Monday, November 18, 2013

Light at the Lake

Lake Toba, a 75,000 year old crater and one of the most beautiful places on earth, suffers from severe environmental degradation. A central reason is that the outflow from the lake is used to generate electricity. The outflow has been increased so that now more water flows out than flows into the lake and there has been a consequent rapid and disastrous drop in the water level.

The Boat Budaya on Lake Toba September 2013 (Photo by MJA Nashir)
In September 2013, I went to the region to return elements of cultural heritage to the Batak people living near the Lake. I chose to conduct the project by boat because of the lake’s tremendous proportions in local mythology and because of the ease and romance of using it. Our boat was a simple, local market-cum-tourist boat and we had essentially no electricity. I brought along Wakawaka lights for my repatriation team, four of them young local people, to provide us with light and enough power to keep our mobile phones running 
Paul Manahara Tambunan shows how he connects his mobile telephone
to his Wakawaka light. 

and, even more importantly, to demonstrate the production and use of solar electricity to the people with whom we came in contact. The lake needs a fix and quickly!

Febrina Pakpahan, one of the young women on the team, showed students at DEL University in Laguboti her Wakawaka light/charger (Photo MJA Nashir)
The lights proved indispensable. We sunned them carefully on the deck every day and then used them for our phones and for light. 
We sunned our solar lights (Luminaid and Wakawaka everyday on the deck.

Everybody who saw them and received our explanation immediately recognized their functionality. Our auto chauffeur (Pak Jerry) perceived that they were perfect for his needs, as did the captain of the boat (Amang Siregar). The local regent (Pak Mangindar Simbolon) wanted them for remote areas that don’t yet have electrical supply. And of course there was an immediate recognition that sunlight is cheaper than electricity.

The journey was about repatriation of cultural elements from the past, but not just about that. It was about a future in which the culture and also the environment would recover their health. Wakawaka generated a kind of Eureka reaction! Solar power is one viable and important choice in a region that needs a panoply of changes to make a better future!

A huge compliment for Legacy in Cloth, Batak Textiles of Indonesia

There are some emails that one saves. This one, from Pamela Cross, is definitely a keeper. I value Pamela's judgement. She designed and manages the best website on tribal textiles.

This is what she wrote to me.
I am still in love with my jobit/runjat! [a Batak textile type]  Just wonderful to have such excellent supporting documentation in the form of Legacy In Cloth!  How you must have poured over the old photos trying to identify the cloths being worn - incredible!  It made me realize how amazing the work that you and the designer did on Legacy In Cloth putting the links backwards and forward between the Style Regions [Part II] and the Catalogue [Part III].  I love the thumbnail pictures in the Catalogue of details in the old photos in the Style Regions!  It is only when one works through in earnest with a real textile that it is possible to appreciate this properly.  It so fits with your wish that Legacy In Cloth could be used by museums to identify their textiles.  (I know that the focus at the moment is on recording and giving back the designs/examples of the cloths to the Batak weavers but you always had several aims in mind.  Of course, for me as a collector, I am just proving that it also works for us!)    

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Festival Danau Toba IV: Ancient Technique, New Setting

I mentioned in an earlier blog that there were no facilities on 10 September to set up an exhibit of Stephanie Belfrage’s repatriated textiles in Tuktuk during the Lake Toba Festival. Nevertheless, it was an important goal of our trip to bring Stephanie's textiles back to the people in North Sumatra, so we had to be inventive. We came up with the best display technique possible … a technique is as old and creative and effective as … well, clothing!

The human frame (Photograph by Paul Manahara Tambunan)

(Photograph by Paul Manahara Tambunan)
Eventually Hs Thompson suggested that the exhibition go out to meet the people (Photograph by Paul Manahara Tambunan)
The Ragidup that Ojak Tampe Silaban is wearing is being inspected by a 'connoisseur'  or inspector of festivals from Italy who was exploring the merits of Festival Danau Toba for membership in an international network of festivals. Beside him is Christine Hakim, admiring another textile that Ojak has draped over him, and on the other side is Bupati Mangindar Simbolon, clearly fascinated by the textile. (Photograph by Paul Manahara Tambunan)

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Dining with Dian

I informed Dian Siadauruk in writing in advance that we were coming, that a visit with him was a high priority for us and that he could choose where and how we would show our film to him, in private or publicly. He had been such a dedicated friend, although we had never met. I wanted to acknowledge his kindness.

His response, also in writing, was infinitely gracious.
“Thank you very much for your dedication to Batak textiles. Thank you hugely, you and Mas Mja, for wanting to visit me/my family. Also for your willingness to show your ulos film to me/us.
I am moved by this attention. My family and I will be very happy when we can meet and talk together for awhile…”
(Terimakasih banyak atas perhatian namboru yang begitu gigih tentang ulos Batak. Terimakasih sebesar-besarnya atas keinginan namboru dan Mas Mja untuk bertemu dengan saya/keluarga saya, juga atas relanya namboru memutarkan film ulos itu untuk saya/kami.
Namboru, saya terharu atas perhatian ini. Saya dan keluarga saya pasti sangat senang bila kita bisa bertemu dan bercakap-cakap barang sebentar…)
These were just the opening sentences of a long and moving response.

But I had not yet foreseen the bountiful depths of this man’s heart and mind. In fact, I knew essentially nothing about this man except that his written language was always gracious. He mentioned being able to work from the home and that he used internet. I wondered what kind of cosmopolitan he might be.

As the Boat Budaya pulled into the small Simanindo harbour, I witnessed a line-up of earnest people all wearing an ulos over the shoulder. I had a moment of feeling unprepared; such an overwhelming reception was no doubt intended for us. Pak Dian waited until we had all disembarked and been introduced. He was not the oldest, but he was clearly in charge. Full of energy, full of self-confidence, very clear about what he wanted. 
Dian Sidauruk. Read this man's face. MJA Nashir's photograph of him speaks a thousand words. Nashir himself wrote, "Amang Dian Sidauruk, a person who is full of enthusiasm for realizing a lifestyle that is better, more beautiful and full of the creative spirit."
He wanted to know who was who in our party. He was choreographing an unusual moment. His lined up his family members to correspond to our team and then the ulos were handed over. Each person in his line-up gave each in my line-up a textile. All this on the dock beside the Boat Budaya. He pointed out that this was not a hula-hula – boru exchange, that is to say, not a ritual exchange. This was simply a handing over of a textile. I was the recipient of his ulos, a very beautiful old bintang maratur. Not an ordinary gift.
Pak Dian Sidauruk gives me his bintang maratur ulos.

First we toured the Simanindo museum, all of my team now wearing all of the ulos. 
Entering the Simanindo Museum

(I ran into the son of Demar Sidauruk to whom I had given a copy of Legacy in 2010. 
Here I am talking to the son of Demar Sidauruk who had been a recipient of Legacy in cloth in 2010 during the first Back to the Villages journey

Apparently, the father had just passed away earlier in the year, but his son was able to produce the book stored at the entrance to the museum and claimed that much use was made of it when visitors came to the museum. Interesting to know the fate of another of the seeds that I had planted 4 years earlier.)  Dian Sidauruk was clearly relieved that we had no expectation of making a grand showing of our film in the museum. He was delighted that we were willing to show it privately in his home, and so we walked a few hundred yards further, along the main road, under the burning tropical sun, turned left and headed down a long drive to the shore of the lake.

So, Mr. Sidauruk lived in a traditional Batak house! 
Dian Sidauruk's traditional Batak home

There was a bounce in his step and we weren’t invited to climb up the wooden staircase to get to the living quarters of the structure. First there was an obligatory tour of the yard. Not an ordinary Batak yard. It was immaculate! In a culture that is infamous for its indifference to the eyesores of garbage and sloppiness, Dian Sidauruk's yard proved that he marched to a different drummer. Nothing was out of place. Not one piece of gravel. He rakes it every morning. Everything was considered and cared for. The yard was laid out with a bench here and a tree there, electricity connected like this, plants over there –it was becoming clear that Mr. Sidauruk was creating a showcase. His lifestyle was a demonstration of how, with little money but plenty of determination, insight and inventiveness, the simple comforts could be achieved: a seat in the shade making use of a cooling breeze
I enjoyed the shade and the breeze after the hot walk under the noonday sun

an hygienic toilet, 
The hygienic toilet on a smooth, concrete foundation.

a kitchen garden with a huge variety of plants carefully selected and nurtured. Mr. Sidauruk’s yard showed that he was inventive, self-disciplined, unafraid to be different, a positive thinker oriented to the future, convinced that he had something to contribute. He was an artist and his lifestyle was his art.

Later in his house, his immaculate, modern home encased in the traditional Batak framework, he told us his story of how he left his job and returned to Simanindo after his father died. He was not one of those Bataks who would transform his traditional home into a bungalow. He felt that he was a wealthy man to have inherited a Batak house. No ordinary Batak today has the means to acquire the wood and stage the rituals that it takes to build a traditional Batak house. Mr. Sidauruk had a heritage structure. So he tended the wood. He cared for it so it would last. His words tumbled over each other. He was proud of his ideals and his accomplishments. He was turning into a guru. He was regaling us of his learning. My team was tuned in to his words and they were turning to each other and saying, “Wow!”

"He was turning into a guru. He was regaling us of his learning."
Mr. Sidauruk had a beautiful Javanese wife whose cooking skills betrayed her origins. We ate a brilliant meal seated traditionally on a mat in the centre of the house. Mr. Sidauruk talked. He shared his philosophy of life, his likes and dislikes. He was transported by the energy of his ideals.

And then we showed our film. 

Showing Rangsa ni Tonun in Dian Sidauruk's home. He is seated beside his wife. 

Inside the house it was very dark and we used our solar ‘luminaids’. Afterwards, we gave one to Mr. Sidauruk. He was excited by this useful piece of technology; it fit in with his lifestyle and his thinking. He would show it to his NGO friends who often stay at his house. He was a good candidate to share the word that the energy of the sun can do good things for the region.

The house was very dark so the luminaids came in handy.
And then Mr. Dian Sidauruk continued with his story but we had to get to Tuktuk by dinnertime and the sky was overcast. He drove us back to the Boat Budaya and we waved goodbye with promises to meet again in the future. Mr. Sidauruk has much to give to his culture and people. He burns to share it, to advise and to help. He has vision. He is ahead of his time. He is needed. I dream of involving him in restorations of Batak homes, campaigns to tidy up Batak villages.

It is no surprise that of our thousands of Facebook friends, Mr. Dian Sidauruk had stood out. No ordinary mortal.

(All photographs by MJA Nashir)

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Solu Bolon

With Dian Sidauruk (fourth from the right) at Museum Simanindo
in front of the solu bolon
recognizing the spirit of Pulang Kampung III

On 9 September we made our way from Silalahi to Tuktuk stopping in Simanindo on the way. Nashir and I have made the acquaintance of Dian Sidauruk through Facebook and we have been moved by his support. Visiting him to show him Rangsa ni Tonun was a priority on our agenda. 

Before we visited his home, he took us on a brief tour of Museum Simanindo and we saw the only solu bolon that I am aware of the existence of. It was the inspiration for the poster of our project.

This is what MJA Nashir had to say about our visit, about the poster, about the spirit of project Pulang Kampung III and the Boat Budaya

"I still remember when Sandra used to talk to me about the ‘solu bolon’ [large Batak dugout canoe]. I thought she was just dreaming. A ‘dream’ in the sense of a ‘fantasy’ as Jesral Tambun wrote in his ‘status on line’ a few days ago, “Life without imagination is a statue!” It reminded me of the words of my late father, “Life, yes, but like a corpse.” And life (read culture) is often constructed atop of dreams and fantasy, or to use a cool idiom, it is ‘a dream come true’. Until one day when we were working on our ‘Pulang Kampung III’ plans and I asked Sandra what kind of image she would like for Pulang Kampung III, Sandra chose the ‘solu bolon’. Even though I had already made a design with an image of a loom and textile. J Yes, I was surprised and confused at that time. I didn’t say anything when I received that email. In my heart I wondered what the connection was between ulos and the solu bolon. In the end I was aware that I myself had daydreamed in front of the solu bolon in Museum Huta Bolon Simanindo in 2010 when I was with Sandra for the first Pulang Kampung voyage and I saw people from the past wearing various kinds of ulos.

Poster of the Pulang Kampung III project
designed by MJA Nashir
Immediately I rummaged through my stack of photographs from 2010, the files of Pulang Kampung I, and found two photographs. One was the solu bolon from Museum Simanindo and one was a photograph of Lake Toba, wide, empty, calm and mystical. So I plopped that Solu Bolon onto the surface of the water. I realized this ‘dream’ and figment of the imagination. Immediately I sent it to Sandra via the email. She was thrilled. Since then we consider this the visualization of Pulang Kampung III with the subtitle ‘Boat Budaya’. I believe that Sandra was not just playing with the idea of the Solu Bolon. Besides I know exactly how earnest she can be about an issue. And indeed, she can explain this matter in glowing descriptive detail, about this image of the past, about the solu, Lake Toba, ulos, the market tradition in times past, until the Nommensen era, this ‘spirit’ of water transportation. And this ‘spirit’ of water transportation underlies Pulang Kampung III (Boat Budaya). We were indeed aware that to fully realize a ‘Solu Bolon’ as the medium of transportation for Pulang Kampung III during the relatively short time that we had to prepare for it was an impossible task. However, the symbol of the solu bolon became the spirit of Pulang Kampung III, a symbol of a means of transportation, a symbol of accessibility, and at the same time a symbol of awareness of the natural environment. To the extent that Sandra did her best  -- even though a solu bolon couldn’t be made and used – to use a prahu or boat which was environmentally friendly (not one with a noisy motor that contaminates the lake environment), for example a boat that is powered with solar energy. We hope that one day there will once again be solu bolon on the waters of Lake Toba. In any case, the solu bolon from the past is visible proof of ancestral knowledge protecting the natural environment." (free translation by myself)