The Western Karo Batak’s Lost Creation Myth

Unlike the Toba Batak, their more populous and powerful neighbours in northern Sumatra, the western 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 western Karo once viewed the cosmos as divided into three worlds – Upper, Middle and Lower. The giant dragon who lived in the Lower World carried the Middle World (where humans reside) on its back, while the Upper World was the abode of a supreme deity accompanied by his sons, spirits and the souls of human ancestors who had been rich and powerful.

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Biographical Note

Jean Paul Barbier-Mueller holds a Master degree in law. He is a jurist and a historian. Born in Geneva in 1930 he founded the Barbier-Mueller Museum in 1977. He carried out many field studies in Batak country from 1974 to 1996 inventorying stone monuments in the Upper Barus region and collecting information and genealogies. He discovered the Karo Batak in 1990. He is the author of numerous articles and books above all on the Toba Batak.

Readership

All interested in the creation myths and history of the peoples of Island Southeast Asia and particularly of the Batak of Sumatra, Indonesia.

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