The Mandailing Batak of Indonesia
Sumatra, one Indonesia's major western islands, is home to more than 400,000 Mandailing Bataks. According to tradition, they are the descendants of a man named Si Radja Batak. Considered an ancestral hero, Si Radja was supposedly born to supernatural parents on a holy mountain near Lake Toba. Through him, the Bataks received their sacred adat (traditional law). It is believed that Si Radji's sons founded the first two Batak clans, from which descended all the present-day sub-groups. The Mandailing Bataks, one of these sub-groups, live in the high rolling plateau surrounded by mountain peaks in the interior of north central Sumatra.
The various Batak groups speak different dialects of a common language, and they also share similar cultures and physical characteristics.
In the past century, there have been widespread conversions to Christianity among some of the Bataks; however, most of the Mandailings have remained Muslim.
What are their lives like?
Unlike most other Bataks, the Mandailings live in large villages made up of 100 to 200 houses. Their villages are spread across the northern central part of Sumatra. Market towns dot the highlands, serving as centers for a large number of mountain villages. The Bataks typically live in Malay-style homes, which are divided into rooms and roofed with corrugated iron rather than thatch.
Most of the Mandailing Bataks are farmers. Rice is grown in all regions of Sumatra, both in dry fields and terraced paddies. Cash crops and farm produce also supplement rice farming. Traditional forest products, as well as forest rubber, are also gathered.
Farm families tend to share household responsibilities as well as field work. Heavy planting and harvesting tasks are often done by large work groups. Some of the wealthier villagers hire poorer relatives to work their land on a sharecropping basis.
Besides farming, many Bataks work in the transportation industry, in cloth sales, or in various markets on the island.
Marriages between two people from related groups of allies are considered to be ideal. At weddings, elaborate gifts are exchanged between the families. The newlyweds usually live with or near the husband's parents for several years. Eventually, they will split off to set up their own household.
School attendance, at either public schools or Muslim schools, is compulsory for children. The national school system stresses Indonesian patriotism and "modern values."
Like most other Southeast Asians, the Bataks pay special attention to social hierarchy. This hierarchy is based on social class background, closeness to the patriarch of the lineage, and occupational prestige. Batak villages have their own council of elders and chiefs who are selected according to their ancestral heritage. Chiefs are responsible for supervising traditional ceremonies and administering the law in regard to such things as inheritance and marriage.
What are their beliefs?
As a result of the islanders trading with Muslims, Islam made its way into Sumatra by the end of the thirteenth century. Today, the Mandailing Bataks are primarily Sunni Muslims; however, they still have many deeply rooted traditional religious practices within their culture. For example, many Bataks believe that tondi is the vital force of all persons, as well as rice and iron. This force is believed to have a life and will of its own, and can leave its "host body" temporarily or permanently. Things such as wealth and power are associated with both the amount and the quality of "tondi" one possesses. Therefore, great effort is expended towards pleasing the "tondi."
What are their needs?
The Bataks have been substantially evangelized and many of the groups are Christian. Unfortunately, however, the Mandailings are one exception. They are 95% Muslim and barely 5% Christian. The influence of Christianity among them is very limited due to the lack resources. There are currently no Christian broadcasts or scriptures available in their native dialect.
- Pray that God will raise up laborers who understand the Muslim culture and who can effectively take the Gospel to them.
- Ask God to encourage and protect the small number of Mandailing believers.
- Pray that God will raise up qualified linguists to translate the Bible into their language.
- Ask the Lord to provide contacts, strategies, and wisdom for the missions agency that is trying to reach the Mandailings with the Gospel.
- Pray that Christian radio, television, and literature will be made available to the Bataks in their own language.
- Ask the Holy Spirit to soften their hearts towards Christians so that they will be receptive to the Gospel.
- Ask the Lord to raise up a strong local church among the Mandailing Bataks by the year 2000.
Latest estimates from the World Evangelization Research Center.
Major peoples in size order:
Number of denominations: 113
- People name: Mandailing Batak
- Country: Indonesia
- Their language: Mandailing Batak
- Largest religion:
- Christians: 5%
- Church members: 21,853
- Scriptures in their own language: None
- Jesus Film in their own language: None
- Christian broadcasts in their own language: None
- Mission agencies working among this people: 1
- Persons who have heard the Gospel: 157,300 (36%)
- Persons who have never heard the Gospel: 279,800 (64%)
© Copyright 1997
Bethany World Prayer Center
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