After hearing about the traditional Sigale-gale dancing puppet, I was intrigued to see what this tradition was all about so we set off to find and film a performance. Driving around Lake Toba on a hired motorbike, we passed through some stunning scenery and finally arrived at the northern tip of Samosir Island at Simanindo which is 15km from Tuk Tuk.
Here we found the Museum Huta Bolan Simanindo, and for a small entry fee we were able to look around at the traditional buildings as well as watch a Batak performance and the Sigale-gale dancing.
According to Batak tradition, when a man passed away, their eldest son was to dance at the funeral to ward off evil spirits and prevent disasters and so the Sigale-gale was originally built to dance for people of note who had died without having children to perform for them. The doll was made with movable limbs, using wood and wires, and danced to set the dead man’s soul at ease. It was then taken around the village on a little wagon so it could embrace the dead man’s relatives and at daybreak, when the ceremony was over, the doll was left in Lake Toba.
According to legend, a Batak man who had no children to continue the family lineage found himself among the lesser ghosts and nameless slaves in the nether-world, and such a ghost was bent on causing harm to the living. By making a doll to represent the deceased man, it served as a reminder to the dangerous ghost of his previous state in life, and to remind him to leave the living in peace.
The knowledge and traditions of the doll of the dead has all but disappeared and all that now remains is a puppet show, a caricature of the original ritual, which is performed as entertainment for tourists.