Batak - Economy

Subsistence and Commercial Activities. All regions are rice-cultivation areas, combining dry fields with extensive, terraced paddies. One rice crop per year is typical in some of the less fertile uplands, although wide plainlands sometimes support two crops. Government development projects are spreading green-revolution varieties of high-yield rice throughout the province. Cash crops (coffee, tobacco, cloves, cinnamon) have been grown since colonial times; market gardening also supplements rice production (peppers, cabbage, tomatoes, beans). Government projects encourage the cultivation of peanuts and fish farming. Traditional forest products such as camphor and incense are still collected, as is forest rubber. Karo is a major fruit and vegetable exporter. Domestic animals include chickens, ducks, water buffalo, goats, and (in non-Muslim areas) pigs. Outside the agricultural sector, Batak work in the transportation industry, in cloth sales, and in Sumatra's ubiquitous markets.

Industrial Arts. Market towns typically have mechanics, carpenters, house builders, tailors, and road-pavement crews, while village men make fish nets and women weave ceremonial textiles and make rattan baskets. In larger towns, shops and repair businesses are owned by Indonesian-Chinese entrepreneurs.

Trade. Since at least early colonial times, the highlands have been crosscut by trade routes for salt, salted fish, dried hot peppers, and cooking oil—the basic ingredients, with rice and greens, of the standard village meal. Since the 1950s, paved roads and crushed stone roads have been extended to many village areas, augmenting the old colonial main routes between market centers. Bus transport to Medan and Padang is dependable and frequent.

Division of Labor. Farm families tend to share household tasks and field labor among the men, women, and children. Heavy planting and harvest tasks are often done by larger work groups, recruited by age (groups of adolescents) or clan and marriage-alliance ties to the farm family in question. Some wealthier village families hire poorer relatives to work their land, on a sharecropping basis. In pre-Dutch times southern Batak high chiefs had slaves who worked as their house servants and field laborers.

Land Tenure. In the ideal situation, family rice land is not to be bought and sold but should pass to sons and their households, with a smaller share going to daughters. In practice, some families do sell paddy land, for school tuition or other pressing needs; in addition, the establishment of new villages east of the traditional Batak lands has opened up new farming territory. Traditional houses and lineage heirlooms pass down through the patriline. Parents often circumvent the strict patrilineal inheritance rules for land by bestowing land gifts on favored daughters at their weddings or on the birth of their first child.

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