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Vera Tobing collection

(A study of a group of Toba Batak textiles most of which were inherited from two Batak women who were born in the last decade of the 19th Century and second decade of the 20th Century in villages around Tarutung, North Tapanuli, in North Sumatra (also known as the Silindung Valley)) - compiled by Pamela A Cross and Maria DRT Ambesa

these images are and may not be reproduced without the express permission of Pamela A Cross and Vera Tobing

click on main photo enlargement to go to Vera Tobing collection photogallery - click on any thumbnails to go to further photo enlargements

Mangongkal Holi Nai Horja

(Moving and reburying the bones of Nai Horja, the mother of Theodorik L. Tobing)

July 1982

 

The bones of Nai Horja, the wife of Jakobus L. Tobing and mother of Theodorik L. Tobing, have been dug up from her initial grave in Pematang Siantar, cleaned and wrapped in a sibolang (similar to the one shown in the Vera Tobing collection). the wrapped bones are then placed carefully in a casket for transportation and reburial next to her husband in the Silindung valley. It is not known of which marga Nai Horja was boru. Her formal name is not known but she was always referred to as 'Nai Horja' or Mrs. Horja.

The bones of Nai Horja, the wife of Jakobus L. Tobing and mother of Theodorik L. Tobing, have been dug up from her initial grave in Pematang Siantar, cleaned and wrapped in a sibolang (similar to the one shown in the Vera Tobing collection). The wrapped bones are then placed carefully in a casket for transportation and reburial next to her husband in the Silindung valley in Sirau-rau, outside the town of Tarutung on the way to Sibolga. It is not known of which marga Nai Horja was boru. Her formal name is not known but she was always referred to as 'Nai Horja' or Mrs. Horja. When her husband, Jakobus, died she left the Silindung valley to live with her (second) son, Theodorik and his family in Pematang Siantar where he was employed as Manteri Blasting (Head Tax Collector) of the Simalungun district for the Netherlands government. Her eldest son had died before Theodorik was married. Nai Horja may well have left the Silindung valley to live with her son to avoid the Batak custom of a widow being married to one of his surviving brothers.

 

Close up of Oloan carrying the casket and wearing the sadum woven by her mother and assisted by Simon, the eldest male descendent of Jakobus and Nai Horja (and brother of Vera). He has a ragi hotung over his shoulder and there is a folded one lying over the casket. These are similar to the ones shown in the Vera Tobing collection.

Close up of Oloan, granddaughter and eldest boru, being assisted by her nephew Simon (younger brother of Vera Tobing), to lift up the casket holding the bones before she carries it up the hill for the reburial. Oloan is the daughter (and third child) of Theodorik L. Tobing, the second son of Jakobus and Nai Horja. Oloan is wearing the sadum woven by Theodorik's wife, Ernestina br. Hutagalung (see photo of Ernestina below) which is part of the Vera Tobing collection. Simon, is the eldest son of Tahi Samurung, the eldest son of Theodorik and Ernestina. He has a ragi hotung over his shoulder and there is another folder ragi hotung lying over the casket. These are similar to the ones shown in the Vera Tobing collection.

 

Oloan, the eldest living female descendant of Nai Horja carries the casket containing the bones up the hill for the reburial next to her husband, Jakobus L. Tobing. Oloan is the daughter (and third child) of Theodorik L. Tobing, the son of Jakobus and Nai Horja. Oloan is wearing the sadum woven by Theodorik's wife, Ernestina br. Hutagalung which is part of the Vera Tobing collection. Vera is shown in the photo above standing to the left of the picture.

Oloan carrying the casket containing Nai Horja's bones up the hill for reburial. She is the daughter (and third child) of Theodorik L. Tobing, the second son of Jakobus and Nai Horja. Oloan is wearing the sadum woven by Theodorik's wife, Ernestina br. Hutagalung (see photo of Ernestina below) which is part of the Vera Tobing collection. Vera, eldest granddaughter of Theodorik and niece of Oloan, is shown standing to the left of the picture.

 

The Tobing family members accompanying the casket of Nai Horja's bones as they are carried up the hill for reburial. Various of her descendants take it in turn to carry the casket. Note how several are wearing traditional ulos.

The climb up the steep hill to the grave. From left to right in the front of the camera: Timbul Hutabarat, a driver for the family. He is carrying a banana tree to be planted on the grave to drive away any other spirits which might be around the grave; Mr. Hutagalung, Oloan's father-in-law, who is carrying a pick-axe; Vera Tobing; Mr Hutagalung's son and Oloan's husband, Jan Piter Hutagalung carrying the casket perhaps because Oloan was tired. He is wearing over his shoulder one of the blue Toba Batak ulos so important for traditional ceremonies. It is probably a sibolang as there seem to be five bands of ikat. Note how several people are wearing traditional ulos.

 

A frail looking Ernestina br. Hutagalung, widow of Theodorik L. Tobing, during the ceremonies for the reburial of the bones of her mother-in-law, Nai Horja. Ernestina was then 89. She is wearing a ragidup in the style of those woven in the Silindung valley.

A frail looking Ernestina br. Hutagalung, widow of Theodorik L. Tobing, on the day of celebration after the reburial of the bones of her mother-in-law, Nai Horja. This was regarded as a happy not a sad time. At the time of this photo in July 1982 Ernestina was 89. She is wearing a ragidup in the style of those woven in the Silindung valley. The ragidup is very similar in style to the one in which she was wrapped in her own coffin two and a half years later in January 1985.

 

The graves of Jakobus L. Tobing and his wife Nai Horja in the Silindung valley after the reburial. Their great grandaughter, Vera, is shown standing on the edge of the graves and her mother, Tianur br. Hutabarat is shown to the right of the photo. Tianur is the wife of Tahi Sumurung L. Tobing, the eldest son of Theodorik and Ernestina. Vera is the eldest child of Tianur and Tahi. Simon, shown above is her eldest brother.

The tomb of Jakobus L. Tobing and his wife Nai Horja in the Silindung valley in Sirau-rau, outside the town of Tarutung on the way to Sibolga. When built it was designed to receive both Jakobus and his wife. Their great grandaughter, Vera, is shown standing on the edge of the tomb with her mother, Tianur br. Hutabarat to the right of the photo. Tianur was the wife of Tahi Sumurung L. Tobing, the eldest grandson of Jakobus. Vera is the eldest child of Tianur and Tahi.

The photos of the reburial (and also Ernestina's later funeral) were shown to Batak expert, Sandra A. Niessen and she commented in a personal communication: "I'm fascinated by the comment about the happy funeral. This is very well-known. Everybody knows that if you are saur matua or sarimatua you have a "happy" funeral because you have achieved the highest that life offers. But still they mangandung (sing ritual songs that are almost inevitably sad, with tears in the voice ...) because the moment of separation is always sad -- regardless of whether you are told that this is a "Happy" funeral. And bone reburial: the same thing applies. It is a superb moment for the clan. They have to get money from all the members because it isn't cheap!!! Building the mausoleum is very expensive. And then hiring the Batak orchestra is also very expensive. And clan members come from far and wide and they have to bring rice and money and spend days of their precious time. The bones are dug up -- very exciting when the bones are found in the ground. And then the elderly pull the sirih quids out of their mouths, and start painting the bones red with the quid, washing them, cleaning them, and place them in the mini-coffins (bone boxes) in which they are carried to the mausoleum. Every clan tries to outdo every other clan in the size and special nature of their mausoleum. The homes for the bones are usually much nicer than the homes for the living. So it is the moment when the clan "shines" -- their turn to do reburial. Everybody in the vicinity knows which clan is doing their reburial ceremony. And the music can be heard far and wide. Usually the bones of many people are re-buried during the same ritual. But there is also sadness when the bones are dug up. Memories, tears."

ulos in the Vera Tobing collection photographed by Mari Pro Foto Studio, Jawa Barat Depok
click on main photo enlargement to go to Vera Tobing collection photogallery - click on any thumbnails to go to further photo enlargements
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Maria DRT Ambesa is the daughter of Vera Tobing and an architect now living with her husband in Java. She has been the essential intermediary allowing these fine textiles and their story to be shared. She arranged for the family ulos to be photographed and has worked tirelessly, together with her mother, to track down information about the ulos, their weavers and to extract memories and photos of the past from a family who have been amazed that there should be any interest in their history or value placed on it as background to the textiles. Maria's patience, persistence and endless cheerful support plus her excellent English, have made the 'Vera Tobing collection' not only possible but a thoroughly enjoyable study to develop.

Both Pamela and Maria are very grateful indeed for the encouragement and advice which they have received from Sandra Niessen, a leading expert on the Batak and their textiles. See an autobiography and Batak references for more information about Sandra and her publications.
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Copyright © 2001 Pamela A Cross. The contents of this site, including all images and text, are for personal, educational, non-commercial use only and may not be reproduced in any form without the express permission of Pamela A Cross
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this page last updated 14 March, 2009