Power and Land : Land Conflict in Cases of the Batak Toba People in Afdeeling Tapanuli

Batak society is a not a homogeneous entity. They consist of various sub-ethnic of Batak who have different identity and cultures. The Batak-Toba society is one of the Batak sub-ethnic who live around Lake Toba, southwest Humbang southern Silindung Valley, the northern Padang Lawas and consistently use the Toba dialect language (Hasselgren, 2008 : 64; Simanjuntak, 2006: 18). My interest, especially, about the geographic isolation that reduces the entry of foreign influence and causes the Batak-Toba society to develop and maintain its unique culture (Castles, 2001 : 5).


One of the important findings in my research about the cultural migration trend of the Toba Batak people is mainly caused by the unavailability of land. The importance of the function and position of land not only associated with the occupation as a agricultural society, but also related with their philosophy of life. Each Batak people, are required to obtain hamoraon (wealth), hagabeon (descendants), and hasangapon (pride) (Ihromi, 1990: 207). Therefore, in my observation, the land is a matter that should be owned absolutely every Batak-Toba people to fill the philosophy of live.

The relationship between their philosophy of life and the land is visible in daily practice where the Toba Batak will be considered wealthy if it has a large are of land , which will be managed for agricultural needs. (Pelly, 1994: 47). Ownership over the wide land that is also related to the next problem, that is, who will manage the land? One of the practical solution is to have many children to manage the agricultural land. In this case, the principle of hagabeon (descedants) becomes inherent elements in relationships with land ownership. In addition, a Toba Batak, which has a large area land, will automatically have strong authority (hasangapon). This simply, can be seen in the right to manage agricultural land, that managed by their children or other people’s work.

Ownership of the land is actually occupied by a specific clan (marga). A Toba Batak person who became the pioneer of the land / village (mamungka huta) is considered as a leader who represents the clan. As the village head, he not only has rights of land ownership (golat) of the widest land, but also has the authority to manage the life of the village population (sahala harajaon). Therefore, every Toba Batak person tries to get the power (harajaon). The harajaon tells that the goal of every human being is independent and manages their own lives with the realization to establish their own households (manjae) (Hasselgren, 2008: 68). In many cases, the Batak people who have grown and have sahala harajaon then separate themselves from their parents by opening a new village (huta).

The correlation between land ownership and power (harajaon) often triggers major conflict in Batak society. The source of the conflict in this society must be tracked from their own cultural ideas, sahala hasangapon, which means the quality of self-respect. That is, The Toba- Batak person should be valued by other people with build up of a private kingdom (Huta) (Pelly, 1994: 47). The opening of a new huta became evidence about the result of the conflict in traditional societies in the Toba Batak.

The potential conflict is more complex, when the influence from outside the Land of the Batak began to enter in the 19th century. On the other hand, Toba Batak people welcome influences from outside that is in line with them to forward orientation (hamajuon) and monang (to be number one). However, the Batak-Toba society will reject if it is incompatible with local customs, especially related to the identity of the divine with something who introduced themselves, behave as a member of the group, and thus they are received by others as members of the group (Jenkins, 2004: 94,108). In many cases that are brought about by a Western, especially relating to the system of power, does not even try to appreciate or even to replace the power of a traditional system that is based from huta to modern power system based district (Hasselgren, 1997 :12).

From the exposure of the above, it can summarized that the main problem in the research topic is how the relationship between authority and ownership of land becomes the main source of conflict that are important in traditional Toba Batak societies and become more complex because the new things is brought by foreign influences, in this case Dutch Colonial Government.

Political Change and Land Conflict

Batak-Toba society is one of the sub-ethnic Batak that get the last influences from foreigner in Sumatra island. Until the 19th century, Batak-Toba people was isolated. However, in the isolated, the Batak-Toba society is able to develop a unique and different culture than the other ethnic who lived in the northern Sumatera (Castles, 2001 :5).

One of the elements that are unique is the village (huta) as main element of traditional political power (Hasselgren, 2008: 68). Each village (huta) led by the village head (the king of huta) which has absolute authority in the village (Purba and Elvis F. Purba, 1997: 20). Before the influence of foreign entry in the 19th century, the number of huta in Batakland is sufficient. The establishment of the new huta (manjae) made by the descendants of raja huta became usual. The desire to meet their life’s philosophy, skill to lead (sahala harajaon) and traditional conflict of power in intern family became the main reasons of the growth of the number of huta in Batakland (Simanjuntak, 006 :166).

The 19th century is a period of enlightenment (renaissance) for Batakland. This is because in this century, the influence from the outside who bring invention start. Immediately after the British missionary efforts failed, the movement of Paderi Expansion for the aims to Islamize Batakland. Although this movement is not success move to central of Batakland, however, this expansion was successful to Islamize Mandailing society in the south and made the cultural disintegration and decadence that lead to internal conflict prolonged in the central Batakland (Simanjuntak, 2006 44-45; Hasselgren, 2008: 71). The presence of Christian after Paderi War is apt to be the basis of a new culture Batak (Aritonang, 1988: 153). Moreover, the role of Nommensen and its strategies in the embrace the kings of huta and pioneering various social services to become key critical acceleration Christianization in almost Batak communities in central of Batakland (Simanjuntak, 2002 : 88-90, Aritonang, 1988 :147-148).

The interest of Nederland Colonial Government about Batakland is mainly because of economic motives, that is connected to the trade center of East and West Coast Sumatra, which must first put out the resistance of Sisingamangaraja XII (1877-1907) (Hasselgren, 2008: 33). The Netherlands has the juridical status of Batakland since 1833, but the political strategy that is slow and gradual with the relatively small violence and often receives approval from the king huta has resulted in the new expansion area that occurred since 1880 (Simanjuntak, 2006: 40; Castles, 2001: 24). After 16 years struggling, the Government finally formed afdeling Tapanuli that supervises the six onderafdeling (Purba dan Elvis F. Purba, 1997: 28).

The authorization of the Batakland area and the annexation of the Batakland resulted in all of the policies that lead by traditional leaders transferred to the Netherlands considers that the old system is not effective (Hasselgren, 2008: 74). Therefore, the Dutch Colonial Government established a new system of government based on a governance hierarchy that is responsive and rational (Castles, 2001: 26). Each onderafdeling divided into several districts (hundulan), led by a jaihutan. Initially Weslink, the resident of Tapanuli, proposes lifting the 16 clan leader that will be paid, but because it is not considered efficient, so the division is based from the territory which it was selected (Castles, 2001: 26). In addition, to be effective the power of jaihutan, it was promoted some second- class leader (raja paidua), while for the village level (huta), some king village was appointed the power to manage one or more villages (Hasselgren,2008 :73-74).

The government system changes in the process, and will bring more problems than benefits. In the formation of hundulan, the colonial government did not based limitation from the Huta, but the total of population. In addition, the adoption of jaihutan in many cases often false according from custom perspective. The appointment of jaihutan often come from outside the area which was initially different, but because of proximity to the government so the people outside this is selected (Castles, 2001: 27). In the case of raja paidua and the raja huta have occurred dissatisfaction because many of the leaders from smaller huta’s loss the authority from their huta’s (Hasselgren, 2008: 73). In a short term, the lack of tradition about the authority of the huta leader to serve the higher is the main factor that causes problems in the new government system.

In addition, there is an effort from the colonial government to eliminate a number of hundulan when the its jaihutan died and replaced it with negeri. This means that the deletion of the authority, including loosing rights over land (golat ) The king is then replaced with demang, who came from the educational class and placed in various hundulan (Hasselgren, 2008: 75). The threats from the traditional authority leaders also came from the new leaders that compete for power with an establishment of a new village (Simanjuntak, 2006: 166). In the year 1930, an estimated there is 8000 huta and its leaders (Hasselgren, 2008 :69).With the new system of government, the new leader allows claims to the land that are traditionally occupied by the king of huta.

Conflict of land ownership is very common so that a controller Toba identified the Batak with a pathological Litigiousness/perkaraziekte and said “I am doubtful of there are any other area in all of Netherland-Indies like the Batak region, where the people are firm, simple and are almost without compromise when delivering their complaints to the government.” (Castles, 2001: 42). An official has been providing on Friday to listen to a variety of complaints, both in relation with local communities and government, but they only take part of the course of 60 written complaints the entrance of each month, even the local customary courts can maintenance 745 civil cases (Hasselgren , 2008: 75).


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One thought on “Power and Land : Land Conflict in Cases of the Batak Toba People in Afdeeling Tapanuli

  1. juniantus manurung

    Do you know th name of the missionaries who first came to Batak land? I am in aneed of this to complete my research.
    Thank you

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