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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

Ernestina br.Tobing

Ernestina br. Hutagalung was born on 1 August 1893 in the village of Huta Harean, one of the villages of the marga (clan) Hutagalung; (other villages of the same marga are Tuan Napitu and Ina-ina). These villages are in theToba Bakak lands of the Silindung valley near to the town of Tarutung, North Tapanuli, North Sumatra.

Ernestina was the eldest daughter of her father, Elkana Hutagalung and her mother who was a br. Sitompu. She had one full sister, Loise. The two girls' mother died when they were young and her father married again, a br.Simarangkir. Her stepmother brought up Ernestina and Loise as her own children so that the two girls were almost unaware of their mother's family, only discovering that they had a different mother and br. Sitompu family when they were adults. There were a further six brothers and five sisters from Elkana's second marriage (Johan, Elias, Jarius, Marius, Albinus, and one other boy and Jenny, Ashima, Maria and two other girls).

Ernestina's father, Elkana Hutagalung, was a guru zending (teacher) of the Nommensen-Huria Kristen Batak Protestan (HKBP) Church. Ludwig Nommensen was a Rheinish missionary who founded the first Christian church in the Batak lands in the Silindung valley. Elkana taught in various missionary schools in the villages around Tarutung and Ernestina herself was taught to read and write in such a school (or schools).

Like most Toba Batak girls at this time Ernestina learnt to weave. The four ulos shown in the first row of the photogallery were woven by Ernestina during the first decade of the twentieth century when she was a namarbaju, in the period before her marriage - when she was living in Huta Harean. Namarbaju, usually between 14-18 years of age, was the most important period in a girl's life for weaving. Ernestina did not weave again until after her husband had retired and then reputedly 'only blankets'. The four ulos demonstrate that Ernestina was an accomplished weaver and that she was influenced by the weaving fashions of the time. They would have been worn over the right shoulder for going to church or for special occasions (adat ceremonies such as marriages, funerals or protective rituals such as at the seventh month of pregnancy). These ulos woven by Ernestina are not directly important adat textiles such as the ragidup or sibolang. However, we have photographic evidence of two of the ulos - the ragi hotang (or huting) namarsimata and the sadum - being worn many decades after they were woven by Ernestina's daughters.

Towards the end of the first, or early in the second, decade of the 20th century (currently we do not have an exact date) Ernestina married Theodorik Lumban Tobing and moved away from the Silindung valley for the rest of her life although they and their familiy remained linked to the Silindung valley marga traditions.

Theodorik Lumban Tobing was the son of Jakobus Lumban Tobing and the grandson of Raja Amandari Sabungan Tobing. Raja Amandari was the head of the Ompung Sumurung arm of the Tobing marga in Sahit Ni Huta village. He was a close friend of Ludwig Nommensen whose life he had saved when the missionary was the subject of an assassination plot by another Batak raja. The close relationship - or brotherhood - between Raja Amandari and Nommensen was recorded in the Surat Balga (Great Letter). This Tobing/Nommensen relationship was an important factor in Theodorik's appointment as the Manteri Blasting (Chief Tax Collector for the Netherlands' colonial government) of the Simulungun Batak based in Pematang Siantar.

Raja Amandari had three sons, Issak, Jakobus - to whom he gave the Surat Balga - and one other. Jakobus had two sons, a first son and Theodorik. Unfortunately Jakobus died whilst the two boys were quite young. The boys' mother feared that, in accordance with tradition, she might be forced to marry one of her brothers-in-law. Theodorik's borther died before his marriage and his mother moved to Pemang Siantar with him and died there in 1956. In 1982 her bones were re-buried with those of her husband in Sirau-rau, outside the town of Tarutung on the way to Sibolga.

The earliest photos that we have of of Ernestina were taken when she was 60 in 1953 (and her granddaughter Vera, was 10).


August 1st, 1893 and died in January 19th, 1985



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.

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 1 March, 2009