Home to a diverse array of cultures and a fascinating kaleidescope of Indonesian life, the region of North Sumatra has many wonders to explore. North Sumatra’s specacular natural beauty spreads from the magnificent Lake Toba, the biggest lake in Southeast Asia, to the jungle of Bukit Lawang which organgutans make their home. The natural and cultural wonders here make this is a region to come and have a true adventure.
North Sumatra is a treasure chest of culture and tradition waiting to be explored, with ancient graves of Batak kings, unique dances and ceremonies plus beautiful arts and crafts.
The main airport in this region is Polonia Airport, Medan. There are daily flights between Medan and most major cities in Indonesia.
People & Culture
With a population of around 12 million people, the people of this region can be divided into five main ethnic groups and languages: The coastal Malays, living along the Malaka Straits, the Bataks, the Angkola or Mandailing of the southern Tapanuli, and the Nias Islanders off the western coast of the province. These groups each have their own dialects, religious beliefs, arts, custom and cultures. Several other ethnic groups also live in Medan and other towns of North Sumatra, the largest of these being Chinese and Indian.
In the capital city of Medan there are ethnic tribes from all over Sumatra and Indonesia who’ve come to the city to do business. The city is also home to a sizeable Chinese and Indian population.
Living in a spectacularly beautiful part of North Sumatra around Lake Toba, the Batak people are divided into six cultures, each with their own language, ceremonies and traditions. Although geographically isolated, the Bataks have a history of regular contact with the outside world. Trade between the highlands and other regions saw the exchange of goods such as salt, cloth and iron which were imported into the region for gold, rice and cassia (a type of cinnamon).
The first Europeans to venture into Batak territory were missionaries, who began to explore the remote inland region in the late 18th century. Missionaries would send reports home of a fierce and defiant local society with frequent mentions of cannibalism. As early as the 9th century, an Arab text mentions that Sumatra’s inhabitants eat human flesh. Today anthropologists believe this was a rare form of capital punishment that may have seemed more common than it actually was as many Batak kept the bones of their tribal ancestors which may have been mistaken by outsiders as grisly trophies.
Traditional Batak beliefs center on a spiritual understanding that the universe is divided into three, the upper world where the God’s reside, the middle world which belongs to humans and the lower world which is home to ghosts and demons.
Medical care in Batak culture focuses on the condition of the soul. It’s believed that sickness is caused when the soul flees the body in which case a shaman (traditional healer) is needed to come and help call the wandering soul back to the patient.
In the Batak highlands you will see traditional houses with distinctive high pointy roofs line the landscape. These houses are on stilts so that the family’s animals such as pig and buffalo can live underneath.
In North Sumatra you’ll find a treasure chest of cultural and heritage attractions waiting to be explored. Soak up the culture here with a visit to the ancient graves of Batak kings, a performance of traditional dance or look at the locally produced beautiful arts and crafts.
Sumatra food is famous for being spicy and cuisine from North Sumatra is no different.
Jl. Jend. A. Yani No.107, Medan. 20111
Further information about Sumatra tourism is available from the Sumatra Tourism Board.
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