Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Another great loss in 2014

It is December 23. In the final hours of December 20 Sitor Situmorang, the great Batak poet, passed away in his home in Apeldoorn, the Netherlands. His remains are now at Schiphol Airport; he is returning one last time to Indonesia. Facebook is teeming with tributes, photographs, memories, and discussions about where he should be buried and the role that the government should take.

Sitor was very influential in my life and especially in my research into Batak culture. After he died, his wife Barbara sent me an email. The next day I took the bus to Apeldoorn and had dinner with her and their son, Leonard in their home. I was able to pay my last respects to Sitor, for which I am truly grateful. I had spent the day writing down some memories of Sitor and going through old boxes of photographs. I would like to share here, on my blog, what I contributed to the outpouring about Sitor on Facebook.

Pierced by the arrow of remembrance: Sitor Situmorang 1924 - 2014

Last night Sitor Situmorang took his final leave from us and from this world. A monumental figure in modern Indonesian literature has departed. He had been ebbing away, suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. Sitor was a man of words but he shared his greatest wealth more easily with the page than with people. His vast interior vault slowly became silent. We had been losing Sitor for a long time. He became pale and so painfully thin, more and more transparent until even his whisper was gone. His dedicated wife, Barbara, sent me the news late last night and I woke up to it this morning.

Sitor was the second Batak that I ever met (the first was B.A. Simanjuntak who was studying in Leiden at the time). The year was 1978. I had come to The Netherlands to do my PhD and Sitor had come to Leiden to explore his culture through colonial writings. Jan Avé, then the S.E. Asia curator at Leiden’s Museum voor Volkenkunde, told me about him and probably introduced us, but my first memory of Sitor is in the KITLV library. He was wearing a jaunty blue French beret and scarf. He was tiny, had a special vigour, a ready laugh, and an equally quick temper.  I quickly learned to be afraid to say the wrong thing. There was always that sense that he was working on something monumental while I was a mere mortal; Sitor guarded his boundaries carefully.

We met at a remarkable crossroads: Sitor had come to The Netherlands from Indonesia. He was trying to come to terms with his own Batak identity by consulting the archives and ethnographic literature. He must have been around 55 years old and was just beginning an exploration that would fill a significant part of the remainder of his life. I was 22, and had just come from Canada. I knew neither Dutch nor Indonesian. I was still a tabula rasa preparing to head out to conduct fieldwork in North Sumatra, which I had not yet laid eyes on. I was also in The Netherlands to research the Batak archives and ethnographic literature.

Sitor had recently been released from a long imprisonment and had obtained a Ford Foundation grant to facilitate his inquiry. He had a new and beautiful blond Dutch wife. He was embarking on a new life and was excited to be in The Netherlands. The Suharto era had been the watershed of his life. Previously he had held diplomatic posts, gained fame as a poet and member of the ‘Generation of ‘45’. His Dutch was perfect, English excellent, French very good. I remember his eagerness to take stock of Dutch culture. I had no knowledge context in which to situate Sitor and he had little patience for my detailed inquiry into the skipping generation principle in Batak kinship terminology. He had other things on his mind. He was impatient with me, but he believed in my anthropological quest and supported it by giving me contacts in North Sumatra and occasionally excitedly sharing his findings from the KITLV library.

I left for North Sumatra in 1979 and Sitor came back to Tano Batak in 1980. He asked me to travel with him. I had a tape recorder and tapes; he had an itinerary and specific people he wanted to meet. He wanted to hear their views about his father (Ompu Babiat, the head of the Situmorang clan) and the Si Singamangaraja (the ‘wife-taking’ clan of the Situmorang in neighbouring Bangkara Valley); he wanted to see Batak history through their eyes. He said that he could use my anthropological perspectives to help him understand his childhood memories, put them in cultural/historical context. Perhaps I had insights, queries or language that were important for Sitor; I hope so. My sense was that he mostly needed a sounding board and that his insights grew from formulating his reactions and questions. I provided an ear and asked questions. I also manned the tape recorder and observed.

I learned the momentousness of Sitor’s exploration. His life straddled eras and cultures. He was the son of a Batak leader and thus eligible for a Dutch education. He left his valley/bay and went to the city: Balige, Tarutung, Jakarta, Yogyakarta. He learned the language of the colonial power. He became a journalist and writer. When his country threw off its colonial shackles, he became a Sukarno diplomat. He traveled the world at a time when few Indonesians enjoyed that privilege. He loved to tell about meeting Marilyn Monroe in New York and life in Paris. He revelled in being a citizen of the world. I imagined that his years in prison gave him the time to reflect on all of this and awakened within him the need to understand the historical forces that had carried him out of Harian Boho and into the world. I traveled with Sitor Situmorang, but it was his journey; I was an observer.

I think this is the only photograph that Sitor took of me. He made sure
to include the great Pusuk Buhit and Lake Toba.
(I treasure to this day that I was able to join him. When I reached the age that Sitor was when we met, it was my turn to explore my own history and culture. His journey served as a beacon for my own, but that is another story….)

The tape recordings I made are still in the box; Sitor never consulted them. He relied on the memories and insights that he gained and gathered as we traveled. He was not a man of notes and personal archives. He was a man from an oral culture, a person who filled his inner chambers, swelling them to untold richness and releasing only in small, precious doses. How many letters I have from Sitor telling me that he will be sharing something important with me, but he never does. That was not his way. He let things out, occasionally, a brief story, an allusion, a poem.

Years later, when we met up at a conference in Switzerland (1991), we had the opportunity to take a boat ride on Lake Zurich. Sitor fell silent, became withdrawn. He said that a poem was brewing. A few days later he shared it with me. Lake Zurich had brought him back like a lightning rod to Lake Toba, tapping into his store of memory and feeling.

The Wind on Lake Zurich

The wind, the sky, the sun: a momentary theme
That echoes in your laughter on the lake.
Nature and remembrance, which for a moment fuse,
Expire in the expanse of the seven seas

in your gaze. Yet here
idle, a listless boat, in a forgotten land
sticks in the craw and resounds
a gaping wound that will not heal

pierced by the arrow of remembrance
a primordial murmur, the water and sky of Lake Toba

Ompu Babiat, Sitor's father.
When we traveled together, he sometimes shared a node in his intellectual universe. He told me how he had worn a gelang as a boy, a large Batak bracelet befitting a person of his high status. Apparently it was one of those things that one never removed in traditional culture, but when Sitor went off to school, it became a millstone. He mentioned his embarrassment to his father. His father quietly fetched a tool and freed Sitor’s arm. And that was that. Sitor told the story without emotion, but it sticks in the craw when I think of the significance of that act for Sitor’s father, and also for Sitor in later life.

A vantage point overlooking Lake Toba. The photograph was
probably taken by Barbara Brouwer
Once we climbed to a high point on the Western edge of Lake Toba. Sitor had shown us paths carved into the hills along which his father had walked. Now, from this lookout, he pointed out the territories belonging to various clans. He stood where his ancestors must have stood, generation upon generation, strategists in politics and war. He explained how marital relations among the clans were ways of consolidating alliances, ensuring safety. The Si Singamangaraja must have stood like that as he planned his resistance against the Dutch. The wind played with our hair. I perceived the succession of eras. Later the geo-political insights that Sitor had shared informed my understanding of how weaving patterns and techniques spread around the lake.

Sitor was very fond of his younger sister. She had never left the valley. They could not communicate by telephone or letters. We met up with her in Harian Boho. She was a betel-chewing, patient woman who spoke only Batak. Standing beside Sitor, I saw a woman steeped in her culture and a man of the wider world. The juxtaposition made me feel some of the loneliness that Sitor must have experienced. “A gaping wound that will not heal.” It was Sitor who told me, when I confessed difficulty in knowing how to combine and make sense of my Canadian roots, my Dutch heritage and my Indonesian life, just to let it be. Uniting it all is an impossible task. They are united in your being; no selections need be forced and no unity need be forged. Acceptance brings peace.

The last time I saw Sitor was a few months ago. We had lunch together and for a moment, when Barbara left the room, I was alone with him. We were both silent. I did not know where to find Sitor in the silence, but I badly wanted his wisdom on the current decline in Batak culture. I sketched the decline as I knew it. What did Sitor make of it all? This man who had known the Batak pre-colonial culture, who had grown up during the colonial era and had become a world-famous poet, this intellectual who had devoted a great part of his life to piecing together Batak history: what did he make of the disappearance of the culture of his own origins? Sitor mumbled something about remnants in the villages and then stood up and busied himself in the kitchen closing me out. When Barbara came back into the room she assessed the situation immediately. “Did you ask him a difficult question?” she asked. “If it is beyond his capacity, he withdraws.” Sitor had ebbed away.

Sunday, November 09, 2014

Batak Natural dyes in Jasper & Pirngadie De Weefkunst (1912)

During the past couple of years, it has become clear to me that people do not know what Jasper & Pirngadie wrote about natural dyes in the Batak area. This is probably because the book is written in Dutch. Because there are so few sources on Batak natural dyes, and because Marzuki Rahman asked me to translate it for him, I thought it might be useful to post my summary translation. Here it is.

p. 68 De Weefkunst
- In the Batak area “to dye with blue” =  tolup (Simalungun), telep (Karo), mansop (Toba)

- telep (Karo) or itom (Toba) = prepared indigo dye bath
- The dyestuff is made from the small leaves of sarap (Karo), taim (Toba and Simalungun) = Indigofera tinctoria
- also made from large leaves of selawen (Karo, Toba, Simalungun) = another kind of indigo plant
- information about these plants can be found in F.S.A. de Clercq, Nieuw Plantkundig Woordenoek voor Nederlandsch-Indië (1909). He writes that the blue obtained from salaon is darker than the blue obtained from tajom. The black colour is obtained from mixing the two kinds of blue. This colour is also obtained from boiling the Indigofera leaves without mixing them with lime.
- the length of time the yarns are submerged in the dye bath depends on the intensity of the colour that is desired. In Karo, the dyeing sometimes takes place for two years, every day for at least one hour. If the dye bath is exhausted (mate), then new dye is prepared for that yarn.
Day after day the yarns are submerged in the dye bath, and especially in the Karo area, where the population wears almost exclusively blue clothing, this women’s work is done in association not just with yarn but also with white textiles, in almost every village.
This is why one finds blue dye vats in the village plain or on the balcony (ture) of the Karo Batak house.
Usually lime is added to the blue dye solution.
In the Toba region, to give the yarns an intense black colour, before or during the dye process the yarns are buried in gambo or the mud of the sawah, and the fixer  (sigiragira) is the juice of the bark of the joring (pithecolobium bigeminum Mart, of the Leguminosae). On Java, this tree is known as jengkol.
In the Simalungun Batak area, dyeing with blue is done as follows:
The yarns are washed in ash water – they use the ash of the baneara (?), harumonting (Rhodomyrtus tomentosa Wight, one of the Myrtaceae species)

(p. 69) De Weefkunst

and sanduduk (Melastoma, one of the Melastomaceae species). Then the yarns are submerged in a solution of water with pounded sihampir (a kind of grass) and curcuma; ash water is also added to this mixture. Also in the Simalungun area, they know the selaon plant (= the Karo selawen, a species of indigo) as a recipe for blue dyeing.
In the Simalungun area, they will dye the yarns black in the following way: they submerge the yarns first in the sigiragira (fixative), consisting of a solution of jambu leaves (the jambu is a species of Eugenia, one of the Myrtaceae), jambu bark and antahosi leaves (?) and then in a bath of mud (tanah porsigiraan).

In the Toba area dyeing with red (manubar) is of higher status and more complicated and yields a very lively dark brown-red colour. A lighter but inferior tint is found in Simalungun textiles.

To obtain the red (rara), the roots of the bakudu (= mengkudu) serve as the dyestuff. Two species are known, namely the bakudu Toba (which is obtained in Toba), and the bakudu Pahae (obtained from Pahae = downstream area, on the coast). The latter is better and more expensive than the former. The roots of the bakudu Toba are pounded or chopped into small pieces and mixed with the ash of sanduluk leaves (sanduluk or sanduduk is the Melastoma, a species of Melastomaceae).
Before submerging the yarns in the dye bath, it is necessary to submerge the yarn every day for four weeks in a mixture of water, ash of the sanduduk wood and pig fat. This task is called manetei and is exactly the same as the Javanese ngetelli, except that the Batak use pig fat instead of oil.
Using this method, the light red that is typical of the Simalungun and Timur textiles is obtained. The Toba refer to this light colour as modom, or sleeping, lacking life or vigour.
To obtain this (light) colour, the yarns do not need to be dyed for more than two months in the dye mixture.
To obtain the brown-red colour, they have to use the bakudu pahae. The bast of this plant is mixed in the same way with the ash of the sanduluk leaves and as the fixative (sigiragira), to obtain a darker colour (manunga nuwa) the ash of jior wood (jior = johar tree = Cassia siamea Lam), a species of the Leguminoseae) or alternatively of halok wood, is added.

To obtain the lively brown-red colour using this dyestuff, the yarns have to be dipped for a very long time.

Saturday, November 08, 2014

Tanggal 25 Oktober 2014: Tribute to Restuala Namora Pakpahan di Jong Bataks Arts Festival, Medan

Poster oleh MJA Nashir

Selamat malam sahabat-sahabat yang saya hormati.

Selamat datang di acara pemutaran film Rangsa ni Tonun yang adalah kesempatan untuk mengingatkan kita kembali tentang sahabat kita, almarhum Restuala Namora Pakpahan. Sayang sekali, saya tidak bisa hadir hari ini. Saya sangat merasa bersyukur sebab putri saya, Lasma Sitanggang, berkenan menyampaikan pesan saya ini.

Di program hari ini, selain Tribute untuk ito Restuala Pakpahan, ada pemutaran film mas MJA Nashir dan saya yang berjudul Rangsa ni Tonun. Kombinasi yang cocok sebab banyak tahap shoting film Rangsa ni Tonun didampingi oleh ito Restuala. Namun hubungannya antara tim Rangsa ni Tonun dan Restuala Pakpahan jauh lebih dalam dan luas.

Di tahun 2009 buku saya, Legacy in cloth, dicetak. Di tahun 2010 limapuluh eksemplar buku saya berikan kepada para penenun Batak dalam rangka Proyek Pulang Kampung dengan tujuan mengucapkan ‘terima kasih’ atas pertolongan mereka dalam tahap riset buku itu. Empat eksemplar disampaikan ke dalam tangan para penenun di Muara.  Sebagian riset saya dilakukan di Muara pada tahun 1980 dan 1986, dan kebetulan di kampung Huta na Godang, yaitu kampung ito Restuala. Tidak lama sesudah Proyek Pulang Kampung tersebut, ito Restuala berkontak saya dengan kata begini:

“Kami sangat antusias dengan Buku Ulos yg Ibu Tulis. Kami bermaksud untuk mendirikan workshop/ bengkel kerja pembuatan kain Ulos Tradisional di Muara yang terinspirasi oleh buku Ibu. Apakah ibu Sandra memberikan izin buku ibu sebagai sumber ide untuk produksi ulos?”

Tentu saja ijin diberikan oleh saya. Workshop tersebut diadakan pada tanggal 23 November 2010.

Kemudian ito Restuala sampaikan kata ini kepada saya lewat FB:

“Kegiatan tgl 23 November adalah starting point untuk melestarikan nilai yang akan kita wariskan kepada generasi masa depan”.

Dan memang pelestarian ulos menjadi fokus kuat untuk ito Restuala sampai beliau berpulang.
Kunjungan ito Restuala di bumi ini tidak begitu lama. Perjuangannya untuk melestarikan tradisi ulos di Muara dijalankan selama empat tahun. Dan hasilnya mengagumkan. [Kalau ada eksemplar kain Restuala – tolong ditunjukkan]

Saya ingin ucapkan terima kasih yang dalam kepada ito Ojax Manalu dan semua panitia acara Jong Bataks atas kesempatan ini untuk mengingat ito Restuala dan merayakan perjuangannya.

Berkenan saya untuk mengucapan terima kasih sedalam-dalamnya kepada Mas MJA Nashir yang langsung memasukkan spiritnya ke dalam acara ini dan dalam film Tribute to Restuala yang akan diputar malam ini.
Saya ucapkan terima kasih pula kepada Threads of Life, satu yayasan di Bali yang pernah bekerjasama dengan ito Restuala untuk menggali pengetahuan Batak akan warna alam. Mereka mendukung acara ini sebagai sponsor.

Saya ucapkan terima kasih sebesar-besarnya dan hangat kepada ito Ishak Aprianto Aritonang, seorang yang masih muda tetapi bersemangat besar. Dia tetap dekat dengan ito Restuala. Oleh sebab kerja keras dia, anggota2 dari Forum Anak di Muara hadir hari ini. Lewat tahap2 kecil seperti perjuangan ito Ishak ini, visi ito Restuala dilestarikan. Terima kasih kepada Forum Anak di Muara atas kehadiran dan semangat kalian semua.

Akhirnya saya ucapkan terima kasih kepada almarhum ito Restuala.

Kepada ito Restuala. Anda demikian cepat memahami implikasi dari buku saya, Legacy. Saya merasa terhormat bahwa buku itu menjadi sumber inspirasi. Dengan cara ini, Anda memberikan makna dan nilai bagi kerja saya yang bertahun-tahun itu.

Kepada Ito Restuala. Dunia ini sedang berada dalam krisis yang mendalam. Di mana-mana budaya asli menghilang dan tradisi tenun mengalami penurunan. Sumber pengetahuan dan keindahan pun menghilang karena itu semua. Inilah keadaan hal ikhwal yang menyedihkan, dan kemanusiaan yang dimiskinkan sebagai hasilnya. Keyakinan dan kegiatan Anda memberikan saya harapan. Dalam krisis ini, Anda mewakili jalan ke depan di salah satu sudut kecil dari bumi ini. Saya, seperti halnya Anda, yakin bahwa dalam penemuan kembali kerajinan tangan yang sangat erat terikat dalam jiwa budaya, di situlah ada jalan.

Setiap solusi yang akan dapat kita raih membutuhkan dedikasi dan intensitas, pengetahuan mendalam tentang desa dan budaya yang Anda miliki. Jalan untuk menghidupkan kembali tenun tradisi Batak hanya bisa ditemukan dengan cara trial and error; jalan yang tak tertandai dengan jelas dan yang tak mudah untuk ditemukan. Anda memiliki karunia kepemimpinan dan hubungan kuat dengan orang lain yang bisa membantu. Anda memiliki keberanian dan keterampilan untuk menempa jalur baru. Anda telah membuka jalan itu.

Restuala Namora Pakpahan, kita membayar penghargaan kepada Anda hari ini bukan hanya karena kami merindukanmu tetapi juga karena kami ingin mengingatkan semua orang dengan siapa Anda datang terhubung dengan visi Anda yang masih sangat dibutuhkan. Sekarang terserah kepada kita untuk menerjemahkan visi Anda ke dalam semangat budaya.

Anda sangat peduli akan para pemuda dari kampung halamanmu. Anda ingin para pemuda itu bisa meraih bahagia, sehat, hidup sukses bahkan jika mereka tetap memilih untuk tinggal di desa. Anda peduli tentang lingkungan Danau Toba dan ingin agar bersih dan sehat. Anda peduli tentang tradisi dan ingin menanamkan cinta kepada mereka. Anda ingin menyalurkan karakter kepribadian Anda utuh.

Anda meninggalkan kami terlalu cepat, ito Restuala, namun sebelum Anda pergi, Anda memberi kami karunia visi Anda, kesempatan untuk menyaksikan gairah Anda, kesempatan untuk belajar dari Anda. Terima kasih kepada ito Restuala atas penyerahan obor Anda ke dalam tangan kami. Semoga dengan obor itu kita berjalan secara bijaksana.

Beberapa Ucapan oleh Restuala Namora Pakpahan

Ulos adalah tradisi
ulos adalah produk untuk kesejahteraan
ulos adalah hidup orang Batak itu sendiri

Kita berusaha merekonstruksi ulang proses tenun menenun ulos dimasa lalu.

Hari ini saya mengabarkan berita yang baik. Beritanya adalah telah berhasil kita tenun ulos warna alam kita yang pertama. BINTANG MARATUR.
14/06/ 2010 

Ulos memiliki posisi yg amat sangat fundamental dlm kehidupan. Dan kegiatan Workshop Tenun (November 2010) adalah starting point untuk melestarikan nilai yang akan kita wariskan kepada generasi masa depan.

Ketika generasi muda sudah memiliki pride pada culturenya, berarti pekerjaan kita sdh mulai menampakkan hasil.  

Ishak Aprianto Aritonang 

Kalau anak kami lahir..pasti kita ikutkan keliling Danau Toba nanti..ikut di Boat Budaya..he..he...

Biar dia mengenal leluhur dan budayanya sejak dari lahir...


Melestarikan karya tenun (ulos) leluhurku.. adalah menemukan kembali arah peradaban masyarakatku...

Tim saya semangatnya, kerja dulu baru uang.