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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

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I think there is no 'normal' family, if we see it in overall family. In Batak's, even they respect the 'dalihan na tolu' (three stones such a structure system to uphold life) which an effort -I think, well I just know little 'bout this- of hold each dimension of hula-hula = woman behalf, boru = man behalf, and dongan tubu = relatives; there has been always things of politicking from each side to other's. If we understand well the philosophy of dalihan na tolu, we would have a great expectation that a perfect family would be there. (sorry if my language or words is confusing, and the last sentences was said by someone who understand this very well).

Maybe I should tell you my family case. This is just between us, ya.
My first uncle, Simon, is the first son of the first son. Mr Tianur saw this as the most important positon/role in adat, on Tobing behalf. This is just right. Mrs Tianur was called Simon's mother, not Vera's mother. But my mother, as the eldest, has right to be the called (to be named) of her grandparents call. Mrs Ernestina was called Pitta (Pintauli)'s grandmother. This is right for Tarutung's adat, but not for Toba's. According to Toba, Mrs Ernestina would be called Simon's grandmother.

You can guess, this position or right have been influenced the relationship between Simon and Vera. My mother's side are her grandparents and her father, and then Mrs Tianur's brother = Simon's tulang/uncle (because defended my mother, Mrs Tianur was mad at him). The distance between S and V was declared by Mrs Tianur in the name of adat. I heard Mr Tianur protest Mrs Ernestina about her land heritage (or what would you say, legacy?) which my mother's bigger than Simon's. Mrs Ernestina answered, jus as simple as, 'well, she is my eldest grandchild!' Maybe Mrs Tianur just wanted to be an adat holder, but this principle has made a distance for S and V.

Tulang/uncle, has an important role as it is hula-hula. Simon is my uncle. I was lucky, when I was in time of preparing my wedding, I throwed a way all the 'distance' and come to him, asked his bless and permission, and he was so nice to me and he became nice to my mother too, and my wedding ceremony was going well. But then, their parents heritage suddenly appeared when my uncle Frans said there was a man wanted to buy Mrs Tianur's house. And the weakness of boru's side was declared by Simon's mother in-law. Then the unlucky one was my sister. She got no bless from her tulang and tulang didn't come in her wedding. But my mother ask me to write his name in invitation, and running the mangulosi processing eventhough there was no adat ceremony.

Tobing of Mrs Tianur's mother a distant to Mr Theodorik's. Tobing has groups: Ompu Sumurung (we are), Parbubu, and ... sorry I forget. I'll ask my mother. Pamela, my uncle Simon, now is the Head of Tobing. He makes her mother proud.

Mrs Tianur/Mr T S's house in Medan. Mr Tahi Samurung didn't leave it to Mrs Vera, but to all his children. He said that house is jabu parsaktian ( a house that is owned and can be used by all and please don't sell it ). First, all of them can understood and took the message. The problem was arising when Mr Frans told all of them that there was a man who asked if the house is for sale. Mr Frans and wife has been living there until now. Mr Parulian's wife (Linda br. Batubara, became widow since 1987 or 1988?), has been living in Tebing Tinggi (about 100 km from Medan) for continuing her mother's job as give-birth helper nurse, and she is lived in her mother's house since her mother died. This house was a legacy for her brothers, and when her brother needed money he asked her to move. She was confused of being asked to find a new house since she had no money. And she could not leave her patient too. So, when she knew that the house in Medan might be sold, she hope that she got help to solve her problem. Mr Frans also said that mr Simon asked how much the price that the buyer offered. Then, my mother suggested Mr Simon to sell the house to help Mrs Linda (Mr Simon promised to take care of Mrs Linda and her daughter in Mr Parulian's funeral), but if it should be always the jabu parsaktian, please just buy it for himself because he is the rich one in family. My mother could make such suggestion because she bought Mr Tahi&Dari's land (then became her ulos gallery) because she was the rich one among the family. But Mr Simon said he had no enough money, and he could not help Mrs Linda. then Mr Simon's wife and mother in-law made a adat statement that boru has no right to legacy (but Mrs Linda is not boru here, isn't she?). That hurt my mother's feeling. Even if they accused my mother might had interest in this legacy, my mother said she's just worth it because she was the one who build it. Later, Mr Simon bought Mr Linda house in Tebing Tinggi, (after Mrs Linda's daughter beg him) so Mrs Linda can stay there.

My Mother has Mrs Ernestina's little land and a few houses in Siantar. Beside ulos and rice land, in adat Silindung there is a father's gift to his boru before he died. So if the gift is not yet given when he died, his boru can have right to his legacy. I heard this from Mrs Ariatna's husband, who knows much about adat batak.

I am sorry for the lack of information of the names of Mr Jakobus's brothers; my mother said Mr Simon is the one who knows best since he has the family tree of our Tobing. Frankly, this moment I have no willing to make contact with him or his family because of a family's matter that happened recently (I haven't told you about). I hope you understand. But I promise you when I get more info from other family member I will tell you.

I have to search the home of Surat Balga in internet, they said it is in a museum in German. My anunty Mrs Imelda said Mr Simon keeps the original and maybe the museum keeps the original copy. Oh, when will I be friend again to Mr Simon ya?

Pamela, I printed our mails and gave it to my mother by Eben when he had flight to Medan. Those were our earlier mails. My mother understands English a little. She laughed when she read my mail that told you about breast breeding she got from Mrs Ernestina. She never thought, she said, that I would tell you that. She thought you won't be interested in that kind of detail.
In that early time too, me and her talked about what if Mr Simon find out our work. She just said, what's so worried about that?

Pam, until recently, whatever happened to their -my mother and him- relationship; bad or good or warm or cold, I've been standing on 'netral' position. I can understand that this difficult relationship could be happened to anyone who thinks that a relationship should be an easy game to play. My mother keeps asking, what makes him so far from me? We were a dear and close friend when we were small... I must admitted that I don't know Mr Simon very well, he is so quite just like Mr Tahi. Until recently I just know him a little more from his wife, Mrs Frida, because she seemed like to make chit-chat with me by phone, and always informs me when any batak party/ceremony and asks me to come.
Besides all the hurts they made, frankly I miss them.

What made me turn my head away from them was just 'a very strange situation that occured' when my aunt Mrs Imelda was going to marry. About a month before the day, Mrs Frida frequently complained about the things that seemed all have to be done by herself. Well, she should be count on me here in Depok (about 70's kilos from them in Tangerang; Depok and Tangerang are like satelite towns of Jakarta) because Ms Imelda still in Semarang / Center of Java for her magister program, and my mother in Medan. I have offered her my help, but she said everything was just ok. Then, they -Mr Simon, wife and my mother- still talked.

Later, we knew that Mrs Frida have had been stressed by this wedding. Of course everyone was wondered why? The elders said she's supposed to be happy because my aunt finely meet her soulmate in her late ages (40). And of course it was their responsibility to make this wedding because their parents are gone. I was there when the pre-wedding procession take held.
[ When the MARHORI-HORI DINDING and MARHUSIP (means: whispering, the first visiting time ; the bridegroom's behalf visit the bride's / parents for the first time). I was surprised that chance was used for talking about the mahar (money to 'buy' the bride) that should be held in MARHATA SINAMOT moment. They said it is because we are in Jakarta (everyone comes from long distances and busyman) so everything must be done in practical way, not like in kampung or Medan. I could see then Mrs Frida was upset about the amount of money. She said, that was not enough for everything. From the elder I knew that it is common that bride behalf doesn't hope any profit of the mahar and almost always get lost. So the money should be considered as a compensation of making a party for the daughter not a compensation of taking care of daughter's life. But Mr simon who known by others always been a generous man, received the bridegroom's offer.
But I wasn't there in next step: PATUA HATA (permission and approval of wedding adat party has been stated, and everybody's happy in one word/agreement) plus MARHATA SINAMOT (some of the money was given to the bride behalf for 'buy ulos'..., in fact also for anything cost for the wedding). My aunt said, Mrs Frida still complained about all the expense would be cost later.
I was there again in MARTONGGO RAJA (every raja's descendants talks in a meeting to discuss and decide the jobs and responsibilities of everyone) in Mr Simon's house too.]
The unfriendly face of Mrs Simon wasn't showed to the family but I could see, and I was surprised when she told me that she's been SO tired until lastnight with her daughter (I haven't told you ya? She is Felicia br. Tobing, their step daughter because they have no child). I felt guilty because I have no heart or willing to help her even she didn't ask me. Her unhappy feeling has been there until the wedding day. My mother arrived three days before but stayed in my house. Maybe because she could feel the grey atmosphere too. Even Mrs Oloan, Mrs Linda / Mrs Parulian, Mr Frans and wife, Mrs Lirou, and Ms Imelda felt the same! But my mother went to her house a day before. And I was very surprised when my mother asked me to pick her up just an hour later. She said she'd been ignored by both of them! My mother had a problem with her nasal since a month before, and had this trip in weak condition. Mr Simon looked into her room for a few minutes but his wife didn't. They went out home left my mother alone with maids. My mother didn't received even a lip service from her. (When Mrs Lirou questioning Mrs Frida about her reason being so bad as a host, she just said, 'she (my mother) should be understood that I was very busy to do this family business!')
In that moment I was very disappointed and upset because I was her only friend in our family who she can talk about anything and I always loved to hear what she said. Suddenly she reminded me of Mr Tianur, the difference only she got nicer face.***)

The wedding was in 20 October 05. It was her birthday. We didn't come in SIBUHABUHAI moment (the bridegroom comes to the bride's house, having breakfast together; the bride serves golden fish and the bridegroom brings pork, before go together to church), we just wait in church. In ceremony, my mother didn't seat in parents+brother and sister row. My mother asked apology from Ms Imelda and her fiancé before the wedding. I was sorry for my aunt as my feeling for my sister too because their wedding couldn't be in 'peace' because of family matters.

***) I am surprised of my self now, find me talking much about Mrs Frida. Maybe I must say that she could become our great friend in this work. Pam, she is likely Mrs Tianur in 'very understand and proceduralist' adat person and she is a place of any 'history' (about what(s) happened, who(s), when(s), where(s), and how(s).
Just now my heart said , why don't you call her? But I didn't do it because my other side of heart :-) said, just someday ok?

 

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 June, 2006