense of power and protection the Batak houses attracted.
Batak people are the only group of people I know which has such great emphasis on surnames and family. I know there are many other cultures where family is priority and elders are highly respected. But in Batak culture this family business goes up a whole another level. If two Batak people met, one of the first things they would ask each other is “What is your surname?” (in Batak surname is Marga). From the surname both parties will try to trace their ancestry to see if they have a common relative or friend or what not. It is actually pretty funny to watch and listen to how this unfolds. The great thing is they will most likely then not know someone in common. Family is such an important aspect of Batak culture that people not only know their direct cousins but also their distance cousins from their grandmother or grandfather’s sibling’s nieces and nephews.
In Western society, such as Australia, this form of culture is not seen. Perhaps it is the busy working environment.