Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 22.djvu/119

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109
LIFE AMONG THE BATTAS OF SUMATRA.

LIFE AMONG THE BATTAS OF SUMATRA.
By Dr. A. SCHREIBER.[1]

ALTHOUGH the Battas have a writing and a very limited literature, it has never occurred to any one among them to compile and preserve their historical traditions. Consequently their history, as we know it, reaches hack for only a short distance in time, and gives no clew by the aid of which we can learn when and whence they came to Sumatra. They are not able to trace their origin to any greater distance than the highlands of Toba, where the greater part of their people now dwell. The tradition of their derivation from Toba prevails, so far as I know, among all of their tribes, on every side of the highlands. We are not well enough acquainted with the interior of Northern Sumatra to be able to state how far they may have pressed toward the southwest; but they are found in the south to the equator and on the west and east in single spots to points immediately on the sea. They seem to have conquered their settlements in the southern districts a considerable time ago, and to have subjected or destroyed the Malayan aborigines.

We will go into a Batta town early in the morning. The night-mists have not yet disappeared from the woods around, but we already hear a bustle, as we are approaching the edge of the village, of women pounding rice. The rice, which is the principal food of the people, is always kept in the hull, and is thrashed out day by day as it is needed. The thrashing is done with hard-wood pestles eight or ten feet long in wooden mortars made from a stump or a log. It is hard work, yet the women are frequently accustomed to perform it with their babies strapped to their backs, where the infant is exposed to all the abrupt and awkward oscillations of the mother's head. The rice must be carefully cleaned after it is thrashed, for the lord of the house will not be trifled with, and, if he finds a husk in his breakfast, it may turn out a bad day for the woman.

The town is composed of a street about fifty feet wide, with a row of respectable-looking houses, all built on piles, on either side. We are, in fact, in a land of pile-houses, and nothing more than a glance around is needed to convince the visitor of the fallacy of the notion that all the pile-houses were built in lakes. The Batta houses are some eight or ten feet high, frequently set up on still higher poles. The poles are not very large, but are made of wood selected for its lasting qualities, and often of heart-wood. They are planted in the ground in rows, and so connected by cross-bars that, shake as much as it may in time of storm or earthquake, the house will not fall

  1. Abridged from articles in "Das Ausland."