Thursday, July 22, 2010


Traditional Batak time is circular, like the warp of a textile, like the composition of ritual music, like the phases of the moon and the annual passage of the stars through the night sky, just as kinship categories repeat every 3 generations, just like the rice season that returns over and over again. Everything changes and everything remains the same.

When I went to Hutagalung on 15 June, they were bringing in the harvest. The village square was full of rice spread out thinly on mats to dry in the sun. My thoughts immediately went back to the first time that I saw Linda, who later became my assistant. She was working on the harvest and the village looked exactly like it did this time. I remember that I liked Linda immediately.

Linda was with me now again, and her brother Jonny who was wielding my camera. We entered the house where Linda’s parents had once lived and where her sister now lived. In that house were Mamak and Bapak of Selamat Scott, their first child, now 24 years ago. In the photograph on page 89 of Legacy, while his mother and father were ritually eating goldfish and rice and being encircled by a ragidup textile to bless their union and the coming generations of their budding new family, he was suckling at the breast. Selamat was now almost the same age as his parents at that time. Linda’s parents were now deceased. The generations are continuing.

I gave the three of them a copy of Legacy in the name of a donor who prefers to remain anonymous for the internet. The whole village, the extended family, gathered to bear witness (and to satisfy their curiosity).

Then the first drops of rain fell. As soon as decorum would allow it, the house emptied and they all ran out to shove the rice into sacks (goni – derived from the same Sanskrit word as the English gunny) so that they could bring it in from the rain.  Just as they have been doing for generations. This was their food for the coming year.

The Batak ritual name for their rice-fields, as the gift from the father to ensure the well-being of his married daughter, is “the ulos (textile) that does not wear out.”

See Back to the Villages - the map!

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