Friday, August 16, 2013

Blessing Three: Ancient Batak Wisdom

Batak men were once great orators. They had a written language but when it came to the powers of conviction, they exercised their oratory skills rather than wield the pen.

A tremendous arsenal of sayings, aphoristic and poetic, are part of Batak oral culture. To this day, the best Batak speakers use these sayings to capture the essence of a matter. The sayings give legitimacy to their thoughts; they are ancient oral seals confirming wisdom. Audiences listen to these saying with rich satisfaction and approval.

This past week, I found some time to write down the thoughts that I would like to present during our opening ceremony. I sent them to Panusunan Simanjuntak for his comments and advice.

I met Ompu Fabian/Panusunan Simanjuntak, when I delivered a lecture to the Bona Pasogit, a Batak group in London, a few months ago. A quiet man, modest and unobtrusive, I really took notice of him when I heard him speak. His skills elicited my attention and admiration. At the conclusion of the gathering, he delivered one of his own poems, written in the Batak language. I knew that I was having the privilege to encounter a sensitive inheritor of the Batak literary tradition. We have never compared our genealogical trees, but I decided to call him tulang, the teknonym for ‘mother’s brother’; in the Batak universe a tulang is a source of blessings. I sensed his wealth of spirit.

I met Ompu Fabian, Panusunan Simanjuntak and his wife
 in London  not too long ago.
His response to my email was immediate. He advised me to close my remarks with one of those pithy, aphoristic sayings and he had selected the perfect one for me to use. Then the actor/orator in him gave me advice on how to deliver it, which hand motions to use, what I should do with my eyes and my head, and how my body language would convey a humble stance. His response transformed me into an apprentice. I thrilled in being offered this glimpse into Batak oral culture and I learned that tulang Panusunan’s own demeanour was the culmination of self-awareness and self-control paired with aspirations to his culture's wisdom.

His words were like a blessing and brought tears to my eyes. This journey leading up to the launch of Pulang Kampung III is magical and bountiful, filled with privilege.

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