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Simalungun people

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Title: Simalungun people  
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Subject: Ethnic groups in Indonesia, Simalungun Protestant Christian Church, Mek people, Moni people, Atoni
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Simalungun people

Simalungun people
Batak Simalungun
A portrait of a Simalungun village head, circa 1890-1894.
Total population
Regions with significant populations
North Sumatra (3,000,000)
Simalungun language
Protestantism, Islam, Roman Catholicism, Animism
Related ethnic groups
Toba people, Karo people

The Simalungun people are an ethnic group in North Sumatra, considered one of the Batak peoples. Simalungun people live mostly in Simalungun Regency and the surrounding areas, including the city of Pematang Siantar, an autonomous city, but previously part of Simalungun Regency.[1]

The Simalungun live in the 'Eastern Batak' lands, bordering the lands of the Batak Toba to the south and west, and the Batak Karo to the north. The Simalungun are considered to have more in common with their Karo than Toba neighbours, both groups having migrated from Toba and Pakpak in order to participate in trade.[2]

The Simalungun language is spoken by many Simalungun people, in addition to Indonesian.

Traditional Simalungun life

A Simalungun Museum in Pematangsiantar, North Sumatra, Indonesia.

Far before Dutch colonialism established in East Sumatera, the peoples called Batak Timoer who said as like as their country from. Like Sin Raya ( Raya's Peoples ), Sin Silou ( Silou's peoples) Sin Bandar (Bandar's peoples), etc. Since The Dutch colonialism establish in Malay, Deli. By "De Vide et impera" Dutch political colonialism, Batak Timoer people who ruled by raja (kings), considered to be living gods. One by one their kingdom established to Dutch. Then Dutch colonials gave a name to their colony areas, Simeloengoen, still now.

The Simalungun people were ruled by raja (kings), considered to be living gods.[3] G.L. Tichelman (1893–1962), a Dutch researcher described Simalungun villages as consisting of houses built parallel to rivers, of wooden poles and palm leaves. Houses could accommodate a single family (rumah parsatanggaan), or up to as many as twelve (rumah parrumahopattanggaan) with a designated area for each family within. The head of the village lived in the 'Rumah Bolon', the village's largest, most ornate house. The Head of Village are established and loyal to The King. The main village of Kingdoms called 'Pamatang.' Villagers drove out spirits from the village by holding 'Robu Tabu', days on which the village would be decorated and outsiders excluded from the village.

Villages would bathe in a communal 'tapian', with water piped through bamboo tubes for bathing. The Simalungun also used bamboo tubes for carrying water back to the village. Religious ceremonies would often be held near the Tapian. 'Parsihili' were statues used to take an illness away from a person, while 'Pasiarhon' were statues used for communing with the dead. Although villagers would support victims of house fires, it was considered unlucky to offer them shelter for fear of further fires, and instead a new house would be constructed communally as soon as possible.

It was considered inappropriate to bargain with family members, so an intermediary would be used when purchasing items from family. Courtship was arranged in the marketplace using betel nut. Girls wishing to avoid attention would give the nut to an old man, who would look after her during market day, or would wear a Hiou, to suggest unavailability.

The pounding of rice was an important activity, and the communal 'Losung', or riceblock was used for this activity, with a hole allocated for each family to use. A new losung would be cut from a tree trunk, and on an auspicious day decorated with flowers and transported into the village accompanied by music. A boy and girl dressed in ceremonial clothes would invest the new riceblock by throwing rice over it, and the villagers would sing songs.

The birth of a child was an auspicious occasion, and the dukun (midwife/witch doctor) was appointed to drive off spirits, and to cut the umbilical cord with a bamboo knife. The newborn baby would be swaddled and daubed with rice chewed by the dukun prior to the mother commencing breastfeeding. The placenta would be buried under the house and for seven nights a fire would be maintained to drive off spirits.

On the seventh day the child would be brought to the tapian. If the date of birth was an auspicious one, this would be done using by the mother a new Hiou, a Ragi Idup or Ragi Panei, but if the date was a bad one, the baby would be carefully brought by all the women of the village, who would set out to deceive the evil spirits in order to protect the baby. When the child was named, it would be given a black, white and red bracelets for protective purposes.

A well-preserved traditional Simalungun village can be seen at Pematang Purba.[4]

'Simalungun people'

Heads of Simalungun in East Coast Sumatra.

The concept of a cohesive Simalungun people is derived in part from Dutch colonialism. In 1870 the Dutch established the Residency of East Sumatra, centred on Medan in the Kingdom of Deli. In 1904 the Netherlands East Indies government signed surrender agreements with the seven kingdoms of the 'Simeloengoenlanden', in order to form the administrative of unit Simeloengoen en Karolanden.[5] These seven Simalungun kingdoms were the kingdoms of Siantar, Tanoh Jawa, Panei, Dolok Silou, Raya, Purba and Silimahuta. It has been suggested that Tanoh Jawa had more in common with early pagan Asahan than it did with the other Simalungun kingdoms.[6]

The colonial seat was established in 1908 at Pamatang Siantar. The Dutch colonial system encouraged migration, of Javanese. Tobanese labourers working on Dutch plantations, both peoples bringing new influences to the area that caused the origin people of Simalungun intimidated and marginalized. After World War II, finally in 1946, were happened a Social revolution tragedy in East Sumatra. Peoples (non-natives of East Sumatran) want to changes monarchy system at Deli, Karo and Simalaugun, and united for one state with Java governments, Republic Of Indonesia that was proclaimed on August, 1945. Many kidnapped and killed, actually from Kingdom's family. So that, the monarchy system disappear from East Sumatra still now.


August Theis, a German missionary arrived in Sumatra in 1902. He was subject to Ludwig Ingwer Nommensen, who instructed him to head to the Simalungun region. Theis arrived on 2 September 1903, a day now commemorated by the Simalungun church. Theis opened several schools, and returned to the Netherlands in 1921.

The first translation of The Bible into an indigenous Indonesian language was by Wismar Djaulung Saragih Sumbayak, who had been baptised by Theis in 1910. Wismar also authored the first Simalungun dictionary, and successfully campaigned for teaching in schools to be conducted in Simalungun rather than Toba. He also pushed for the use of traditional Simalungun clothes and music in the church. His efforts eventually led to the formation of the distinct Simalungun Protestant Christian Church.

Simalungun surnames

Roof of a rumah bolon, the house of a Simalungun Batak raja and his family.

Simalungun people belong to one of five surnames (clans). Each surnames has sub-surnames, although individuals may choose to identify primarily by their surnames, rather than sub-surnames, in order to emphasize common kinship.

The four surnames are:

  • Saragih
  • Damanik
  • Purba
  • Sinaga
  • Sitopu

Notable Simalungun people


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Further reading

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