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)

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Project Back to the Villages III meets Jesral Tambun

(Terjemahan dibawah)

Last night I received a series of excited posts on Facebook. Jesral Tambun had discovered salaon, a Batak indigo plant, in the area where he lives, close to Porsea. It was a plant growing wild in uncultivated land and his questioning of elderly people about indigo led him to his discovery. He was thankful to Lasma Sitanggang for having asked him whether indigo plants grew in the area. He is thinking of cultivating the plant beside the house that he is building.
Photo by Jesral Tambun
Photo by Jesral Tambun

 The last stop of Proyek Pulang Kampung on the way home to Medan was in Ompu Okta’s village. Jesral Tambun had helped MJA Nashir during the last filming session for Rangsa ni Tonun, so Nashir contacted him and let him know we were coming.

Jesral helped Nashir on the last day of filming Rangsa ni Tonun in Ompu Okta's village. We see the pipisan or cotton depitter than we purchased in Bali because we couldn't find one in the Batak area. It is strikingly similar to the Batak variant.

Jesral meets Proyek Pulang Kampung

It was my first meeting with Jesral. I had heard about him from his uncle, Nestor Rico Tambunan. Jesral is very interested in Batak culture, he had said. Might there be a way to include him in our activities? I did not forget this question and I was excited about meeting Jesral.

We all ate lunch together in Ompu Okta’s home (just as we had done when shooting Rangsa ni Tonun) and shared stories. 

Later we went to visit the house that he is building for his future.

Jesral's house is under construction. In the background is a carved and painted plank that he is restoring.

We had hoped that Jesral would be able to join us on the Pulang Kampung III journey but circumstances had intervened and made it impossible. I quickly discovered what an asset he would have been. He is fully dedicated to making a life in the village and enriching it with explorations of his culture. He is particularly interested in wood and has apprenticed so that he can make gorga, Batak painted woodcarving.

Jesral Tambun (Photo borrowed from Jesral's Facebook site)
He is an orphan; both of his parents died when he was still young. He is not wealthy by any means, but he has an extraordinarily nice collection of textiles that he can wear to adat, all purchased with his savings – quite remarkable in this day when the Batak are selling off their textiles! His textiles are new, but the finest modern ones that money can buy. There is a picture of him on Facebook wearing his textiles when he performed the special role of requesting music from the Batak indigenous orchestra at the TB SilalahiCentre. He loves the indigenous textiles of his culture and hopes to find a wife who is a weaver. He senses that he will be happy to come home to a woman who  is weaving. What a remarkable statement by this passionate young man.

His interests are broad and he has a lot of energy. I am struck by how fervently he plunged into the exploration of indigo and his enthusiasm when sharing his discovery. I asked him if he could also explore the mangkudu/bangkudu plant that the Batak used to make red dye. The use of this dye was particularly strong in his region. I also asked if there were any weavers left who could make the extraordinary supplementary warp patterning (jugia) such as in his textiles. The weaver of his textiles is now deceased. Was she the last? It will be through our contacts in the Batak area, contacts like Jesral, that our knowledge will grow.

Jesral joined Proyek Pulang Kampung III on the last day and the last stop, but I sense that he will remain with the project always in his heart and in his activities. The past of Batak culture will never return, but in people like Jesral Tambun, the culture will survive and will perhaps become vibrant again. It will bubble with enthusiasm and grow, connecting with the outside world in a new way.

This post was translated by Jesral's aunt, Rita Tambunan, a few days after it appeared.

Proyek Pulang Kampung III: Bertemu Jesral Tambun

Semalam saya menerima sejumlah postingan menarik di Facebook: Jesral Tambun 

telah menemukan Salaon, sejenis tumbuhan tropis yg dipakai masyarakat Batak 

untuk memberi warna biru, di wilayah di  mana ia tinggal di Porsea. Salaon adalah 

tumbuhan liar dan keingintahuan Jesral akan tumbuhan ini membuatnya bertanya-

tanya pada orang-orang tua yg kemudian membantunya menemukan Salaon. 

Jesral berterima kasih pada Lasma Sitanggang yang merangsang rasa ingin tahunya 

tentang keberadaan Salaon di daerah ia tinggal. Sekarang Jesral berpikir untuk 

menanam Salaon di samping  rumah yg sedang dibangunnya.

Perhentian terakhir dari Proyek Pulang Kampung, sebelum kembali ke Medan, 

adalah kampung tempat  tinggal Ompu Okta. Jesral Tambun membantu MJA Nashir 

dalam sesi terakhir pembuatan film ‘Rangsa  ni Tonun’. Karena itu, Nashir 

menghubungi Jesral dan memberi tahu bahwa kami akan berkunjung.

Itu adalah kali pertama saya bertemu dengan Jesral. Saya telah mendengar tentang 

Jesral dari pamannya, Nestor Rico Tambunan. Jesral punya perhatian besar pada 

budaya Batak, kata Nestor.  Apakah mungkin untuk melibatkan ia pada aktivitas 

kami? Saya tak pernah lupa akan pertanyaan itu dan karenanya menjadi sangat 

senang akan segera bertemu Jesral.

Kami makan siang bersama di rumah Ompu Okta (seperti pernah kami lakukan 

waktu pengambilan film Rangsa ni Tonun) dan berbagi cerita. Setelah itu, kami 

berkunjung ke rumah yang sedang dibangun Jesral untuk masa depannya.

Sebenarnya, kami berharap Jesral dapat bergabung dengan kami pada perjalanan 

Pulang Kampung III, tetapi ada masalah yg membuat hal itu gagal terwujud. Saat 

bertemu dengannya, saya segera mengetahui bahwa Jesral sungguh asset luar 

biasa; ia demikian berusaha untuk hidup di desanya dengan berusaha 

mengeksplorasi budaya Batak. Jesral sungguh mengabdi untuk desanya dengan 

berusaha menggali budaya Batak. Jesral sangat tertarik pada kerajinan kayu dan ia 

dapat membuat Gorga, ukiran kayu khas Batak.

Jesral anak yatim-piatu; kedua orangtuanya meninggal saat ia masih sangat muda. 

Ia tidak kaya, tetapi Jesral punya sejumlah koleksi pakaian layak pakai yang khusus 

ia kenakan untuk acara adat. Pakaian itu ia beli dengan tabungannya. Pakaiannya 

baru. Ini adalah fotonya di akun Facebook dengan baju yg ia kenakan khusus saat 

melakukan pertunjukan musik Batak di TB Silalahi Centre. Jesral mencintai kain 

tradisional Batak dan berharap suatu hari nanti dapat beristrikan seorang 

perempuan penenun. Ia membayangkan betapa bahagianya pulang ke rumah 

bertemu dengan istri yg sedang menenun. 

Sebuah pernyataan yg luar biasa dari seorang anak muda!

Jesral punya perhatian terhadap banyak hal dan ia punya energi besar. Saya amat 

terkesan bagaimana ia demikian berusaha menemukan tumbuhan seperti Salaon itu 

dan antusiasme-nya untuk berbagi penemuan itu. Saya berkata padanya siapa tahu 

ia juga bisa menemukan Mangkudu/Bangkudu, tanaman yg digunakan orang Batak 

untuk mendapatkan warna merah. Mangkudu/Bangkudu ini biasa dipakai orang di 

daerah Porsea dan sekitarnya. Saya juga bertanya pada Jesral apakah kira-kira 

masih ada penenun yang dapat membuat Jugja, ornamen luar biasa, seperti yang 

ada pada koleksi kain yg dimiliki Jesral. Jesral bilang, penenun kain yg dimilikinya 

sudah meninggal. Apakah ia orang terakhir yg bisa membuat Jugja? Saya kira kita 

akan mendapat jawabannya dari orang-orang seperti Jesral.Jesral bergabung 

dengan Proyek Pulang Kampung III pada hari dan perhentian terakhir kami. Tetapi 

saya merasa ia akan tetap melanjutkan terus proyek ini di dalam hati dan 

aktivitasnya. Budaya Batak tak akan pernah lagi seperti dulu, tetapi dalam orang-

orang seperti Jesral Tambun, budaya luhur ini akan tetap lestari dan, mungkin, 

akan berjaya lagi. Antusiasme dan perkembangan dan upaya penyebarannya ke 

dunia mungkin mewujudkan harapan itu.