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Mysterious megalythical culture

The remote Pasemah plateau, a wide, fertile plain, surrounded by an almost impassible wall of mountains, in the west of the provice contains several of the most remarkable megalythical remains of Sumatra. The 70 km long plateau stretches along a canyon in Bukit Barisan, at the foot of the sleeping Gunung Dempo (3159 metres).

This was the region where the first bronzeage megalyth culture was located. The biggest city of Pasemah, Pagaralam, is located on an altitude of 710 metres. Dozens of megalyths are scattered throughout the city: raised stones in ordered groups or rows, trenched in which human heads are carfev, terracced raisings, stone grinders, stone tables, painted sarcofagussus in the ground and numerous stone objects.

A number of the best objects is taken to museums in Jakarta and Palembang. The most famous, the beautifull Batu Gajah of Elephant Stone, now in the Museum of Sumatra Selatan in Palembang, shows an image of an armed warrior on an elephant. Many stones are still on their original place in the fields and gardens around Gunung Dempo.


Who erected these megalyths and why? Local legends say that a magician named Lidat Pahit (Bitter Tongue), could turn people and animals into stone. One of the statues of Tinggi Hari seems to be a petrified princes (Batu Puteri. The story goes that she once met Lidah Pahit. He asked where she was going, but she was too proud to answer. He didn't like that at all, and turned her into a statue all of a sudden.
Picture: Wall painting
A more scientific theory is that the statues are the work of a population that lived here from the year 1 to 500. Several reliefs show armed warriors with bronze Dongson-drums, which arrived in the archipelago in the first centuries of the current Western year count.

The megalyths do not show any Indian influence, which founded the big trade empires along the coast like Melayu and Srivijaja in the 6th and 7th century AD. Many reliefs show military skills and point to a restless, war-bases society.

Many times, the images are so eroded that it's not possible to see if the images are male or female. Women are often dressen in a poncho, which is tied under the arms. Men wear a belt with a towl over that and ancles have big metal rings. Several images have wide, flat belts around their neck. Furthermore the men wear short wide knifes.

Van der Hoop, a Dutch pilot which became archeologist and studied these remains in the 1930's, thought the bronze or iron were helmets for protection. They have big similarities with the Javanese blankon, a tight cap of cloth with a button at the back. Seen the warrior-like shape, the abcense of bows and arrows is remarkable.
Visit the megaliths

Besides the Taqwa Mosque, between losmen Mirasa and the centre of Pagaralam, is a megalith which represents a man which tames an elephant without head. A stone lesung batu, a gigantic grinder, besides the elephant, is sunken in the soil. A trip from the losmen in opposite direction, with on the left the turn to Jl. Tanjung Aru, close to Hotel Dharmakaya, leads to Kampung Tanjung Aro (two kilometers). Turn right at number 160; fifty metres ahead are several sarcofagusses, surrounded by a bamboo fence.

Turn your back to the graves and walk to a remarkable row of stones, fifty metres ahead, they are scattered over some ricefields. One of them has a relief of a man, fighting with a snake. A spectacular place, with Gunung Dempo in the background. The most impressife group of megaliths and graves is in the village of Tegurwangi, six kilometers of Pagaralam.

Here are, 50 metres from the main road, four human shapes at the riverside. The faces are clearly visible, thick lips, big eyes and heavy eyebrows. On their backs they carry big objects. Originally they were located on a small hill with their backs to eachother in the direction of the four main directions.

In the neighborhood, in the ricefields, are three recently opened sarcofagusses. In one of them, a dragon naga was painted and a human person with a long nose, but it's not clear anymore. The remarkable three metre tall warrior is carved from a rock near Tegurwangi. Walk back to the main road and ask for the direction to Batu Balai. A trip of about
fifteen minutes through ricefields will bring you to a rock formation, with on the bottom left an image. This image was probably made in the first millennium, during the Dongson period.

Berlubai, three kilometers from Pagaralam, has a number of megaliths. Ask for the batu gajah (elephant stone) at the village head, and numbers of school kids will lead you through fields of rice, lomboks and tomatoes to a gigantic statue of a warrior which is fighting with an elephant. The man is protected by a small shield. Ask for the three statues on the way back, they are smaller than the ones in Tegurwangi.

Last revised on April 05, 2012
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