Karo Batak

Authored by: Geoff Woollams

The Austronesian Languages of Asia and Madagascar

Print publication date:  November  2004
Online publication date:  March  2013

Print ISBN: 9780700712861
eBook ISBN: 9780203821121
Adobe ISBN: 9781136755101


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Karo Batak is the language spoken by the Karo people of North Sumatra. Karo people refer to themselves as kalak Karo in their own language (or orang Karo in Indonesian) and call their language cakap Karo. The term ‘Batak’ refers to a congeries of culturally related groups or tribes (Viner 1979:90) who inhabit the greater part of the hinterland of the province of North Sumatra (Sumatera Utara), in the centre of which is located Lake Toba. Each of these groups has its own distinctive language, social organization and history. The Toba Batak, who occupy the island of Samosir in Lake Toba, and the territory to the east, south and south-west of the lake, have been the subject of much anthropological and linguistic study for more than a century, with their language recorded by H.N. van der Tuuk in his classic 1864–67 grammar Tobasche Spraakkunst (since translated into English in 1971). Post-war migration of the Toba Batak led to their establishing sizeable communities along the east coast of North Sumatra, in Aceh and in Java, as well as in other Batak areas, so that the term ‘Batak’ has, for outsiders, become virtually synonymous with ‘Toba Batak’. Other Batak peoples reject the label, preferring for instance to be known as orang Mandailing or orang Angkola (found further to the south of Lake Toba, and extending to the provincial border with West Sumatra), orang Simalungun (to the north-east of the lake), or orang Pakpak and orang Dairi (to the west and south-west of Lake Toba).

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