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Home » Multiculturalism, Society and Culture

Understanding Beyond The Word “Horas”

Submitted by Agustian Hermanto on October 25, 2009 – 2:42 pm Comments

Home to the Batak people of Northern Sumatra, Lake Toba is the largest volcanic lake in the world. It offers an amazing vista and fascinating cultural heritage.

I remember the first time I visited Lake Toba many years ago. It was one of my most memorable trips. I was amazed by the beauty of Lake Toba and also by the cultural heritage of the Batak people. Everywhere I went; the first word that came out of everyone’s mouth was Horas!

Of course, I was too young and naïve to find out what Horas means. Well, not anymore.

Horas is an everyday greeting commonly used by the Batak people, especially in Tapanuli, a regency of North Sumatra and during the Batak traditional ceremonies. The true meaning of Horas is difficult to translate without understanding the Batak’s philosophy. Anyhow, here are the everyday translations:

  • How are you
  • Wishing you a good health
  • Good morning/afternoon/evening
  • Welcome/Goodbye
  • Introductory word

The word “Horas” actually comes from a traditional Batak philosophy called Dalihan Na Tolu. Dalihan Na Tolu translated word by word means Tungku Nan Tiga, or in English, a three legged stove. You might wonder what does a philosophy has to do with a three legged stove.

Batak’s Dalihan Na Tolu portrays the intimate internal relationship from the Batak’s three familial societies and prays for everyone to always be “Horas-Horas.” The three familial societies are:

  1. Hula-Hula: Family of the wife
  2. Dongan Tubu: The long patriarch line from the great grandfather to the great grandson
  3. Boru: Women of the patriarch line, sisters and their husbands’ families

The Bataks believe in a respectful and loving relationship with all three familial societies in order to be “Horas Horas” and to avoid misfortune to the family.
The most interesting aspect that I found about the Batak tradition is that they do not consider one’s status, position or wealth.

They strongly believe in the Dalihan Na Tolu philosophy and all males in the society are within the three familial societies depending on the situation and condition. This teaches all Bataks to live simple, gentle and caring lives.

Don’t you think it is great! We can see and learn many philosophical insights from just one traditional Batak word, Horas.

I understand this post may seem a bit philosophical but I hope it is informative. The point I’m trying to make here is:

Imagine the 300 distinct native ethnicities in Indonesia with 742 different language and dialects. Imagine what you can learn by visiting this vast country of diversity. Imagine the transformation within yourself by interacting with the local people and learn their culture first hand.

Enough said, experience it yourself!

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