The Batak millenarian response to the colonial order.
Hirosue, Masashi. Journal of Southeast Asian Studies09/94
v25:n2. p331(13)
One of the central problems that faced Third World peoples under European
colonial rule was how to reform distorted power relations between the
colonial and indigenous entities. Although indigenous peoples were
generally forced to recognize the superiority of European power, the newly
introduced colonial order often frustrated them. The millenarian
movement(1) is one type of endeavour to overcome this dilemma by
constructing a new socio-cultural order legitimized by a source of power
which prophetic leaders insisted ruled their world.
Scholars have dealt with millenarian movements as key examples of social
protest primarily under colonial regimes.(2) Studies of Southeast Asia have
also paid attention to this type of movement, and many scholars have tried
to explain what factors drew followers to such a movement, to the point of
sometimes driving them into rebellion. The generally accepted explanations
so far have included the propositions that societies were socially or
culturally distorted by the influence of colonialism, that people were on
the verge of a subsistence crisis,(3) or that they had no alternative but
to resort to millenarian solutions to change their situations.(4) They were
drawn to such movements by charismatic leaders or prophets who showed them
a millenarian vision.(5) This millenarian vision was generally a
restoration of the idealized traditional world with the total
transformation of the existing order and the expulsion of the Europeans.(6)
Millenarian leaders were able to articulate their belief through their
supernatural or magical powers.(7) They had contacts with deities or holy
spirits, and their preachings were sanctioned by these supernatural forces.(8)

However, such definitions have not given a full answer to the basic
question of why it was that only certain leaders were able to organize
these movements. There were many people who longed for the restoration of a
traditional order and who claimed to communicate with deities or holy
spirits. Around them there must have been many more who were dissatisfied
with the existing order. In the Batak area of Sumatra, which is the subject
of this paper, there were numerous magicians who were believed to have
superhuman abilities and to make contact with deities or ancestral
spirits.(9) However, only a certain type of religious leader was able to
organize the millenarian movement in that region.
The basic problem with conventional scholarly explanations is that they
have not sufficiently examined the prophets’ new messages and the terms the
prophets used in order to share their millenarian vision with their
followers.(10) Although the existing literature explains that such
religious leaders displayed magical or supernatural powers, it has not made
clear what these powers represented. These leaders were unlikely to be able
to draw people to millenarian movements through their magical or divine
abilities based on their indigenous magico-religious belief system, because
people often no longer relied on their traditional systems of religious
belief, which had been distorted by colonialism. In order to change the
existing order totally, millenarian leaders needed to show the people new
visions of their world in transformation.
In order better to understand millenarian leadership, it is interesting to
look at the religious movements which arose in the Batak area of north
Sumatra beginning in 1890. The movements, called “Parmalim” and
“Parhudamdam”, arose as responses to colonization and Christianization. The
leaders of these movements preached a kind of “millenarian” vision, that
promised the restoration of the kingdom of Si Singa Mangaraja, a Batak holy
king who had been driven away from his own territory by the Dutch colonial
army in 1883. These religious movements often developed into protests
against the colonial order.
The point I would like to draw from the Batak case is that the only leaders
who were able to organize movements were those whose doctrine appeared to
give access to a source of power, a central principle which appeared to
animate their changing world. The millenarian leaders saw their main task
as reconstructing the socio-cultural system distorted by unbalanced power
relations between the indigenous and the external. They had to show what
the real source of power was and also how they were able to gain access to
it. In order to explain more clearly the role of prophets in millenarian
movements, I will classify these leaders into two types,(11) depending on
their approach.
The first type of leader is one with strong roots in his traditional
cultural system, who found a means to harness the new source of power in
traditional terms. For example, Guru Somalaing founded the Parmalim
movement after receiving a revelation from “Jahoba” [Jehova] through a
dream, the typical Batak way to receive divine inspiration.(12) His
doctrine consisted basically of traditional Batak ethics. The important
point is that he found a Toba-Batak way to gain access to the new power,

The second type of leader is one who at first involved himself in a new
environment such as missionary education, the Christian Church, or a job in
the modern sector of the economy, such as colonial public service or a
plantation company. Some leaders of this type later returned to traditional
religion, having found a way to understand it in new terms. One major
leader of the Parmalim movement in its later stages, and all the
Parhudamdam leaders, were of this type. After they found that the Christian
Church could not satisfactorily initiate Toba-Batak into the essential
principle of the world (the mysterious power which animated Dutch guns,
steamships and telegraphs), they started to reconsider traditional belief.
Then they established new religions by revitalizing the indigenous High God
as their source of power through Christian or Islamic terms.(13) Leaders of
this type revived beliefs in their traditional High God or deities by
giving modern meaning to them.
The difference between these two types of leader lies in the way they
articulated their doctrines to their followers. To attract people who still
had their roots in the indigenous cultural system, the first type of leader
had to articulate his millenarian vision in traditional terms, while at the
same time showing how he could gain access to the power of the colonial
dominating force. To appeal to people whose traditional religious belief
system was already somewhat distorted, leaders of the second type had to
use new terms to explain their ideas. Once the foreign powers had proved to
be unreliable allies, a revitalized traditional source of power could often
provide a unitary symbol for their anti-colonialism.
This paper deals primarily with the first of these two patterns, the
indigenous leader who gained access to the new external power, using the
earlier stage of the Parmalim movement to provide a case study.

The materials which I have used to analyse the Parmalim movement are
mainly the testimonies of leaders, in addition to colonial and missionary
reports. In order to understand the role of prophets, their own testimonies
are especially helpful. As these personal statements were made only after
arrest by the colonial authorities,(14) we must recognize the danger that
they may have modified their anti-colonial sentiments. However, because the
Parmalim leaders believed that they were obliged under God to preach their
belief to the world, which also encompassed the Dutch, their basic ideas
appear to be consistently upheld in their testimonies. Dutch colonial
officials and German missionaries also referred frequently to the movement,
although each was concerned with a specific aspect of it. However, together
they give us relatively abundant information about the movement.
Besides these three types of source material, description by explorers or
travellers and vernacular materials are also helpful. Explorers and
travellers were relatively detached and objective. In particular, E.
Modigliani, who travelled through the upper Asahan area from December 1890
till January 1891 guided by Guru Somalaing, gives us interesting
information on this leader.(15) Most of the vernacular materials about the
movement were written by Batak colonial officials and Christians.(16)
Although their perspective is often narrow, their statements help us to
understand the movement at the local level. I was able to find very little
material produced by followers of the Parmalim movement; however, I believe
the data from all the above source are sufficient to sustain the argument I
will advance.
The Rise of the Parmalim Movement
Until the beginning of the nineteenth century, the northern part of the
Batak area had successfully maintained its social order. The Batak people,
whose population was about three quarters of a million at the beginning of
the twentieth century,(17) are an Austronesian-speaking population living
in the northern part of Sumatra. Some of the Batak inhabited mountainous
highland, living by slash and burn cultivation, while others lived in river
valleys and the low land around Lake Toba, cultivating sawah (wet-rice
fields). The Batak are usually divided into six sub-groups: Toba, Karo,
Dairi, Simalungun, Angkola and Mandailing.(18) The Toba-Batak, the largest
sub-group, and the focus of this paper, were settled on the island of
Samosir and from the south-western and south-eastern sides of Lake Toba
clown to the west coast. Difficult access to the inner Batak area from the
coasts due to steep hillsides, the fact that the region produced little of
commercial value except a few forest products, and the reputation of the
Batak for cannibalism helped the Batak world remain relatively undisturbed
by external powers, at least from the seventeenth till the beginning of the
nineteenth century.(19)

Traditional Toba-Batak society was organized around its own religion with
some ancient Hindu influences and a bit of Islam. The Batak originally
shared with other Indonesian peoples basic ideas about the nature of life
and death (so called “animism”), and a cosmological dualism of the
upperworld and underworld.(20) They believed that all beings in the world
had tondi (souls). Batak perceived tondi as independent entities and
believed that the tondi of a man determined his life. In order to maintain
and enlarge his tondi-power (sahala), a Batak would seek the advice of a
datu (magician). Datu had much knowledge of the Batak sacred and medical
texts, and were also able to make contact with ancestral spirits and
deities.(21) Datu were regarded highly as persons who had much knowledge
about religious affairs and could share supernatural power. The skill of
the datu (hadatuon) was also resorted to when a community was suffering
from such calamities as disease, drought and a poor harvest, or when it was
going into battle against other villagers or family groups.
The founder of the Parmalim movement, Guru Somalaing, had been a well-known
datu among the Toba-Batak. He had been a typical upholder of Toba-Batak
traditional culture. However, he later acknowledged the superior power of
the Dutch and the Christian Church. Establishing a new religion was the
outcome of his quest for the best way to share this new power.
Before he started to preach a new doctrine, Guru Somalaing had been an
advisor of Si Singa Mangaraja, a Batak holy king who had been revered as an
incarnation of Batara Guru, a son of the Batak High God. Si Singa Mangaraja
was believed to have the superhuman abilities to control rice-growing, to
summon rain, and to drive evil spirits away.(22) Although Europeans usually
defined Si Singa Mangaraja as a priest-king or a spiritual leader with no
significant secular power,(23) the Toba-Batak not only prayed to Si Singa
Mangaraja for his magical power, but also requested him to arbitrate
disputes among them. The special importance of Si Singa Mangaraja lay in
his role in maintaining stable relations between the Batak world and the
outside world. From the seventeenth till the nineteenth centuries, Barus
and Asahan were the two most important outlets for the Toba-Batak. Si Singa
Mangaraja was on good terms with the ruler of Barus Hilir (Downstream
Barus) and the Sultan of Asahan.(24) When relations between the inner and
the outer world were disturbed, Si Singa Mangaraja played a major role in
preserving the world order. Nevertheless, since Si Singa Mangaraja’s sacred
status was based on Batak religious concepts, he could not disregard the
opinions of the datu who had had a far longer history in Batak religious
affairs than he.
After intervening in the Padri movement, the Dutch established their rule
in Minangkabau and the southern part of the Batak area during the
mid-1830s. As the colonial government extended its influence to Mandailing,
Angkola and Sibolga in the 1840s and 50s, the southern part of the
Toba-Batak area became firmly linked commercially to the colonized
areas.(25) Under such circumstances, the Dutch government allowed the
German missionary society of Rheinischen Missions-Gesellschaft to start
missionary work in the Batak area in 1861. By the mid-1870s, several
missionary stations were established in the southern part of Toba with the
support of local chiefs, who tried to extend their power through firm
connections with the Dutch.(26)

However, other chieftains in the northern part of Toba were afraid that
the power balance between them and the chieftains who accepted the
missionaries would be upset. They urged Si Singa Mangaraja XII to drive the
missionaries away from Toba. With their support Si Singa Mangaraja started
a war against the Europeans in 1878.(27)
Somalaing joined the war and became advisor to Si Singa Mangaraja.
Somalaing played an important role in uniting the people around Lake Toba
to fight under the banner of Si Singa Mangaraja against the colonial and
Christian penetration. However, in 1878 and 1883, the army of Si Singa
Mangaraja was defeated twice by the colonial army, which was better armed
with guns. After the battle of 1883, which marked the defeat of Si Singa
Mangaraja, the dominance of the Dutch and the Christian Church over
Toba-Batak society was established. Si Singa Mangaraja himself was wounded
in the battle and had to flee from his home at Bakkara. In due course, it
seems that there arose some discord between Somalaing and Si Singa
Mangaraja over whether to continue fighting. Somalaing recognized the
superiority of the Dutch and the Christian Church and withdrew from the war
leaving Si Singa Mangaraja to fend for himself.(28)
Somalaing now faced a dilemma. He recognized that the Dutch colonial
goverment and the Christian Church would not be driven away easily, yet he
also saw the disruption they were causing in Batak society. Many chieftains
and datu who had at first sided with Si Singa Mangaraja later accepted
Christianity and Dutch rule, seeking a share in that mysterious power which
had brought about their defeat. Neither the Christian Church nor the
colonial goverment could operate without support from the local elites, and
most of the influential chieftains who became Christians were appointed
district, sub-district, or village heads by the colonial authorities.(29)
Some newly converted datu became parish elders or helpers of the German
missionaries.(30) However, Somalaing could not cast himself into this new
regime. In his testimony, he complained of the inflation of the power of
Batak chieftains under colonialism.(31) After gaining the sanction of the
colonial authorities, they became more oppressive than before towards their
subordinates and towards the chieftains who did not receive positions in
the Dutch scheme, although they had previously been autonomous rulers.
Concerning missionary activities, he complained of the abolition of the
Toba-Batak custom in which a married man would take the widow of his
brother as his second wife. Somalaing thought that on the whole the
traditional society was better than the new European-influenced one. In
short, he faced a contradiction between the irresistible power of the new
order and the social disruption to which it gave rise.
After reflecting on this dilemma, Somalaing received a revelation from God,
who, he later said, showed him the best way to share the power which had
brought Dutch rule and Christianity to the Batak area.
I thought over these affairs and how to bring improvement on them. Then the
Lord Jesus appeared in my retreat and while my body remained on the earth, my
soul was raised to heaven by him and brought before God. This gave me to
understand that I am the “anggini Tuhan”, the brother of the Lord. By the
Lord, I was sent in order to preach a new doctrine to the people, so that
my followers would be the permalims.(32)
Somalaing claimed that he was brought to heaven by Jesus and was ordered to
preach a new doctrine by God. The god who gave Somalaing this order was not
the Batak High God, Debata Mulajadi Na Bolon. According to Somalaing, it
was Jehova and he insisted that his God was the same as that of the
Christians.(33) However, his path of access to God was not a modern
Christian way, but rather a traditional Batak one. In Batak religion a datu
frequently received messages from deities in dreams or visions.(34)

The doctrine which Jehova ordered him to preach was, according to his own
account: pay respect to the elders; never tell a lie; do not partake of
dog’s meat or pork, or of the meat or the blood of animals which had died
of illness; and purify both soul and body. These were not especially new
ideas, and generally reflected traditional Toba-Batak morals. Somalaing’s
followers, who were to be called Parmalim, were “the people who endeavour
to be holy or to be pure”. The word Parmalim is derived from the Arabic
word “muallim”, which means a religious leader. However, among the
Toba-Batak the word “malim” seems to have changed over the centuries into
the meaning of “holy” or “pure”. For instance, in one prayer Si Singa
Mangaraja was referred to as “raja na pitu hali malim”(35) (raja who is
sevenfold holy). This holy raja Si Singa Mangaraja and his appointed
sacrifice-priests (parbaringin) did not consume either dog’s meat or
pork.(36) Islamic ideas had spread from Barus to the Toba area centuries
earlier, and avoiding pork and dog meat had long been part of Toba-Batak
religious doctrine. Somalaing applied this elite religious code to all his
followers, and also prohibited them from eating the flesh of animals which
died of illness because they were not malim. The determination of what was
holy or pure was based on Toba-Batak values. While maintaining the essence
of the indigenous religion and value system, Somalaing believed he had
found a way to the source of power that was transforming Batak society. He
received the revelation in 1890.
Guru Somalaing and Raja Rum
Somalaing’s next task was to show followers the way to cope with the
colonial power. His conviction of sharing the power of Jehova led him to
expect European newcomers to assist him in the movement. His encounter with
an Italian traveller, Elio Modigliani, just after the revelation increased
Somalaing’s expectation.
Modigliani stayed in the Toba area from October 1890 till February 1891. To
the Toba-Batak, this Italian was a type of European different from the
Dutch and German missionaries. The people who were at the same time
oppressed by the colonial regime and impressed by the superiority of Dutch
power, were hoping for the appearance of a different kind of European who
would help them to share European power without having to accept it on
Dutch or missionary terms.(37) The appearance of such a Westerner made it
possible for the Batak people to question the legitimacy of Dutch rule and
even hope to use his power to change the existing regime.

When Modigliani was travelling around the southern shore of Lake Toba, he
had a chance to talk with the local people.(38) He was asked various
questions, including who his raja was. He answered that it was “Raja Roma”.
Then there arose an unexpected stir among the people. One of them asked
Modigliani, “Why did Raja Rom never accept any of the numerous gifts of
horses and buffaloes which they regularly presented?” Modigliani was unable
to understand who Raja Rom (correctly Rum) was. The name Raja Rum derived
from the legend of Sultan Iskandar Dzulkarnain, Alexander the Great.
According to the Toba-Batak, Alexander the Great had three sons. One was
the king of Rum (also called Raja Stambul), the second was the king of
China, and the third was the king of Minangkabau.(39) As Islam spread into
the west coast of Sumatra, the name of Raja Rum came to be more well-known
among the Toba-Batak through influence from Barus.
The rumour that a delegate of Raja Rum was staying in Balige spread around
the lake-side and finally reached Somalaing. This datu visited Modigliani
many times, showing much politeness and pressing friendship upon him.
Modigliani accordingly asked Somalaing to guide him to the upper Asahan
area (on the east coast of Sumatra) where he had not been allowed to travel
by Dutch officials because it was outside Dutch authority. Modigliani
vividly described the scene after he asked Somalaing for help:
My heart beat with a double blow, while I waited for Somalaing’s answer.
And he made me wait a very long time. His black eyebrows wrinkled, he
remained silent while his face underwent queer distortions. “I will offer
you my revolver as a present and one dollar per day for every man who goes
with you. “I continued in order that I could overcome a dislike of him.
Suddenly he roared out his agreement rather than answering. He took my
hands in his, brought them to his heart, embraced me, kissed me on both
cheeks, and even planted teeth in them. “Amatta [“my father”, alluding to
Raja Rom] has sent you in order to drive away the Dutch and Guru Samalaing
will help you!”(40)
Somalaing had been seeking for a way to drive the Dutch away. Looking for a
means to master the power of the foreign newcomers, he seized upon the
Italian, a supposed son of Raja Rum, as a key to success in the fight
against the Dutch.
Modigliani left the Batak area after travelling through the upper Asahan
area, but the encounter convinced Somalaing that his claim was confirmed
through the appearance of Modigliani. He adopted the belief in Raja Rum as
part of his Parmalim doctrine. Raja Rum and Si Singa Mangaraja, he claimed,
were sons of God.(41) Some day Raja Rum would come to the Batak area with
his son, Modigliani, to expel the Dutch. Then a new Si Singa Mangaraja
would arise, and the glorious Batak order, “harajaon Si Singa Mangaraja”
(Kingdom of Si Singa Mangaraja), would be restored. After Modigliani’s
departure Somalaing and his followers prayed to Raja Rum in the same manner
as had been done in traditional religious ceremonies when people had wanted
to ask Si Singa Mangaraja or Batak deities for help.
The earlier stages of the Parmalim movement can be described as an
endeavour to maintain the Batak traditional social order under the new
source of power. The movement spread quickly into the northeastern part of
Toba,(42) which was being radically influenced by the colonial government
and economy from the Sumatran east coast, though its cultural system was
still intact. Somalaing was not able to find many followers in the southern
part of Toba where the Christian Church had already established a dominant
position, or in the places where the population was not substantially under
European influence. He found the greatest support in the places where
people had just started to feel the Dutch and the missionary influence.

Somalaing’s followers were mostly minor chieftains and their relatives. In
order to retain their status and their social system, they also sought
access to the source of European power in order to combat it. In their
Parmalim ceremonies, they prayed to Jehova, the Virgin Mary, Jesus and Raja
Rum, as well as Batak deities.(43)
Then, the Parmalims started to revere the German missionaries working in
the northeastern part of Toba as Batak kings. Like Modigliani, the German
missionaries had objectives different from the Dutch colonial officials.
The Parmalims began to expect the missionaries to assist them.
The case of a German named Pohlig, who had been in Toba since 1890,
provides an example of this process. He was an engineer and among
missionaries was known as “the capable Brother Pohlig” (der tuchtige Br.
Pohlig).(44) He occasionally repaired guns for the colonial goverment.(45)
Such technical knowledge, which was a major aspect of the superiority of
European power, was of great interest to the Parmalims. They were eager to
be initiated into its mysteries. According to Pohlig, one Parmalim local
leader wrote to him in 1891 saying he would bring presents to celebrate the
birth of Pohlig’s son. “We come to you tomorrow with our wives because a
son is born to you. God has instructed me that we must salute this”.(46)
The following day thousands of Parmalims visited the embarrassed Pohlig,
firing salutes and playing music, and presented him a mare and a foal.(47)
Pohlig, however, returned these presents to them, because he thought that
accepting them would indicate approval of their religion.
In spite of Pohlig’s cold response, the Parmalims increased their reverence
towards him. As the colonial goverment intensified its influence on the
northeastern part of Toba, introducing corvee labour from the end of
1892,(48) the Parmalims began to believe that Pohlig was a person who could
intervene with the Dutch on their behalf. According to Pohlig’s report of
1893, he came to be regarded as an incarnation of Si Singa Mangaraja.
These men [Parmalims] reveal really crazy ideas. Just now I have become the
Singamangaraja. “You are it”, they say. “You have only changed your form!”
A few days ago some were still here. I said to them. “Don’t bother me with
your absurd reasonings, I am not the Singamangaraja.” “We know very
accurately that you are it”, they said. “Debata [God] has told us”.
Moreover, they said in order to convince me that I am he, “Your father, the
former Singamangaraja, was shot by the Dutch in the arm, then went to heaven.
He has sent you, but he has given you another form, so that the Dutch could
not recognize you.” They believe such nonsense, and that is their gospel.(49)
According to the belief of the Toba-Batak, the sahala of Si Singa Mangaraja
could be shifted to another person who would then be the next Si Singa
Mangaraja.(50) After Si Singa Mangaraja XII, Ompu Pulo Batu, was wounded in
the battle of 1883, those who believed that Si Singa Mangaraja was
invulnerable began to doubt whether he still possessed the sahala of Si
Singa Mangaraja.(51) The Parmalims began to claim that Si Singa Mangaraja
XII, having lost his sahala, had gone to heaven and that the sahala was now
in Pohlig, who appeared in the form of a Westerner. Incidentally, Pohlig
had a scar on his hand similar to Si Singa Mangaraja XII. This was a sign
to the Parmalims reconfirming their belief that in Pohlig Si Singa
Mangaraja was reincarnated. When the Parmalims visited Pohlig, they offered
gifts, expecting him to support their protests against the colonial
government, and anticipating that he would in due course declare himself to
be Si Singa Mangaraja, and together with Raja Rum would drive the Dutch away.
As the colonial goverment intensified its authority in the Toba-Batak area,
the Parmalims’ expectations escalated. They claimed: before long the seven
dark days and nights would come; then the Dutch would be driven away from
the Batak country by the appearance of Raja Rum and Si Singa Mangaraja; non
Parmalims would be destroyed by earthquakes, and the Parmalims would
inherit all things.(52) Occasional collisions occurred between the
Parmalims and the colonial government. The leader Somalaing was arrested by
the colonial authorities in 1895 and was exiled to Java.(53) However, his
removal did not end the movement. The basic problem of the Parmalims —
that the colonial goverment and German missionaries should share their
assets with the Batak people — was not resolved at all. Among the
believers protest movements continued to arise.(54)
This article has argued the role of the Batak milienarian leader in the
Parmalim movement against the European colonial order. Guru Somalaing
successfully established the Parmalim movement because he was able to show
his followers an apparent way to share the new power of the Europeans in
indigenous Toba-Batak terms. His claim was confirmed through the appearance
of Modigliani and Pohlig who would assist him in the movement. Although
previous accounts have suggested that the Batak millenarian vision, the
restoration of Si Singa Mangaraja and the expulsion of the Dutch by
supernatural means, induced the Batak people to join the Parmalim movement
and anti-Dutch protests,(55) such accounts have not given sufficient
attention to the basic question of why a certain type of leader was
The role of the prophet in the earlier stages of the Parmalim movement
would suggest a tentative model to explain the role of prophets in other
millenarian movements which arose in areas newly subjected under European
power. Most of the Cargo Cults(56) in Melanesia, as well as the Taiping
rebellion(57) in China and the Cao Dai movement(58) in Vietnam, show that
the millenarian leader’s main task, like that of Somalaing, was to suggest
a way to share the new European power through their own indigenous means
regarded as “traditional”. This type of leader’s other characteristics,
such as the ability to contact supernatural forces, healing or divination
were of only secondary importance.
Somalaing’s claim began to appear questionable to followers when Modigliani
and Pohlig proved to be unreliable allies. In spite of the Parmalims’
ardent hopes, neither Modigliani nor Pohlig came to their aid, and the
Parmalims began to doubt their doctrine. Re-clarifying to them what the
real source of power was and how they could gain access to it was the task
of future millenarian
leaders. The Parmalim movement was reorganized in the late 1890s by another
millenarian leader, who revitalized the Batak traditional High God as their
source of power through new terms. Thus when a prophet successfully
suggested a new solution in familiar terms to people dissatisfied with the
existing order, such a movement again arose. Batak millenarian responses
continued. This article is a revised version of a paper originally
presented at the 12th IAHA [International Association of Historians of
Asia] Conference, University of Hong Kong, 24-28 June 1991. The issues
discussed here are explored more fully in my Ph.D. diss., “Prophets and
Followers in Batak Millenarian Responses to the Colonial Order: Parmalim,
Na Siak Bagi and Parhudamdam, 1890-1930″ (The Australian National
University, 1988). I am very grateful to B. Dahm, G. Daws, J. Fox, R. de
Iongh, Y. Ishii, M. van Langenberg, D. Marr, A. Reid, L. Schreiner, A.A.
Sitompul and S. Situmorang for their comments and advice.
(1) I generally follow the definition of a “millenarian” movement as
conceived by Y. Talmon and N. Cohn, who use the term not in a specific and
limited historical sense, but in the wider sense of characterizing
religious movements that expect imminent, total, ultimate, this-worldly,
collective salvation [Y. Talmon, “Millenarism”, in International
Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, ed. D.L. Sills, vol. 10 (New York: The
Macmillan Company and The Free Press, 1968), p. 349, and N. Cohn, “Medieval
Millenarism: Its Bearing on the Comparative Study of Millenarian
Movements”, in Millennial Dreams in Action Essays in Comparative Study, ed.
S.L. Thrupp (The Hague: Mouton, 1962). Though “messianic” movements, which
arose where history was seen as a series of recurrent cycles, have little
of the linear quality of many European millenary movements, we can use the
term “millenarism” to refer to them because their prophetic leaders
endeavoured to initiate followers into the source of power appearing to
cause such a total transformation.

(2) This does not mean that millenarian movements arose only in colonial
situations or because of foreign impact. Such movements were also evident
in the pre-colonial period without foreign influence, when established
socio-cultural conditions were distorted by disasters such as plagues,
devasting fires, recurrent long droughts or by the unjustified assumption
of power [S. Kartodirdjo, “Agrarian Radicalism in Java: Its Setting and
Development”, in Culture and Politics in Indonesia, ed. C. Holt (Ithaca and
London: Cornell University Press, 1972), and Talmon, “Millenarism” p.354.
There are two main reasons why I have chosen to study millenarian movements
under colonial regimes or foreign influence. The first reason is that by
dealing with cross-cultural millenarian movements, I would like to consider
through what millenarian vision prophets were able to draw people into
movements in order to explain the role of prophets better. The other is
because there are abundant source materials about millenarian movements
during the colonial era.
(3) J. C. Scott, The Moral Economy of the Peasant: Rebellion and
Subsistence in Southeast Asia (New Haven and London: Yale University Press,
(4) M. Adas, Prophets of Rebellion Millenarian Protest Movements against
the European Colonial Order (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina
Press, 1979).
(5) Ibid., pp. 92-121, and J.M. van der Kroef, “Messianic Movements in the
Celebes, Sumatra, and Borneo”, in Millennial Dreams, ed. Thrupp, pp. 117-20.
(6) This does not mean that millenarian movements were mere retreats into
the traditional world. Even when millenarian visions put great stress on
nativistic elements, these movements endeavoured to keep some aspects of
their indigenous culture alive in new situations or revitalize these
traditions by giving them new meanings. In this sense, millenarian
movements were new attempts to establish new world views by taking both the
indigenous and the externals into consideration. See for instance, Adas,
Prophets, pp. xxvi-xxvii, and Talmon, “Millenarism” p. 353.
(7) S. Kartodirdjo, “Agrarian Radicalism”, pp. 78-82 and Protest Movements
in Rural Java A Study of Agrarian Unrest in the Nineteenth and Early
Twentieth Centuries (Singapore: Oxford University Press, 1973), pp. 7-8.
(8) Adas, Prophets, p. xx and 112.
(9) J. Warneck, Die Religion der Batak: Ein Paradigma fur die animistischen
Religionen des Indischen Archipels (Gottingen: Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht,
1909), pp. 109-113.
(10) Related works include Adas, Prophets, and S.L. Popkin, The Rational
Peasant: The Political Economy of Rural Society in Vietnam (Berkeley, Los
Angeles and London: University of California Press, 1979), pp. 252-66. The
former still needs to explain why prophets were important in these
movements, and the latter uses very general terms that are applicable not
only to millenarian movements hut also to other socio-political movements.
In this paper, I will not refer to unorganized protest movements in which
no prophetic leader appeared; however, so long as existing co-ordination
systems continue to function, leaderless opposition is possible [see
Popkin, The Rational Peasant,p. 266, and J.C. Scott, Weapons of the Weak:
Everyday Forms of Peasant Resistance (New Haven and London: Yale University
Press, 1985)].
(11) I exclude from millenarian leaders those who endeavoured to share the
indigenous source of power through traditional ways or who endeavoured to
gain access to the external source of power through external ways. When the
traditional approach [to share the indigenous source of power through
indigenous ways] collapsed in new situations, millenarian movements
generally started. The latter pattern is a pure assimilation into a new
power. Such adherence to traditional ways or to a new power, that caused no
competitive situation between an indigenous power and an external power,
inhibited people from engaging in millenarian activities. 


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