The King, The Missionary and The Trial Stone
Ambarita, a sleepy village 10 km north from Tomok was the second historical site which Robin and I visited on Samosir Island. We turned right as soon as we noticed a signboard which reads Batu Parsidangan on the main road. Then we navigated our way about 500 m further into a smaller village called Huta Siallagan (literally Siallagan’s village). It is the place where King Siallagan ruled hundreds of years ago, and like other Batak villages, Huta Siallagan is surrounded by stone walls as protection against other warring tribes.
As I passed through the entrance, a courtyard with several Batak houses on each sides were the first things that I saw. At the center, a large tree locally known as hariara stands tall and serves as a canopy for a set of stone chairs and a table sitting right underneath. It is said that before setting up a village, Batak elders always plant a hariara tree. Seven days later, if the tree stays alive it means that it is safe to make a village at that location. Therefore hariara is also called the seventh-day tree.
One of the houses on the left is now used to display traditional tools utilized by Batak hundreds of years ago. There are a loom and finished ulos, some sets of cutlery, traditional music instruments and other things which were part of daily life for Bataks.
As the name implies, Huta Siallagan was lead by King Siallagan who practiced local animist belief called Pelebegu. According to his belief every single matter in the village should be decided or conducted on proper or auspicious days according to Batak calendar. As I mentioned before, there is a set of stone chairs and a table at the center of the courtyard which were used as the place where village matters were discussed and wrongdoers were tried. Hence the name Batu Parsidangan (literally Trial Stone). However, like other village matters, the trial could be done only on certain day which must be decided by the king after consulting the elders. While waiting for the trial day, the perpetrator had to be deprived under the king’s house.
When a perpetrator was deemed guilty for having conducted a serious crime, such as witchcraft and wizardry, he/she would be taken to another set of stone chairs and table at the back of the courtyard where the executions would take place. An executioner was supposed to behead the accused ones and mutilate the rest of the body where mutilated body parts would be given to local people to be eaten afterward. The king himself always got the heart as it was believed to be the source of the black magic once possessed by the perpetrator.
Some of the first European missionaries who tried to convert this tribe into Christianity also ended up with the unfortunate fate. However at the end of the 19th century, a German missionary named Ludwig Ingwer Nommensen did a different approach to spread the religion to the Siallagans. First he learned Batak language and script in order to be able to translate the New Testament into local language. Then he made a much gentler approach than his predecessors to King Siallagan. This method had proven effective to attract the king’s attention toward Christianity (and spare Nommensen’s life!) and later on converted the entire tribe from their old belief. As the conversion took place, the cannibalism had been completely wiped out of the society.
If you found this story a little too much too handle, don’t worry! My next story will be on a much lighter note, about a place where Batak’s culture is at its best.