To kick start the beginning of year 2016, Fashion Design Department of LaSalle College Jakarta has organized a study trip to North Sumatra for its level 4 and 5 students, the North Sumatra Cultural Study Trip.
The aim for this trip, like in our previous study trips, is to do an extensive research on the traditional culture of the places we visited, which then will be interpreted in the students’ industrial projects. The emphasis of this trip was to study the ancient Batak tribe culture, which origins are said to date back more than 2000 years ago, more specifically the Toba Batak and Karo Batak tribes. As one of the most ancient cultures in Indonesia, their culture is very rich and complex.
In the jam-packed 5 days trip, fashion design students and teachers have managed to visit one island (Samosir Island), three towns (Parapat, Balige, Berastagi) and one city (Medan). Activities usually start from early morning and end late at night. It was exhausting, yet we have gained so much knowledge. Seeing and experiencing directly is certainly different than doing research solely from books or internet. All the places we have visited will help the students to gain inspirations for their next industrial project. We visited traditional villages, museums, traditional markets, places of worships, and also experienced a dance ritual performance.
The Lake of Toba is the biggest volcanic lake in the world, formed after a massive super volcanic eruption sometime around 75,000 years ago. In the middle of the lake lies a big island, Samosir. At a size of slightly smaller than Singapore, the Samosir Island is the origin of the Toba Batak tribe. Despite being well known of its beautiful landscape, the island is also rich in culture and tradition. We went to several villages within the Samosir Island: Tuktuk, Simanindo, Ambarita and Tomok. Instead of bus, we took a boat to move us from point to point within the island.
In Simanindo, we had the chance to visit the Huta Bolon Simanindo Batak Museum and attended a traditional dance performance. At the end of the performance, some of our students even participated in the dance ritual. In Siallagan, we visited the historical village of Huta Siallagan, where in the ancient times they had the death execution procession ritual. This ritual was held long time ago to sentence convicts with severe punishments. After the execution, the villagers will consume the meat and drink the blood of the felon, thus they practice cannibalism in the earlier days. Eventually, after Christianity came to the region, this custom is no longer practiced. We also visited the tombs of the Batak Kings in Tomok, where they were buried in sarcophagus, made out of carved stones.
The next day, fashion design students visited the town of Balige. Much to our surprise, the government officials from the Balige region welcomed and greeted us warmly. They were very pleased that we had the chance to visit their region. We are much honored to receive such hospitable reception and attention. They took us to Meat village (read: may - at) where the villagers still make the ulos by hand, using traditional non-machine weaving tools. Ulos is the traditional woven fabric indigenous of Batak culture. We learned the different types of ulos and how to produce it, although we did not get the chance ourselves to try to make it, as it requires days even weeks for the skilled weavers to finish a piece of ulos. Afterwards we went to TB Silalahi Center, where the Batak Museum is located. An extensive collection of Batak tribes artefacts are housed in this modern museum. It thoroughly explains the different Batak tribes that exist in North Sumatra and the differences between each tribe’s costumes, rituals, ulos, and so forth.
Berastagi region is the home of the Karo Batak tribe. Known for its farm products as the land has a very fertile soil, we of course would not miss the chance of visiting the renowned Berastagi Fruits and Vegetables Market to find inspirations for our next projects. In Berastagi there is also a church, Gereja Katolik Inkulturatif Karo St. Fransiskus Asisi (St. Fransiskus Asisi Karo Inculturated Catholic Church) , which building is magnificently designed according to the Karo Batak architecture. The whole church is decorated with Karo Batak motifs. Inaugurated in 2005, this church is listed as one of the most beautiful churches in Indonesia. We spent time there admiring the building and the ornaments. Some even prayed there according to their beliefs. We were greeted warmly by Head Pastor Ignasius Simbolon, OFM, who briefly explained the history of the church. After having him blessed us, we continued our journey.
From the heart of Berastagi town, we continued our journey to the outskirts to Taman Alam Lumbini (Lumbini Natural Garden), where a magnificent pagoda is located, built as a replica of the Shwedagon Paya pagoda in Yangon, Myanmar. The construction of the temple began in 2007 and was successfully completed in 2010. Out of all the similar style pagodas outside Myanmar, the Lumbini Pagoda is the second highest in the world, with 46.8 meters in height, 68 meters in length and 68 meters in width. This particular pagoda is considered very sacred as it houses several of Buddha’s artefacts. The whole pagoda structure is painted in gold, therefore it is very striking from a distance.
After a day in Berastagi, we left for Medan, about 2 hours’ drive, where we ended our day visiting the Al Mashun Grand Mosque, one of the most famous sites in Medan city. The mosque, which has an architectural style blend of Moorish, Mughal and Spanish, was built in 1906. It took three years to finally finish building the mosque. Very understandable, considering they directly import most of the building materials from Italy, Germany, China and France. The result is a very beautifully ornamented building. To enter the complex, like any other places of worship, one needs to wear proper attire. Women need to cover their hair. Unfortunately, our time to visit was quite short as it was almost time for their evening prayer call.
The next day, which was our last day, we started the morning by visiting the Maimun Palace, formerly the residence of the Sultan of Deli. This beautifully designed palace is fully decorated with mural paintings all around its ceilings and walls. Visitors are only allowed to enter the front part of the palace. Most of the other parts of the building are restricted to public, as the families and descendants of the former Sultan of Deli still resides in the palace. Inside the palace, visitors can also dress up like the Malay prince or princess and have their pictures taken anywhere around the palace.
Afterwards, we continued our trip to Tjong A Fie Mansion, a former residential mansion of Tjong A Fie, the wealthiest and most well-known merchant in Medan during late 1800 to early 1900. Tjong A Fie was born in Guangdong, China, in 1860, but moved to Medan around 1880. He successfully built his business empire until at one point he employed 10.000 labor workers in his plantations, banks and factories. So successful, in 1911 he was appointed as the Chinese Mayor in Medan by the Dutch Government. In 1895 Tjong A Fie started building the mansion and was finally finished in 1900. It was designed using a mixed of Victorian and Chinese style. Built on a 6000 square meters land, the mansion has a total of 40 rooms. Its ceilings are decorated with paintings, hand painted by Chinese artists that were brought directly from China, using paints made from organic materials, which make them last for decades. Some parts of the mansion are closed to public, as one of Tjong A Fie’s grandson still lives there with his family. It is said that Tjong A Fie was a very generous man. All through his life, he has helped to build many of Medan’s most historical buildings such as Al Mashun Grand Mosque, Maimun Palace, Kwan Te Kong temple, churches, hospitals, schools, banks, and many others. He also donated most of his wealth to help needy people, regardless of race, religion or ethnicity. Naturally, he was the most respected and loved figure by the citizens of Medan.
The visit to Tjong A Fie Mansion concludes our cultural study trip to North Sumatra. We all (fashoin design students and teachers) feel that this was a very fruitful journey, which really opened our view and knowledge of North Sumatra culture. Till the next study trip. (Shinta Djiwatampu)