Monday, January 19, 2015

Not to Decide is to Decide

Manguji Nababan
 Today we gave our seminar at Universitas Nommensen, PULANG KAMPUNG: "BERSAMA MELESTARIKAN BUDAYA/TEKSTIL BATAK".  Manguji Nababan, director of the Pusat Dokumentasi dan Pengkajian Kebudayaan Batak, had constructed a window of 3.5 hours on Saturday morning (17 January) in which to show Rangsa ni Tonun, and for Mas Nashir and I to present a talk.

We showed the film first and then Nashir shared his observations and thoughts about the past five years.
My turn

When it was my turn, I decided to ditch my power point presentation and my written text. There were between 35 and 60 people in the room (at various times) and it seemed important not to present a cut and dried talk, but to stimulate the group to think about what has become, for me, a central point. Since being asked to present a talk to the Samosir Regency about the future of Batak weaving, I have sifted down to this central point:

An archaeologist added important
information about design.
 Irwansyah Harahap 

Statistics and tides are against the Batak people. Languages are disappearing rapidly around the world. So are indigenous craft techniques and other facets of culture. Batak culture is slipping away increasingly rapidly, each decade more devastating than the last. The global economy does not support indigenous culture. The question then is: will the Batak people allow the slide to continue? Not to decide is to decide. Will they let Batak culture slip away like sand between their fingers and will they be satisfied with that? If not, will they take matters into their hands and carve out a space for their culture? If they choose to take matters into their own hand, they will have to create and protect a bubble within the global economy.

An old friend, Professor at Nommensen
 whose heart is invested
in Batak culture.
“Creating and protecting a bubble” is easier said than done. Such a central choice will translate into a myriad of smaller choices, each taken with deep consciousness of what is at stake. Moreover, if a conscious decision is made to support the culture, then the interventions must be immediate and precise.

Two members of Forum Si Singa
I do not know the extent to which the initial question hit the mark. There were young people present (Forum Si Singamangaraja) for whom the question was already answered because they are already dedicating themselves to continuing their culture. There were people of an older generation present who didn’t quite know what I was talking about and interpreted it in terms of stimulating markets for Batak weavings.
Poet, Ompu Lela Jingga
A poet hit the nail on the head: will we recognize that there are parts of our lives that have value beyond money? Mas Nashir intervened at one point with a question that brought the discussion back to the central point: are we talking about cloth

boru Hutabarat from a government office
(a commodity) or knowledge from the ancestors?
Two bright, articulate students
The mood and discussion were both lively.


After the seminar I suffered a dip. How much time and energy and thought will I invest in this quest? Does my investment have value? Will it be wasted? Am I throwing away my life? Only the future will tell. If the textiles become extinct, will my invested effort have had any value? I am Sisyphus pushing the rock uphill. Is this the human condition? Is it our fate to push on, like Don Quixote, no matter what, towards our goal even if the end point is not guaranteed? It reminds me of the first Pulang Kampung expedition. I justified it by knowing that even if only just a single book were to inspire a young person, the journey would have been worth it. Why do I doubt now? The book has inspired so many. The pebble in the pond creates many ripples. Proverbial butterfly wings can whip up storms. And yet the doubts crowd in. I am pushed on, at times, only by the spectre of the alternative: drinking tea while the building I am in burns down. We must fight for what is beautiful in this world. We have no other choice.

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