There is a house in SiHotang. And a rice barn. Both are elaborately carved. They are praised and depicted in an early 20th century publication about the Netherlands East Indies. These magnificent Batak architectural accomplishments were one of the foremost reasons why the Batak poet Sitor Situmorang brought me to visit the valley in 1980. I later spent a few days in that same village inhabited by his relatives. Some pictures that I took of the house are published in my dissertation (1985). They were the reason why I wanted to bring Nashir to Sihotang in 2011. Also to visit Ompu Borsak whom I had missed in June 2010 during the Back to the Villages project.
When I visited in 1980, Darwin was there, Ompu Borsak’s youngest son. He was younger than I, a gentle, gracious fellow, shy and kind. I never saw him again. When I returned in 2010, he was dying. I spoke to him briefly on the telephone but by the time I got to Pangururan, he had passed away.
At last we found his village. There was garbage strewn everywhere. The majestic house and rice barn were now anything but majestic. There was junk lying around the buildings, the carcasses of attempts to make a living. A clumsy attempt had been made to touch up the paint on the walls and it had only succeeded in making the building garish and inconsistent. The once-proud village square was now overgrown with weeds and the stone walls had also become home to messy shrubs. It was like a desert.
There was one woman in the village, a widow with a child living in a crumbling house across from the once-magnificent pieces of architecture. I went up to her and learned that Ompu Borsak had fallen and was now living with another son (the one to which I had given Legacy when I was not able to reach her last year) in Pangururan. I asked her what had happened to Darwin. She responded scornfully. “Oh, he drank himself to death. That is what all the men do around here.”
We left SiHotang silently. I began to formulate an image of Darwin, the youngest son and required by adat to stay in the village. I imagined him day in day out, year in year out in this village of former glory (his great grandfather had been a regional leader), being able to recite his mother’s stories about his great and gracious ancestors. I imagined him unable to find employment, unable to make something of his life and everyday staring out at a Batak house fading and declining. I imagined Darwin fading and declining with the house. Perhaps the attempts to spruce it up had been his. Half-hearted, unskilled, hopeless.
Darwin is now buried just behind the house. Even in death he will forever remain in this village which could not nurture him. Those “left behind” in the villages have little future or hope. “O Tano Batak” is being hollowed out.