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  • Alyssa Rosvita

Surat Batak, a Fading Script

With most of its authentic history and origins lost to time, surat Batak is slowly becoming a forgotten script. Despite it being used to write five of North Sumatera’s languages, the introduction of the Latin alphabet in the 20th century essentially faded the use of the original Batak script.

The surat Batak, or also known as Surat na Sampulu Sia or Si Sia-sia was one of Indonesia’s traditional scripts that emerged in the land of Batak in North Sumatera. The script itself has several versions used to write the five Batak language branches: Karo, Pakpak, Mandailing, Simalungun, and Toba. It is speculated that the writing originated from the script of Brahmi India, though historians are unsure exactly when and how the script entered the land of Batak.

The Batak script is just one of many cases of traditional Indonesian language where its development is almost completely unknown due to improper archival of its documentation. For instance, the oldest evidence regarding the Batak’s script’s existances can only be dated back as far as 200 years ago. There are several suspected reasonings behind this issue, one of which is using media that is highly sensitive to Indonesia’s tropical climate to write. A lack of presence in approved inscriptions or other ancient relics of the Batak script also plays a role in its mysterious history.

If traced back, the Batak script can be connected to the scripts of South Sumatera, also known as Surat Ulu. Both of the scripts developed in the inlands of Sumatera, an area which took were relatively slower to be affected by external influences. For this reason, while the rest of Sumatera started to adopt some Islamic influences (such as Arabic and Jawi alphabets) in their language by the 14th century, the Batak region still retained the use of Indic (or Brahmi Indian) derived scripts.

From the Brahmi Indian scripts, it is thought that the Batak script first developed in the Angkola-Mandailing area, indigenous to the Batak Angkola and Batak Mandailing ethnic tribe. Originating from the same area of North Tapanuli, the Batak script soon spread from the Angkola and Mandailing tribe to the Toba tribe, then again to the Simalungun and Pakpak tribe. The script continued to spread until its reach to the Karo region, the last to receive surat Batak.

The Batak script continued most of its development in between the Karo tribe, where it soon became an area with the longest-lasting tradition of using Batak letters, even after the indepence of Indonesia. Though, most of the spelling of Karo language has now been replaced with Latin alphabets.

Similarly to other traditions in Indonesia, the effects of time and a lack of proper conservation has led many things to fade. The Batak language, a language used by hundreds of thousands of people, has almost lost its original script due to this very reason. It is only a matter of time until the surat Batak completely fades.


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