Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Nai Ganda's Reaction to Rangsa ni Tonun

Attending the weaving workshop in Muara presented the possibility of a day trip to the Silindung Valley. In my book Rangsa ni Tonun I recognize Ompu Tiurma as one of the people who helped me translate the original text. I remember being delighted with her help. Prior to meeting her in 1986, I had gone through the text with Ompu Sihol in Harian Boho. At the time I was not aware of the regional differences in weaving terminology. Ompu Tiurma – in 1986 she was still Nai Ganda --  lived in Hutagalung in the Silindung Valley. Born into the Tobing marga, she originated from the village of the writer of the text. To my surprise, she was able to answer several of my questions about the text with relative ease and she brought the translation a significant step forward.

When we conducted the Pulang Kampung III journey, we brought the film back to Sait ni Huta where Nommensen and Guru Sinangga ni Adji had lived. We showed the film in the church where Nommensen used to preach. But then our time was up and we had to go. My longing to thank Nai Ganda/Ompu Tiurma for her help had only grown in the meantime. The day after the weaver workshop in Muara, I climbed into our rental vehicle and my faithful driver, Pak Jerry, took me to her home.

She had changed since our last visit. She had complained then about fatigue but now her decline was more evident. By chance she was standing near the door when I arrived. She stared at me and I called out a greeting but she did not recognize me. It was not until I moved closer and we were face to face that she said, “Si Sandy!” and knew who I was. Her eyes must also have been in decline. Her speech was a bit rambling and her step was slow. She was not the Nai Ganda that I had once known and I was gentle. I was not even sure if she would remember the text or whether the film would be meaningful to her.

I handed her the book and explained my mission and my desire to thank her. Was it she or was it her husband who expressed a strong desire to see the film? I don’t know, but suddenly I was back in Pulang Kampung III – although this time without the rest of the team and without a projector. I opened up the computer and set it up on the table in front of Ompu Tiurma and her husband, then pressed a key and the film started to play.

The effect of the film was like magic. I saw it conjure back the old Nai Ganda. Once again she became the energetic woman whom I had known. She had always spoken with a special conviction and an energy that emanated from the core of her being. She was knowledgeable and consistently knew precisely the right thing to say. This time I was witness to her immediate perception of the value of the film. “This is ancient Batak knowledge and it is disappearing,” she said. “Nobody knows most of these steps in weaving anymore. Only a few of them are practised today and even those are in decline. But you have recorded everything for future generations. You, a non-Batak from Europe, have salvaged this information from complete and eternal loss. You have done a great deed for all future generations of Batak people. In one hundred, two hundred, three hundred years, they will still be thanking you.” I was moved. The film had given back to me, just for a moment, the woman who had been most influential to my fieldwork in the Silindung Valley in 1986, a woman whom I could only admire and respect. A woman whom I had learned to love. And now she was saying these things about the film that I had made with MJA Nashir.

Ompu Tiurma watched Rangsa ni Tonun on my computer screen
in their sitting room.

I pulled out my camera and set it to “film”. There, in front of Ompu Tiurma and her husband with the camera in my hand I just let it run. They did not know that it was on and I was able to capture their unabashed reactions to the film. Because the camera was on, I only responded out loud to their words when it was absolutely necessary. Mostly I just smiled, nodded and spoke to them with my eyes to encourage their streams of thought. It was a remarkable half hour. Nai Ganda shared her reactions and her husband shared his reactions. They both talked more or less constantly throughout the film, in counterpoint with the film. Their reactions were not the same and for the most part they didn’t listen to each other or respond to each other. 

It was a bit surreal, like recording two films at once. Like obtaining reactions to Rangsa ni Tonun but also insight into an elderly couple that had lived together for decades.


P.S. At the end, I told them that I had filmed them and they gave me permission to retain the footage.
Ompu Tiurma and her husband talked throughout the film, in counterpoint
to the film.

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