Batak Magic Manuscript #1
Neatly executed examples of “magic books,” also called Pustaha, by the Batak tribe from Sumatra. Written by the “Datu,” the local medicine men, the manuscripts are concerned with magic, divination and medicine. The Bataks interpret the signs of the zodiac and believe, like the Indians and many Westerners, in their influence on the course of life. The book features several of the characteristic drawings as described by Schuster in Voorhoeve’s Catalogue of Indonesian Manuscripts. Part I. Batak Manuscripts, such as a looped cord sign, human/animal figures, a lizard and a centipede.
Batak is a collective term used to identify a number of closely related Austronesian ethnic groups predominantly found in North Sumatra, Indonesia who speak Batak languages. The Bataks practiced a syncretic religion of Shaivism, Buddhism and local culture for thousands of years. The last Batak king who fought valiantly against Dutch imperialists until 1905 was an Indonesian Shaivite king. The Batak may be mentioned in Zhao Rugua’s 13th-century Description of the Barbarous Peoples (Zhu Fan Zhi 諸蕃志), which refers to a ‘Ba-ta’ dependency of Srivijaya. The Suma Oriental, of the 15th century, also refers to the kingdom of Bata, bounded by Pasai and the Aru kingdom.
Based on this evidence, the Batak may have been involved in procuring important commodities for trade with China, perhaps from the 8th or 9th centuries and continuing for the next thousand years, with Batak men carrying the products on their backs for sale at ports.
The various Batak cultures differ in their pre-colonial religious ideas as they do in many other aspects of culture. Information about the old religious ideas of the Mandailing and Angkola in southern Batakland is incomplete, and very little is known about the religion of the Pakpak and Simalungun Batak. For the Toba and Karo on the other hand the evidence in the writings of missionaries and colonial administrators is relatively abundant. Information on the traditional forms of Batak religion is derived mainly from the writings of German and Dutch missionaries who became increasingly concerned with Batak beliefs towards the end of the 19th century.
Various influences affected the Batak through their contact with Tamil and Javanese traders and settlers in southern Batakland, and the east and west coast near Barus and Tapanuli, in particular the large Padang Lawas temple complex in Tapanuli. These contacts took place many centuries ago and it is impossible to reconstruct just how far the religious ideas of these foreigners were adopted and reworked by the Batak. It is suggested that the Batak adopted aspects of these religions, specifically Mahayana Buddhist, Shaivist, and Tantrist practices within their own customs
Although the Batak are a minority among the Indonesian population (3.58%; only 8–9 million Batak people out of 236 million according 2010’s census), a large number of notable Batak have achieved prominent places in the Indonesian history.