Indonesia – Paleo Indonesians

By | December 23, 2021

To these belong the Bataki (600 thousand) and the Gajo of northern Sumatra (about 40 thousand); the populations of Nias, the Mentavei islands (12 thousand) and Engano (1914: 294); the Daiaki, a name that in a broad sense designates many tribes of Borneo, such as eg. the Kajan, the Kenja, the Murut, the Dusun, the Kalabit (in all perhaps 2 million individuals); the tribes of the interior of the Moluccas and other islands of eastern Indonesia (Alfuri); the Toradja, Tolampu, Tobada and others in Celebes, some tribes in the Philippines and finally the Indonesian tribes of Formosa (perhaps 100,000 souls).

These peoples do not have a homogeneous civilization. Particular conditions are presented both in the westernmost islands, Engano and Mentavei, where rice cultivation and weaving are lacking, as well as in the Far East in the Moluccas, Kei and Aru islands, where the cultivation of rice is replaced by the sago palm. breeding of cattle and especially of cattle is little practiced and metallurgy is ignored; there is also a true solar cult. Among some of these peoples, on the other hand, Fr. ex. among the Bataki, the influence of Indian civilization is already very accentuated; nevertheless the civilization of this whole group can be considered and described as an intermediate state between the primitives and the peoples of higher civilization.

Grains are grown everywhere (in addition to rice, also millet and maize), as well as tubers (yam, taro, batata), beans, pumpkins, sugar cane and roots. The main fruit trees are banana (pisang), durian, coconut palm, breadfruit and sago palm. The traditional method of cultivation consists in clearing up a part of the wood and managing this land with the ashes of the burnt trees; the fields located in these clearings can be cultivated for a period of one to three years. In the Ifugao (Philippines) there are also fields arranged in terraces, artificially irrigated.

The most common domestic animals are pigs, dogs and poultry, while oxen and buffalo are lacking in some regions. The meat of domestic animals is eaten only during feasts and sacrifices. Hunting is actively practiced at least as a men’s sport, but in almost all regions fishing is more important; this is practiced by means of hooks, spears, poison and above all a great number of very ingenious traps. In the Moluccas you can also fish with the help of kites by making them fly so that the bait attached to the end of the tail dances on the waves. Betel chewing is very common; beer is made from multiple grains and another heady drink is provided by the sugar palm.

Today clothing consists of at least a cloth passed between the legs for men, and a cloth tied around the hips for women; the bust is almost always uncovered; to dress it, men use a jacket open on the front and sleeveless, women a cloth draped around the chest or thrown over the shoulders. Long-sleeved jackets, where they are used (Java, etc.), come from a more recent cultural influence. The oldest material used for clothing consists of beaten tree bark, grass, leaves and even skins; but today cotton is widespread almost everywhere. The weaving is known among most of the tribes and the coloring technique is very advanced. Famous are the fabrics whose warp is colored with the complicated system called ikat. The earlobe is almost always enlarged and perforated and the teeth pointed and blackened; some tribes also adorn them with gold plates. Only a few islands are missing the tattoo. The use of omaments is highly developed; the richness of its forms and its material, among which gold and silver are not rare, cannot even be mentioned; special care is given to the war and dance ornament. Pottery and metalworking are widespread and bamboo provides such a multifaceted material in its applications that one could speak of a “bamboo civilization”. Common weapons of war and hunting were the wooden or bamboo spear, often hooked. For the tip occasionally fishbones or bone were used, but more commonly iron. The knives are also of various shapes, daggers and sabers, often also used as work tools. In the very common chiselling of the blades, as in the various and particular shapes of the handle, there is an Indian influence, and, to a lesser extent, also Arab. The wooden or bamboo bow is little used and the characteristic weapon of western Indonesia is the blowpipe, made of wood or bamboo and equipped with poisoned arrows; often they apply a spear point to it in order to use it as a bayonet. Defense weapons, shield, breastplate and helmet are also highly developed. a wooden or bamboo bow is little used and the characteristic weapon of western Indonesia is the blowpipe, made of wood or bamboo and equipped with poisoned arrows; often they apply a spear point to it in order to use it as a bayonet. Defense weapons, shield, breastplate and helmet are also highly developed. a wooden or bamboo bow is little used and the characteristic weapon of western Indonesia is the blowpipe, made of wood or bamboo and equipped with poisoned arrows; often they apply a spear point to it in order to use it as a bayonet. Defense weapons, shield, breastplate and helmet are also highly developed.

Much activity is devoted to painting and drawing in the decoration of buildings, shields and objects of common use; the same can be seen in the wooden sculpture, more rarely in stone, especially connected to the cult of the dead. The island of Nias presents the best products in this regard (images of ancestors, figures to fight diseases and “keepers” of villages and houses), while some houses of the Bataki and other populations are true masterpieces of the art of ‘inlay. The music of Indonesians features a rich orchestra: drums, silophones, gongs, shell horns and flutes.

In the construction of houses the usual form is given by the rectangular wooden or bamboo house built on stilts above the ground or, more rarely, on the water. The house on stilts with a round plan is rare (Engano, Nicobar), as are the buildings at ground level, which appear only in a few regions. There are tree houses on the island of Luzon. The size of the house varies a lot; at some Daiaki, where they use the houses for several families, there are some 300 m long. In addition to the actual houses, various other buildings were built for particular purposes: stores for provisions, houses for crushing rice, houses for celibates, huts for women during periods of menstruation, houses for the spirits and the dead. The size, shape and situation of the settlements also vary greatly; among some tribes there are villages with more than 1000 residents. Especially the Bataki and the residents of Nias were very skilled in the fortification of their seats. River and coastal navigation is highly developed: in Borneo there are boats made of tree bark, but in general the canoes are dug out of a tree trunk; in places where outrigger boats appear, they generally have double it; the wooden or bamboo mast is also common,  with triangular or trapezoidal sails made of strips of leaves or palm filaments. Navigation allows those populations an active trade; brass bracelets, gold dust and glass beads are used as a measure of value or currency. For Indonesia 2013, please check

The society, among the Bataki, the Gajo and in the eastern islands is based on the division into exogamous clans; taking a woman from one’s clan is regarded by the Bataki as incest. The clans themselves, originally, had to be totemic, as can be deduced from the legends relating to the lineage or belonging of certain animals to the tribe, with the consequent prohibition of using them for food. Thus, p. eg, the marga (batako clan) Harahap is “relative” to pigeons, which therefore are not eaten. Totemism is also widespread in eastern Indonesia.

The Bataki, the Gajo, the residents of Nias and most of the eastern islands have the patriarchal family; a rigorous matriarchy dominates, however, among some tribes of Formosa and traces of it can also be found in many other places. The dominant forms of marriage are the purchase, the ransom by service, the adoption and the rape of the bride; the latter method is also considered legal for the conclusion of a marriage and requires only the further payment of a sum for reconciliation. For economic reasons polygamy is limited to the rich and the bosses and polyandry is only mentioned for Western Ceram. Circumcision, which spreads more and more with the advance of Islam, is also found among the Bataki and Daiaki as a pre-Islamic custom. In Borneo and Celebes it is practiced as exciting the perforatio glandis. Rites of manhood are widespread: among many Daiake tribes, no one could marry if he had not first brought back the loot of a human skull; Mutilation of the teeth, circumcision and tattooing are also connected with the initiatory rites of puberty. In western Ceram there was a real secret society, the Kakihan, in which all the boys were admitted. These spent a certain time in the forest under the supervision of the priests, and were tattooed with the mark of recognition of the society; this secret association is in all similar to those of Melanesia and played an important political part in the defense against the Dutch, but today its power is broken. In Formosa, in one part of Borneo, and also elsewhere, there are houses for celibates, but generally they are transformed into meeting houses; houses for marriageable girls are rarer. In many tribes the leaders are inherited and have a very extensive power. Singular is the priestly kingdom of the Bataki, which developed under Indian influences. The chiefs of a village on Lake Toba bore the title of Si Singa Mangaradja and they exercised, though without being true and proper sovereigns, by means of the magical forces attributed to them, an influence which gave the Dutch much to do; the last Si Singa Mangaradja was killed by him in battle on June 17, 1907.

Paleo Indonesians