Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Surat Batak

A few weeks ago I received an email from Indonesia, from someone named Andre Samosir who said that he was a member of the Batak tribe, and that he had emailed me years ago about writing a paper on the Batak script but hadn't gotten the chance to complete it until recently.

Remarkably I actually remembered that email conversation from 2007. So I opened the attachment and read through the paper on the Batak script, or Surat Batak. I thought that it was pretty well-written, especially about the script's changes through time from the earliest stage to the modern age. And since I haven't gotten a chance to write a page on Batak yet, I figured that I would share it here on the blog.

Here is a quick preview:

The full paper can be downloaded through this link. Also, the bibliography is separately listed below:
  • Sihombing, T.M. (1986). Filsafat Batak: Tentang Kebiasaan-kebiasaan & Adat-istiadat. Jakarta: Balai Pustaka.
And here is a little about Andre as written by himself:

I am Andre Somba Gugun Samosir, a 28-year-old guy from the Batak tribe in Indonesia. Andre means "man". The "Somba Gugun" in my name is a wordplay from Batak words meaning "asked/prayed for fervently". Samosir is just a family name (albeit being also the name of the island in the center of Lake Toba in Indonesia) of hundreds of people in Batak Toba. Batak clans zealously keep track of their family trees, so for that matter, I am the 15th Samosir in my line of genealogy. I graduated from the medical school of Padjadjaran University, Bandung, West Java in early 2007, and now worked as a general practitioner in a small hospital in Palembang (South Sumatra). In my leisure time among the tiring weeks, I am a passionate reader of just about everything except economy and political stuff. Supercars, gems, quantum physics, linguistics, Esperanto studies, world writing systems, philosophy, and Walt Whitman and Michael Crichton to name a few interests.

To contact Andre, you can find him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/k273


  1. Thanks, Larry!
    A nicely wrapped birthday present for me.

    1. dear sir,
      i'm so interested in this batak script
      have you the indonesian one?
      May i borrow it sir?
      thanks a lot before

      yours sincere

    2. Hi Evy,
      I don't have the Indonesian version (I just wrote it in English), but if you want, we can have a correspondence and I will gladly talk with you.

  2. This was very interesting. THANKS

  3. Looks like it has affinities with Brahmi script. The signs 'ma' and 'ga' in particular.

    Brahmi is ancestral to most south Asian writing systems.

  4. Yes, it is distantly related to Brahmi. In fact, I think the rough genealogy is Brahmi -> Pallava -> Kawi -> Batak.

  5. It comes from an old Sumatran script that the south Sumatran scripts (Rejang-Central Malay, Kerinci, Lampung) and Makassarese jangang-jangang script also come from. That 14th-15th century script was closely related to the script used in Sulawesi starting around 1400, which was adopted in the Philippines. These scripts ultimately come from a simplified, vowelless script borrowed from Gujarati merchants around the 14th-15th century in eastern Sumatra with vowels from Kawi added. The arguments for a Kawi origin are weak and not convincing. I can send anyone interested my Berkeley Linguistics Society paper on this.

  6. @kiwehtin: intriguing. If you'd be so kind to let me read the paper? Thanks a lot.

  7. Andre–

    Thanks for the response! Your paper is a very interesting overview of Batak writing.

    If you would like a copy of my paper (and other more recent materials), contact me at


    I'll be pleased to send them to you

  8. @kiwehtin: I'll be interested to read your paper as well. Up-to-date research about scripts in Indonesia and Philippines are hard to come by.

    Also I checked out your blog. Looks like it's inactive for now but I'd love to read more about how sign languages relate to writing systems.

  9. Oh, my blog. Yes. It's going to take me a while to get something up there. I need to move ahead with my work a bit more before I'll have time for that. (sigh)

    I can send you my paper; as for Andre, just send me an email at the above address (which I wrote that way to avoid possible bot harvesting) and I'll send you a copy with some comments on new developments since I wrote it.


  10. Baca link ini tentang buku "Tuanku Rao" bila anda ingin mengetahui atau mendalami sejarah Batak:


    Buku bisa dibeli di toko-toko buku terdekat- Gunung Agung, Gramedia dsb.

  11. i need the indonesian version
    please help me
    thank you so much bloggers

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    hatay posta kodu

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  15. Hello,

    I'm Andre, the contributor for this Ancientscripts blog page.
    A reader of Ancientscripts recently brought to my attention that they could not download the pdf file of Surat Batak because of some WhoIs issues.
    Anyone who wants to read the paper is very welcome to contact me on a.samosirdr@gmail.com.

    Thanks for your interest!