Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The Decision to Return to Tano Batak is one I Value Highly

Harian Boho nestled beside Lake Toba as seen from above
A highly educated Batak woman, born in Tano Batak but brought up outside, has sought my anthropological opinion about returning to her homeland. The prospect is daunting to her. She has not been there for a long time. Will she and her family be able to adapt? Understandably, she is a bit nervous about the big move.

Maybe there are others who find themselves in the same situation? And perhaps some who long to return to their homeland. For you I would like to share my advice to her:

First, I would like to compliment you. I value your choice to Pulang Kampung. I am convinced that Tano Batak needs your presence and your influence more than anything else. I am convinced not only that you will be able to adapt, but that you will be able to create an important niche for yourself and your family and you will be able to do good things for your culture.

We all know that Batak culture has been drained. Young people who want to make something of their lives have to leave Tano Batak to obtain an education and find a job. Villages are emptying out. The people who remain behind feel that their contributions to the world have no value. It is a sad and regrettable situation.

Nevertheless, Tano Batak remains the centre of Batak traditional culture. If it is not healthy and vibrant, Batak culture will continue to decline. The region is beautiful and unique. It needs to be cared for by an educated and vocal population or it will continue to degrade. For decades voices have been raised about the decline in the quality of the physical environment. There needs to be a turnaround and soon! I am convinced that people like you, who decide to return to Tano Batak, can turn the tide and make the difference. Tano Batak needs to be turned back into a home, a place that is valued, championed, and cared for. Alas, it has been the victim of people who milk it for what it has to offer, leaving it depleted, degraded and compromised.

I hope that you will return to Tano Batak with the resolve to good things for the area. To my mind, this is key.

You mentioned that you once lived in Harian Boho. When ompu Sitor Situmorang died and was buried in his village (January 2015), a group of artists came to pay their last respects. They spoke about making Harian Boho a centre of artistic activities: theatre, music, dance. Ompu Sitor’s widow, Barbara Purba, spoke about the need to set up historical markers to remind young people in the village about their own background and heritage. Other family members who live far away spoke about wanting to return and care for the houses that they have left behind.  There is a nostalgia, a longing, to restore Harian Boho to some of its former glory and to start building a future glory. I don’t know whether you will return to Harian Boho. If you do, you can be part of this energy that links Harian Boho and its past with artists and historians and cultural specialists who live all around the world. It is so important to have someone like you living there who can serve as a bridge between the worlds. You could be the spark to make the change.

If you do not return to Harian Boho, but to some other place, I am convinced the situation will not be radically different. In Pangururan, for instance, I am so proud of the work of ibu Tetti Naibaho. She works with women and the church to build a stronger and healthier community. She has taken the initiative of planting cotton so that weavers will be able to produce their own yarn. To do this, she works with schools and inspires weavers. One person can make a huge difference to the lives of children and adults, and the physical and cultural environment.

You will soon be in a position to create a lifestyle that is a model for a sustainable future, in the cultural and the physical sense. You can provide a badly needed role model for the people living there and for politicians who govern the area. If you do this, you will become a community leader and a focus of admiration and appreciation. You can ensure that you dispose of your garbage responsibly and look after your yard and street so that it becomes a place of beauty. You can rescue and beautify local Batak architecture. You can insist on purchasing organic produce and thereby support local farmers who grow organic crops. You can help children to follow their dreams and make their way into the future. You can encourage the people to feel pride for their culture and history. Each of these tasks can fill your life with activities and satisfaction. There are wonderful people in Tano Batak who will work with you. You could get involved to make the new Geopark initiative a success and the Geopark initiative could give you a focus to invest your energy.

You will probably have more wealth than the local people around you. Instead of spending it on useless and wasteful displays of status, you can deploy it to create opportunities for a better future for the community and your culture: purchase solar panels and community computers, create jobs, protect cultural monuments, plant trees, set up a workshop facility for adults education, assist schools, the list is endless.

If you have time and the inclination, I would be very grateful if you chose to work with me to encourage the revival of Batak weaving with natural dyes and fibre and traditional techniques. We need people everywhere in Tano Batak to begin to work on this common goal so that Batak textiles will survive into the future.

I am sure that if you set yourself goals and you keep a positive outlook, you will be very happy in your new situation. It won’t always be easy. In many ways you will be doing the job that governments should be doing. At times the work will be frustrating. And the rewards will be in your successes but may not translate into financial rewards. Your choices will reflect your values.

Have respect for “local knowledge” and get to know the people as well as you can. You will learn about your own culture. This will enrich you and your family. There is much to learn and the process is exciting. Little projects could help you learn about the cultural wealth in your Batak community. For example, you could work with the people in your community to create an exhibition of photographs of the ancestors. They all have a precious store of photographs. If you wanted, you could even create books about the local knowledge that you discover around you. What better way to instil pride and encourage the culture!

These are my ideas as an anthropologist. You are a doctor and have your own training and talents. I am sure that if you devote yourself to good projects for your community you will enjoy your stay among your people.
Please keep in touch. I would love to visit you and find out how your initiatives are going.

May your path be blessed.

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