Friday, March 01, 2013

2. Boat Budaya / Culture Craft

Back to the Villages III will take up the ancient tradition of water transportation to ferry the film, Rangsa ni Tonun, from place to place.

Historically, Batak weavers have been concentrated around Lake Toba. The largest Batak markets were also situated in natural bays along the shoreline. Before the mechanical age, the Batak used large dugout canoes to transport people, animals and goods from one market to the next and from one village to the next. The flat, smooth surface of the water (when the winds are calm) are inviting, especially when compared to the difficult mountainous terrain surrounding the lake.

Flat mirror-like surface of Lake Toba -- on a calm day!
Road traffic may have eclipsed water traffic in efficiency and speed, but it certainly doesn’t beat gliding over the surface of the water when it comes to pleasure. Of course we will be using a ‘kapal’, a large market or tourist boat. Nevertheless, our poster nostalgically depicts the romantic dugout (solu bolon) from a bygone age to emphasize the cultural mission of our journey. Alas, such dugouts are no longer being made or used. (Can they be revived?) No doubt, the market and tourist boats that currently glide across the water are more suited to our needs. They are large enough to accommodate dozens of people and huge freights and the decks are covered and protected from wind and weather.

This market boat, with fish drying on its roof,
is squeezing with difficulty through the narrow
channel separating Samosir Island from the
Even the great Missionary L. I. Nommensen used a boat to spread the gospel around Lake Toba in the 19th century. Archives reveal that he imported a special boat from Germany to use in North Sumatra. (Where, oh where, is that boat, or its remains, today?) Given that the narrative text of the Rangsa ni Tonun film was written down at Nommensen’s behest, it seems fitting to spread this remarkable specimen of indigenous culture by boat.

We settled on the epithet ‘boat budaya’ for our project for a variety of reasons. 'Budaya' is the Indonesian word for culture. The ‘boat budaya’ is a ‘culture craft’, a boat dedicated to cultural heritage. Boat is an English word but it may as well be Indonesian as it is used so often colloquially. And doesn’t it just pop out nicely?

Might there have been Indonesian alternatives? We tried several on for size.

'Biduk Budaya' mouths nicely, but we rejected ‘biduk’ because it is too arcane. We need accessibility and immediate recognition!

'Perahu' is a fairly neutral word for boat, but a ‘Perahu Budaya’ has no charisma. ‘Kapal Budaya’ is just as flat, however accurate it may be. We need magic!

'Bahtera Budaya' has a nice ring to it. 'Bahtera' is at home in both Christian and Islamic environments. A good translation is ‘ark’. A formidable candidate, it just doesn’t enunciate as nicely as Boat Budaya. And we need a festival feeling of freedom!

The blend of cultures in Boat Budaya is a plus and not a negative in my books. The mixture designates a project that is being set up by a multicultural duo (the Javanese-Indonesian Nashir and the Canadian-Dutch Niessen) and well represents some of the bounty that can be harvested from successful cooperation between North and South.

We need the Boat Budaya!

A variety of small boats in Silalahi on the shore of a mysterious Lake Toba.
(Photo by MJA Nashir)

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