Wednesday, April 17, 2013

12. A Pang of Conscience

Oland Benz Sitorus is one of my many Facebook friends. I have never met him and we have been “friends” for only two days. Today, in a brief message, he posted his feelings. They were a pang of conscience, a pang that I am familiar with because his words echo the feelings that many Batak people have shared with me over the years. I was terribly moved by his words, as though I was hearing this sentiment for the first time, and so I asked for (and received) his permission to share them (in translation) in my blog.

“When I heard a little bit about Sandra Niessen’s travels in Tanah Batak, I got goose bumps. Something between pride and sadness melted into one.

Pride because a Dutch person was willing to come to Indonesia from so far away to study Batak culture and ulos, ever since she was a young woman.

Sadness because I, someone of Batak blood, no less, and born in Java, had never given any thought to perpetuating the culture of my ancestors.

My brief acquaintance with my sister, Sandra Niessen, inspires in me the awareness that I must perpetuate the culture of my own ancestors, wherever I may be. I might migrate somewhere far away, but I must not forget that at some point I will have to go back home, back to Tanah Batak.”

Ketika aku mendengar sedikit kisah jejak ito Sandra Niessen di Tanah Batak aku jadi merinding. Antara bangga dan sedih melebur menjadi satu.

Bangga, karena ada seorang Belanda yang mau jauh-jauh datang ke Indonesia mempelajari Budaya Batak dengan ulos-nya sejak beliau masih gadis.

Sedih, karena aku yang notabene berdarah Batak dan kelahiran Tanah Jawa tidak pernah berpikir untuk melestarikan budaya nenek moyang ku.

Perkenalan singkat ku dengan ito Sandra Niessen memberikan ku sebuah inspirasi tersendiri, bahwasanya aku harus melestarikan budaya nenek moyang ku sendiri, dimana pun aku berada. Aku boleh merantau jauh, akan tetapi aku tidak boleh lupa, bahwa suatu saat aku harus Pulang Kampung, kembali ke Tanah Batak.


WAKAWAKA is a company that I approve of. It excites me that such a company exists. It is a shining example to light up the path of any idealist.

WAKAWAKA makes the best little solar powered light in theworld. It asks a relatively high price for its product, but that’s because every light that is sold donates a light to the poorest regions of the world. It is a brilliant model:

I decided that WAKAWAKA lights are indispensable for our Boat Budaya voyage. 
We will need electricity on board for our mobile phones, and especially the ones who will sleep on board will need the light at night. So I approached WAKAWAKA. I wondered if it would be possible to buy their product so that the donations could be given to the less well-off youth on our voyage rather than to the poor in Haïti and perhaps be given away in the villages. Lake Toba suffers from a multi-layered environmental crisis. The presence of the WAKAWAKA would light up a new road to the future.

My contacts with the company were very pleasant -- a lot of mutual admiration for our respective projects. But the contact did not yield a donation of WAKAWAKA lights for our voyage in any form whatsoever. My project does not fit their established criteria of eligibility. For even this facet of the journey, I will have to look for sponsorship. This does not dim my respect for WAKAWAKA; for me their light shines as brightly as it ever did.  I still consider these lights indispensable for the voyage. 

Perhaps there is donor out there who believes in WAKAWAKA’s product and also in my Pulang Kampung project and will want to marry the two. I continue to dream of a Lake Toba gone solar.

10. Heartening Donations

Today began with an excited email from Mas Nashir. Someone who had purchased his book about our first Pulang Kampung journey, Berkelana dengan Sandra menyusuri ulos Batak (2010), had royally over-paid him for it.
With her blessing, he decided to donate the overpayment to the Pulang Kampung III pot. It is not a large amount of money, but it is doubly important because it comes from two kind hearts: the reader/purchaser and the author/seller. It represents goodwill, trust, excitement, a shared conception of what is good. I treasure it as a symbol of what a community can do when the will is there.

Little by little, the donations are flowing in. Many people are going to work on their “connections” for us and sometimes that has paid off tremendously. Many donations, so far, are promises that I believe will come true. We have a very long way to go, but our courage is mounting and we believe more than ever in our project. The little donation that came in this morning fed our energy.

Monday, April 15, 2013

9. Donations for Pulang Kampung III are Welcome

8. Our Proposal for Project Pulang Kampung III

Please click on each photograph to enlarge it enough to be able to read the text.


Thursday, April 04, 2013

7. Pulang Kampung III: about the past because it is about the present and the future

Today a gratifying email from an aspiring fashion designer who has used Batak textiles as her source of inspiration.

Olivia Sinaga's Sibolang-derived fashion textile.
She is a Batak herself, Olivia Sinaga. She wrote to let me know that my book, Legacy in cloth, Batak textiles of Indonesia, had been one of her sources of inspiration and information.

Hello Sandra, do you remember me? My name is Olivia boru Sinaga from Indonesia. Last year I emailed you because i was searching one of your book about Batak for my Last Project. And actually i kinda wanna thank you, well it's already too late, but I still wanna thank you for your help to find your book in Indonesia, and with your book, I can finish my Last Project with so many knowledge about my own culture.

My Last Project has good responses. One of the famous Teen magazine "kawanku" once interviewed me about my Last Project. So, if you have some time, maybe you wanna check out my blog There are pictures from last project in College, and some of my works in Bandung Institute if Technology.

Once again, thank you for made me realize that Batak is very beautiful. :)

Her blog of 16 March 2013 focuses on her designs inspired by the Batak textile called ‘sibolang’ and is worth visiting because her designs are mouthwatering. On 12 March, she shows how she used the ‘sadum’ textile design.

Recently a Batak person of social prominence was defending the importance of the film, Rangsa ni Tonun, that MJA Nashir and I made together. It is not just nostalgic, he pointed out, but offers a window onto cultural history. I was struck by his need to make this argument. Present day Indonesian society is strongly focused on getting ahead and ‘making it’ in the modern world. That determined, single-mindedness usually means that cultural origins (including animism, cannibalism, primitivism) are embarrassing and must be left behind as quickly as possible.

I live in The Netherlands where strong emphasis is placed on the past. There are endless numbers of memorial ceremonies in addition to historical museums, archaeological museums, cultural museums, history projects and televisions shows that remind and revive. The past is presented in commemorative street names, product packaging, architectural renovations, monuments, anniversary celebrations of prominent Dutch industries, and on and on, not just for tourists. The Dutch are strongly aware that a national consciousness and national unity are built on a shared understanding of the past.

I often wonder about the boost that would be given to Batak culture if a similar investment were made by the Indonesian government in Batak cultural history. My own Pulang Kampung projects are the kind of thing that would be supported by the central or local governments if they were carried out in The Netherlands. And no political figures would feel the need to stand up and explain that information about the past was more than “just nostalgia”.

Olivia Sinaga wrote that she was able to finish her project because she had, through my book, access to knowledge about her own culture. She thanked me for helping her realize that Batak culture is very beautiful. Perhaps she has never visited her cultural homeland. She lives on the island of Java, far away. I am sad that it took her that long to discover that her cultural weaving tradition is very beautiful. Sad (though gratified) that it depended on my publication.

Our Pulang Kampung projects are about the past but only because they are about the present and the future. Olivia Sinaga has recognized this and expressed this in her beautiful textiles. Thank you, Olivia, for your beautiful message and your beautiful work.