The International Steam Pages


Karo Country, Berastagi 2017

This is part of our report on our visit to North Sumatra in 2017.  You can read about the rest of it from the links below.



The people of the highlands above the plains around Medan are generally known as 'Batak' and consist of a number of related groups of which the Karo are one. Like the others, they have a strong 'Pig culture' which made them resistant to the introduction of Islam which happened in most of present day Indonesia. Apparently the Dutch tried to use conversion to Christianity as a method of subduing the Karo but were only moderately successful as like most Indonesians their culture has a strong animist streak. However, when it became national policy that everyone should adopt a formal religion most Karo took the pragmatic way out and today most are members of the Gereja Batak Karo Protestan (GBKP), which had sensibly decided some time ago that it would turn a blind eye to certain cultural traditions.

Unlike places like Sulawesi which have seen communal tensions in recent years, Muslims and Christians seem to live in harmony here, and children of both faiths walk to and from school together. In addition to 'Sekolah Kebangsaan' (National Schools), the GBKP have their own schools including this (apparently private - although I guess it gets some state funding) one in Berastagi. The banner congratulates the 118 students who recently went on to Higher Education, the most popular of the many institutions seems to be Universitas Diponegoro in Semarang, Central Java.

The Karo people are extremely laid back. One of the reasons is that it is customary to chew various semi-narcotics which are freely available in local markets. The smaller pictures shows the fruits of the areca palm (1) which contain the betel nuts which are crushed with lime and result in the users mouth frothing red.  Also used similarly is gambir (2, extract of Uncaria gambir) and mixed in may also be tobacco (3). The mix is then wrapped in what the locals call 'siri' (4), the green leaf of what I believe is known as 'piper betel'. The long term effect of chewing any such mixture is medically disastrous...


Rob and Yuehong Dickinson

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