Tuesday, June 11, 2013

16. Pulang Kampung: the process is the project

I have been thinking about the process of realizing the Pulang Kampung project.  This project is not just about executing a plan.

The first Pulang Kampung journey had a singular goal: to say thank you to the people, particularly weavers, who had helped me gather the data for my book, Legacy in cloth. Pulang Kampung III is different. Since the appearance of my book, many people have looked to me for leadership in the huge question of how to ensure the survival of the Batak textile tradition. The goals of Pulang Kampung III are complex and compound. Ensuring the survival of a textile tradition is a momentous challenge, much bigger than it may seem. In the long run, it is about ensuring the survival of a cultural tradition.

The PKIII project design is a translation of the signals that I pick up from my Batak friends, in combination with my knowledge of Batak culture and history. I notice how moving it is for many Batak people when a Westerner devotes energy to promoting their culture. My admiration for Batak culture seems to give them energy, confer validity. I think of it as a tiny antidote to the hefty cultural criticism that the Batak reaped from the West after the onset of colonialism.

I don’t think that I am deluding myself when I conceive of finding support for the Pulang Kampung voyage as a tiny facet of the larger issue of finding space in the current global world for indigenous culture.  Ultimately, that space must be found by the people themselves -- in their hearts and their thoughts, their lifestyles, goals, activities and values. Only they can demand that space.

To date, I have been unsuccessful in finding the pot of money that will allow us to happily rent the boat and mini-van for the project and purchase our food and lodgings. Without these resources, the project cannot proceed. However, I discern an important message in this failure. The message is that we must continue to look for the path that will take us in the direction of the survival of Batak culture. A cultural grant from some institution might be easier to obtain, but the process will not involve the Batak people. I believe that our project will be of much greater value if the Batak people are involved in a fundamental way throughout. The greatest value of PKIII could well be the process of making it happen.

The Pulang Kampung project is about hearts and longings. “Going home” inspires a huge range of feelings. Touchstones from our past tell us about ourselves and the directions we are taking. Going home refreshes, renews, gives birth to, and changes resolves. If there is no Batak will for our Pulang Kampung journey, then its value will be minimal. However, the responses to Pulang Kampung I, my book, MJA Nashir’s book, FB friends, audiences, and so on, have convinced me that there is a strong will.  Just a few weeks ago, I was deeply touched by my Batak audience (Bona Pasogit) in London where I had been asked to speak about Pulang Kampung. I was struck by the depth of concern for what is happening back in Tano Batak and the quandary about what to do to ameliorate it all. Sometimes I sense that the tinder is dry and that I am a spark. If that is useful, I am happy to play that role.

While I was in London, mas MJA Nashir was in Jakarta at the North Sumatra pavilion of the magnificent open air museum and recreation centre, Taman Mini, exploring options for the grand premiere of our film, Rangsa ni Tonun and the launch of Pulang Kampung III. He met committed and concerned Batak people who understood and endorsed our project.

Momentum is building. Now I hope that there will not be a large pot of money forthcoming from corporate or government sources. The process of finding Batak support is far too valuable for it to be broken off at this point. May the project continue to be shaped, as much as possible, by the Batak people. May it help to create the path that will lead to important resolutions and solutions for the future of Batak culture.  May our path to realizing Proyek Pulang Kampung III be slow enough to create a solid foundation and fast enough to inspire, entice and encourage.