When visiting the island of Samosir at Lake Toba, then watching the Sigale-gale, a wooden puppet dance performance, is a must. Sigale-gale is a Batak life-sized puppet show, which is traditionally performed at funerals but may now also be performed for visitors. Carved from the wood of a banyan tree and dressed in the traditional costume wearing a red turban, loose shirt and blue sarong, the Sigale-gale stands on long, wooden boxes where the operator makes it dance to percussion music accompanied by flutes and drums.
There are many versions of the story behind Sigalegale. Some others believe, that the origin of the puppet was linked to a local legend that tells of a childless woman named Nai Manggale. The legend adds that as she lay dying on her deathbed, Nai Manggale asked her husband to have a life-sized image made of herself to be called si gale-gale and to have a dirge played in front of the puppet. Unless this was done, her spirit would not be admitted to the abode of the dead, which would in turn force her to place a curse on her surviving spouse. Hence, to avert the misfortune, the Sigale-gale was created.
Apart from the legend, in the Toba Batak tradition, Sigale-gale was shown at funeral ceremonies to revive the souls of the dead and to communicate with them. Personal possessions of the deceased were used to decorate the puppet, and the priest would invite the deceased’s soul to enter the wooden puppet as it danced on the grave. To watch the performance, visitors are asked to pay Rp 80,000 per person. Today, vistiors can see four dances in one show, starting with the Early Gondang, Gondang Somba, Gondang Mangaliat, ending with the Gondang Sitiotio.