Batak Customs and Traditions on Lake Toba

Batak customs and traditions are rooted in hundreds of years of life. Below are highlights of some Batak customs and traditions on Lake Toba.


Mamoholi means to welcome the arrival of a baby. The tradition emphasizes the need to help the would-be mother prepare for the birth and take care of her baby. She may require rest for at least ten days before the delivery. After the delivery, she still has to lie down by the kitchen stove to warm up her body. In most circumstances, she also needs nutritious food to ensure she can breastfeed her baby. The villagers will take turns in preparing the food for her while she is on rest. Some will bring fast food, and others provide raw materials such as rice, live chickens, live fish, etc. In case of raw materials, fellow villagers would cook them for her. The husband provides financial support. So the new mother does not have to worry about the food she needs to take care of her baby until she is ready to do her chores.

Death Ceremony

In the Toba Batak tradition, the dead will undergo different treatment depending on age and status level at which he or she has died. For example, the dead womb will not receive any treatment (directly buried without a coffin). But, if the death was a baby, a teenager, or unmarried adult, then the procedure is: his/her body will be covered with a sheet of ulos before being buried. The ulos used to cover the corpse comes from his/her parents or uncles. Further, if the dead is married then the treatment is further classified by whether he/she has a child or not, and if so whether the child is adult or youth, and so forth. There are 12 levels of death and treatment. The highest level of treatment belongs to someone who has died and left children who all have married, each having children and grandchildren of their own. The ceremony for the highest level resembles a wedding party with joy and happiness (as opposed to mourning at the lower levels.)

Unjuk Party

Unjuk Party is a joyous celebration of the marriage of sons or daughters in Samalungun. The joy features sharing meat, ulos, and money (jambar) to neighbors and relatives. This party ends with a procession of bringing the bride home to the ‘breeding’ house.


Ngerires is a rice harvest party in Karo. All the villagers would gather in a rice field where a local leader would lead a prayer, just before starting to take their crops to dance. Fish cooking by the youngsters follows the dancing and people then have a meal together in happiness.


Nampeken is a ceremony that accompanies the work of collecting bones from their graves. Nampeken is one of the many Karo ritual ceremonies and a form of tribute to the ancestors. Nampekan is still associated with the old beliefs and is still well preserved to date, even though the show has changed with activities that follow modern religions. After they have collected all the bones, they inserted them into a small coffin for reburial.

Brotherhood and Marriage Restrictions

Brotherhood in the Pakpak sub-tribe means everyone must be mindful of the formation of his/her clan. The rule has two implications. First of all, the clan plays a role in the inheritance system where sons receive the most benefit. Second of all, it requires that someone marry with that outside of his clan group only. A breach will be considered dishonor to him and his clan. Here is the list of clans among Pakpak:

– Simsim Pakpak: Berutu, Padang, Solin, Bancin, Sinamo, Manik,Sitakar, Kabeakan, lembeng, Cibro, etc.
– Keppas Pakpak: Angkat, Ujung, Bintang, Capah, Kudadiri, Elephant Manik,
– Pegagan Pakpak: Lingga, Matanari, Manik Sikettang, Maibang, etc.
– Kelasen Pakpak: Tumangger, Tinambunan, Kesogihen, Meka, Maharaja, Ceun, Mungkur, etc.
– Boang Pakpak: Saran, Sambo, Bancin, etc.

See also Batak Music and Dances on Lake Toba.