The King, The Missionary and The Trial Stone

21 comments
Asia, Indonesia

Batak Houses at Huta Siallagan, Ambarita

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.

The Omnipresent Greeting “Horas” Written in Latin and Batak Alphabet

Colorful Ulos

Carvings on Traditional Cutlery

A Traditional Loom

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.

The Stone Table Surrounded by Stone Chairs

The Stone Chairs

Statues on The Chairs

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.

The Stone for Execution

A Carving on A Stone Wall

A Bright-Colored Christian Monument

The Ubiquitous Lizards and Breasts

Related Posts: The Intriguing Culture of Samosir Island, The Legend of Samosir’s First Settlers, Dance and Swing Until The Egg Breaks

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Based in Jakarta, always curious about the world, always fascinated by ancient temples, easily pleased by food.

21 thoughts on “The King, The Missionary and The Trial Stone”

  1. Pingback: The Intriguing Culture of Samosir Island « What an Amazing World!

  2. Pingback: The Legend of Samosir’s First Settlers « What an Amazing World!

    • Agree! I always love to see when a local community still practice aspects of their traditions in the modern world.

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  3. lomardasika says:

    It is only in Samosir where we could find these traditional custom still practiced. When I go out from Samosir area, e.g Dolok Sanggul, Tele, or Balige, the intensity of custom practicing decreased dramatically, exception maybe in Huta Tinggi area. This is the main reason why I loveeee Batak Highland so much 😀 without the custom, maybe it is just another highland and lake….

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    • Hi Lomar! I just found your blog last night! Indeed, it is the well-kept tradition which makes things much more interesting. I do hope years even decades from now we still can see indigenous cultures practiced by local people at where they were born, not only in museums.

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  4. Very interesting post Bama. I love reading about the practices of old tribes. I liked the story about the 7 day tree too! 🙂 Thanks for sharing!

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    • Thanks for reading, Jodi! I’m currently writing on my next post about the traditional dance and architecture of the Bataks.

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  5. There are so many cultures out there that revere trees and have a tradition of holding important events or meetings beneath them. Your story reminds me of the Basques and the Oak Tree at Guernica, where the rulers would swear to protect the liberties of their people.

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    • Did you write a story on it? I’d love to read it! Well, apart from any religion-related reasons behind it, meeting up with people under a big tree is always a nice thing to do. I remember one day when I was still in college, my friends and I liked to do our tasks under a leafy tree in our campus 🙂

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      • Unfortunately that was before my travel blogging days! However that’s not to say that I won’t write a post on it in the future… I’ll have to dig out some of my old photos for that one.

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  6. Pingback: Dance and Swing Until The Egg Breaks « What an Amazing World!

  7. Fascinating! The stone furniture seems so benign! More like a good lace to have tea 🙂

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    • Haha, so true! Sometimes the most benign-looking things are the ones which keep dark stories from the past.

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  8. I found you from Madhu’s site. What a story, amazing pictures! Thank you for sharing!

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