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Simalungun Area
Through the plantation belt to Toba

The Simalungun or Timor Batak ('Eastern Batak') live in the highlands between Danau Toba and the eastcoast, nowadays an important plantation area where rubber, palmoil, cacaco and tea is being cultivated. The area is cut in half by a piece of the trans-Sumatra highway of 100 kilometres, which runs from Pematang Sianter towards Prapat.

The name Simalungun dates back to the past and means 'deserted lands', however it's a fertile area. It borders with the Karo highlands in the north and the Toba Batak area in the south. The western border runs along a number of Toba Batak villages, like Tigras at the eastern short of Danau Toba.

The area descends from the Karo plateau towards Danau Toba and the low coastal plaints, and is being cut by steep ravains and several big rivers, under them the wild and unpredictable Bah Bolon ('Big River'). This runs through the market city of Perdaganan towards Tanjung Balai, the new seaport for the Asahan aluminuim project.

The area used be separated in a number of small and little populated states: Silimakuta, Purba, Raya, Pane, Dolok, Siantar, Tanah Java and Bandar, each with it's own powerfull raja. Somewhere in this area also was the kingdom of Nagur.

The Simalungun and the Karo have much in common: religious rituals, writing and village federations (urung). Furthermore both languages are both clearly with Indian influences. In contrary to the Karo the Simalungun had the name to be cannibalists.
The most renouned Simalungun-marga- the Damanik, Sinaga, Saragih and Purba- are obviously different from other Batak clans. In areas which border with the Malay villages at the coast there is much islamic influence. In the beginning of the 20th century the raja's of Purba and Raya envited German missionaries to go to their area. In 1907 the raja's signed the 'Short Declaration' of surrender to the Dutch, and in 1908, colonial rule was founded in Pematang Sianter.

Shortly after the arrival of the Dutch the Toba migrants migrated to the then uninhabited areas and built entire irrigational systems for their ricefields, a technique that was not known to the Simalungun, because they only did some agriculture. After the independence even more Toba Batak flowed into the area, nowadays they are an important part of the population in the area.

In contrary to other Batak areas the land of the Simalungun not only belonged to the leading clans, but also to the raja's. They sold big pieces unused land to the Dutch for plantations, which wasn't bad to them at all. And so, a big piece of Pane, Siantar and Tanah Java got covered with plantations, cultivated by Javanese labourers. Only a few old Simalungun villages remain until today.

From Medan to Tebing Tinggi

The highway east of Medan through the Deli-Serdang area is wide and fast, and runs along far-stretched plantations. The tourist office at Jl. A. Yani iun Medan does organise excursions there. A turn near Baungan leads north towards Pantai Cermin ('Mirror Beach'), a loved place for picnic among the local population. At the beaches can be swimmed and fished, but they can't be compared with those on the western coast.

About 76 kilometres from Medan is the big city of Tebing Tinggi, the railway crossing of the eastern coast. Here, railroads towards Medan, Pematang Siantar, Rantau Prapat and more south are connected with eachother. On the railroad yard some old steam engines can still be found, some date from around the turn of the 19th-20th century. Some of them are being repaired.

The main road to Pematang Siantar and Toba curbes here and leads into the Simalungun area just southof Tebing Tinggi, across the giang oilpalm plantations of the state company of Pabatu. Just ahead is the Bolok Merangir rubber plantation, one of the few plantations that are still being managed by foreigners. The famous American botanic and etnograpth Harley Harris Barlett, author of The labors of the Datoe, has worked here in 1918 and 1927.

Pematang Siantar

Pematang Siantar, almost the biggest city of Northern Sumatra, is the administrative and commercial centre of the Simalungung plantation area and was founded by the Dutch in the beginning of the 20th century. In the middle of the city crowds, colonial houses can be seen. It's remarkably cooler than in the coastal plains, but that's because it's located on an altitude of 400 metres.

The pre-war Siantar Hotel at Jl. W.R. Supratman was used as headquarters by a small Dutch contigent, and in 1945 it was set ablaze by revolutionary troops. It has been restaurated and seems to have been the same ever since the colonial time.

The Simalungun Museum at Jl. Ahmad Yani has an interesting collection pustaha laklak, treebark books in Indian batak writing, which were used by bdatuk-magicians to write down their holy formulas. Furthermore it also house a stone pangulabalang or Simalungun protection statues which were collected in the 1930's. On the market a big variety of season fruits is being offered for sale.

From Pematang Siantar the road gradually ascends towards the plantations and a patchwork of irrigated sawah's. Along the road, in the rough area around the lake, are some traditional houses and graves. And then, unexpected, there is the first astonishing view over the lake: a shivering blue plate with in the distance the high rising green cliffs of Pulau Samosir.

Last revised on December 17, 2011
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