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The Unique Batak Dance

By Ariella N. Lai in Culture

Jan 19, 2021

Regarded as the most prominent volcanic lake and one of the deepest lakes globally, Lake Toba has become Batak people’s pride in North Sumatra, Indonesia.

Are you interested in witnessing Batak culture amidst indulging yourself in the rustic atmosphere of Lake Toba? It is abundant in natural charms and rich in indigenous Batak traditions that are still upheld by the tribe to this day. Be informed about the Batak traditional wooden puppet dance, namely the Sigale Gale dance, by reading this article.

Dominantly known in Samosir Island, Sigale Gale is a traditional dance during Batak funerals, especially for men. Sigale Galeitself derives from the Batak word gale, which means gentle and limber since the Sigale Gale wooden puppet can bend in the same manner as a human. The Batak people believe that Sigale Gale delivers the souls of their loved ones to the spirit world. However, these performances are currently also open for the public to watch as a cultural show.

Sigale Gale’s origin goes back to hundreds of years ago, relating to a mourning Samosir king’s folk tale. It is believed that there was once a respected king wisely ruling over Samosir. His wife had died long ago, and he only had a son whom he dearly loved. One day, he sent his son to war with the neighbouring kingdom while staying at the castle. Unfortunately, his son died, and he was utterly devastated. He became terribly ill, could not rule the kingdom as how he used to do.

His advisors already called lots of data, a person familiar with traditional concoctions for illnesses and such, to heal the king. However, his condition was becoming worse each day. One of the data suggested the king’s advisors make a wooden puppet resembling his son. They agreed and called the most senior sculptor in the kingdom to assist them. The forming of the puppet was done deep in the woods, where the king’s son died. After it was made, the data conducted a ritual to call the prince’s spirit and put him inside the wooden puppet. The ritual was successful and brought the wooden puppet to the mourning king. As the data already predicted, the king’s health elevated after seeing the wooden puppet. It could dance by itself since the son’s spirit was in there. The king gave it the name Sigale Gale.

Whenever the king missed his son, he would dance with the Sigale Gale, and his citizens would celebrate with him. Legend said that the sculptor who made the Sigale Gale puppet died a few days after. The Batak people believed that the Sigale Gale wooden puppet’s sculptors should give their own souls to complete the puppet. Therefore, to this day, the Sigale Gale puppet’s manufacture would involve many people, dividing its body parts into the head, body, legs, hands, etc.

The Sigale Galeis was performed by a group of people which could last for approximately an hour. Some of them hold the strings to move the puppet, while the others dance alongside the puppet. The dancers and the Sigale Gale wear traditional Batak Samosir clothes, accentuated with Ulos batik cloth. They are also accompanied by traditional Batak music called gondangwhich consists of flutes, drums, and gong(a percussion instrument in the form of a flat, circular metal disc hit with a mallet).

You may witness this mystical performance by attending Sigale Gale Carnival or Lake Toba Festival during some specific times of the year. However, the local Batak people, especially in Samosir Island, still perform this dance now and for tourists. Some of the travel bundlings out there even already include a Sigale Gale performance in their itinerary. If you are travelling on your own, it is suggested to ask the local people about these performances.