BATTAS (Dutch Battaks), the inhabitants of the formerly independent Batta country, in the central highlands of Sumatra, now for the most part subjugated to the Dutch government. The still independent area extends from 98°-99° 35' E., and 2°-3° 25' S. North-east of Toba Lake dwell the Timor Battas, and west of it the Pakpak, but on its north (in the mountains which border on the east coast residency) the Karo Battas form a special group, which, by its dialects and ethnological character, appears to be allied to the Gajus and Allas occupying the interior of Achin. The origin of the Battas is doubtful. It is not known whether they were settled in Sumatra before the Hindu period. Their language contains words of Sanskrit origin and others referable to Javanese, Malay and Tagal influence. Their domain has been doubtless much curtailed, and their absorption into the Achin and Malay population seems to have been long going on. The Battas are undoubtedly of Malayan stock, and by most authorities are affiliated to that Indonesian pre-Malayan race which peopled the Indian Archipelago, expelling the aboriginal negritos, and in turn themselves submitting to the civilized Malays. In many points the Battas are physically quite different from the Malay type. The average height of the men is 5 ft. 4 in.; of the women 4 ft. 8 in. In general build they are rather thickset, with broad shoulders and fairly muscular limbs. The colour of the skin ranges from dark brown to a yellowish tint, the darkness apparently quite independent of climatic influences or distinction of race. The skull is rather oval than round. In marked contrast to the Malay type are the large, black, long-shaped eyes, beneath heavy, black or dark brown eyebrows. The cheek-bones are somewhat prominent, but less so than among the Malays. The Battas are dirty in their dress and dwellings and eat any kind of food, though they live chiefly on rice. They are remarkable as a people who in many ways are cultured and possess a written language of their own, and yet are cannibals. The more civilized of them around Lake Toba are good agriculturists and stock-breeders, and understand iron-smelting. They weave and dye cotton, make jewellery and krisses which are often of exquisite workmanship, bake pottery, and build picturesque chalet-like houses of two storeys. They have an organized government, hereditary chiefs, popular assemblies, and a written civil and penal code. There is even an antiquated postal system, the letter-boxes being the hollow tree trunks at crossroads. Yet in spite of this comparative culture the Battas have long been notorious for the most revolting forms of cannibalism. (See Memoirs of the Life, etc., of Sir T.S. Raffles, 1830.)
The Battas are the only lettered people of the Indian Archipelago who are not Mahommedans. Their religion is mainly confined to a belief in evil spirits; but they recognize three gods, a Creator, a Preserver and a Destroyer, a trinity suggestive of Hindu influence.
Up to the publication of Dr H.N. van der Tuuk's essay, Over schrift en uitspraak der Tobasche taal (1855), our knowledge of the Batta language was confined to lists of words more or less complete, chiefly to be found in W. Marsden's Miscellaneous Works, in F.W. Junghuhn's Battalander, and in the Tijdschrift van het Bataviaasch Genootschap, vol. iii. (1855). By his exhaustive works (Bataksch Leesboek, in 4 vols., 1861-1862; Bataksch-nederduitsch Woordenboek, 1861; Tobasche Spraakkunst, 1864-1867) van der Tuuk made the Batta language the most accessible of the various tongues spoken in Sumatra. According to him, it is nearest akin to the old Javanese and Tagal, but A. Schreiber (Die Battas in ihrem Verhältnis zu den Malaien von Sumatra, 1874) endeavoured to prove its closer affinity with the Malay proper. Like most languages spoken by less civilized tribes, Batta is poor in general terms, but abounds in terms for special objects. The number of dialects is three, viz. the Toba, the Mandailing and the Dairi dialects; the first and second have again two subdivisions each. The Battas further possess six peculiar or recondite modes of speech, such as the hata andung, or language of the wakes, and the hata poda or the soothsayer's language. A fair acquaintance with reading and writing is very general among them. Their alphabet is said, with the Rejang and Lampong alphabets, to be of Indian origin. The language is written on bark or bamboo staves from bottom to top, the lines being arranged from left to right. The literature consists chiefly in books on witchcraft, in stories, riddles, incantations, etc., and is mostly in prose, occasionally varied by verse. 
See also "Reisen nach dem Toba See," Petermanns Mitteil. (1883); Modigliani, Fra i Batacchi indipendenti (Rome, 1892); Neumann, "Het Pane- en Bilastroomgebied," Tydschr. Aardr. Gen., 1885-1887; Van Dijk in the same periodical (1890-1895); Wing Easton in the Jaarboek voor het Mynwezen, 1894; Niemann in the Encyclopaedia van Nederlandsch-Indie, under the heading Bataks, with very detailed bibliography; Baron J. v. Brenner, Besuch bei den Kannibalen Sumatras (Würzburg, 1893); H. Breitenstein, 21 Jahre in Indien, Java, Sumatra (Leipzig, 1899-1900); G.P. Rouffaer, Die Batik-Kunst in niederlandisch-Indien und ihre Geschichte (Haarlem, 1899).
 Mr C.A. van Ophuijsen has published (in Bijd. tot Land-, Taalen Volken-Kunde, 1886) an interesting collection of Battak poetry. He describes a curious leaf language used by Battak lovers, in which the name of some leaf or plant is substituted for the word with which it has greatest phonetic similarity.
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)