Batak Music and Dances on Lake Toba

Batak has a rich culture in musical art and dances. They inherit most of them from the old generations or those who had lived hundreds of years ago. It would be a perfect reality (not a dream) to enjoy them on the lovely beaches of Lake Toba.


Tortor dance was originally the form of gratitude and pray to God. Bataks use the dance to communicate with the ancestors as well. The dance has been popular on Lake Toba since the 13th century. It usually features the ceremonies, such as wedding and guest welcoming. Dancers are required to wear ulos and must not raise their fingers higher than their shoulders. Tortor must always be played with gondang (typical Batak music instrument).

Sigale-Gale Dance

Sigale Gale is a human-shaped doll that can be moved and danced according to music. This dance usually features various events such as traditional events, cultural events, or corporate events. It is the attraction for tourists who come to Lake Toba. According to the legend, the doll originated from the story of a king in Samosir who lost his only son and heir apparent due to his death. The king had been in deep sorrow for a long time before he fell sick. Various treatments were given to him, but none was successful. Then some king’s advisers made a wooden statue that resembled the king’s son. After the figure was ready, the advisers then performed several ceremonies including the calling of the spirit of the son to get into Sigale Gale, the statue. The spirit danced for his father and made the king happy and recover.

Tortor Sipitu Cawan

Tortor Sipitu Cawan is a variant of the original Tortor dance. Female dancers usually perform it with a few cups placed on their bodies as a dancing property. This dance is a sacred dance performed only on certain occasions. In addition to its sacredness, this dance has specific movements that make it quite tricky. As such, not every dancer can perform this dance. But that’s also why many consider Tortor Sipitu Cawan as a dance with a high artistic value. According to the legend, Tortor Sipitu Cawan was first revealed by seven angels while they were in a clear pond on the slopes of Mount Pusuk Buhit.

Gondang Sabangunan

Gondang sabangunan is a set of drums and gongs representing the core instruments of the Gondang music. It consists of taganing, a gong, and a fife. Taganing consists of five drums that function as a carrier of melody and also as a variable rhythm in some songs. Gondang Sabangunan can be played to invoke blessings from the spirits of the ancestors. For example, in the Malahat Horbo (sacrificing buffalo) ceremony, the buffalo will be calm when Gondang Sabangunan is played as if the buffalo had been blessed by the spirit called in by the music. Gondang Sabangunan is also used in various other ceremonies.

Gondang Sambilan

Gordang Sambilan is a set of drums typical to the Mandailing sub-tribe. Usually played by six people, it consists of nine drums, each having a different length and diameter resulting in a different tone. It is performed to accompany dances or songs on weddings, guest welcoming ceremonies, and holiday events.


Marmonsak is a martial art and sport that grew up on Lake Toba. Ancient Bataks used it as a defensive skill. For instance, King Sisingamangaraja XII (the last Batak king) was the master of Marmonsak, which made him compelling and challenging to defeat. It is no longer used as defense nowadays, but a show. It is both entertaining and breathtaking.

Piso Surit Dance

Piso Surit dance is one of the traditional dances of Karo. This dance includes a welcome dance usually performed in groups by male and female dancers. Piso Surit dance is one of the most famous traditional dances on Lake Toba. It is often featured in various events such as the reception of important guests, traditional events, and cultural events.

Sinanggar Tulo Song

Sinanggar Tullo is a song from the Toba sub-tribe. It usually comes along with the Tortor dance. The song is a tribute from the people to the king or God as a form of gratitude, e.g., for the good harvest they get. This song is also famous for foreign tourists. The lyrics are short and repetitive, which makes it easy to sing.

See also Batak Traditional Houses on Lake Toba.