“Discovery to an old batak memorandum”accepted by roy_sianipar
Toba-Batak matriliny: a deception?
In: Bijdragen tot de Taal-, Land- en Volkenkunde 139 (1983), no: 4, Leiden, 465-469
This PDF-file was downloaded from http://www.kitlv-journals.nl
S. A. NIESSEN
TOBA-BATAK MATRILINY: A DECEPTION?
During my fieldwork in the Toba country of North Sumatra, I learned
how to weave “Toba-style” from an old woman, Ompung Si Sihol,
boru Situmorang. She lived in an isolated village in the Harian Boho
valley situated on the west shore of Lake Toba. In the course of my
lessons I queried her on where she had obtained her weaving equipment.
She answered that she had inherited it from her mother.
When I asked her if this was regular procedure, she answered in the
affirmative. Another detail for the anthropologist’s notebook, and ari
important detail upon further consideration. It yielded a new insight
into the issue of Toba Batak matriliny which has been controversial
for almost 100 years.
The most recent noteworthy contribution to the controversy appeared
It was entitled ‘Matriliny Among the Toba Batak?’ and contained an
English translation of what Moyer called “one of the anthropologically
most significant aspects” of Vergouwen’s
Toba-Batak of Northern Sumatra.
The missing passages contain details about the
hula2 – boru
– wife-taker) relationship, which Vergouwen perceived as anomalous
in a patrilineal society such as the Toba-Batak, and similar to
features characteristic of matrilineal societies. The passages had been
intentionally excluded by the editors of the English version because
thêy were meant to illustrate theories about the evolutionary progress
of society from matriarchy to patriarchy, and these theories had passed
out of fashion in academie circles.
Moyer recovered the banished details because he deemed them
significant if set in the appropriate theoretical framework. He had
an old theme of the “Leidse Richting” in anthropology in mind, which
received its inception when van Wouden (1935) and J. P. B. de Josselin
de Jong (1935) demonstrated with the aid of a diagram (van Wouden
1968:91) that in a kinship system characterized by matrilateral crosscousin
marriage, matrilineal and patrilineal systems are both, theoretically,
equally possible, and it is “absolutely immaterial” to the
system which principle of genealogical grouping is chosen. Later,
P. E. de Josselin de Jong (1951) showed how both modes of reckoning
descent were utilised in Minangkabau, whose social structure rested
upon an ideal of matrilateral cross-cousin marriage. He also suggested
“that Minangkabau should not be considered as a matrilineal island
in the midst of surrounding patrilineally organized societies, but the
various Sumatran social systems may prove to be based on a doubleunilateral
organisation, which assumed a patrilineal stress in the Atjeh
and Batak territories, and a matrilineal stress in Minangkabau, while
the communities in South Sumatra show the slightest preponderance
of one unilateral principle and the clearest form of doublé descent”
(P. E. de Josselin de Jong 1980:91).
One can sense Moyer’s jubilation in his Korte Mededeling. Here
he had stumbled across very valuable information to support the theory
of doublé unilineality and P. E. de Josselin de Jong’s intuition about
a “Sumatran type” of social organisation, and he had salvaged it from
the fate of out-of-print Dutch books laid on dusty shelves: being
entirely overlooked by the English-speaking world. Of course it is important
that Vergouwen’s “missing passages” were rescued from such
obscurity, but I am not in agreement with the theoretical framework
in which Moyer envisioned them.
In his short but revealing article, ‘Exchange Versus Doublé Descent’
(1976), Moyer discusses how difficult it is for a strongly unilineal
descent group to incorporate a wife from another strongly unilineal
descent group simply because she never entirely loses her membership
in her descent group of birth. It is easy, on the other hand, for her
descent group of birth to “give” her in marriage because it does not
have to relinquish her altogether. In other words, upon her marriage,
possession of and responsibility for the woman becomes shared between
two descent groups in a way that is advantageous for her descent
group of birth, but difficult for her descent group of marriage. Moyer
proposed two axioms to describe this phenomenon:
1) The Paradox of Unilineality, viz.: “the more unilineal a system is
or becomes the less likely it is to remain unilineal”; and
2) “a strong unilineal principle is fundamentally antagonistic to exchange”.
Evidently, according to Moyer, the ties that a woman
maintains with her descent group of birth after her marriage express
a “matrilineal principle”. The stronger the unilineality of the group,
the more emphasis there is on these ties.
Vergouwen’s missing passages support Moyer’s theory.
continually yielded or ceded”. It points to a “conscious ‘ceding’ of
the woman and her offspring by her male relatives for whom she had
always borne children to the man she married . . .”.
2) The magical support from the
remnant of the concern formerly shown by a woman’s clan so that
their daughter would successfully perpuate the clan.
Bona ni ari
which bestowed an ancestress approximately 5 generations back, it is
still hailed by the wife-taking group as its progenitor.
the occasion of a wedding; this is a survival of an earlier “homage”.
In the first three points above, aspects of the tie between a woman’s
descent group of origin and her husband’s descent group are specified,
and in point four, the same one step removed, viz. between the
hula2 of its
Clearly, Vergouwen failed to realize that these features, which may
resemble features of
descent in matrilineal societies, are not
in patrilineal Toba Batak society because they belong to the realm of
the same way.
At this stage it is helpful to draw attention to a short exchange
betweeri G. J. Held (1935) and C. Lévi-Strauss (1969). Held stated
that “bilineal characteristics are normal for primitive organization”.
Lévi-Strauss responded to this with a single sentence, the meaning of
which rules out Moyer’s first axiom: “If Held means then that no
human society absolutely ignorés one of the lines, this is nothing new.
If, however, he means that all human groups tracé descent through
both lines in determining marriage rules, nothing is more incorrect,
and numerous examples could be given of groups in which descent
is (with regard to marriage) either entirely patrilineal or entirely
matrilineal, and even of groups in which, where a precise rule of
descent is lacking, a strictly unilateral theory of conception is invoked”
The above quote from Lévi-Strauss is borne out by Toba Batak
ethnography as well.
and proud of their independence and strength. The rule of
exogamy curtails their independence, however. The marga
confronted with the paradox of being dependent on other wife-giving
concludes, between descent and exchange, but between two descent
groups which are exogamous and have agreed to exchange. wives. A
matrilineal principle — if it is present — plays absolutely no role in
Moyer’s second axiom corrèctly sums up the Toba situation, but
the first could not be farther from the truth. In fact, the ties which a
Toba woman maintains with her father’s descent group have nothing
to do with matriliny. They are an expression of the emphasis which the
Toba kinship structure places on the
Toba descent groups never relinquish members (except under very
extraordinary circumstances), be they male or female.
The tie between wife-givers and wife-takers, two patrilineal groups,
is therefore the source of potential conflict. The antagonism is not
between descent and exchange but between two equivalent descent
groups. In Toba, the tension is partially defused by the institution of a
complementary division of labour between the two groups, giving rise
to mutually complementary relations. The
sahala or spiritual strength to its bom
latter reciprocates and supplicates the former with material support.
The result is that the groups not only tolerate marital relations with
each other, but seek them out and initiate them. They recognize them
ritually — with gifts such as the
they have been particularly fruitful — e.g. the
bona ni, ari.
no sign of a matrilineal principle, only socio-political and religious
ties between patrigroups catalyzed by the exchange of women.
As Lévi-Strauss and Held agreed, “no human society absolutely
ignores one of the [descent] lines”. In a much earlier article, ‘De
Verbreiding van het Matriarchaat op Sumatra’. [The Distribution of
Matriarchy on Sumatra], Wilken contends as an evolutionist that
women were once the heads of Batak clans instead of men. The term
belonging to the same
marga or lineage. The term dongan – sada –
meaning “companions from a single mothér”, refers to members of
the sub-lineages which have split of f from the original lineage (Wilken
1888:191). There is plenty of evidence to support the claim that the
Toba recognize the woman’s role in procreation or perpetuating the
patriclans, but this is not to be confused with a matrilineal principle
of social organisation. It merely draws attention to an aspect of the
woman’s position in the patrilineage.
The only real indication I have ever found of a matrilineal principle
operating in Toba society is far removed from the domains of patrilineal
descént and bridé exchange. I heard it for the first time beside
a textile loom from my old weaving teacher, Ompung Si Sihol. Weaving
equipment and weavings are passed down from mother to daughter…
in a direct matriline. When I tested her statement in other regions
of Toba it was confirmed repeatedly. I have subsequently also
found it in an indigenous book on Toba Adat (H. B. Situmorang,
2 pusaka ni ina (ulos dohot bajuna) sebagian tu bom
2 pusaka ni ina (ulos dohot bajuna) sebagian tu bom
2 pusaka ni ina (ulos dohot bajuna) sebagian tu bom
[Heirloom treasures of the father are divided amongst his sons but
heirloom treasures of the mother (hand-woven textiles and clothing)
are divided amongst the daughters . . . ]
The social division of labour between the two descent principles in
Toba Batak remains to be explored — and this is my own self-assigned
task. Exchange relations are not an area of shared responsibility for
the two descent principles.
Held, G. J.