another batak from anenglish man part3
The Trans-Sumatra Trade and the Ethnicization ofthe ‘Batak’399a fragile plant requiring intensive preparation and great care. Moreover, dur-ing its growth it is vulnerable to unexpected weather changes, diseases, andpests, which may destroy the entire crop. As a result, traditional rice-grow-ing societies everywhere have resorted to appeals to supernatural forces toprevent the loss of a crop and to ensure a bountiful harvest. The Batak wereno different, and Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles commented on their belief thatthe Sisingamangaraja could ‘blight the paddy, or restore the luxuriance of afaded crop’ (Raffles 1991:436).A second important function of the Sisingamangaraja was promoting har-mony among the Batak groups through his mediation. In this role he was ableto effect wide agreement on standard rice measures, as well as the assurancethat the sanctity of the marketplace would be observed. When the mission-aries Burton and Ward travelled to the Toba lands, they commented on theinfluence of the Sisingamangaraja, who was considered by the inhabitantsto be ‘bertuati, or ‘invested with supernatural power’. His representatives,whom Burton and Ward believed to be village chiefs from the surround-ing districts (Burton and Ward 1827:514), were known as parbaringin in theSumba districts. They were appointed by the Sisingamangaraja and had theimportant responsibility of maintaining the viability of the markets (Castles1972:18-9,1975:74).By the nineteenth century it was possible to distinguish a heartland andan extended network of communities forming a single Batak cultural unity,promoted and strengthened by the activities of the high priests. Althoughthe latter had arisen among the Toba, their influence extended to the otherareas where the Batak had settled. The Ompu Palti Raja was the high priestwith the greatest influence among those in the Simalungun lands involvedin the trade between Lake Toba and the east coast, while the Jonggi Manaor’sarea of jurisdiction was in the lands between the interior and Barus. Of thesethree, the Sisingamangaraja exercised the greatest influence among the Batakcommunities in general. Representatives bore their insignia and exercisedauthority on their behalf because of the awe and veneration with which theBatak regarded these high priests (Hirosue 1994:22). As the Batak becameincreasingly involved in international trade, these magico-religious figuresbecame the foci and the facilitators of the production and delivery of riceand forest products from the interior to the coasts. The expansion of theirfunctions contributed to the evolution of a supra-village authority and to agrowing sense among the people of belonging to a single ethnic group underthe leadership of the high priests.
400Leonard Y. AndayaEthnicization of the BatakAs the Batak moved toward both coasts and southward from Lake Toba inresponse to economic opportunities, they came into direct competition withthe Malayu, the Minangkabau, and the Acehnese. In face of this develop-ment, the institution of the high priests was invoked to promote ethnic unity.The acknowledgement of the Sisingamangaraja as the overarching spiritualauthority over all Batak may have been a deliberate economic decision by theBatak in order to compete effectively against the newly ethnicized Malayu,Minangkabau and Acehnese.57With the appointment of parbaringin, a hierar-chy was created whose major responsibility was the maintenance of agricul-ture and the marketplace. If not the threat of supernatural sanctions then thepromise of economic advantage made the institution of the Sisingamangarajaappealing to the Batak.A European report from the early nineteenth century confirms the elevat-ed status and veneration enjoyed by the SiSingamangaraja among the Batak.In a letter to Marsden dated 27 February 1820, Raffles wrote that among theBatak he was ‘something like an ecclesiastical Emperor or Chief, who is uni-versally acknowledged, and referred to in all case of public calamity, etc. Histitle is Si Singah Maha Rajah, and he resides at Bakara in the Toba district. Heis descended from the Menangkabau race, and is of an antiquity which nonedisputes. My informants say certainly above thirty descents, or 900 years. Hedoes not live in any very great state, but is particular in his observances; heneither eats hog nor drinks tuah [palm-wine]. They believe him possessedof supernatural powers.’ (Raffles 1991:435-6.) In this letter Raffles claimsthat the Sisingamangaraja was ‘universally’ acknowledged. Although it ismore likely that he had direct influence only over the Sumba group of margaamong the Toba Batak, stories of his supernatural powers would have beensufficient to convince many other Batak to heed his words or those of the per-sons delegated to represent him. In this way the Batak in the southern LakeToba region, who were the Sisingamangaraja’s principal adherents, wouldhave been joined by Batak elsewhere in forming a group responsive to hiswishes. While he did not possess any means for physical coercion, he had areputation for magico-spiritual powers which in earlier centuries proved far57I argue in other essays that there was a conscious decision by the Malayu rulers of Melakaand Johor, the Minangkabau rulers of Pagaruyung, and the Acehnese rulers to appeal to a politi-cized ethnic identity for economic reasons in the period between the sixteenth and eighteenthcenturies. Between the sixteenth and the late seventeenth century, Aceh saw itself as a Malayukingdom and was the dominant economic, political, and cultural entity in the Malayu world.Only from the eighteenth century did a separate Acehnese identity emerge in recognition of thesuccess of Johor in becoming acknowledged as the centre of Malayu culture. See L. Andaya 2000,2001a, and 2001b.
The Trans-Sumatra Trade and the Ethnicization ofthe ‘Batak’401more intimidating. Instead of a political structure with the accoutrementsof state power, the Sisingamangaraja and other high priests created a unityamong many Batak groups on the basis of their sacred reputation, system ofmarketplaces, and coterie of magico-religious officials operating in a border-less world.Batak ethnic consciousness was reinforced by the creation of pustaha, orbark books. Written in a language and a script unlike anything possessed bytheir neighbours, the pustaha were regarded as distinctly ‘Batak’. Althoughemploying an old Indian Pallava-derived script, there is no record of whenpustaha first began to be written. Kozok has shown that the Batak script con-tinues to display an affinity with the Pallava and Old Javanese (Kawi) scripts,whereas modern Javanese has diverged quite significantly from the originalPallava (Kozok 1999:65). Batak writing may have originated with the creationof the pustaha, but remained relatively unchanged over the centuries, perhapsbecause of the sacred contents. The pustaha contained astrological tablesandmagic formulae andwere intended for magico-religious purposes.58The survival of a Batak language using a modified Pallava script totransmit sacred and other tribal knowledge is noteworthy. From the seventhuntil at least the fourteenth century, the dominant intellectual and politicallanguages in Sumatra were Sanskrit and Malayu. Their influence was par-ticularly strong, andevidence of their presence has been noted in the discus-sion of the archaeological finds at Padang Lawas. Yet despite these culturalincursions, the Batak were not overwhelmed by the expansion of the Malayulanguage and culture into northern Sumatra (Teeuw 1959:148-51; Collins1996:9). The survival and persistence of the pustaha tradition may havebeen the result of a deliberate political choice at a time when the Batak werebecoming increasingly involved in economic rivalry with neighbouring com-munities. As Pollock so succinctly explained, ‘Vernacular literary languagesdo not “emerge” like buds or butterflies, they are made’ (Pollock 1998:7).59ABatak world was thus inscribed and circumscribed by the pustaha, which notonly played a magico-religious role but also became an important marker ofBatak identity.Often in the introduction to pustaha, a chain of transmission of know-ledge from the legendary founder to the current writer is listed. Teachers58In addition to the pustaha, there were other forms of writing, such as letters, pulas (a type ofthreatening letter), and laments, though the latter two forms tended also to have a strong magico-religious intent (Kozok 2000a:43-4).59I have based my arguments on Pollock’s stimulating discussion of the process of vernacu-larization in India. Of particular value and relevance for the Batak situation is his argument thatthere is a division of labour in languages, in which Sanskrit retains its position as ‘the publicliterary expression of political will’, while the vernacular is restricted to ‘business’ or practicalaspects. He terms this language division ‘hyperglossia’ (Pollock 1998:11-2).
402Leonard Y. Andayaand pupils from different regions travelled together through the Batak areasbecause their services were sought everywhere (Voorhoeve 1927:10, 13).When the intrepid Italian traveller Elio Modigliani journeyed through theToba Batak area in 1890, he befriended the great datu, Guru Somalaing, fromwhom he obtained a text by the ‘wandering datu’ of the Simanjuntak margaintended for his pupils belonging to the Siagian marga. The itinerant charac-ter of these datu is emphasized in another text collected by Modigliani, whereone of the great masters is called ‘Singa Mortandang’, or ‘wandering lion'(Voorhoeve 1979/80:62, 78, 82). It was also commonplace for pupils to travellong distances to study with famous datu (Kozok 1999:17).Through long and intensive study, the datu acquired an incomparableknowledge of the future, the characteristics of plants, and the wisdom con-tained in the writings of the ancestors. The wandering datu was described asnot simply a religious practitioner, but also ‘a man of science who embodiesall current available historical, medical, theological and economic know-ledge’ (J.H. Neumann 1910:2). Through his knowledge of the contents of thepustaha, he became the primary source of the old tales, legends, and tradi-tions from which the Batak gained an understanding of their rituals 0.H.Neumann 1910:2, 10).60This latter function still survives among the Bataktoday. Ginting describes a Karo guru, the Karo equivalent of a datu, who can’recite in a sing-song tone the old legends and myths which are importantin the performance of a ritual so that the participants understand its back-ground and can therefore experience the ritual more intensely’ (Ginting 1991:86-7). The datu also used his knowledge of plants and the spirit world toconcoct the various medicines for treating and preventing illnesses, conductspecial rituals to ward off evil or recall a spirit which had wandered awayfrom a body, and prescribe potions to assist in affairs of the heart and giveself-confidence (Wilier 1846:295-6; Ginting 1991:86-7).Because of the datu’s ability to assure the well-being of the community inso many different ways, he gained the confidence and support of the people.He thus became an influential advocate and an ideal conduit for informationand directives of the high priest. His wandering life-style and the practice ofaccepting pupils from all over the Batak lands contributed to a network thattranscended territorial and marga divisions. Also strengthening the sense ofa unified Batak world was the pustaha tradition. Voorhoeve, in his intensivestudy of pustaha, concluded that the sacred language of the texts derivesfrom a sub-Toba dialect spread by wandering datu, who were immune tointer-marga and inter-village conflicts in precolonial times (Voorhoeve 1973:60Ginting reminds us, however, that not all guru [or datu] achieved the same level of compe-tence. Those with exceptional skill won a reputation as guru mbelin, or ‘great guru’ (Ginting 1991:94, 96).
The Trans-Sumatra Trade and the Ethnicization ofthe ‘Batak’40339). The spread of the pustaha tradition helped create a shared sacred lan-guage and a common store of magico-religious lore. Prior to the twentiethcentury, Perbegu/Pemena, or the old Batak religion, was a core element ofBatak identity. The key to the ethnicization of the Batak was provided by thecomponents of Perbegu/Pemena: the high priests, the datu, and thepustaha.ConclusionThe people who are collectively known as Batak today were historicallynever isolated from the developments occurring in the region. From veryearly times they were incorporated into regional trade networks becausethey were major suppliers of camphor and benzoin – two of the most highlyvalued Southeast Asian commodities in the international trade from at leastthe eighth up to the nineteenth century (Burkill 1966, 1:878-9). The involve-ment of the Batak in international trade made them responsive to politicaland economic shifts that had a direct impact on their livelihood. WhenSrivijaya was conquered by the rival Cola dynasty in 1025, the Batak soughtother outlets for their products. The rise of Kota Cina on the east coast andthe re-emergence of Barus on the west coast as ports for the export of cam-phor and benzoin drew the Batak towards both coasts. Though Kota Cinaitself disappeared sometime in the fourteenth century, other east-coast king-doms came to provide an outlet for the export of Batak forest products andrice in later centuries.While Srivijaya was still the dominant entrepot in the Straits, the Batakused routes from the camphor and benzoin forests located to the northwestand southeast of Lake Toba southward to Padang Lawas, then on to theBatang Hari, and eventually to Srivijaya on the Musi River in Palembang.After 1025 Kota Cina and Barus joined Srivijaya and Malayu as exportingcentres for these resins, and much of the camphor and benzoin supplies wasdiverted eastward and westward towards the coasts. From the eighth to thefourteenth centuries, Batak groups sought to profit from international tradeby following these routes and settling in proximity of these export centres.Another major economic stimulus to Batak migrations was the growingdemand for rice among pepper growers in Sumatra andthe Malay Peninsula,beginning in the fifteenth century. To meet this new demand, there weremigrations from the Toba region to new lands south and east of Lake Tobain search of rice lands.Crucial to the success of Batak involvement in international trade weretheir religious institutions. Candi and ancestral tombs were judiciouslyplaced along major trade routes to assure spiritual protection and successfor Batak traders. With the increasing tempo of trade and the dispersal of
404Leonard Y. AndayaBatak communities from the Lake Toba region, a need arose for some form ofsupra-village control. This was provided by the institution of the high priest,which originated in the Toba lands but gained support in the other Batakareas. Through their claims of supernatural power, access to agricultural dei-ties, and creation of a network of officials and markets, the high priests wereinstrumental in the promotion of Batak trade until their demise in the earlytwentieth century. The activities of the datu helped to ensure continued sup-port for the high priests among the Batak in the pre-modern period.As different ethnic groups became increasingly competitive in interna-tional trade, particularly in the period between the fifteenth and eighteenthcenturies, every avenue was explored to gain an advantage over the others.One response was the ethnicization of identity, or in other words, a consciousdecision to emphasize ethnicity to maximize their advantage. The Batakbecame ‘ethnicized’ by stressing commonality in their acknowledged originsin the Toba highlands, their recognition of the authority of the high priests,and their reliance on the knowledge and spiritual powers of the datu andtheir pustaha. In the early modern period being ‘Batak’ became both a politicaland an economic option, resulting in the removal of huta and marga barriersin the formation of a common Batak ethnicity.REFERENCESAndaya, Barbara Watson, 1993, To live as brothers; Southeast Sumatra in the seventeenthand eighteenth centuries. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press.-, 1995, ‘Upstreams and downstreams in early modern Sumatra’, The Historian 57:537-52.Andaya, Leonard Y, 2000, ‘Unravelling Minangkabau ethnicity’, Itinerario; EuropeanJournal of Overseas History 24-2:20-43.-, 2001a, ‘Aceh’s contribution to standards of Malayness’, Archipel 61:29-68.-, 2001b, ‘The search for the origins of “Malayu”‘, Journal of Southeast Asian Studies32-3:315-30.Anderson, Benedict, 1983, Imagined communities. London / New York: Verso.Anderson, John, 1971, Mission to the east coast of Sumatra in 1823. Kuala Lumpur:Oxford University Press. [Oxford University Reprints.]Barth, Fredrik, 1969, Introduction’, in: Fredrik Barth (ed.), Ethnic groups and bounda-ries; The social organization of culture difference, pp. 9-38. Boston: Little, Brown.Bellwood, Peter, 1997, Prehistory of the Indo-Malaysian archipelago. Honolulu: Univer-sity of Hawaii Press. [First impression 1985.]Boer, D.W.N. de, 1922, ‘Een en ander over de herkomst en uitzwerming der Bataks’,Koloniaal Tijdschrift 11:86-95.Bronson, Bennett, Besoeki, Machi Suhadi, and Jan Wisseman (eds), 1973, Laporan pene-litian arkeologi di Sumatera. Jakarta: Pusat Penelitian Arkeologi Nasional.Burkill, I.H., 1966, A dictionary of economic products of the Malay Peninsula. KualaLumpur: Ministry of Agriculture and Co-operatives, 2 vols.
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