This paper discusses perceptions of the Batak of North Sumatra popular among nineteenth-century European audiences and their continuity in the tourism industry and tourist descriptions. In particular, tourist dynamics in the Batak region of Lake Toba are contextualised and interpreted by identifying how local culture has reacted to tourist demand and tourist depictions of the locals and their culture. The paper undertakes a historiographical survey of nineteenth-century European writings that ascribe a “violent,” “primitive,” and “cannibalistic” character to the Batak to illustrate prevailing perceptions of the time. These findings are interpreted through a conceptual analysis that integrates Foucauldian discourse theory, Orientalism, Stuart Hall’s “the West and the Rest,” hegemony as well as some elements of Marxist-Leninist material history. This analysis of modern tourism dynamics in Lake Toba is thus argued to illustrate how colonial perceptions and power relations have maintained currency through tourism.

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