The Alas-Kluet Batak of Indonesia
The Alas-Kluet Batak are near neighbors to the Gayo people and have a very similar lifestyle and culture. They are also close neighbors to the radical Islamic Acehenese, whose sultans conquered them and forced them into slavery during the first half of the 1600's.
For many years, the area of the Alas-Kluet Batak remained unknown and unexplored. The Dutch ultimately gained control of their region, but the Alas-Kluet Batak resisted this occupation from 1904 to 1942. Many of their people were killed during this time.
What Are Their Lives Like?
The Alas-Kluet Batak primarily live in extended households in small mountain villages. The most important house in the village is the umah ("dwelling house"). This house is built on pillars and is a communal dwelling inhabited by a number of related families. The umah has two galleries, one for the men and the other for the women. The individual family sleeping quarters are located in the middle. Each village also has a meresah ("men's house"), which is the traditional place that boys over eight years of age, unmarried men, widowers, and strangers spend the night. This house is also used for religious and training purposes.
Alas-Kluet Batak marriages are exogamous, which means that they marry outside their own family groups. After marriage, the women keep close ties with their own families. Polygamous marriages (having more than one spouse) are rare, though permitted. First marriages are usually arranged by the families on both sides. The engagement lasts from one to three years, in order to give the man time to acquire the bride price, and the woman, the dowry. Weddings are celebrated according to Islamic customs.
Villages are ruled by chiefs who inherit their positions. The villages are divided according to mergo, or family groupings. A mergo may either inhabit an entire village or part of a village. The smallest unit of government is a sub-division of a family group, called a rodjo. The subjects of a particular chief consider themselves blood brothers, and call each other sara rodjo ("one rodjo") or sara ino ("from one mother").
The Alas-Kluet Batak have no written language, and their folklore consists only of legends and customs, which are often shared through performed poetry.
What Are Their Beliefs?
Numerous semi-religious rituals are conducted at various stages of life, including a hair cutting ceremony that takes place seven days after birth. Only one lock of hair is left on the baby's head. If the child becomes sick, this lock is removed, in the hope that the bad luck will also be removed. The child is bathed in a nearby river at this time. At eight years of age, both boys and girls have their jaw teeth filed and permanently blackened.
What Are Their Needs?
Latest estimates from the World Evangelization Research Center.
© Copyright 1997
Bethany World Prayer Center
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