Rumah Bolon, Medan Overview

Rumah Bolon, also known as ‘Bolon House’ or ‘Batak House’ by locals, is a well-maintained complex of traditional houses of the indigenous Simalungan Batak Toba tribe of North Sumatra. Open to the public, it allows one to get a glimpse of traditional Indonesian life. The massive houses sit in a row against one another, made of wood with thatched roofs. It is a must-visit place for understanding of tribal philosophy.

In ancient times, Bolon House was once the home of the Batak Toba tribe’s 13 kings and these houses have no rooms in keeping with the closeness of the tribe. The complex conducts traditional dance performances as well after the house tours. These dance shows are held regularly at 10:30 AM.

If there are enough visitors, another show is usually held at around 11:45 AM. Most sub-groups of the Batak tribe have converted to Christianity now, but these dances show us their old animist traditions. Visiting Rumah Bolon is a truly unique, memorable experience for any visitors eager to explore the traditions of North Sumatra.

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Structure and Architecture

The Batak tribe of North Sumatra can be found in Indonesia’s North Sumatra province. They have six sub-groups that are Karo, Pakpak, Simalungun, Angkola, Manailing, and the Toba. Each tribe’s housing follows the structure and architecture similar to the Rumah Bolon complex.

The houses are made of wood with roofs of rumbia leaf or palm fibre called ijuk, although they can now be found with more durable corrugated sheets. The houses are normally rectangular and are built on raised platforms of one or two metres in height to hinder any wild animals from entering.

The doorways and staircases are usually low, as the Batak tribe believed that lowering the head to head was a sign of respect to the house’s owner. Underneath the house, there were usually small pits to keep the tribe’s animals like chicken, goats, and pigs.

Rumah Bolon was the home of the Batak chieftains until the last one passed away in 1947. It had no rooms, merely common spaces for all. They usually held 4-5 people and had some individual spaces like a space for the house leader, space for family gatherings, space for the oldest married son, and space for married daughters living at home.

These houses were built without the use of any nails and have been well-maintained, although some have been modified to avoid disrepair. With no few traditional-style houses existing in North Sumatra today, this complex is a rare chance to glimpse authentic Batak life.

At Rumah Bolon, the houses face away from the lake behind the complex. Opposite each house is usually a corresponding rice barn called sapo that can be as large as the house itself. These barns would once store rice and other farming produce, and at night, act as an extra dormitory.

Each house would have a pole built outside to tie their animals (such buffaloes) for the night and are decorated with leaves. The common space between the houses and the rice barns was called alaman. It was this area that hosted village ceremonies or gatherings. On the outskirts of the village, bamboo fencing and trees were planted to act as protection from outsiders.

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