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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

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Mangongkal Holi Nai Horja

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

July 1982

'Nai Horja' was the wife of Jakobus L. Tobing and mother of Theodorik L. Tobing. It is not known of which marga Nai Horja was boru. 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.

In July 1982, in the cermony known as 'Mangongkal Holi' her bones were dug up and moved from her initial grave in Pematang Siantar, Simulungun, to be reburied near her husband, Jakobus, in the Silindung valley in Sirau-rau, outside the town of Tarutung on the way to Sibolga. Her son Theodorik was no longer alive (he died in 1975) but his widow, Ernestina, attended the ceremonies. The eldest boru, Oloan, her eldest surviving granddaughter and daughter of Theodorik and Ernestina carried the casket containing the bones up the hill to the reburial site and was helped by Simon,the eldest great-grandson of Jakobus and Nai Horja to load the casket onto her shoulders.

As far as the Vera Tobing collection is concerned the photos of the bone reburial are significant because Oloan is shown wearing the sadum which was woven by her mother, Ernestina br. Hutagalung, before her marriage 60-70 years previously. The photographs also illustrate the importance of the sibolang for ritual use - the bones are shown carefully wrapped in a sibolang and placed in the casket for reburial. (A similar sibolang is shown in the Vera Tobing collection). The photo of Ernestina shows her wrapped in a Silindung valley ragidup, another key Toba Batak ceremonial cloth. This is a later version than the two Silingung ragidup in the collection. Another important ceremonial cloth, usually worn by men, is the ragi hotang shown over the casket and being worn by Simon amongst others. There are three ragi hotang in the Vera Tobing collection.

The photos of the reburial (and also of 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
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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.

Copyright © 2012 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 27 February, 2009