Toba Batak Reburial Tombs Asian Studies, Vol. 34, No.4, March 1997
Historical Changes of Toba Batak Reburial Tombs:
A Case Study of a Rural Community in the
Central Highland of North Sumatra
Shigehiro IKEGAMI*
The homeland of the Toba Batak extends over the central highland of North Sumatra in Indonesia.
When traveling in the area around Lake Toba, one encounters a distinctive landscape characterized
by Christian churches with crosses on the top of the steeple and a wide variety of tombs which
appear to compete one another in splendor. Such tombs are especially numerous in the regions on
the southeastern shore of the lake called Toba Holbung and the island of Samosir (Map 1).
A great many of the Toba Batak have converted to Christianity (mainly Lutheran) as a result of
the missionary undertaking by a Gernlan Protestant mission (Rheinischen Missions-Gesellshaft)
which established itself in the northern Tapanuli in the 1860s [Pedersen 1970: 47-72]. Nowadays
most of the Toba Batak are Christian, although the precise number can not be ascertained
owing to the lack of statistics classified according to ethnic affiliations after the Revolution (a war of
independence against the Netherlands in the period 1945-1949).
The custom of reburial, as Metcalf and Huntington [1991] discuss, is found in several ethnic
groups in Indonesia, including the Dayak of Kalimantan analyzed by Hertz [1960] in his pioneering
study on mortuary practices. As documented, for instance, by Vergouwen [1964: 70-73] and
Warneck [1909: 84-85], the Toba Batak also traditionally practiced the reburial ritual accompanied
by the slaughter of water buffaloes and cattle whereby the bones of ancestors who had been dead for
several years were exhumed and transferred to a reburial tomb. Although the German mission
prohibited the custom of reburial for the purposes of ancestor worship in the first quarter of this
century, this restriction was not necessarily observed [Schreiner 1994: 174]. Consequently the
custom of reburial by the Christian Toba has survived to the present time. A large number of
splendid tombs standing together in Toba homeland are reburial tombs in which the exhumed bones
of ancestors are deposited.
There is a considerable variation in the type and size of Toba Batak reburial tombs. Barbier
[1983: 113-139] elucidates that traditionally Toba reburial tombs were funerary mounds of earth and
stone tombs such as sarcophagi as well as stone urns. He also remarks on another type of the
tomb: “the introduction of the powder stone called cement in the nineteen twenties has made it
* 1tP.l:::£5L, University of Shizuoka, Hamamatsu College, 2-3 Nunohashi 3 eho-me, Hamamatsu City 432,
f” ~
I -~-!- ..
West Sumatra …….. –
, , ,, ,
”” /’ _..”
-‘ I’
“”_ Toba \
,,’ Holbung I
Balige ~ ,
…. – ~ ~ , Lahuhan I
Tarutung\ ‘,,- ~ B I J
I – I au,
(J ‘,…. J /
I \ … , ‘ ‘” .., ‘” “,””,,
Malacca Straits
• provincial
• kabupaten
main foad
0, 2,0 4,0 60
Map 1 North Sumatra
possible to build increasingly gigantic tombs” [ibid. : 113]. In recent decades the Toba themselves
became aware that the proliferation of reburial tombs was a phenomenon quite distinctive in Toba
Batak society [Gultom 1991: 10; Hutagalung 1986: 185; Lumbantoruan 1974: v; Pasaribu
1986: 175]. As Bruner [1973: xii] points out, most of the funds for the construction of reburial
tombs which cost a great deal were provided by Toba Batak urban migrants in the cities who had
become economically successful in business, the professions, and government.
Migration of the Toba Batak from their mountain homeland began in small but increasing
numbers chiefly to East Sumatra from around the tum of the century, and later increased rapidly
from the 1950s resulting in the influx of Toba migrants into frontier settlements in East Sumatra and
into the cities such as Medan and Jakarta [Cunningham 1958: 82-97]’ Since most of the Toba
migrants, even though living far from their homeland, tend to retain social relationships with their
relatives in the homeland, it is essential for the proper understanding of the contemporary Toba
Batak society to take account of the interrelationship between villagers in the homeland and urban
S. IKEGAMI: Historical Changes of Toba Batak Reburial Tombs
migrants [Bruner 1972: 209-210]. In the patrilineal Toba society, all of the members of a patrilineal
descent group are to contribute to the construction of a reburial tomb and are responsible as
hosts of the reburial ritual. Accordingly the study of reburial is considered to be one of the effective
measures for examining the interrelationship between Toba villagers and migrants.
Although the Toba mortuary practices have been an object of study from the colonial period, no
studies have ever tried to examine historical changes of Toba reburial tombs based on convincing
evidence obtained through field research. In this paper, therefore, I aim to verify historical changes
of Toba reburial tombs according to information I have collected through my own research conducted
in the following ways: interviews in Toba Holbung region; census of all reburial tombs in a village in
the region; and case studies concerning the interrelationships between villagers and migrants on a
few samples of particular reburial tombs in the village. After describing detailed research procedures,
I will begin with a brief account of the concept of ancestral spirits in Toba indigenous religion
and requirements for reburial, then I will give the outline of the main elements of reburial rituals. In
examining historical changes of Toba reburial tombs I will pay full attention to the historical
background such as the introduction of Christianity and the establishment of Dutch colonial rule in
the latter half of the nineteenth century, as well as the Toba emigration which began around the tum
of the century and increased rapidly after the Revolution.I)
I Research Procedures
The Toba Batak homeland nearly accords with the district (kabupaten) of North Tapanuli (Tapanuli
Utara) mainly consisting of the following four regions: (1) the island in the center of Lake Toba called
Samosir; (2) the fertile plain on the southeastern lakeside area called Toba Holbung; (3) the cool
plateau extending in the southwest of the lake called Humbang; and (4) the ravine around Tarutung
(the capital of the district) called Silindung. I chose Toba Holbung as my chief research field
primarily because there has been a great number of reburial tombs as a result of the widespread
custom of reburial from the colonial period to the present day. My field research was conducted
intermittently five times between June 1991 and September 1994, for a total duration of about 12
months. 2
) . I collected the material for this paper through the following three methods.
1) As space is limited, I have precluded the reburial tombs of the clan founders which are frequently called
tugu marga (the monument of the clan) and those constructed in East Sumatra which are said to have
increased since the 1970s from the scope of this present discussion. I shall examine precisely the actual
state of such reburial tombs and discuss the meaning of them to Toba Batak society in another paper.
2) The research for this paper was partly financed by the Asian Studies Scholarship Program of the Ministry
of Education, Science, and Culture (Monbu-sho) in the fiscal year 1990, and the International Scientific
Research Program of the same Ministry in the fiscal year 1993 and 1994 (Field Research, headed by Dr.
Tsuyoshi Kato of Kyoto University), for which I wish to express my due gratitude. I am deeply indebted
to the Indonesian Institute of Science (LIPI) and other governmental institutions for giving me permission
to carry out research in North Sumatra, as well as to the University of Indonesia, the University of HKBP
Nommensen and Teachers’ Training College in Medan (lKIP Medan) for their academic sponsorship.
A. Case Study in a Village
My chief research site was a village called Lintong Ni Huta (LNH) , which is located on the western
edge of Toba Holbung and depends greatly on wet-rice cultivation in terraced paddy fields. LNH is
an administrative village (desa) in the subdistrict (kecama!an) of Balige in the district of North
Tapanuli and it also functions as a horja or community based on ada! (traditional law and customs).3)
According to the census data of 1990, LNH was comprised of 230 households and had a population of
1,063 [Kantor Camat Balige 1992: 157]. In terms of its population size LNH is included in the
larger half of the villages in the subdistrict.
In LNH I carried out the census of all reburial tombs in the village with a co-worker from the
village who was in his fifties. First of all I photographed all reburial tombs in LNH, while recording
on the research form the following information: the name of the buried and the reburied; the year of
birth and death of the deceased; and the year of the construction of the tomb. After that, with the
aid of the photographs of the tombs, I conducted interviews with villagers who were connected to
the respective tombs to verify the name of the buried, year of the construction, kinship relation
between the deceased and the constructors, migration experiences of the kin including the buried,
and the scale of the reburial rituals.
B. Observations and Interviews Mainly in Toba Holbung Including LNH
Along with the research mentioned above, I also conducted general research in Toba Holbung
comprised both of observation on reburial tombs and of interviews so as to confirm the correspondency
between the result of the intensive research in LNH and that of the general research in Toba
Holbung. I examined some of the reburial tombs which were said to be old or whose details for the
construction were well-known, accumulating information concerning the tombs as accurately as
Furthermore, I conducted interviews on historical changes of reburial rituals and tombs with
mainly the following people. The first were two men who were regarded in the subdistrict of Balige
as thoroughly acquainted with ada!. One person in his seventies (hereafter referred to as Mr. MA)
had long been a teacher at a high school in Balige after leaving MULO (Dutch-language secondary
school) in colonial times. Although he later had a brief experience in the shipping business in
Jakarta, he is retired now and a member of the assembly of the district. The other person in his
fifties (hereafter referred to as Mr. HM) was born in LNH but lives now in the town of Balige.
After graduating from a high school in Balige, he went to a private university in Jakarta but had to
3) In Toba Holbung, a horja generally corresponds to an administrative village (desa) , although in some cases
a horja is divided into a few administrative villages. When the Toba formerly broke up the virgin soil, they
made a new hamlet in which several houses and rice granaries were built in two parallel lines surrounded by
earth wall on which bamboo was planted for protection from enemies from the outside of the hamlet. Such
a hamlet, called huta, is a cooperative unit in everyday life. As huta increased because of the founding of
another huta near the original huta or the settlement from outside, a ritual aggregate became formed based
on the agro-hydraulic demands or kinship relations. Such a larger unit is called horja. Vergouwen [1964:
119] points out that in Toba Holbung horja is a genealogically pure unit as well as being a sacrificial
community and a corporate community. Horja functions as a unit of main adat rituals such as marriage
rites, funerals, and reburial rituals.
S. IKEGAMI: Historical Changes of Toba Batak Reburial Tombs
leave it and come back to Balige because of illness. He became an engineering contractor following
in his father’s footsteps. The two men belong to the Simanjuntak clan and have so much experience
in officiating at adat rituals that they are deeply versed in the process of reburial rituals.
The second group of people I interviewed were craftsmen connected with the construction of
tombs: those who were familiar with the production of lime utilized as an element for early mortar;
and also masons and plasterers.
The third group were older people both in LNH and in Toba Holbung. Most of them were in
their sixties or above.
Additionally, I had an opportunity to interview officers in some subdistrict offices in the district
of North Tapanuli, church staff and people who connected to some tombs about the construction of
reburial tombs in order to comprehend the feature of Toba Holbung.
C. Supplementary Research among Migrants
I conducted a supplementary research in some villages in East Sumatra and in such cities as
Pematang Siantar (usually referred to simply as Siantar), Medan and Jakarta, where many Toba
migrants reside. In East Sumatra I visited some migrants from LNH and their descendants in their
settlements so as to observe reburial tombs built there and interview them about the participation in
reburial rituals held at their homeland. I also conducted interviews in the cities mainly with some
migrants from LNH about their opinion on the custom of reburial. Furthermore I examined the
present situation of urban dwellers’ burial in town cemeteries.
II Toba Concept of the Spiritual World and Reburial Requirements
A. Toba Concept of the Spiritual World in Their Indigenous Religion as a Background to Reburial
In order to understand the religious background to Toba reburial, we need to clarify how the
descendants and the ancestral spirits were thought to interrelate in the concept of the spiritual world
in Toba indigenous religion before the introduction of Christianity. For this purpose I rely on two
well-known studies: the first is the work written by Warneck [1909] who resided in the Toba
highland as a missionary from 1892 until 1908 and later as the president of the Rhenish Mission
Society in Sumatra in the period 1919-1932; and the second is by Vergouwen [1964] who was a
colonial official stationed in the District of Toba for a few years from 1927. Fig. 1, based on their
descriptions, illustrates the relationship between descendants and ancestral spirits.
The soul of the living which dwells in the body (pamatang) is called tondi. Vergouwen [ibid. :
79-81] mentions that tondi is considered to weaken or leave temporarily when a person becomes ill
or dreams and to leave the body entirely when a person dies. The sahala, again according to
Vergouwen [ibid. : 83], is the tondi-power in its most active and most perceptible from.
The spirit of the dead is called begu. According to Vergouwen, the begu is thought to be united
in a begu-community which is very similar to the human community, but in reverse: for example,
what human beings do by day the begu do by night [ibid. : 69]. Warneck offers more elaborate
interpretation on the character of the begu than the explanation submitted by the common Toba:
negative character positive character
(b y) p
,- – – – – – – – -.
I SOmbllOn I
I1________ “”I ……
I sumllngot I – … –
I b e g u I
r———— —— ————
calamity, blessings,
misfortune ” ” protection
pllm8t8ng / tondi + .-
ad soul soul ower —
the living
Fig.l Relationship between the Living and Ancestral Spirits in the Toba Indigenous Religion
leaving the body absolutely, tondi does not change into begu after the death of a person, but the
remnant of one’s personality or self changes into begu [Wameck 1909: 8].4) In either case we
may consider that, in Toba indigenous religion, spirits of the dead exist as begu in the other world.
According to Vergouwen and Wameck, the effect of the begu on people is believed to be twosided:
if the descendants entertain deep veneration for their ancestors and are faithful to make
proper offerings, the begu of the ancestors bring earthly blessings and protection against misfortune
which result in such benefits as good harvests and prosperity of the descendants; on the other hand,
the begu which is ignored or paid little attention to may cause such calamity and misfortune as bad
harvests, death of children and illness in man and cattle [Vergouwen 1964: 69-70; Wameck
1909: 15-17]. It is through the reburial rituals that the descendants elevate the position of the
ancestors in the other world from the begu to the sumangot (the revered spirits higher than the
begu) , based on the belief that the sumangot can bring greater blessings and protection to the
descendants who venerate them [Wameck 1909: 84]. 5)
4) Vergouwen [1964: 69] notes: “The tenn begu embraces the spirits of the deceased as much as nature
spirits, and includes all those spirits exclusively devoted to inflicting hann on people, the begu na djahat, as
well as those which, by worship and sacrifice, can be induced to give eartWy blessings.” He adds: “The
spirits called homang, which live in the forests and try to kidnap children are also malignant as are the
water spirits, solobean, which make navigation dangerous, and the begu antuk which bring cholera, and so
on” [loco cit.].
5) In the Toba indigenous concept of ancestral spirits, those which ranked higher than sumangot- and the
highest among all ancestral spirits – are sombaon (he who is revered) [Warneck 1909: 85- 89;
Vergouwen 1964: 71-73]. According to Vergouwen [ibid. : 71-72], a sumangot, if his line had grown to
a great marga (clan) or tribal group, was fonnerly elevated to the highest rank of spirits approaching the
status of the gods through a great sacrificial ceremony which was specially arranged for the purpose.
However, he mentions that such ceremonies had already disappeared at the time of his residence in /
S. IKEGAMI: Historical Changes of Toba Batak Reburial Tombs
B. Reburial Requirements
Not all the begu can be exalted to the position of sumangot. Therefore it is needed to explain some
of the reburial requirements prior to the introduction of Christianity based on the descriptions by
Vergouwen and Wameck, supplementing them with my own interviews in Toba Holbung.
Wameck mentions that only those who have male descendants can become sumangot [loc. cit.].
In my interviews most of the Toba pointed out that one of the most important requirements for
reburial was being an “ompu” (a grandfather / grandmother) and that this requirement was as a rule in
effect from the period before the introduction of Christianity. In Toba society the teknonym (a
name of reference according to the relationship with one’s child or grandchild) of a person changes
when one has the first child or the first grandchild (the first child of any of one’s sons).6) In general,
a person any of whose sons has a child is entitled “ompu.” Strictly speaking, a person entitled ompu
does not always have male grandchildren as patrilineal descendants because there may be no male
among the children of the sons: all of the grandchildren may be female. It should, however, be
understood that the requirement referred to as “being an ompu” virtually means that one has male
grandchildren as patrilineal descendants before or after one’s death and that, consequently, one’s
spirit can be worshipped as an ancestral spirit by the patrilineal descendants.
The virtue and influence of a man during his lifetime weighed heavily as a requirement for the
elevation to sumangot through the reburial ritual. 7) Vergouwen [1964: 70] notes that the spirits of
deceased ancestors who, in their lifetime, became wealthy, had power and material goods, and
whose descendants are many can be elevated to sumangot. I was often told in Toba Holbung that it
was traditionally required for reburial to fulfill the following three conditions called “3H” by the Toba :
(1) hamoraon or economic prosperity; (2) hagabeon or proliferation in the number of descendants;
and (3) hasangapon or being highly esteemed. Some of the Toba I interviewed observed that the
Toba raised the position of ancestral spirits from begu up to sumangot through the construction of a
reburial tomb and an execution of the great reburial ritual as proof of the accomplishment of 3H.
Most of the Toba I interviewed also added that it was important as a reburial requirement to die
from causes which were not regarded as abnormal. According to my informants, the Toba considered
death by old age or illness as death from natural causes. I was told that death from murder or
an accident (including a traffic accident) was not distinguished from the normal death as regards
“‘” Tapanuli [ibid. : 71]. Barbier [1983: 134] also remarks: “The notion of raising to the rank of sombaon (the
state of semi-divinity which a great ancestor could reach) seems to be forgotten, although the existence of
these sombaon is well known.”
6) It is a taboo in Toba society to refer to the given name of a person who has a child or more. In
consequence, if we put the case that the given name of a person is “X,” the name of one’s first child
regardless of sex is “Y,” and the name of the first grandchild (the first child of any of one’s sons) is “Z,” the
name of reference of a person changes as follows: (1) until the first child is born: X; (2) from the birth of
the first child until the birth of the first grandchild: ama ni Y or nai Y which means “Father of Y” or
“Mother of Y” ; and (3) after the birth of the first grandchild: ompu si Z which means “Grandparent of Z.”
Even a person without one’s grandchild at the time of death can be referred to by a teknonym entitled
ompu, if the grandchild of the deceased is born after one’s death.
7) It was only for men that the virtue and influence were evaluated; women were reburied based on their
status as the wife of the deceased.
funeral and reburial: those who were distinguished were people who had committed suicide, who
had died in childbirth and who had died of Hansen’s disease. The Toba I interviewed were
unanimous in explaining that such people had been buried immediately by close relatives and had
been excluded from the possibility for reburial even though they had grandchildren.
It can be thought that such harsh treatment of the deceased who committed suicide was
intensified through the influence of Christianity which regards suicide as a mortal sin. Mr. MA,
however, mentioned that in the period previous to the introduction of Christianity those who
committed suicide were considered to have been punished by a god in higher world called “Mulajadi
na bolon” (the great beginning of existence). Therefore I speculate that such people might be
subjected to terrible treatment after death even in the pre-Christian period. According to Warneck
[1909: 77], death in childbirth was regarded as the most dishonorable death and the begu of such
women were thought to be extremely dangerous in the Toba concept of the spiritual world because
they intended to revenge themselves upon other pregnant women. It is not obvious whether the ill
treatment to those who died of Hansen’s disease originates in the period before the contact with
Westerners. However, I presume that such ill treatment was at least possibly intensified at the
direction of Westerners in the Dutch colonial period, judging from the fact that there were no native
term for Hansen’s disease. It was expressed by the word sakit kulit (skin disease) in Malay or the
word lepra which came from such western languages as German and Dutch. Additional supporting
evidence came from some villagers who remembered that leprous patients were segregated in an
isolation hospital at Laguboti in Toba Holbung managed by the Rhenish Mission Society in the
colonial period.
III The Outline of Reburial Rituals
In Toba Batak society the patrilineal clan having its own name such as Simanjuntak, Hutagaol and
Tampubolon is called marga, which is also a unit of exogamy. The relationship among the following
three groups – hula-hula (wife-givers), dongan tubu (one’s own patrilineal clan) and boru (wifereceivers)
~ is termed dalihan na tolu (three stones for placing a cooking pot). As well as being of
marked importance in ritual contexts, it is fundamental to the social relationship of the Toba. The
wife-givers are believed to be spiritually superior to the wife-receivers.
In a reburial ritual a patrilineal descent group which stems from an ancestor who is designated
to be reburied constitutes suhut (the host group for the ritual). Among wife-givers and wifereceivers
who have affinal relationship with the members of the host group, those who are invited
are obligated to attend the ritual. Male adults of the horja who are not included in the host group
and their affinal relatives are also expected to take the responsibility for the smooth conduct of the
The reburial ritual varies in accordance with several factors: the difference in generation
between reburied ancestors and members of the host group; the duration of the ritual; the presence
or absence of the traditional orchestra for the ritual dance; as well as the kind and the number of
livestock for the ritual slaughter. According to the variations in these factors, three types of
S. IKEGAMI: Historical Changes of Toba Batak Reburial Tombs
reburial rituals – turun, gombur, and partangiangan – are usually classified. I will examine later
how the Toba distinguish these three types. However, the reburial ritual generally consists of the
following five main rites: (1) exhumation of the bones of the ancestor; (2) transfer of the bones into
a reburial tomb; (3) ritual feast; (4) ritual dance; and (5) ritual distribution of portions of slaughtered
livestock. Here I will give a brief explanation of the five rites respectively, mainly based on my
observations and interviews on the reburial ritual in Toba Bolbung.
A. Exhumation of the Bones
In the process of a reburial ritual the exhumation of the bones of the dead is called mangongkal holi :
the word mangongkal means “dig”; while holi means “the bones of the dead. ,,8) The Toba usually
buried the corpse in the ground both before and after the introduction of Christianity.9) In principle
the tombs for the dead without grandchildren are simple mounds made solely with gathered soil;
whereas those for the deceased with grandchildren are rectangular parallelepipedic mounds or odd
(three, five or seven) stepped mounds, on both of which the bulbous plants of family Amaryllidaceae
called ompu-ompu (Haemanthus pubescens) are planted for the purpose of representing the status of
the dead having grandchildren. However, tombs of stonework finished with mortar also began to
be constructed in the colonial period.
If the flesh of the dead has decomposed during several years after burial, the bones can be
exhumed. The wife-givers, the wife-receivers and the representatives of male adults of the horja
accompany the members of the host group at the exhumation of the bones. When the bones are
located, the bones of the legs are retrieved first and the skull last. The descendants wash the
exhumed bones with lime water. In some cases the bones of ancestors who were buried in the
ground so long ago may not be found as a result of complete decomposition. In such a case,
according to Mr. MA, the host group takes a lump of earth from the bottom of the burial ground and
ask the attendants whether they may regard this earth as the bones of the ancestors or not. If the
attendants consent to the proposal, the earth is laid in the reburial tomb as the substitute for the
bones of the ancestors.
B. Transfer of the Bones to the Reburial Tomb
Transfer of the exhumed bones to the reburial tomb is called panangkokhon saring-saring. The
8) The word mangongkal holi or mangongkal holi-holi is also applied to when the Toba refer to the whole
process of the reburial ritual which consists of the five main rites mentioned above.
9) There are variations in the way of dealing with dead bodies. Winkler reports: “After the week of
mourning for an important chief, his body was not buried but placed in a coffin which was awaiting in the
meeting room of the rice granary, where it was left for a year until the flesh had fallen away from the
bones” [Winkler 1925: 131, quoted in Barbier 1983: 211). Barbier [1983: 113) states that coffins are
stored either in the open air or in the earth, depending on the region but that it is rare nowadays to see
wooden coffins under a roof at the back or side of a house, or under a rice granary (sopo) [ibid. : 128].
According to Mr. HM, the coffin in which the dead body of one of the wives of his great-grandfather was
placed was not buried soon after her death, but stored for a while on the stand made beside the house.
During my own research, however, I have never met such coffins stored in or beside the house without
being buried under the ground.
words panangkokhon and saring-saring originally meant “raising” and “skull” respectively. Hutagaol
[1989: 42] interprets that panangkokhon is conducted in the hope that the status of the
ancestral spirits might be elevated to sumangot, and that the standard of living of the entire
descendants might be upgraded as well.
Quite a few of the Toba I interviewed told me that it was essential in Toba indigenous religion to
proffer offerings to the washed bones of the ancestors in the reburial ritual as a direct interaction
between the ancestral spirits and the descendants. Some of them elaborated that such offerings as
palm wine, betel vine and cigarettes used to be made in order to ask the ancestral spirits for earthly
blessings and protection. The bones were placed tentatively on the table set in front of the house
of a member of the host group prior to the transfer to the reburial tomb.
According to Schreiner [1994: 174-175], a church regulation was established by the German
mission in the first quarter of the twentieth century with the intention of excluding pagan elements
from reburial rituals. Based on the regulation, the church elders have always tried to take strict
charge of the exhumed bones under their supervision and have never failed to offer up Christian
prayers and sing hymns led by them in order to make the Christian Toba conduct reburial rituals
within the framework of Christianity [ibid.: 176- 179].10) Despite this restriction, however,
Hutagaol [1989: 50] reports from his experiences as a pastor leading reburial rituals several times
that some of those who feel themselves unhappy ask the ancestral spirits for earthly blessings and
protection by crying over the bones of the ancestors and complaining of their distress.
C. Ritual Feast
At the adat rituals the Toba have a ritual meal together which consists of rice and saksang, which is
pieces of seasoned pork boiled in the blood of slaughtered pigs. This is also indispensable at
reburial rituals.
D. Ritual Dance
The most time-consuming part in the reburial ritual is the ritual dance. During the long time of the
ritual dance, the host group stands in line facing with the members of other lineages of the same clan
or the affinal relatives in order of genealogy and dances with them after exchanging ritual speeches.
This rite is referred to as manortor (dance), which is usually accompanied by the gondang. The
gondang, a traditional Toba Batak orchestra, consists of six drums of different sizes, four gongs and
one or two wind instruments similar to oboe. It is comprised of at least seven performers. The
word gondang can also be applied to the music played by the orchestra.
For the Toba manortor is not just a ceremony of dance but an occasion on which the wifereceivers
obtain ritual and spiritual blessings from the wife-givers through the dance. When the
wife-givers go dancing in front of the wife-receivers, some of the wife-givers dance holding ulos
(traditional woven cloth) which is believed to be a symbol of spiritual power. Furthermore, some of
the wife-givers give the ulos to the wife-receivers after covering their shoulders.
10) For the detailed description of the history of church regulations with regard to reburial, see Hutagaol
[1989: 48-49], Schreiner [1994: 174-175] and Yamamoto [1991: 201-203].
S. IKEGAMI: Historical Changes of Toba Batak Reburial Tombs
E. Ritual Distribution of Portions of Slaughtered Livestock
The distribution of such portions of slaughtered livestock as head and rump to the participants in
accordance with a fixed rule is called jambar, which is essential for the social recognition of the
legitimacy of Toba adat rituals including reburial rituals. In principle, one or more water buffaloes
or cattle offered by the host group of a reburial ritual are slaughtered and divided into several
portions. Each portion is distributed by the host group during the rite in which representatives of
the host group, the wife-givers, the wife-receivers and the male adults of the horja sit down on the
ground taking respective sides of a square.
There are, however, minute differences among horja in the way portions are distributed. The
distribution in LNH is usually conducted in the following way: if a couple (husband and wife) is
reburied, the rump (ihur-ihur) is given to the wife’s clan; the head (ulu) to the clan of the husband’s
mother; and the neck (tanggalan) to the clan of their eldest daughter’s husband as the representative
of the spouses of their daughters. Each cuts the given portion into pieces and distributed them
further to their own groups. In addition to these distributions, the sirloin (gonting) is given to the
male adults of the horja, the ribs (panambolt) to the helpers for the ritual meal, and the thigh (tulan
bona) to the village chief (kepala desa).
As mentioned above, reburial rituals are divided into three types: turun, gombur and partangiangan.
I could not obtain a clear explanation of the origin of the words turun and gombur through my
research in Toba Holbung. However, Schreiner [1994: 175] notes that the word paturunhon which
derives from turun was the term which indicated, in the pre-Christian period, the action of taking the
dead body out of the stilt house once it began to manifest symptoms of decomposition. He also
mentions that the reason why the word gombur (which originally meant “muddy” or “turbid”) is used
as a term designating a kind of reburial ritual is quite uncertain [loco cit.]. According to Mr. HM,
German missionaries adopted the word partangiangan (which originally meant “prayer” in Toba
indigenous religion) as a word for Christian prayer. Some of my informants told me that it evolved
to mean the simplified reburial ritual. Schreiner [ibid. : 176] comments similarly and adds that the
word partonggoan, which primarily means the evocation of gods and spirits in Toba indigenous
religion, indicates the same type of simplified ritual.
Despite a divergence in opinion among the Toba over the classification of these three types of
reburial rituals, the explanation which is common to the majority of the Toba I interviewed can be
summarized as follows: turun is the most splendid reburial ritual with a great size of host group and
guests in which the ritual dance (manortor) accompanied by gondang is conducted for several days
(sometimes for several weeks) and more than several water buffaloes are slaughtered for the ritual
distribution of the portions. In gombur, the ritual dance with gondang is carried out for three days
at the most, the size of the host group and guests is smaller than turun, and a water buffalo or cattle
is slaughtered. Partangiangan, which is conducted when the financial capability of the host group is
insufficient, is a simplified reburial ritual without gondang. In such a case, a brass band usually
accompanies the ritual danceY)
11) For the details of the process of reburial ritual, see the following studies: Hutagaol [1989: 42-53] gives a /’
IV Historical Changes of Reburial Tombs
A. Forms of Old Reburial Tombs
During my research in Toba Holbung, the Toba I interviewed frequently mentioned that there had
been two types of old reburial tombs: tambak na timbo, which meant literally “high mound” and batu
na pir, “hard stone.” Although the Toba have their own script similar to those of other Batak
groups such as the Simalungun and the Karo, it was not customary for the Toba to inscribe the name
of the deceased and the year of the construction on tombs. Therefore we have to rely on the
interviews with the villagers who have kinship relations with the reburied in the tombs in order to
verify the year of construction of “high mound” and “hard stone.”
According to most of my informants, the typical shape of “high mound” is an odd (three, five or
seven) stepped funerary mound made of earth, on the top of which a seedling of baringin (Ficus
benjamina) or hariara (Ficus) is planted. Actual observation, however, revealed that there are few
“high mounds” which accord with the typical shape at least in Toba Holbung. As shown in Picture
1, the common shape of “high mounds” is a simple mound about one meter in height with a planted
seedling on top. There are some “high mounds” utilizing natural mounds.
Picture 1 A Burial Mound Called “High Mound”
(Tambak na Timbo) for Exhumed
This is a single mound with a hariara
tree photographed in Humbang.
The year of construction is unknown.
“Hard stone” is a coffin, sculptured in most cases, made of a big stone produced by stonemasons.
According to some elders in LNH, usually there were stonemasons who made stone coffins
in any horja, yet some excellent stonemasons were invited from other horja. Most informants told
me that the usual form of stone coffin was that of silhouette of the Toba traditional house called
ruma, while some others said that motifs using chickens or locusts were common. The exhumed
bones were stored inside the stone coffin which generally consisted of a lid and body which was
hollowed out deeply. 12) Although volcanic tuff which is relatively easy to work is distributed around
“”. full account of the process, including planning, preparation, construction of a reburial tomb and execution of
a reburial ritual; Yamamoto [1991: 196-200] reports an interesting case of a reburial ritual at a Toba
settlement in the Sirnalungun area; and Sibeth [1991: 82-84] provides a brief illustration of a reburial ritual
held at Toba homeland in 1981 with many color photographs. Tampubolon [1968: 58-69] gives a detailed
explanation of the difference in the content of ritual between turun and gombur.
12) Some stone coffins have a monolithic structure without separation between lid and body; others have no
body – only the lid-shaped coffin is placed on the ground. In such cases, I suppose that the bones were /’
S. IKEGAMI: Historical Changes of Toba Batak Reburial Tombs
Lake Toba [Scholz 1983: 71], the big stone suitable for stone coffin which was available at restricted
places had to be dragged to the graveyard from such places as the foot of the mountain and
the river beach. Mr. MA told me that in 1936 he had witnessed several hundreds of people
engaged in the work of dragging a big stone from the river beach to the village for a week, during the
period of which water buffaloes and cattle had been slaughtered to feed the workers. Most of the
Toba, including Mr. MA, stated that, in Toba Holbung, stone coffins were valued higher than funeral
mounds as the symbol of socio-political or religious prestige, because only the outstanding figures
were able to mobilize the villagers as a labor force.
Barbier [1983: 113, 124] reports that stone urns called parholian, which means “receptacle of
the bones,” were made in and around the island of Samosir, but that he had not found them at all in
Toba Holbung. I exclude stone urns from my discussion in this paper, because I myself never saw
stone urns during my research in Toba Holbung and never heard the Toba in the region talking about
their presence.
B. Construction of Stone Coffins in LNH and Toba Holbung
“High mounds” in Toba Holbung are not so many because of the reason I mentioned above. Although
the construction of “high mounds” should, if possible, be examined in detail, there are no
“high mound” in LNH in the strict sense defined above. At the side of the dirt road which penetrates
LNH south to north, remains a large mound on which a hariara tree is planted. However,
according to the villagers, this mound is a tomb which contains the dead bodies of a man and his wife
who moved to LNH from the adjacent village in the pre-colonial period and those of his descendants.
There is no oral tradition concerning their reburial.
Thus, here I will first examine in detail the construction of stone coffins in LNH, based on my
own census data of all reburial tombs in LNH. Later I will extend my examination to stone coffins
in Toba Holbung, mainly based on my observations as well as interviews in the region.
Two stone coffins placed on the ground can be identified in LNH; and two more, according to
Mr. HM and other villagers, are certainly buried under the large mound mentioned above.
Picture 2 shows one of the stone coffins which can be observed in LNH. It is now plastered
with mortar. A stone plate, which is thought to have been made later and inlaid at the front of the
stone coffin, indicates that the reburial ritual concerning this coffin was held in 1917. This
information is inscribed on the plate in Toba Batak language in Roman script. The stone plate also
indicates that this stone coffin was made when a man of the Simanjuntak clan (the 10th generation)
and his eldest son (the 11th generation) were reburied with their respective spouses. Their
descendants who live in LNH confirm this. According to many villagers in LNH, the eldest son was
one of the key figures who played an important role in establishing a new communal irrigation system
in the pre-colonial period. Additionally they told me that, as a result of hard work of his 14 sons in
opening new paddy fields, the descendants of the eldest son came to have a large number of paddy
fields in the central part of LNH. Although most of the villagers pointed out that the large number
“‘. interred under the ground on which the monolithic or the lid-shaped stone coffin was placed. Barbier
[1983: 113-139] exemplifies the variation of stone coffins in detail with many photographs.
Picture 2 A Stone Coffin Called “Hard Stone”
(Batu na Pir)
There is a stone plate on the front
which indicates that the reburial ritual
was held in 1917. Photographed in
of descendants of the eldest son had been significant as a background to the construction of this
stone coffin, there are other factors we should consider. The construction of this stone coffin and
the realization of the reburial ritual were considered to be made possible based on the socio-political
prestige of the eldest son (the 11th generation) who was one of the leaders in establishing the
communal irrigation system, and on the wealth which was brought about by the ample paddy fields
opened by the 14 sons (the 12th generation).
The villagers in LNH assured me that the other stone coffin which could be identified on the
ground was a reburial tomb for a raja ihutan (an administrative chief of a small administrative district
called hundulan under the early stage of Dutch colonial rule), who was the 12th generation of the
Simanjuntak clan, and his wife constructed by his sons. Before examining this stone coffin, it will be
necessary to explain briefly the administrative system at the period.
In 1883, the Dutch colonial government installed a Controleur (European district officer) in
Balige supported by 50 colonial soldiers in Laguboti, and from 1886 appointed such colonial chiefs as
raja ihutan, raja padua (vice chief) and kepala kampong (hamlet chief) in villages in Toba Holbung
[Hirosue 1988: 56-71]. Vergouwen [1964: 128] notes: “In Toba Holbung the horja were in
most cases originally made into separate hundulan but later . . . combinations were often resorted
to by the Government.” On the contrary, Castles writes:
In drawing the boundaries of the hundulan, the new administrators naturally paid attention to genealogical
and other social and political realities, so far as they could perceive them, but they were harassed by
demands for haste from higher authorities and in the interests of efficiency (to secure an adequate
population for the hundulan) strange bedfellows were often brought together. This was particularly so in
the Toba Holbung region … where the horja or smaller sacrifice-community was an important indigenous
unit, but was generally too small to constitute a hundulan. [Castles 1972: 35-36]
As far as LNH and the neighboring villages are concerned, according to an elder in a village adjacent
to LNH who has a thorough knowledge of the history of local administration, the colonial government
appointed at the outset four raja ihutan from three harja among six harja which constituted a bius (a
larger sacrifice community) including LNH.
According to the villagers in LNH, two raja ihutan were at first appointed in LNH as repre-
S. IKEGAMI: Historical Changes of Toba Batak Reburial Tombs
sentatives of two influential lineages respectively. One raja ihutan was the 11th generation of the
Simanjuntak clan (hereafter referred to as “raja ihutan (a)”) and the other was the 12th generation of
the same clan (hereafter referred to as “raja ihutan (b)”). As shown in the certificates of appointment
kept by a villager in LNH who is a descendant of raja ihutan (a), they were appointed raja
ihutan in 1887. Some villagers who are descended from raja ihutan (a) or raja ihutan (b) stated
that at the time of appointment raja ihutan (a) had already been old enough, while raja ihutan (b) in
the prime of manhood. They also informed me that both of the two raja ihutan had made an
agreement with the colonial government to surrender the hundulan to another raja ihutan after the
death of either. Because the younger raja ihutan (b) died earlier than elder raja ihutan (a), the
latter took over the hundulan of the former. After the death of raja ihutan (a), one of his sons was
appointed the third raja ihutan from harja LNH who governed LNH and an adjacent village. It is
verified by the certificate of appointment for him issued in 1895.
An old man who is a grandchild of raja ihutan (b) told me that raja ihutan (b) died in 1903, but it
is natural to think that he died between 1887 (the year of his appointment) and 1895 (the year of
appointment of the third raja ihutan). According to the old man, the dead body of raja ihutan (b)
was buried at first on the verge of his hamlet and, several years later, his bones and those of his wife
who had died before his death were exhumed in order to be transferred to a stone coffin which was
made of a big stone dragged about one hundred meters up to the hamlet from the shore of Lake
Toba. Their sons (the 13th generation), according to the man, held a great reburial ritual using the
name of raja ihutan (b).
Although I did not have a chance to identify directly two more stone coffins which were said to
be buried under the large mound, the villagers in LNH affirmed that one of those two stone coffins
contained the exhumed bones of raja ihutan (a) and one of his five wives; and the other contained
those of his father (the 10th generation) exhumed by raja ihutan (a) and his brothers. The exact
years when those two stone coffins were constructed are uncertain. However, judging from the
year of the above-mentioned certificates of appointment, we should consider that raja ihutan (a) also
died between 1887 and 1895 ; and as a consequence we may suppose that those stone coffins were
constructed at the end of the nineteenth century. Mr. HM, a descendant of raja ihutan (a), stated
that these stone coffins had been buried under the mound for the purpose of preventing burial
accessories and bones from being stolen by the competing lineage which had intended to humiliate
the rival lineage. Furthermore he added that, according to the story he had heard from his
grandfather, it had taken about three months to drag the stone coffin for raja ihutan (a) from the
shore of Lake Toba to his hamlet on bamboo tubes with rattan ropes, accompanied by the gondang
to raise the morale of the workers. During this period, he said, calves had been slaughtered every
day to feed the working villagers.
As is clear from the verification above, all of four stone coffins in LNH are likely to have been
made in the Dutch colonial period and three of them turned out to be connected to the colonial chief,
raja ihutan. If that is the case in LNH, then we should examine next the cases in Toba Holbung at
According to Mr. MA, the exhumation of the bones in the pre-colonial period was not as
frequent as the present day in Toba Holbung. He elaborates that only a few outstanding figures
such as influential raja huta (those who opened a new hamlet called huta and their patrilineal
descendants) and excellent datu (magicians) were actually reburied in the pre-colonial period because
of their preeminent socio-political or religious prestige by the prosperous descendants. According
to Mr. MA, although the right of constructing a reburial tomb has in principle no relation to the
political status in the Toba adat, those who could afford the considerable expense necessary for the
preparation of a stone coffin and the execution of a reburial ritual were limited practically to the
people mentioned above. 13)
Schreiner [1994: 171] reports that stone coffins are predominantly distributed in the island of
Samosir as well as the southern and western shore of Lake Toba, among which the oldest may be
about five hundred years old. However, despite considerable effort, I found no such old stone
coffins similar to those reported by Schreiner in Toba Holbung on the southeastern shore of the lake.
On the contrary, I was often told that stone coffins about which I had a chance to obtain information
were reburial tombs for raja ihutan in the Dutch colonial period as is the case in LNH. The most
recent stone coffin which I identified in my research contains the bones of a raja ihutan of an
administrative section in Balige. According to one of his descendants, it was constructed in 1939.
Although there may be some exceptionally old stone coffins, we should consider that most of the
stone coffins in Toba Holbung were constructed in the period between the early stage of Dutch
colonial rule which began in the 1880s and the end of it in 1942. As Castles [1972: 34-38] points
out, some of the influential local chiefs consolidated their socio-political status in the early stage of
colonial rule by being appointed raja ihutan, raja padua or other colonial chiefs. As far as Toba
Holbung is concerned, I think it is highly probable that it was mainly such chiefs as mentioned above
and their children who were able to make the villagers drag a big stone for a stone coffin and hold a
reburial ritual by virtue of their socio-political prestige and the economic superiority based on
possession of ample paddy fields and livestock.
C. Background to the Construction of Mortar Reburial Tombs in Toba Holbung
In LNH, like other villages in Toba Holbung, there are some graveyards, as shown in Picture 3,
filled with many reburial tombs finished with mortar. Such tombs are also found along the village
paths. When did this distinctive landscape become common in Toba Holbung?
Quoting some passages from the works written in the Dutch colonial period will be helpful as
the first step in answering the question. Warneck, a German missionary mentioned above, describes:
“Finally the bones are buried and a high mound is raised over the grave which is often
decorated with a cement structure” [Warneck 1915 : 357, quoted in Sibeth 1991 : 80]. Since his
first missionary work in Tapanuli was conducted in the period 1892-1908, it will be clear from this
passage that the early utilization of cement for tombs may be traced back to around the tum of the
13) In addition to these occasions, according to Mr. MA, bones were exhumed, for example, from a village
where a man lived uxorilocally so as to transfer to the village of his origin. However, he added, there was
no particular ritual and construction of a reburial tomb on such an occasion, unless the financial capability of
the descendants of the deceased was sufficient.
S. IKEGAMI: Historical Changes of Toba Batak Reburial Tombs
Picture 3 Mortar Tombs in a Graveyard on the
Northern Edge of LNH
Attendants of a funeral are walking
toward a reburial tomb.
century. Bartlett, who stayed in North Sumatra twice both in 1918 and in 1927, notes in a paper
primarily presented at an academic meeting in 1928 that the Toba had already begun to construct
concrete tombs (built up of rubble and then plastered over with cement) by that time, and that
between 1918 and 1927 few of those new tombs had seemed to be erected [Bartlett 1973: 236].
Whereas Vergouwen [1964: 71] comments in his book originally published in 1933 that the exhumed
bones at that time were placed in new graves made of cement, called simen.
Such new tombs are often referred to in papers as “concrete tomb,” “simin (or simen)” after
the vernacular word for cement, or “tugu” which means a monument in Indonesian. However, I
employ here the term “mortar tomb” instead, which seems the most appropriate for three reasons
mentioned below.
(1) Those new tombs are rubble stonework or brickwork finished with mortar. According to
Ching [1995: 157], mortar is a “plastic mixture of lime or cement, or a combination of
both, with sand and water, used as a bonding agent in masonry construction.” He also
delineates that concrete is an “artificial, stonelike building material made by mixing
cement and various mineral aggregates with sufficient water to cause the cement to set
and bind the entire mass” [ibid. : 42]. Davey [1961: 121-122] defines: “In modem
practice the aggregates for mortar normally pass through a sieve with 3/16-inch square
openings, whereas mixtures with aggregates coarser than this would be classed as
concrete.” Mortar contains fine aggregates (namely sands), while concrete includes
coarse aggregates such as gravel and crushed stones too. If a tomb is cast from
concrete using forms of wood panels, there is no need of rubble stone or bricks. From
the architectural point of view, reburial tombs which dot the landscape in the Toba
highland should not be called “concrete tombs.”
(2) Some of those tombs are finished solely with lime mortar (a mixture of burnt lime, sand,
and water) including no cement. I consider that the term “simin (or simen)” which
derives from cement is an inappropriate expression for mortar in general. Therefore I
refer to reburial tombs finished with cement mortar, lime mortar, and the combination of
both as “mortar tombs.”
(3) Some adat experts including Mr. MA explicitly objected to refer to mortar tombs as
“tugu” on the ground that a tugu as a monument contains nothing in it, whereas every
mortar tomb includes the bones of ancestors and bears a religious meaning.
Prior to examining mortar tombs, it will be desirable to describe the technical background to the
construction of mortar tombs in Toba Holbung.
Portland cement, generally called “cement,” was invented in 1824 in England and put to
practical use in the middle of the nineteenth century in Europe [ibid. : 97-127]. In Toba Holbung,
however, modern construction such as offices of the colonial government, churches, irrigation
systems and bridges began in the 1880s when Dutch colonial rule reached there. According to an
old mason who follows in his father’s and grandfather’s footsteps, barrels filled with cement were
carried at that time into Toba Holbung from Sibolga on the western coast of North Sumatra through
a steep mountain path by porters or on horseback. However, he was not sure where the cement
had come from. It was usual in the early stage of the colonial period, he said, to use rubble stone
readily available from places such as the lakeshore, the riverside and the foot of mountains as a
building material. He added that mortar constituted of sand, water, and lime (sometimes mixed
with cement) had been used then for joining rubble stone together and finishing even when the
modern buildings had been constructed, because the short supply of cement had resulted in extra
high prices. According to the old mason, there were no mortar tombs until the plasterwork techniques
which made use of lime mortar was taught by Europeans who identified the high quality of the
burnt lime produced in a village near Balige as a building material which had been used for sirih (betel
chewing) since the pre-colonial period. So far as my research in Toba Holbung can establish, it is in
the twentieth century that the utilization of Portland cement mixed with lime for tomb construction
began in small numbers.
Si Singa Mangaraja XII, a Toba Batak divine king who fought against the Dutch colonial government,
was killed in a battle in 1907 [Sidjabat 1983: 286-296]. Consequently, all the indigenous
communities in North Sumatra were for the first time integrated as parts of the same larger polity
under Dutch colonial rule in 1910 [Langenberg 1977: 95-96]. Cunningham [1958: 85] pointed
out in relation to Toba migration that the roads which broke through in 1915 from the rapidly
growing East-Coast plantation area to Balige facilitated new contact between the Simalungun area
and the Toba highland. The distribution of commodities would have also been activated by the
newly-opened roads not only from the Simalungun area but also from Medan (the capital city of
North Sumatra in the east coast area). Most of the Toba I interviewed stated that the utilization of
cement as a building material had become popular in Toba Holbung in the 1920s, because the
improvement in land transportation by automobile from Medan had made the increasing supply of
cement possible. According to Mr. HM, an engineering contractor from his father’s generation, the
cement transported from Medan, often mixed with lime, was commonly used, until the cement from
West Sumatra hit the Tapanuli market in the 1950s.
Aritonang [1994: 172-173] notes that the first industrial school operated by the German
mission was opened in 1900 at Narumonda in Toba Holbung so as to answer the needs of Toba
society for trained persons in the technical fields and in fields requiring skilled workmen. The head
teacher at the school, which was moved to Laguboti later in 1907, was a German missionary who
S. IKEGAMI: Historical Changes of Toba Batak Reburial Tombs
was an excellent craftsman as well [loco cit.]. According to Mr. HM, stonework and woodwork
were the sole Toba indigenous construction skills before the contact with the Europeans. He
stated that the graduates of the industrial school had played a key role in spreading western
construction skills including plasterwork techniques.
Some of the Toba I interviewed remembered that the brick production business had once been
tried even in Toba Holbung in 1942, which had resulted in a failure because of the low quality of clay
and the poor skill of calcination. Most of them also stated that bricks had begun to be used as a
material for the construction of the buildings including tombs from the 1950s. According to a leading
brick producer in a village near Lubuk Pakam in the district of Deli Serdang, the brick production
industry developed in the former plantations from the 1950s and its products have been traded even
to Tapanuli as a result of the improvement in truck transportation.
D. Examination of Mortar Tombs in LNH
I found 67 mortar tombs in LNH at the time of my research in September 1994, two of which (one of
them was constructed in the 1930s and the other in the 1940s) contained no bones at that time,
because the bones were re-transferred to other reburial tombs constructed recently.
Table 1 shows the number of reburial tombs in LNH constructed in each decade, classified into
five categories according to the shape. I4 ) One of the most noteworthy facts in Table 1 is that the
construction of mortar tombs in LNH began in the 1920s and increased considerably in the 1930s.
However, the construction of mortar tombs boomed after the end of the Revolution. Among the 67
mortar tombs, 50 (74.6%) were constructed after 1960. In the previous studies by some Toba
scholars, there is a divergence in opinion over the period when the construction of mortar tombs
began to boom: Hutagaol [1989: 185] notes that mortar tombs have increased along the roads in
North Tapanuli since the 1950s; whereas Lumbantoruan [1974: 94] observes that the boom began
Table 1 Historical Changes in the Number of Mortar Tombs in LNH according to the Shape Type
1920s 1930s 1940s 1950s 1960s 1970s 1980s 1990s* Total
Stone coffin type 1 6 1 1 0 1 0 0 10
Step type 0 1 1 2 1 5 2 1 13
Box type 0 0 1 3 9 6 5 7 31
Traditional house type 0 0 0 0 1 3 5 0 9
Others 0 0 0 0 2 0 1 1 4
Total 1 7 3 6 13 15 13 9 67
* : Figures as of September 1994.
14) On mortar tombs the Toba normally record such information as the names of the reburied (usually their
teknonym and marga, for example “Ompu si Gani Simanjuntak”), the year of birth and death of the
reburied, as well as the year of the construction of the tomb. As far as mortar tombs in LNH concerned,
53 (79.1%) out of 67 tombs including those which were constructed in the Dutch colonial period had such
records on them. As the villagers in LNH pointed out, the practice of recording such information might
have been influenced by Christianity.
in the 1960s. Mr. MA stated that the Toba in increasing numbers began to talk about the projects
of reburial in the 1950s, soon after the end of the Revolution, when the number of Toba emigrants
increased; and that their plans for reburial began to be realized in the 1960s. The case of LNH, I
consider, positively supports this statement of Mr. MA.
Many of the Toba agreed that, because there were no regulations as regards the shape of
reburial tombs, it was decided according to the will of the host group. In LNH, mortar tombs which
had the bone repository imitating the form of stone coffins (the stone coffin type) were constructed
mostly during the colonial period and seldom after Indonesian independence. The favored successors
to the stone coffin type were stepped tombs with several steps (the step type) ; box-shaped
tombs functioning both as the bone repository and as the place for dead bodies mostly with an
additional small bone repository on it (the box type); and tombs resembling the box type in the
appearance of the lower part, on which the bone repository elaborately imitating the traditional Toba
house (ruma) is placed (the traditional house type). As Table 1 demonstrates, among mortar tombs
in LNH, those of the box type are the most common as a whole. Those of the traditional house
type have been built increasingly since the 1960s. I suppose that one of the reasons for the
increase of the tombs of this type was the improvement in plasterwork skills, which made the
elaborate work possible.
Next I will examine the functional aspect of mortar tombs in LNH. The word “burial chamber”
in Table 2 means the space inside of the mortar tomb. I employ the term “burial chamber” in this
paper because there is no particular Toba term indicating the space and the Toba usually express it
by the Indone~ian word ruangan which means “room” or “chamber.” It is usual in the case of
mortar tombs with the additional bone repository on them that the bones of the ancestors in the
earliest generation are stored permanently in the bone repository above and those of younger
generations on the shelf made inside of the burial chamber. As shown in Picture 4, which shows
the inside of a mortar tomb in LNH, the bones are deposited on the shelf and the dead bodies put in
the wooden coffin are placed on the floor. Fifty three mortar tombs (79.1%) in LNH have the burial
chamber, while 10 (14.9%), without the burial chamber, have a division of burial ground for the dead
bodies. It can be said that 63 tombs (94.0%), the total of the two mentioned above, are constructed
with the intention of storing the dead bodies as well as the bones. I infer from what Table
2 shows that migrants who demonstrate the initiative in reburial as chief sponsors tend to regard the
reburial tomb not only as the place for storing the bones of their ancestors but also as the grave for
Table 2 Historical Changes in the Number of Mortar Tombs in LNH according to the Type of Burial Space
1920s 1930s 1940s 1950s 1960s 1970s 1980s 1990s* Total
With burial chamber 1 6 1 5 8 12 12 8 53
Bone repository with
burial ground 0 0 1 1 5 2 1 0 10
Bone repository only 0 1 1 0 0 1 0 1 4
Total 1 7 3 6 13 15 13 9 67
* : Figures as of September 1994.
S. IKEGAMI: Historical Changes of Toba Batak Reburial Tombs
Picture 4 The Inside of a Mortar Tomb in LNH
There are skulls and little wooden
coffins containing bones on the shelf,
while big wooden coffins containing
the dead body are placed on the floor.
This mortar tomb was constructed in
themselves. At the point of my research in 1994, 43 mortar tombs (64.2%) contained one or more
dead bodies.
Table 3 indicates the number and the types of reburial rituals in each decade. The total
number of reburial rituals analyzed (71) outnumbers that of mortar tombs in LNH, because in some
reburial rituals the bones were stored in the mortar tomb which had already been constructed
previously at the time of the first reburial ritual. According to some villagers in LNH, there were
no turun type rituals except those which followed the construc.tion of the stone coffins in the early
stage of the colonial period. When I asked the type of reburial rituals which followed the construction
of mortar tombs, most of the villagers answered, “It was gondang’ or “It was just
partangiangan. ” The most important criterion, namely, is whether the ritual included gondang
music or not. Consequently, the simplified reburial ritual without gondang is called partangiangan.
Table 3 reveals that not all reburial rituals in the 1930s under Dutch colonial rule were conducted
Table 3 Historical Changes in the Number and the Type of Reburial Rituals in LNH
1920s 1930s 1940s 1950s 1960s 1970s 1980s 1990s* Total
Gondang 1 4 1 2 6 11 10 5 40
Partangiangan 0 2 1 3 5 8 5 4 28
Scheduled 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 3 3
Total 1 6 2 5 11 19 15 12 71
Note: Although the total number of reburial tombs in LNH is 67, the total number of reburial rituals in LNH
is 71, because on some of the reburial rituals the host group did not construct a new reburial tomb but
utilized old tombs which already existed. Since the reburial ritual is not always held on the same
year as the construction of reburial tomb is completed, the total number of reburial tombs constructed
in each decade shown in Table 1 and Table 2 does not always coincide with the total number of
reburial rituals in each decade shown in Table 3.
* : Figures as of September 1994.
with gondang; and that, since the 1970s, the reburial rituals with gondang have increased, while
those without gondang have also been carried out according to the financial capabilities of the host
V Case Studies of the Construction of Mortar Tombs in LNH
When the Toba talk about mortar tombs, they quite frequently refer to the financial support of the
migrants. Therefore I will first describe briefly the history of migration from LNH as a background
to the increase in construction of mortar tombs, mainly based on my interviews with the villagers.
Since the establishment of Christian missions and Dutch colonial rule in the 1880s, the Western
system of education has prevailed in Toba Holbung [Aritonang 1994: 153-175]. In LNH, some of
the young people whose fathers were colonial chiefs or such church functionaries as church elders
and teacher-preachers could take advantage of educational opportunities, and in consequence could
elevate their socio-economic status. It was mainly the children of such colonial chiefs as raja ihutan
who won the confidence of the colonial government and could afford the great expense of higher
education. Having western education in Dutch, they could acquire positions as clerks in the
plantation office or as colonial government staff. It was, on the other hand, chiefly the children of
church functionaries who graduated from the teachers’ training school run by the German mission
and were placed in all over North Sumatra as teacher-preachers. Some children of common
villagers could also become foremen called mandur or laborer contractors for public works of the
colonial govemment, if they could obtain sufficient reading and calculating capabilities through
primary education in the vernacular language in the village school. As Cunningham [1958: 85]
notes, the influx of Toba migrants into the Simalungun area, whose skills in irrigation were highly
esteemed by the Dutch colonial government, began in the mid-1910s. He considers that this influx
was caused partly as a result of the invitation of the government which intended to establish vast
paddy fields in the Simalungun area in order to supply sufficient rice to the increasing number of
plantation workers in East Sumatra [loc. cit.]. Quite a few migrants from LNH achieved economic
success in the new settlements which caused an improvement in their standard of living compared
with the villagers who remained in the homeland. Some of these migrants raised their social status
by being appointed the village chief in the settlements. As transportation improved from the 1920s,
the new wealthy who were involved in business began to augment their economic power.
Cunningham, who conducted research both at a Toba village adjacent to LNH and at a
settlement in East Sumatra, mentions that a great number of Toba migrants occupied the plantation
lands which had formerly been owned by Westerners and its surrounding area in order to open illegal
farmlands profiting from disorder at the time of the transfer of sovereignty from the Dutch colonial
government to the Republic oflndonesia [ibid. : 91-95]. Since the 1960s, furthermore, migrants to
such cities as Pematang Siantar, Medan and Jakarta have increased, among which quite a few people
took high positions such as civil servants, teachers, police and military officers, or succeeded in
On the following pages, I will examine three cases of reburial tombs in LNH which were
S. IKEGAMI: Historical Changes of Toba Batak Reburial Tombs
constructed by lineages of the Simanjuntak clan whose genealogy is relatively unambiguous. Forty
eight (71.6%) out of 67 mortar tombs in LNH were tombs of the Simanjuntak clan. By exemplifying
the kinship relation between the exhumed ancestors and the descendants who constituted the host
group of the reburial ritual as well as their socio-economic backgrounds, I will illustrate the relationship
between the migrants and the villagers in Toba homeland.

The villagers said that the mortar tomb of the stone coffin type shown in Picture 5, located beside a
hamlet in the center of LNH, was constructed in about 1930. This tomb is rubble stonework
finished with lime mortar and one of the oldest mortar tombs in LNH. The following information
concerning the mortar tomb is based on an interview with A21 in his fifties, one of the descendants
of Al shown in Fig. 2, who earns a living from wet-rice cultivation in LNH and is a church elder.
Picture 5 A Mortar Tomb in LNH Examined in
Case 1
This tomb was constructed in about
(Refer to Fig. 2 for information about
the relationship between the reburied
and the host group.)
This tomb was built with the intention to store the bones of the ancestors of the 11th and the
12th generation. When the reburial ritual was conducted in 1932, the bones of a man (AI) of the
11th generation and his wife (A2) as well as his three sons of the 12th generation and their spouses
(from A3 to AID) were exhumed and transferred to this tomb. Born in a hamlet founded by his
father adjacent to this tomb, Al lived a life as a common peasant in LNH without any particular great
deeds, though he had the adat authority over the land use in the hamlet as a raja huta. The bones
of Al and A2 were exhumed from the graveyard in LNH, while those of the others were brought
from Siantar. When the villagers refer to “Siantar,” it means not only the central city in the
Simalungun area but also its environs. A21 does not have information on the years and motives of
migration of his ancestors (A3, A6 and A9 of the 12th generation and their spouses) to Siantar and
their occupations there. However, it may be surmised that the migration of these people of the
the 11th
the 12th
the 13th
the 14th
the 15th
~3~ ::1:Or~ :1~1A~
A116 6 6 6A14 6A15 6A16 6A17
H12 A13 :: : r-1
A186 6 I I I 6 6A19
h-n ~
Fig. 2 Reburied Ancestors and Their Patrilineal Descendants in Case 1 (Picture 5)
Those who were reburied in this tomb are designated by the following
symbols .
… : Male whose exhumed bones are stored.
• : Female whose exhumed bones are stored.
12th generation happened in the latter half of the nineteenth century, estimated from the year of the
reburial ritual and from the generation depth between the reburied ancestors and the key members
of the host group mentioned below. It would have been a pioneering migration in the earliest stage
to the Simalungun area to open-up the land, considering the statement of other villagers that there
was a migrant from LNH who had left there in the latter half of the nineteenth century and was
appointed penghulu (village chief) at a pioneering settlement in the Simalungun area in the 1890s.
Among the men of the 13th generation, only AI7 (grandfather of A2I) lived in LNH, another
(AI4) dwelled in Balige, and all of the others resided in Siantar. A19, father of A21, arranged for
the construction of the tomb, because, among the descendants of Al who were of the 14th
generation, only A19 dwelled in LNH, earning a living by wet-rice cultivation and holding a position
as a church elder. The reburial ritual in 1932 lasted for three days and nights accompanied by the
gondang. Those who constituted the host group of the ritual were the descendants (the 14th and
the 15th generation) of A3, A6 and A9. It was A20, an official in the colonial government in Siantar
at that time, who played a central and important role as a leader of the host group.
A21 is not certain whether the exhumed ancestors were Christians or not. However, I
speculate that the members of the host group of the ritual (the 14th and the 15th generation) were
Christians, judging from the fact that A15 (the 13th generation) and A19 (the 14th generation) were
church elders. If this speculation is correct, it would testify that even the Christian Toba kept
conducting reburial rituals in the 1930s in Toba Holbung, despite the prohibition laid down by the
German mission.
In 1987, the descendants of Al constructed a new reburial tomb with the large-sized burial
chamber and the bone repository resembling a Toba traditional house at another place along the main
road of LNH. At the reburial ritual held in the following year, the bones which had been stored in
S. IKEGAMI: Historical Changes of Toba Batak Reburial Tombs
the old tomb shown in Picture 5, together with the bones of the migrants (the 13th and 14th
generation) as well as their spouses were exhumed from graveyards in Siantar, and transferred to
the new reburial tomb. As a result, the old tomb is abandoned at the present time.

The mortar tomb shown in Picture 6 was constructed in 1980. It is located in a graveyard on the
northern edge of LNH. Using bricks as building materials and being finished with cement mortar (a
mixture of Portland cement, sand, and water), this reburial tomb’s bone repository on the boxshaped
burial chamber elaborately imitates the Toba traditional house. I obtained information on
this tomb from B9 in Fig. 3 who was born in 1918 and had long been a church elder, as well as from
his eldest son born in 1942. Both of them earned a living from wet-rice cultivation in LNH.
At the reburial ritual in 1981, the bones of B2 and his two wives were exhumed from the burial
ground around a mortar tomb constructed in 1939 in which the bones of grandparents of B2 and the
descendants with their respective spouses were stored. The bones of B2 and his wives were
Bl B2
Picture 6 A Mortar Tomb in LNH Examined in
Case 2
This tomb was constructed in 1980.
(Refer to Fig. 3 for information about
the relationship among the reburied,
the buried and the host group.)
I :I I 0
the 13th
the 14th
the 15th
B4 B5
I I r–r-I—–‘n
I 0 6=0 1:1 6=:1 6 6=:1
B7 B8 B9 BlO Bll B12 B13 B14 B15 B16 B17
;/1″——.~- I I
I /’ D 6 D
B18 B19
Fig. 3 Reburied Ancestors and Their Patrilineal Descendants in Case 2 (Picture 6)
Those who were reburied or buried in this tomb are designated by the following
• : Male whose exhumed bones are stored.
• : Female whose exhumed bones are stored.
~ : Male whose dead body is stored.
0: Female whose dead body is stored.
transferred to the bone repository imitating the Toba traditional house. In Toba society, the
foundation of a new hamlet by a newly married young man who leaves his father’s hamlet to begin an
independent life is referred to as manjae. As regards the tombs, transference of the bones of
people which have already been stored in the parents’ or ancestors’ reburial tomb to a new reburial
tomb constructed for them is also expressed by the same word, manjae.
The above-mentioned raja ihutan (b) had three sons. B2 was his third son. According to the
villagers, the second son who assisted the colonial government as a tax collector (kepala rodz) in the
village was superior to his brothers (the first son of raja ihutan (b) and B2) both in social status and
in economic power. B2 did not migrate and lived as a common peasant in LNH all his life. He
converted to Christianity.
The construction of this mortar tomb originated in an offer from B5 who was born in LNH in the
first half of the 1910s and acquired a position as a government official in Medan in the colonial period.
Since he had no desire to be buried in Medan far from his homeland, he consulted with his younger
brothers about his hope of building a tomb for himself and his wife. B9 suggested in response that
they could construct a new reburial tomb to store the bones of their father (B2) and mothers (B1 and
B3). Thus the mortar tomb shown in Picture 6 with a large burial chamber was constructed on the
consensus of the brothers of the 14th generation.
The leader of the reburial ritual with gondang held in 1981 was B7, who was the village chief of
LNH at that time. As of the reburial ritual in 1981, three of the seven brothers of the 14th
generation lived outside of LNH: namely B5 was a government official in Medan; similarly B11 in a
small city in East Sumatra; and B13 was a plasterer in Medan. The others mainly earned a living
from wet-rice cultivation in LNH. B16 was a teacher at a primary school in an adjacent village.
Although B9 avoided making a detailed explanation of the allotment of expenses for the reburial, I
suppose that the expenses were born not only by the migrants but also considerably by the brothers
who remained in LNH, judging from the fact that the standard of living of B7 and B9, having a large
size of paddy fields, was significantly higher than ordinary villagers in LNH, and from the comments
of other villagers concerning this reburial tomb.
The burial chamber of this tomb now contains seven corpses of people of the 14th generation
and bodies of two men of the 15th generation who died after the reburial ritual in 1981. Among
those nine persons, it was only B7 who died in LNH. Although B17, an ex-teacher at a secondary
school, had lived in LNH with her husband, she died at a hospital in Medan and her body was carried
to LNH. Those who died in Medan and whose corpses were carried to LNH were as follows: B5
and his wife (B4), the wife of B13 (namely B14), B18 who was a soldier, and B19 who was a guard.
The dead bodies of Bll and B12 who died in a city in East Sumatra were also carried to LNH and
placed in the burial chamber of this reburial tomb.

The mortar tomb of the box type shown in Picture 7 which was constructed in 1993 belongs to the
group of smaller mortar tombs in LNH. This tomb adjacent to the mortar tomb in Picture 6 is built
of bricks joined together and finished with cement mortar similar to the tomb in Picture 6. On the
s. IKEGAMI: Historical Changes of Toba Batak Reburial Tombs
burial chamber was made a bone repository whose motif is thought to be “high mound.” A villager
told me that this design without cross was adopted because there were Muslims among the
members of the host group. The following information on this tomb was provided by C20 born in
1937, the only person who still remains in LNH among the descendants of C1 documented in Fig. 4.
C20 earns a living by wet-rice cultivation.
C20 referred to the reburial ritual in 1993 without gondang as partangiangan. The bones of
the following 13 persons were exhumed at that time: C1, his wife (C2) and his patrilineal descendants
with their spouses. The bones of all of them were disinterred from the grave spots in LNH,
except the bones of C8 who had lived in East Sumatra with one of her sons after the death of her
husband (C7) and had been buried there. The bones of C1 and C2 were transferred to the bone
Picture 7 A Mortar Tomb in LNH Examined in
Case 3
This tomb was constructed in 1993.
(Refer to Fig. 4 for information about
the relationship between the reburied
and the host group.)
C1 C2
C~2 TC~3
.A. = 0
C17 I C18
.A.=t=- C7 C8
D. D.
C14 I C15
.A. =;= e D.
C9 I ClO Cll
the 11th
the 12th
the 13th
the 15th
the 14th
Fig.4 Reburied Ancestors and Their Patrilineal Descendants in Case 3 (Picture 7)
Those who were reburied in this tomb are designated by the following
symbols .
….. : Male whose exhumed bones are stored .
• : Female whose exhumed bones are stored.
repository on the burial chamber, while those of the others were stored on the shelf inside of the
burial chamber. C1 was born in LNH and moved, as soon as he married, to another hamlet in LNH
which had just been founded then. Since C1 lived all his life in LNH as an ordinary peasant, C20
talked about no particular feats of C1 as well as of his descendants.
C5 had only one patrilineal descendant, namely C12. It was the same with C12. C17 was
born in 1897 in LNH. After a brief experience of school education in East Sumatra, he was obliged
to return to LNH and earn a living by wet-rice cultivation because he was the only male successor to
C20 had no detailed information concerning the migration of the descendants of C3 and C7.
However, among the patrilineal descendants of C3, those of the 14th generation may have migrated
from LNH, since C19 was born in Siantar. On the other hand, judging from the fact that C8 was
buried in East Sumatra, persons of the 13th generation among the descendants of C7 possibly
emigrated to the area. C21, a descendant of C7, was born in Siantar.
According to C20, C21, whose occupation had been a government official in Surabaya, had
scarcely any social interaction with LNH, the origin of his patrilineal ancestors. On one occasion,
he met a man of the same patrilineal clan who came from LNH and heard that he was a descendant of
C1. Consequently, C21 visited LNH to see C20. C20 made no explicit comment on the motive
for constructing the reburial tomb. However, it is possible that such an opportunity, under an
agreement with C19 who was a descendant of C3 and carried on business in Siantar, facilitated the
development of a plan for constructing the reburial tomb. Although the basement of the tomb was
built in 1986, construction ceased for some reason which was not explained by C20. Several years
later, C21 who was urged by his two sons studying abroad in the USA at the time took the initiative
in the completion of the reburial tomb. As a result the reburial ritual could be realized in 1993.
It is not usual for the members of the host group of a reburial ritual to explain the actual share of
the expenses by each member. Fortunately I obtained such information on this reburial from C20.
According to C20, the expenses both for the construction of the reburial tomb and for the execution
of the reburial ritual amounted to about Rp 10 million (approximately equivalent to US$4,800 at the
time of my research in 1993), which were shared by C19 and C20 who financed Rp 2.5 million
respectively as well as by C21 who provided Rp 5 million. 15) Since there should have been more
members involved than these three men, it is unlikely that the expenses were shared solely by the
three men. Therefore we should understand that these three men played central roles as the
leaders of the descendants of three ancestors of the 12th generation (C3, C5 and C7) in collecting
the allotment from the members of each lineage and their wife-receivers; and that they substantially
bore most of the expenses as main sponsors.
There are no dead bodies in the burial chamber of this reburial tomb at present, because it is
15) Gultom shows a more detailed example of the expenses related to reburial. According to his tentative
calculation as of 1988, the travel expenses of some members of the host group who reside in Jakarta cost
Rp 13.5 million, the expenses for the ritual consumption cost about Rp 6.9 million, and the expenses for the
construction of a mortar tomb of middle size (15.5 m2
) cost Rp 5.3 million, the total of which amounts to Rp
25.7 million [Gultom 1991: 52-58].
S. IKEGAMI: Historical Changes of Toba Batak Reburial Tombs
not so long since the completion of the tomb. However, it is highly possible that, in future, the
dead bodies of the descendants of C1 will be carried from their present dwelling places such as
Siantar and Surabaya back to LNH in this tomb.
By showing examples I explained here how the villagers in Toba homeland and the migrants interrelated
closely concerning reburial. In the above three cases, an official of the colonial government in
Siantar (A20 in Case 1), a government official in Medan (B5 in Case 2) and an ex-official of the
government in Surabaya (C21 in Case 3) as well as a merchant in Siantar (C19 in Case 3) played key
roles respectively in realizing the reburial in close cooperation with the villagers.
Conclusion: Changes in Requirements for Reburial and Reburial Rituals Today
In this paper I elucidated historical changes of Toba reburial tombs which have tended to be
discussed without sufficient verification, based on research in Toba Holbung especially in LNH.
Although stone coffins were widely known as the old type of reburial tomb, most stone coffins in
Toba Holbung might have been constructed in the Dutch colonial period, connected to such colonial
chiefs as raja ihutan. The census figures of mortar tombs in LNH indicated the first peak of
construction in the 1930s and also the rapid increase from the 1960s.
The increase of reburial me~ns a growth in the number of reburied ancestors. When a
monetary economy was underdeveloped, it would have been difficult to mobilize villagers to drag a
big stone for a stone coffin solely by paying cash. In the reburial ritual celebrating a stone coffin, as
is clear from the cases in LNH, only a limited number of ancestors were actually reburied, because
what was needed for reburial at that time was the prestige and fame which made the mobilization of
the villagers as a labor force possible and the sufficient economic power which enabled the slaughter
of scores of livestock to feed the laborers and to serve the guests of the ritual. However, in the
reburial ritual celebrating a mortar tomb, even a mere peasant could be reburied, if the descendants
achieve economic prosperity. Quite a few of the Toba I interviewed including the villagers in LNH
stressed that the social status and the economic power of the descendants were more important than
those of the dead ancestors as requirements for reburial when the mortar tombs were constructed.
Barbier [1983: 134] also points out that the transfer and the depositing of bones depends nowadays
less on the reputation of the deceased during his lifetime than on the wealth of his descendants. In
conclusion, it can be considered that the requirements for reburial have changed so greatly in the
present day that no other condition than having grandchildren is required, and that nowadays the
ancestors who are designated to be reburied are chosen according to the will of the descendants.
However, according to the Toba adat, the decision for reburial of ancestors must be based on
the complete consensus among all of the lineage members who derive from the designated ancestors.
Therefore, in case there is disharmony among the lineage members or a discrepancy of
understanding about the order of birth of the ancestors or themselves, the consensus on reburial of
some ancestors may not be established and as a result the reburial plan would not be proceeded
with, even if there are some wealthy persons among the descendants.
Based on the consensus of the descendants, the members of the host group agree in principle
to bear the expenses together. When I asked the name of the principal reburial sponsor, most of
the Toba replied that all of the descendants of the designated ancestors had constituted the host
group and had borne the expenses together. As a matter of course anyone who joins the host
group certainly takes a share in the expenses and the members living in the homeland contribute
additionally by supplying their labor. Even though one or more wealthy members bear most of the
expenses, the names of the chief sponsors and their respective shares are never announced formally
in the reburial ritual. The wealthy members also appreciate that they will be thought ill-mannered
(hurang maradat), if they are arrogant about the great size of their contributions. However, the
participants of a reburial ritual usually infer the amount of expenses from the size of the reburial
tomb, the number of livestock slaughtered and the amount of ritual meal; and moreover they
speculate about the share of expenses based on the evaluation of the social status and financial
capability of the key members of the host group. Since some members of the host group often talk
about the share of the expenses at informal opportunities, other people come to know how much the
wealthy members contributed to the expenses. Thus, contrary to the principle of bearing the
expenses together, we can suppose that the reburial ritual is an opportunity for the wealthy migrants
to display their wealth without arrogance, and for the other members to realize the socio-economic
potential of their lineage and to show it off to others. A villager in LNH referred to the reburial
ritual as “the exhibition of wealth and power” (pameran kekayaan dan kekuasaan). This remark
expresses adequately the meaning of reburial in the contemporary Toba society.
Lastly, I would briefly discuss three factors which were supposed to cause the dramatic
increase of reburial tombs in Toba Holbung.
In my opinion, the first is the continuance of the concept of ancestral spirits. According to Mr.
MA, although Protestant doctrine teaches that only God can give holy blessings to human beings and
that spirits of the dead in the presence of God are separated completely from living people, the Toba
indigenous concept of ancestral spirits has continued in principle as a religious background to
reburial, despite the transformation under the influence of Protestant doctrine: ancestral spirits are
still believed to give earthly blessings and protection to the descendants who venerate them. I
suppose that such a concept is widely shared by the migrants of today, considering the account of
Mr. MA that the urban migrants who demonstrate the initiative for reburial quite often express their
intention to give thanks to the ancestors for giving them earthly blessings and protection against ill
fortune resulting in their socio-economic success. An ex-official from LNH who lives in Siantar told
me that most of the migrants sponsored reburials, hoping that their income would increase as a
result of the blessings and protection given by the reburied ancestors. The latent desire for
reburial based on such a concept of ancestral spirits, I believe, has continued among the Toba.
In addition to this, we also should consider the flowing back of wealth from the migrants as the
second factor. The preparation of a stone coffin needed the socio-political or religious prestige of
the exhumed ancestor which made the mobilization of the villagers possible, while the construction of
a mortar tomb did not need labor mobilization. Mortar tombs could be constructed by craftsmen
who received wages, most of which were provided by wealthy migrants. In order to obtain social
S. IKEGAMI: Historical Changes of Toba Batak Reburial Tombs
acknowledgment in accordance with ada! as a proper reburial tomb, the important condition is not
materials or the form of the tomb but the execution of a reburial ritual. The Toba regard mortar
tombs as a variation (variasz) of former reburial tombs, namely stepped funerary mounds planted
with baringin or hariara tree and stone coffins; and accordingly in the ritual speech they refer to
reburial tombs as “high mound, hard stone” (tambak na timbo, batu na pir) even in reburial rituals of
today which celebrates mortar tombs. As Cunningham [1958: 82-87] suggests, the increasing
opportunities for employment outside the highlands of Tapanuli under Dutch colonial rule, as well as
high population pressure in the homeland villages, caused the augmentation of Toba migrants who
raised their socio-economic status. The construction of mortar tombs is considered to have begun
because of sponsorship by such migrants who could provide much money obtained regardless of
paddy fields, dry fields and livestock in their homeland village and of the socio-economic power in the
village context. I suppose that the construction of reburial tombs has been spurred on by rivalry
among lineages because under the Toba adat the right of demonstrating the initiative in reburial is
not restricted by order of birth. Quite a few of the Toba I interviewed stressed that the
construction of reburial tombs would have not been so popular without the flowing back of wealth
from migrants. It is understood that the marked increase in urban migrants since the 1960s has
made this tendency more and more conspicuous.
The third factor which is supposed to be important for the augmentation of reburial is the
lowering of mortality as a result of the sanitary guidance and the improvement in medical service by
the Dutch colonial government as well as by the German mission, and the resultant population
growth. It is highly possible that the lowering of mortality prolonged life expectancy and
consequently increased the number of people who had grandchildren. Thus it is thought that many
people, having male grandchildren as patrilineal descendants, came to fulfill the requirement for
reburial generally referred to as “being an ompu.” I suppose that the reduction of infant mortality
would have increased the number of descendants required to bear the expenses of reburial. 16)
This is the revised English version of my original paper in Japanese [Ikegami 1995]. I am greatly obliged to Dr.
Tsuyoshi Kato and Dr. Akira Adachi for their critical comments and suggestions on the original draft of the paper.
I acknowledge helpful discussions with Dr. Haruki Yamamoto on several points in the paper. Thanks are also
due to Shigeyasu Ikegami for providing useful information on building materials. I would like to express my
gratitude especially to Aman Dumohar, Ama ni Pinenda and Ama ni Ompon, all of whom are the members of the
Simanjuntak clan, as well as all people living in Lintong Ni Huta for their hearty cooperation.
16) I shall discuss these factors in detail at another opportunity. Scholars and the Toba themselves often point
out that the wealthy migrants demonstrate the initiative in reburial so as to elevate their social status.
However, opinions of my informants differ on this point. Some of the Toba including Mr. HM mentioned
that the chief sponsors for reburial obtained high status in the clan, dalihan na toiu (kinship relations
including affinal relations) and the village, and that their opinions were highly regarded; while others like
Mr. MA insisted that the wealthy were respected solely on the practical ground that they bore most of the
expenses and that they never attained an exalted social status as well as political power in the village and
the clan. This point needs further discussion based on the corroborative evidence from the analysis of
some particular reburial rituals, examining the planning and the execution of the reburial rituals, as well as
the change of the social relationships after the rituals.
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Henka 0 Megutte [High Mound, Hard Stone: The Historical Change of the Reburial Tombs among the Toba
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(Part 1). Review of Indonesian and Malaysian Affairs 11(1): 74-110.
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North Sumatra. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.
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Lebensordnungen fur Kirche und Mission unter den Batak in Nordsumatra. Gutersloh: Gutersloher
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