The Toba Batak are the largest subgroup of the Batak, a group of related peoples living in the highlands of northern Sumatra. Partly as a result of the mountainous nature of their territory and their fierce reputation, the Toba Batak remained independent and relatively isolated until the second half of the nineteenth century. Their indigenous religion involved a pantheon organized around the sky god Mula Jadi and the serpentine god of the underworld Naga Pahoha. Today, the Toba Batak are overwhelmingly Christian.

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Traditional Culture(1864)Expand All +
Belief +

Supernatural Beings

Nature Spirits Present, but not a major focus of supernatural practice (Source)
Vergouwen (1964), pp. 67-104
Nature god(s) Present, and a major focus of supernatural practice (Source)
Vergouwen (1964), pp. 68-69
Ancestral spirits Present, and a major focus of supernatural practice (Source)
Vergouwen (1964), pp. 67-104
Deified ancestor(s) Present, and the principal focus of supernatural practice (Source)
Vergouwen (1964), pp. 69-73
God(s) Present, and a major focus of supernatural practice (Source)
Vergouwen (1964), pp. 67-69

Supernatural Punishment

Supernatural punishment for impiety Present (Source)
Vergouwen (1964), pp. 70

Afterlife and Creation

One's actions while living can affect the nature of one's afterlife One factor in determining one's afterlife (Source)
Vergouwen (1964), pp. 70-71
The actions of others after one has died can affect the nature of one's afterlife Principal determinant of one's afterlife (Source)
Sibeth (1991), pp. 76
Myth of humanity’s creation Present, and evolutionary (Source)
Sinaga (1981), pp. 95-96
Primordial pair Absent (Source)
Sinaga (1981), pp. 47
Culture hero(es) Absent (Source)
Sinaga (1981), pp. 45-108

General Features

Forces of nature are controlled by or imbued with the supernatural Present (Source)
Vergouwen (1964), pp. 68-69

Classes of Tapu

Social hierarchy tapu Present (Source)
Loeb (1974), pp. 66, 95
Resource management tapu Absent (Source)
Loeb (1974), pp. 93-96
Kinship tapu Present (Source)
Loeb (1974), pp. 84, 95


Mana as a spiritual or religious concept Absent (Source)
Blust (2007)
Keesing (1984)
Blevins (2008)
Mana as a personal quality Absent (Source)
Blust (2007)
Keesing (1984)
Blevins (2008)
Mana related to social influence or technical skill Absent (Source)
Practice +

General Supernatural Practices

Headhunting Absent (Source)
Sibeth (1991)
Lebar (1972), pp. 20-23
Costly sacrifices and offerings Present (Source)
Vergouwen (1964), pp. 71, 72
Largest religious community Larger than a local community, smaller than the society (Source)
Vergouwen (1964), pp. 67-136
Political and religious differentiation Some overlap (Source)
Vergouwen (1964), pp. 67-136


Tooth pulling Absent from culture (Source)
Lebar (1972), pp. 21
Loeb (1974), pp. 67-68
Scarification Absent from culture (Source)
Loeb (1974), pp. 25-26
Piercing Absent from culture (Source)
Loeb (1974), pp. 25-26
Tattooing Present in culture, but not as a rite or feature of a rite (Source)
Lebar (1972), pp. 21
Genital cutting Present in the culture as a rite or feature of a rite (Source)
Loeb (1974), pp. 68
Social Environment +
Population 300000 (Source)
Sibeth (1991), pp. 34
Population of largest political community 1,000-9,999 (Source)
Vergouwen (1964), pp. 107
Importance of Patrilateral descent High (Source)
Vergouwen (1964), pp. 17
Importance of Matrilateral descent Low (Source)
Vergouwen (1964), pp. 17
Polygamy Limited polygyny (Source)
Vergouwen (1964), pp. 232-237
Marital residence Patrilocal or virilocal - with husband's kin (Source)
Lebar (1972), pp. 21


Conflict within community Moderate (Source)
Sibeth (1991), pp. 39-48
Isolation +
Contact with other cultures Frequent, through trade, warfare, travel, etc. (Source)
Sibeth (1991), pp. 22
Distance to closest landmass inhabited by a different culture (km) 0.0 (Source)
Sibeth (1991), pp. 8
Distance to nearest continent 150.0 (Source)
Sibeth (1991), pp. 8
Daft Logic Distance Calculator (2014)
Pre-Austronesian population Present: Clear evidence of human occupation prior to Austronesian settlement (Source)
Bellwood (1995), pp. 109
Hindu / Buddhist influence on supernatural belief Evidence of influence (Source)
Sibeth (1991), pp. 14, 21
Cribb (2000), pp. Map 2.21
Loeb (1974), pp. 77-78
Islamic influence on supernatural belief No evidence of influence but in a region where contact is likely (Source)
Sinaga (1981), pp. 27
Christian influence on supernatural belief No evidence of influence but in a region where contact is likely (Source)
Sibeth (1991), pp. 21-23
Sinaga (1981), pp. 27-28
Subsistence and Economy +

Land-based means of subsistence

Animal husbandry as a source of food Minor (Source)
Lebar (1972), pp. 21
Land-based hunting performed by individuals Minor (Source)
Sibeth (1991), pp. 34
Land-based gathering Medium (Source)
Loeb (1974), pp. 25
Land-based hunting performed by one or more groups Minor (Source)
Sibeth (1991), pp. 34
Agriculture / Horticulture Principal (Source)
Lebar (1972), pp. 20
Sibeth (1991), pp. 32

Water-based means of subsistence

Fishing and water-based hunting performed by one or more groups Medium (Source)
Lebar (1972), pp. 21
Fishing and water-based hunting performed by individuals Medium (Source)
Lebar (1972), pp. 21
Water-based gathering Minor (Source)
Sibeth (1991), pp. 31-35
Lebar (1972), pp. 20-21

Commercial Activity

Trade / wage labour as a source of food Minor (Source)
Sibeth (1991), pp. 34
Lebar (1972), pp. 22
Metalworking Present (Source)
Lebar (1972), pp. 21
Physical Environment +

Geographical Range of Culture

Number of islands inhabited by culture One (Source)
Sibeth (1991), pp. 8

Features of Island with Largest Culture Population

Island type (island with largest culture population or largest island if unknown) Continental island (Source)
'Sunda Shelf' (2016)
Island Size (km²) 480793.0 (Source)
'Sumatra' (2017)
Maximum elevation (meters) 3800.0 (Source)
'Sumatra' (2017)


Latitude 2.3 (Source)
Sibeth (1991), pp. 8
Google Maps (2014)
Longitude 99.0 (Source)
Sibeth (1991), pp. 8
Google Maps (2014)
Post Contact History(1864-2014)Expand All +
Religious History +


Role of social status in conversion process Primarily a top-down process, although inroads had already been made with the general population. (Source)
Cunningham (1958), pp. 37
Purba (2005), pp. 215
Use of force in conversion Medium (Source)
Purba (2005), pp. 215-218
Adoption of a world religion Present and predominant (Source)
Rodgers (1993), pp. 41
Purba (2005), pp. 208
Resident missionary involvement in conversion process Present, and from non-Austronesian societies (Source)
Purba (2005), pp. 215-216
Secular History +

Demographic and Social Changes

Foreign government systems Present, and of high importance (Source)
Rodgers (1993), pp. 40
Immigration Low (Source)
Rodgers (1993), pp. 38
Purba (2005)
Language shift Medium (Source)
Rodgers (1993), pp. 38
Foreign education systems High (Source)
Rodgers (1993), pp. 40

Economic Changes

Changes in means of subsistence Medium (Source)
Rodgers (1993), pp. 39
Causey (2007), pp. 266-268
Exportation of goods to other cultures Present and substantial (Source)
Rodgers (1993), pp. 38

Modern Infrastructure

Vehicles and roads Present and widely used (Source)
Rodgers (1993), pp. 39
Air travel Absent (Source)
Causey (2007), pp. 259
Sea port Absent (Source)
Causey (2007), pp. 259

Loss of Autonomy

Nature of loss of autonomy Largely involuntary (Source)
Rodgers (1993), pp. 39
Loss of political autonoomy High (Source)
Rodgers (1993), pp. 39, 40
Current Culture(2014)Expand All +
Belief +

Religious Demographics

Unofficial religious syncretism High: (Source)
Purba (2005)
Institutional religious syncretism Medium (Source)
Purba (2005), pp. 208-209, 220, 221-233
Dominant world religion Christianity (Source)
Purba (2005), pp. 208
External Links
Bellwood, P. (1995). Austronesian Prehistory in Southeast Asia: Homeland, Expansion and Transformation. P. Bellwood, J.J. Fox, & D. Tryon (Eds.), The Austronesians: Historical and Comparative Perspectives (pp 113-114). Canberra, Australia: ANU Press.

Blevins, J. (2008). Some Comparative Notes on Proto-Oceanic *Mana: Inside and Outside the Austronesian Family. Oceanic Linguistics, 47 (2), 253-274. Retrieved from

Blust, R. (2007). Proto-Oceanic *Mana Revisited. Oceanic Linguistics, 46(2), 404-423. Retrieved from

Brunton, R. (1989). The Abandoned Narcotic: Kava and Cultural Instability in Melanesia. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.

Causey, A. (2007). 'Go Back to the Batak, it's Safe There': Tourism in North Sumatra during Perilous Times. Indonesia and the Malay World, 35 (103), 257-271. DOI: 10.1080/13639810701676383.

Cribb, R. (2000). Historical atlas of Indonesia. Surrey, UK: Curzon Press.

Cunningham, C. E. (1958). The Postwar Migration of the Toba-Bataks of East Sumatra. Southeast Asia Studies, Cultural Report Series. New Haven, CT: Yale University.

Daft Logic Distance Calculator. (2014).

Google Maps (2014). Retrieved from

Hirosue, M. (1994). The Batak Millenarian Response to the Colonial Order. Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, 25 (2), 331-343. Retrieved from

Keesing, R. M. (1984). Rethinking "mana". Journal of Anthropological Research, 40(1), 137-156,

Lebar, F. (Ed.). (1972). Eastern Sumbanese in Ethnic Groups of Insular Southeast Asia. Volume 1: Indonesia, Andaman Islands, and Madagascar. New Haven, CT: Human Relations Area Files Press.

Loeb, E. M. (1974). Sumatra: Its History and People. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia: Oxford University Press. (Originally published 1935).

Purba, M. (2005). From Conflict to Reconciliation: The Case of the "Gondang Sabangunan" in the Order of Discipline of the Toba Batak Protestant Church. Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, 36 (2), 207-233. Retrived from

Rodgers, S. (1993).Batak’. Encyclopedia of World Cultures (Vol V, pp 38-41). New York, NY: G.K. Hall & Co.

Sibeth, A. (1991). Living with Ancestors: The Batak Peoples of the Island of Sumatra. London, U.K: Thames and Hudson.

Sinaga, A.B. (1981). The Toba Batak High God: Transcendence and Immanence. St Augustin, West Germany: Anthropos Institute.

Sumatra (2017). Encyclopaedia Britannica Online. Retrieved from

Sunda Shelf (2016). Encyclopaedia Britannica Online. Retrieved from

Vergouwen, J. C. (1964). The social organisation and customary law of the Toba-Batak of Northern Sumatra J. Scott-Kemball, Trans.). Berlin, Germany: Springer.

Viner, A. C. (1979). The Changing Batak. Journal of the Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, 52(2 (236), 84-112.