Written by Kristine, Co-Director, Jakarta
I slept for 12 solid hours on my first night at Lake Toba. Clearly, I needed the rest, having slept for only 5 interrupted hours since I had gotten up 36 hours before. I would spend that day seeing some of Samosir and I was ready for it. I spent a leisurely couple of hours lingering over breakfast with the lake just down below – with those views, who can blame me?
My first stop for the day was Huta Siallangan, a traditional Batak village. My English-speaking tour guide three was hilarious and informative and actually 1 of the best tour guides I’ve ever had. She showed me what the inside of traditional Batak houses look like, and told me that they kept their animals under the house. Then she explained all about the stone seats of judgement and the village’s cannibalistic history. Yeah, you heard me right. Cannibals. But she said not to worry, they had already eaten breakfast so I was good. Ha! See what I mean? That girl was pure gold.
Apparently, the criminal justice philosophy back in the village’s distant past was that there were crimes that you could make recompense for and those that you could not. The first category of crime included things like thievery, in which case punishment might be slavery to the village’s king for a pre-determined period, or paying back what was stolen by some multiple, like pay back 4 pigs if you stole 1. The second category of crime, the unrecompensable type, included things like murder, rape and adultery. Those were things the apparently you couldn’t make up for and the automatic punishment was death. Apparently, the stone seats of judgement weren’t about deciding on the guilt or innocence of an accused. No, if the alleged criminal made it as far as the judgement seat, their guilt was already taken as a fact. The judgement seats were about sentencing.
So first the prisoner would spend some time in “jail”, which was under the front of the king’s house because, you got it, they were regarded as animals and under the house was where the animals were kept. While he was shackled under the house, all villagers were free to walk by and spit on him, throw rotten fruit at him, hurt insults at him – basically treat him like crap.
Once the sentencing was done, it was time to move on to the execution phase of the proceedings, if death was the punishment. The execution didn’t take place on the same day because the prisoner was granted a last meal, prepared by the villagers. On execution day, everybody congregated in the execution area and the food was put on a stone table. The prisoner, with his hands tied behind him, would be made to eat like, yup, an animal. After he was done eating his last meal, he would be laid out face-up on a stone slab and tortured. The executioner would use a knife to make shallow slices all over the prisoner’s torso and then pour lime juice into the cuts. The aim was to torture the prisoner until he passed out so that he would be unconscious for the beheading. They would therefore torture him for as long as it took for that to happen. Once he was passed out, the executioner would chop his head off, and the head would then be posted on a stake at the entrance to the village, to warn enemies and its own villagers of what happened to criminals in Huta Siallagan.
After the beheading, the prisoner’s torso would be cut open and his heart and liver would be pickled and eaten immediately (also, raw) by the king and villagers because they felt that the power of a dead person would be passed to them through these organs. So ate the person’s organs for a reason, not for fun. After all this, the body would be thrown into Lake Toba and no-one from that village would fish from the lake for 7 days. Then everything was back to business as usual.
Uh huh. Moving on.
We said goodbye to the village and spent the rest of the morning and early afternoon driving around Samosir, seeing gorgeous view after gorgeous view. Seriously, we couldn’t catch a bad view, no matter where we went. We went up hill after hill, past fields and waterfalls. It was just gorgeousness everywhere. I can honestly say that the Lake Toba region is the most beautiful place I’ve been to in Indonesia.
We stopped for a late lunch in Tomok, where I had some soup, pork and rice. This would come back to haunt me, but more on that next time. After lunch, I wandered up to another little village of traditional Batak houses that was nowhere near as impressive as Siallagan had been. Late afternoon, I went back to my hotel and snuggled down into my comfy bed with an ebook and Whatsapp while the rain poured outside. I was a snug as a bug in a rug. What a lovely way to end a beautiful day.