Destinations in Indonesia
The age old mystical Batak Tor-Tor Dance and the Sigale-gale Giant Puppet
Crossing the magnificent Lake Toba in North Sumatra to the stunning Samosir Island, one will not only be greeted with spectacular natural sceneries but also the mesmerizing culture of its indigenous people, the Batak ethnic group.
In the village of Simanindo, in the heart of the island, amidst artistic Batak’s Bolon traditional houses, you can observe the age-old mystical Tor-tor Dance performed not only by dancers but also by a giant wooden puppet called Sigale-gale.
Tor-tor is an ancient traditional dance of the Batak ethnic group that dates back to around the 13th century, way before the arrival of Islam and Christianity to the area. Initially, the dance was used as a ritual to invoke the spirits to ward off evil and disaster from the village and its community. Over time, the dance was performed at funerals, wedding ceremonies, and other folk festivities, as well as to welcome distinguished guests.
The Tor-Tor dance features simple movements of the hands and feet. The dancers move their hands in simple repetitive movements, such as up and down, while their feet tiptoe following the rhythm of the traditional musical accompaniment called margondang. The margondang music ensemble itself consists of various traditional instruments including gondang, tagading, suling (bamboo flute), Batak’s traditional trumpet, ogung (doal, panggora, oloan), saruan, odap gordang, and hesek.
Traditionally, there are a number of Tor-tor dance varieties including the Tor-tor Panguarason which is intended to cleanse the environment from evil spirits and to avert danger; the Tor-tor Sipitu Cawan (the 7 grails Tor-tor) which is exclusively performed at the inauguration of a king or chieftain, and the Tor-tor Panaluan which is performed after natural disasters to cleanse the village from evil.
In the village of Simanindo, the dance also involves a giant wooden puppet that can also dance to the rhythm of the margondang. It is said that, initially a shaman would invoke a spirit to enter the Sigale-gale puppet, which then would start to perform through its own effort, moving its hands regularly and stiffly up and down like dancing the Tor-tor. However nowadays, during the dance, the puppet is generally operated from behind like a marionette using strings that run through the ornate wooden platform on which it stands, enabling it to move its arms and body as well as turn its head. The life-sized puppet, carved from the wood of a banyan tree, is dressed in the traditional costume of a red turban, loose shirt, and blue sarong.
The origin of this exceptional puppet is said to be linked to a local legend that tells of a childless woman named Nai Manggale. The legend continues that as she was dying on her deathbed, Nai Manggale instructed her husband to have a life-sized image made of herself to be called si gale-gale and to have a dirge played before it. Unless this was done, her spirit would not be admitted to the abode of the dead, which would in turn force her to put a curse on her surviving spouse. Hence, to avert the misfortune, the Sigale-gale was created.