Thursday, September 19, 2013

Back to Guru Sinangga's Village

Suddenly there was no electricity in Hutabarat yesterday. We were there, in the Silindung Valley, to show our film in my older sister’s home (ibu Bonaria Hutabarat). I asked if we couldn’t perhaps go to Sait ni Huta in the meantime and at least see the church and place of origin of Guru Sinangga Matondang. A few moments later, we stood in Sait ni Huta where the huge, golden statue of Nommensen is erected. A large church there has the dates 1864 1933 painted above the door.  

Gereja Dane built in 1933. (Photo by Ojak Tampe Silaban)

Apparently that church was built in 1933, long after Nommensen had moved to Sigumpar. (He died in 1918.) The candidate minister who greeted us there in the village centre ushered us into the church, said that the original church built by Nommensen was no longer standing. A small monument had been erected to mark its place in the neighbouring cluster of homes.

The second church built, in 1864, was across the street from this big new church. 
The church built in 1864. Nommensen moved to Sait ni Huta in 1863, so this would have been the church that he built and used. (Photograph by Ojak Tampe Silaban)

It was now used as a Sunday School. Because the big church was so light, I asked if we could see the interior of the church built in 1864 and we were given this opportunity. Entering this building, the sense of history was much greater. The structure was older and darker. It was clear that this was the better building for a film showing. Ibu Hutabarat and I mused about what kind of seating there must have been in Nommensen’s day.

While Mas Nashir and some of the team were setting up, our big red bus went back to Hutabarat to pick up people who might like to come to see the film and Ibu Hutabarat, Lasma and Febrina and I went off to see the monument to the first church. As luck would have it a cluster of small children was twisting textile fringes and I filmed them as Lasma and Febrina talked with them. 

We brought a group of these children back with us for show time. Most of our audience was children.

And then there was the magical moment. There we were in Sait ni Huta, telling the inhabitants about the great Guru Sinangga Matondang, letting them know that through Nommensen’s intervention an oral text had been written down and was now stored in Europe and that we were ‘bringing it home’. While every screening has been an act of ‘pulang kampung’, this one in particular, was the real Pulang Kampung: back to the place of origins. Our first stop on our long trip was to Sianjur Mula2, the place of origin of the Bataks and now one of last stops is the place of origin of the text.

The woman sitting beside me during the screening mumbled some of her reactions. I could see that the language of the text was familiar to her. Not all of the weaving techniques were familiar, however, and I was reminded that our film really is a hodge-podge of reconstruction with a text from one place and weaving techniques from several other places in Toba. I explained to the audience the challenges that we had faced during the filming and how we had had to pluck skills from here and from there and that we had been lucky to find all that we had found.

I felt humbled by this Pulang Kampung act. It was so special to do it with the assistance of my ‘older sister’, Ibu Bonaria Hutabarat, deakonesse. It moved me to give her a copy of our film when we were done. She has known me since I was a scared 24-year-old coming to Tano Batak for the first time. And now she is elderly and I have established my own ‘style’ as an anthropologist. We faced each other yesterday as two women who have shared 35 years of our lives, grown and changed together.
Ibu Bonaria Hutabarat told some school girls about Nommensen after our
film had been shown.

We also gave a copy to the candidate Minister who told us that he wanted to erect a museum to Nommensen. It is likely that our film will enter the museum. Did Guru Sinangga become a Christian? Did he commit his knowledge to paper as ‘a heathen’? What was the nature of his relationship to Nommensen? Did he ever enter the church where we showed the filmed version of his text? The candidate minister was moved by our film and our devotion to Batak culture and said that he would like to see it many more times. There have been indications during Pulang Kampung III that many Batak believe that the church has been too strict and narrow in its acceptance of Batak culture. Will the presence of our film in the Nommensen museum in Sait ni Huta signify a re-unification of culture and religion? The fact is that the Rangsa ni Tonun text was among Nommensen’s papers. What did that mean in Nommensen’s day? Just language study? Admiration of the guru? We don’t know the answers to those questions, but the reception of the film in Sait ni Huta yesterday was a hopeful sign for the future.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Tenaga Surya (Solar Energy) in Tano Batak

The Boat Budaya relies on solar energy devices. When the sun sets and the boat is not moving, there is no electricity (the generator only works when the boat is moving). That is when we blow up the Luminaid cushions and place them beside us as we eat so that we can see the food in the pot. At night we dangle one or two from the roof or place it on the floor so that there is a bit of ambient light if anybody has to get up in the night.

Sunning the Luminaids while waiting for the Boat Budaya
at Tabo Cottages (Photo by MJA Nashir)

Our Boat Captain, Mr. Siregar, is very fond of the lights. He and his two assistants always borrow one at night so that they have one in the bridge where they sleep. Recently, the captain asked me if he could have one. I told him about our goal of sharing information about solar energy and how it could transform Tano Batak. The Captain was enthusiastic. He wants to share the information with his future passengers and perhaps even order a few more. We are all dependent on our Luminaids. The handy handle allows us to carry it easily and hang it everywhere, including the door of the toilet.

Yesterday the Regent of Samosir Island visited us and I showed him our array of solar equipment. He, too, was immediately taken with the practical value of it. There are parts of Samosir where there is still no electricity and solar energy would alleviate many problems. I gave him one of our Luminaids. The reporters who had accompanied him on his visit to the Boat Budaya all immediately wanted one as well.

We use the WAKAWAKA lights regularly as well. The WAKAWAKA light is more powerful than that of the Luminaid, so we use it differently. It is useful as a flashlight to light up a path in the night or to read. Sometimes we fix our Wakawakas in the roof of the boat and let the light shine down on what we are doing.

I am struck by how technically oriented Febrina is and how quickly she adapts to life with solar energy, how experimental she is. She tries to charge two cell phones at once, tried to charge her camera battery, tries to charge while the solar cell is sunning. She is never without her light. Last night, I noticed that she had accidentally pressed against the on-button in the night in her sleep, and I felt like a caring Mom when I turned it off for her gently so that her sleep would not be disturbed and her batteries would not run down.

It is the rainy season, so we have to be careful to grab the sunlight when we can. It makes us conscious of the presence of the sun. We need a safe place to lay out our solar cells and we do not have such a place on our boat.
Yesterday, when the crowds of photographers climbed aboard to witness and document the boat races, we had to forego our sunlight because we did not want to risk losing our solar equipment. The hardship this entails is that we can’t charge our cell phones. In the back of my mind I am designing a Boat Budaya that will better accommodate our needs. It will have a protected place atop the roof where we can sun our cells. And perhaps that part of the roof will be made of glass so that we can tell at a glance if we have anything charging.

I had brought a Wakawaka for myself on this journey, but I gave it to Pak Jerry when we were still in Jakarta. As a driver, he immediately knew that it was indispensable for him. He can charge it on the dashboard while driving and he has it at night when he has to guard the car, sleep under awkward circumstances where there is no electricity, or charge his cell phone. Really, the instruments are ideal for Indonesian chauffeurs.

Ompu Okta was enamourned of the Luminaid. She loves its soft light. She has a bare lightbulb hanging above her loom at home and it bothers her eyes when she weaves at night. Time and again she asked to me to give her a Luminaid and I promised that I would give her one when we visit in her kampong.

Beyond that, I have given one to Pak Dian Sidauruk. He invited us to his home in Simanindo two days ago and impressed us with his lifestyle. He had chosen to make his home a model of tidiness, cleanliness and efficiency. He lives in a Batak house and has outfitted it so that it has the conveniences of a modern home. He is a remarkable man and immediately saw the benefits of solar energy lamps. He works with NGOs and is a leader. I know that he will make good use of the lamp and will share his knowledge of it with everybody who visits.

MJA Nashir took this photograph in Medan when we showed our
 film at the Suarasama Culture House. The luminaid 'cushions' 
are on the floor in front of our posters for the Pulang Kampung projects. 
The final scenes of Rangsa ni Tonun are displayed on the screen. 
The cushions provided just the perfect amount of light for watching the film.

I like selecting the places where I will donate the lights. Donating the lights is like donating my books and our film. They are seeds. We plant them and we hope they will grow. I think of Dirk and Sineke van Uitert back home, who donated these lamps. I know that they would agree with my selections. I also think of the idealist, Wibo Teerlink, who introduced me to the lamps and who sold them to us for a good price. I wish that they could all be with us. They would feel proud and fulfilled to see the good use to which their kind donations are being put.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Festival Danau Toba II

In the afternoon, Nashir’s reading of his poem about weaving in Tano Batak was brilliant. 

It was wonderful to have Marsius Sitohang present at the festival and he was once again willing to accompany Nashir, just as he had on the stage at Taman Mini. 

Especially the ending was sublime. I could understand why Nashir says that he feels a special click when he works with Marsius Sitohang.

With Lake Toba in the background and Lasma Sitanggang and Febrina Pakpahan holding up some of Stephanie Belfrage's textiles, the open-air stage couldn't have been better.

Festival Danau Toba III

I had low expectations of the evening. Justifiably. It was pouring with rain. The planned showing of Rangsa ni Tonun did not appear in the program and the hotel where it would be screened turned out to know nothing about it and was reluctant to open its doors for the event. Thompson decided at the last moment to re-locate the event to a café called Sekapur Sirih. He said that everybody had received a text message about the change. I had my doubts that anybody would turn up.

Nobody dribbled in. It was past curtain time and the café was still empty. Then Ibu Theodora, head of tourism for Samosir, appeared with some of her staff. She had seen our film and she talked to me about the need to maintain the weaving tradition. Then to my complete surprise, the Bupati and his wife appeared, and Christine Hakim was with them. We sat together at the table and talked about the nature of citizenship, the importance of the ‘feeling’ and knowledge of history and culture to becoming a true citizen of a nation.
Our little but amazing audience on a rainy night in an open cafe. (Photograph by MJA Nashir)

I presented a bit of a foreword, we showed the film 
We showed the film in a traditional Batak sopo, rather fitting, we thought. It was an intriguing part of the cafe. (Photograph by MJA Nashir)

and then I presented the team: Pak Jerry and Mas Nashir.  This was the first time I had presented Pak Jerry in public as a member of the team. He was amazing. He grabbed the microphone and thanked the audience, then asked if the Bupati would like to say a few words. This was the magic turning point. The Bupati’s speech stunned us all. 
Bupati Mangindar Simbolon was eloquent in his support of Batak textiles. (Photograph by MJA Nashir)

He was full of appreciation for the film and full of understanding about the tradition. He remembered indigo being made when he was a child. He underscored the importance of creating opportunities for knowledge to be handed down from elderly grandmothers to the youth. He is clearly a bright man and his impromptu speech was strong and good.

He then handed the microphone to Christine Hakim.  This amazing woman stunned me again with her ability to speak from the heart and to move her listeners. 
Christine Hakim inspires in the way she integrates heart and mind
(Photograph by MJA Nashir)
She pointed to Micro and Mini (Lasma and Febrina) and indicated that they represented talent and the will that should be supported by government so that the knowledge of the ancestors would not be lost. She talked about Batak textiles as something close to the soul, as having eternal importance to all of Indonesia as well as the Batak. By then I had learned that she is one of Indonesia’s most famous actresses and film-makers.
Pak Jerry posed for a picture with Christine Hakim. (Photograph by MJA Nashir)

Then it was Lasma’s turn to move hearts and minds. She asked if she could have the microphone. She stood up and spoke loudly and clearly. 
Lasma spoke loudly and well.

I recognized the young woman that we had recorded in 2011. Her words were strong. She urged young people to do something about maintaining their heritage saying that they would be responsible for the loss of their culture if they did not do something about it. She spoke respectfully, with self-awareness and conviction. She stunned everybody present. Including herself. A volcano inside her had erupted.

Our film was the pebble. The ripples in the water were stronger that night than they have ever been.

Everything concluded with the requisite group photograph.