Batak Toba Houses (19th-20th centuries
The Batak Toba are one of six Batak tribes that inhabit northern and central Sumatra. Each tribe has a distinctive culture and architectural style. Two Batak tribes are Muslim, while the the Toba and another tribe are Christian. The Batak Toba people are concentrated around Lake Toba, the world's largest caldera lake. Their houses are among the most distinctive in Indonesia, with their famous boat-shaped roofs and finely-decorated carvings.
Batak Toba houses are found in groups of ten or less, constituting small villages. Because of frequent warfare among the other tribes in the past, the houses are built close together, often side-by-side (though rarely connected). Since much of the area is wet year-round, the Batak place their buildings on stilts to avoid flooding and dampness. A typical village consists of a row of houses flanking a corresponding number of small rice granaries, one for each house. Between the two rows of buildings runs a street called an "alaman", which used to serve as a workyard and as a place for drying out rice in the hot sun. Nowadays, most of the granary buildings have been converted into houses, but their original purpose remains recognizable since the granaries were always built on six pillars, while houses had more.
The Batak Toba house is organized vertically into three distinct zones. The lower zone--the area beneath the house raised on piers--functioned as a work area and as an open-air pen for animals. The next zone�the floor of the house�is a living area where as many as four different families crowded together (nowadays there is usually one family per house). Ladders were once used to access the living area from the ground, so that in times of war the ladder could be quickly retracted and the opening sealed. At present, many families have installed stairs for convenience.
The highest and most important level of the house is the upper storey, which extends about 1/3 of the depth in from the front of the house. In this area family valuables and ancestral shrines are located. In front of this area, facing the street, is a veranda used for open-air storage.
The roofs of the Batak Toba houses are formed of sugar palm fiber thatch, held together with rattan cords. However, many houses have abandoned the labor-intensive thatched roof and have converted to zinc metal roofs, which are far more durable in the humid climate.
All images copyright 2001 Jenny Friska Panjaitan
Richards, Peter (ed.) Let's Go: Southeast Asia
St. Martin's Press, 2000. New York