The Western Karo Batak’s Lost Creation Myth


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Text by Jean Paul Barbier-Mueller.

The Batak people of northern Sumatra are divided into five groups. The northern group, the Karo, is less numerous and prosperous than that of the centre, the Toba. Unlike the Toba Batak, their more populous and powerful neighbours, the Karo Batak today claim they have no creation myth. Yet certain clues point to shared cosmogony among several Batak groups, now reinforced by Jean Paul Barbier-Mueller’s discovery of a very old traditional house among the western Karo. The symbolic decoration of the house eliminates all doubt: the Karo once viewed the cosmos as divided into three worlds – Upper-, Middle and Underworld. The giant dragon who lived in the Underworld carried the Middle World (where humans reside) on its back, while the Upperworld was the abode of a supreme deity accompanied by his sons, various spirits and the souls of human ancestors who had been rich and powerful during their lifetimes.

108 pages, 68 illustrations and 3 geographical maps.

Published by the Musée Barbier-Mueller and Brill, 2014.


Additional information

Weight 0.6 kg

English, French