Karo people

Karo people

The Karo people, or Karonese, are the indigenous people of the Karo Plateau in North Sumatra. They belong linguistically to the Batak people but often consider themselves as separate. They speak the Batak Karo language.

There were five prominent Karo villages before the political influence of the Acehnese and the Dutch on the Karo people. Each one of these five villages was established by a Sibayak, a founding community. The Sibayak of Suka whose family name was Ginting Suka established the village of Suka. The Sibayak of Lingga called Karo-karo Sinulingga established the village of Lingga. The Sibayak of Barusjahe whose family name was Karo-karo Barus pioneered the village of Barusjahe. The Sibayak of Sarinembah, called Sembiring Meliala established the village of Sarinembah. The Sibayak of Kutabuluh named Perangin-angin established the village of Kutabuluh.

Each one of these five villages has its own satellite villages inhabited by the extended families of the main village inhabitants. The satellite villages were established for the convenience of the villagers whose fields were relatively far from the main villages. The purpose was to save them time when travelling back and forth from the village to their fields. Today, these satellite villages have developed and matured to be independent of the main villages. In the old times, these satellite villages used to ask for help from the main villages to deal with natural disasters, tribal disputes, diseases and famine.

The leaders of these satellite villages were called URUNGs. The Sibayak of Lingga administered five villages i.e., Tiganderket, Tiga Pancur, Naman, Lingga and Batukarang. The Sibayak of Suka administered four villages i.e., Suka, Seberaya, Ajinembah and Tengging. The Sibayak of Sarinembah administered four villages i.e., Sarinembah, Perbesi, Juhar and Kutabangun. The Sibayak of Barusjahe administered two villages i.e., Barusjahe and Sukanalu. The Sibayak of Kutabuluh administered two villages i.e., Kutabuluh and Marding-ding.

Today one of the main settlements in the Karo area is the town of Berastagi. The administrative centre is the town of Kabanjahe.

Karo people, as with other Bataks, are mostly Christian, a religion brought to Sumatra in the 19th Century by missionaries, but an increasing number living away from the Karo Highlands have converted to Islam, with the influence of Muslim Javanese and Melayu peoples making the traditional habits of pig farming and cooking less common. Both Muslims and Christians however still retain their traditional animist beliefs in ghosts, spirits (begu), and traditional jungle medicine.

Karo people traditionally lived in shared longhouses, but very few now remain, and new construction is exclusively of modern designs.

Each person has a marga, or clan, one of five being Ginting, Karo-Karo, Perangin-Angin, Sembiring and Tarigan.

Each marga is further subdivided into marga (same name) ranging between 13 and 18 names for each. These marga give the Karo people a form of surname, something that most Indonesians do not have. Unlike the West, the marga is inherited from the father and does not change on marriage. Women's names are marked with 'beru', or 'Br.', e.g., 'Ana br. Ginting'. Most people use their primary marga, however Karo-Karo people more commonly use their sub-marga.

People from the same marga (e.g., Karo-Karo), are not allowed to marry. Upon marriage, the bride becomes a part of the groom's family, with the kalimbubu (bride's family) joining with anakberu (groom's family). Karonese marriages are very large affairs, with typically 200 attendees, comprising the numerous family members of both marrying parties, comprising a number of elements, including the chewing of betel nut (sirih), traditional Karonese dancing (which focuses on hand movements), the payment of a nominal dowry to each of the kalimbubu. Food is cooked by the anakberu, who will spend many hours cooking vast quantities to cater for the numerous guests. This social obligation is expected to be reciprocated, so that Karonese people can attend several weddings each month. Non-Karo people do not attend the wedding ceremony, although such friends might be invited to a separate party in the evening. Where a non-Karonese person wishes to marry a Karonese, they would be adopted into a Karo marga.



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