There is no doubt that Ompu Elza also felt proud. Agus dressed her in the graduation toga and took a photograph of her standing solemnly in front of the University, holding Agus’s graduation diploma. But was there also a tinge of sadness, regret, perhaps even a touch of resentment that she had not been the one to enable her daughter’s achievement? I knew Agus well enough that I could ask that question; I wanted to confide my concern about her Mom. I knew what my feelings would have been in her place.
|Ompu Elza at her loom. She returned
to it in 2015 - before the spirit returned.
university career and in that pinnacle: her graduation. Agus’s success had awakened her Mother's weaving spirit. It had been buried there, under the surface all that time, capable of sprouting new shoots. This told me how deep Ompu Elza’s pain had been when she was forced to put down her loom, and just how profound the antidote of her daughter’s graduation had been. It restored pride, well-being, a sense of being fortunate.
|Agus with her father not long before
he passed away
Sometimes reality seems to take a strange twist. Then it becomes a challenge to locate the truth. This time, however, I think it is pretty clear where it lies. And that egg? Is it on my face? I choose to be lenient; this is just the way learning in a different culture proceeds: lots of twists, lots of egg, triangulation and hopefully learning. Let me explain:
Yesterday I shared with Agus’s elder sister, Lasma, how proud her mother had been at Agus’s graduation and I mentioned that Ompu Elza had used the expression ‘roh tenun’. I wanted to get Lasma’s take on her mother’s ‘weaving spirit’. I also wanted to know what the Simalungun word would be for that spirit that had returned to the body.
Lasma told me that ‘roh tonun’ is said when someone completes a difficult task that has taken a lot of time, something like ‘congratulations’ but then with more weight. I didn’t get it. Why the word ‘tonun’ (Simalungun for weaving) and why ‘roh’ (spirit)?
It turns out that some confusion hinged on the word ‘roh’, meaning spirit in Indonesian but meaning ‘come’ in Simalungun. I didn’t know that, and had thought that the Toba word for come, ‘ro’ was used in Simalungun. Lasma explained that the expression ‘roh tonun’ means ‘weaving comes’. I confirmed that with my Simalungun dictionary – and will have to get back to Agus to see how she responds to this discovery. She had spoken to me of ‘roh tenun’, in Indonesian, ‘the spirit of weaving’. Could be that she was mixed up between the Indonesian and the Simalungun?
But I still didn’t understand why ‘roh tonun’ would be used to express congratulations for a really considerable accomplishment. Lasma had an insight into that as well. “This is an expression that is used by weavers,” she said. When a weaver finishes a textile, the other weavers in the group will say, “Roh tonun” to compliment her. She had learned this from her grandmother, Ompu Elza’s mother. The accomplishment is considerable because it is a long and complicated process to weave a cloth. The process of weaving is apparently used as a kind of measurement for a considerable accomplishment, hence it was used by Ompu Elza.
Once again, however, this interpretation confirms the positive light in which weaving is held. Whew. But I am still horrified by the extent to which Agus and I had been spinning a tale rather than accurately interpreting a Simalungun expression.
I shared with Agus what Lasma had told me, and Agus said that it did not alter her story. She had been talking about 'jiwa tenun', the spirit of weaving, and she had obtained her information from her mother. She knew her story to be true.
I guess I have to go back and share this news with Lasma. Or ask Agus to talk about it with Lasma.... Reality is not always clear. There can be different perspectives, different experiences, different interpretations. Interpretations can be dynamic and malleable. Culture is never cut and dried or singular or clear, and the process of digging to understand an interpretation can shed much light.