Heading to Laguboti from Samosir Island, I wasn’t clear on what we were headed to but I was told we would be attending a Malim ceremony for the next couple of days. I had no prior knowledge of what Malim or the celebration of Sipaha Lima was actually about, so as we arrived at Huta Tinggi and removed our shoes and dressed ourselves in traditional sarongs before entering the courtyard, I was a little self conscious as there were no other foreigners in sight and my presence seemed to surprise people as well as excite all the children there.
Sipaha Lima, meaning the fifth moon, is a Holy ritual performed between the months of June and July which is the fifth month of the Batak calendar and is held by the Parlimum, followers of Malim, to make offerings to Mulajadi Nabolon who is the Creator of Nature, to give thanks for their harvests.
Malim is believed to be the Batak’s oldest religion which was practiced long before Christianity was brought in by the Dutch colonial missions or Islam by Paderi warriors from West Sumatra. Malim was declared a Batak religion when Dutch colonizers strived to conquer the Batak region in the 1800s. Although Malim originates from the Batak community, only a limited number of Batak are aware this faith exists as the Christian community covered up its existence, especially from the younger generation.
It is believed that the Parlimum have been likened to Satan worshippers due to rumours thought to have been fabricated by the Dutch as they spread Christian teachings throughout Sumatra, causing many to abandon their faith because of the stigma associated with the religion. Until recently Indonesia only officially recognised six religions which are Islam, Catholicism, Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism and Confucianism, as faiths such as Malim have been categorized as beliefs rather than religions. It is now possible to list their faith on their identity cards, but still the majority of the younger generation are ashamed to do so because of their peers from different faiths.
It was an incredible day listening to the melodies of traditional music and I especially loved the mesmerising tune from the sarune which is a kind of flute, which accompanied the Parmalim as they danced the tor-tor. The tor-tor is a traditional Batak dance which is performed separately by groups of fathers, mothers and then young people. This dance is done with careful and slow steps, whilst the dancers press their palms together infront of their chest as if they are praying, and move them up and down in a controlled motion.
The courtyard outside the prayer house was a sea of colour with a mixture of traditional fabric sarongs and colourful handwoven ulos worn on the shoulders of each of the Parmalim and the men’s heads covered in white turbans. Leading the ritual was King Marnakkok Naipospos who stood at the head of the congregation throughout the day, praying and dancing and it was such a special day for me being able to witness it all.
Although it was a sweltering hot day, the children provided lots of extra entertainment wanting their photos taken, learning to take photos from my phone and camera and trying to communicate with me, and everyone was so welcoming.
What a fantastic introduction for me to traditional Batak religion and culture.