Saturday, December 03, 2011

O Tano Batak

Back in The Netherlands. Home after 2 months in Indonesia. It is not yet clear what my next step will be. My mind is crowded by the possible projects I envision. I feel an overwhelming sense of urgency. The alarming statistics about the decline and loss of human cultures were once only statistics. During this last trip to Asia, they froze my heart as I witnessed the desertification of the Batak homelands. Desertification because the villages are being deserted; many have become lonely and desolate; Desertification because the villages have becomes resource deserts: no knowledge, no vibrancy, no future and, worst of all, nobody who cares.

This is Tano Batak today, physically one of the most spectacular places on Planet Earth: stunning nature surrounding an indescribably beautiful crater lake. What stands out is the merciless need for the remaining inhabitants to run after a few pennies to survive. That there are no garbage systems as a result of which the plastic of decades is cumulatively decorating but not beautifying the landscape. Opulent mausoleums built to the ancestors represent almost the only influx of capital from migrant Bataks. Tano Batak is becoming a burial ground. A place of refuse. The contrast is painful. From a vantage point overlooking Lake Toba, the heart misses a beat. The landscape is so generous. It gives its all. Down below, the culture has become so stingy, grasping, needy -- and it is eroding the natural bounty. O Tano Batak, indeed! The memories of past history, social rules and ceremonies, indigenous crafts (the mouthpieces of thought systems), all have almost entirely disappeared. How often have young people said to me, “How can I love my culture if I don’t know anything about it?” There is nothing there anymore to teach them to love their history and culture.

Culturelessness, a state that is being encouraged by TV commercials and malls, is a social time bomb. A people that is rootless and without social norms and rules that can be enforced is vulnerable. They can fall prey to further agents of destruction: substance addictions, extremism and intolerance of thought, inability to take responsibility.

This crisis is as great as the current global economic crisis. Where are the sage heads bowing over this problem and working feverishly on solutions? The solutions need to be found in our generation.

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