The Batak Karo house with its hipped roof is distinct from that of the other tribes . Up to twelve families might live in one of these houses, although eight is the norm. They are built from natural materials - mainly wood and bamboo - using no nails, spikes or screws, but simply held together with fiber from ijuk palm, which is also the principle source of their thatched roof.
There are five clans in the Karo Batak community. Their traditional law, called adat or bicara, spells out what kinds of conduct one must follow, particularly obligations to their clan.For example, the adat does not allow two people of the same clan to marry - even if there is no traceable blood relation between them. This taboo is strictly enforced to this day. When a woman is married, she transfers into the clan of her husband, which instantly gains her many new relatives.
Spirits figure prominently in the traditional world of the Karo. They believe the soul has two parts: the life force, which can leave a person's body and enter another person's or an animal's body, and the spirit (begu), which, upon death, is all that remains of a person. The begu must be exalted to become one with the "essential spirit". So, although they bury their dead, the Karo later exhume the bones of especially important ancestors and carefully wash them before decorating them in silver and gold, then displaying them in skull houses (geriten) made especially for the purpose.
Rituals involving contact with the spirit world are led by a male guru who is trained in the techniques of magic, while a female spirit medium may be also present, and through whom the spirits communicate their wishes to the living. Some of these spirits are also non-human - those of the land, the mountains and the harvest. Spirits of dead ancestors are especially important. A man's immediate ancestors are believed to guard his household.
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