The Toba Catastrophe Theory proposes that the mega-colossal eruption of the Toba caldera in Sumatra, Indonesia, ~75,000 years ago nearly drove the human species to extinction. The volcanic winter that followed only enhanced the ice-age and deposited ash up to several metres deep in various locations across Asia.
The volcano ejected an estimated 800 cubic kilometers of ash into the atmosphere, leaving a crater (now the world’s largest volcanic lake) that is 100 kilometers long and 35 kilometers wide. Ash from the event has been found in India, the Indian Ocean, the Bay of Bengal and the South China Sea. Source: ScienceDaily
The resurgent dome of the supervolcano now forms Samosir, a pseudo-island larger than Singapore, in the centre of the crater lake. Samosir is home to the Toba Batak people whom Marco Polo visited in the late 1200s, writing only of their cannibalistic culture which can be learnt of in Ambarita.
When one of them is ill they send for their sorcerers, and put the question to them, whether the sick man shall recover of his sickness or no. If they say that he will recover, then they let him alone till he gets better. But if the sorcerers foretell that the sick man is to die, the friends send for certain judges of theirs to put to death him who has thus been condemned by the sorcerers to die. These men come, and lay so many clothes upon the sick man’s mouth that they suffocate him. And when he is dead they have him cooked, and gather together all the dead man’s kin, and eat him. And I assure you they do suck the very bones till not a particle of marrow remains in them; for they say that if any nourishment remained in the bones this would breed worms, and then the worms would die for want of food, and the death of those worms would be laid to the charge of the deceased man’s soul. And so they eat him up stump and rump. And when they have thus eaten him they collect his bones and put them in fine chests, and carry them away, and place them in caverns among the mountains where no beast nor other creature can get at them. And you must know also that if they take prisoner a man of another country, and he cannot pay a ransom in coin, they kill him and eat him straightway. Source: The Travels of Marco Polo — Volume 2 (Project Gutenberg)
The Toba Batak retained their animist-spiritualist beliefs until the arrival of the first protestant missionaries from Germany in the mid 1800s. Cannibalism was outlawed as Christianity became a strong element of their cultural identity. However, hints of older tradition present themselves with the ornate tugu (bone houses from reburial ceremonies) that now dot Samosir’s landscape.
Music is fundamental to Batak culture and visitors to the region can sample Batak pop and yodeling, derivatives of traditional songs, most evenings where the food is cooking and on the ferries to Samosir. For the Batak who’ve converted to Christianity or Islam, the religious aspect of music has been shunned, but for the Toba Batak, the gondang still plays an important part in ritual.
Inspired by the music the medium becomes possessed by the spirits of the ancestors who are pleased to have been called and not infrequently ask the medium for their favourite song to be played. Because of the close connection between the music and traditional religion the German missionaries at the beginning of the century forbade the Christian Toba Batak to hold or even attend gondang performances on pain of excommunication. Source: Bataknese
The open air museum in Simanindo presents a demonstration of traditional dance and music for several important occasions and uses a gondang orchestra of drums, gongs and flutes, sitting in the gallery of the largest house. One particularly interesting dance emulates the sacrifice of a buffalo.
In the tot-tor sacrificial dance the datu or priest leads a buffalo to the village square. He binds the animal meant as a sacrifice to a stake decorated with branches of a waringin tree. In real adat festivals the buffalo is killed after a series of ritual dances around the stake. Source: tondibangarna