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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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This fine ulos sadum was woven by Ernestina br.Hutagalung at the end of the first decade of the twentieth century before her marriage when she was living in the Silindung valley in the village of Huta Harean, one of the villages of the marga (clan) Hutagalung near Tarutung, North Tapanuli, North Sumatra. The sadum measures 218 x 70 cm excluding the fringes. Ernestina subsequently gave the sadum to her fourth child and second daughter, Oloan, just after her marriage. Ernestina told Oloan that she wove the sadum herself when she was a young girl or namarbaju. Namarbaju - between 14-18 years of age, immediately preceding marriage - was a common age for Batak girls to weaver at that time.

This sadum can be seen in 1972 being worn (detail) by Oloan at the funeral of her father, Ernestina's husband, Theodorik L Tobing. It can be seen again when Oloan wore it at the Mangongkal Holi Nai Horja ceremony (moving and reburying of the bones of Nai Horja, Oloan's grandmother, Theodorik's mother) in July 1982. Oloan has said that she does not know why she chose to wear her mother's sadum on that day. She subsequently gave the sadum to her niece, Vera, to help her with her business 'Vera's Ulos' which Vera ran in the 1980s and 1990s.

The central panel of deep blue and the side borders of a deep brownish maroon red are very probably of natural dyes - indigo and morinda citrofolia respectively. Ernestina's name 'Ernestina BT' (Ernestina Boru Tagalung) can be seen on the sadum. The name has probably been embroidered on the textile and the characters read backwards on the face of the sadum - although, from a distance, the sadum is double faced. Ernestina probably marked the letters and embroidered from the back of the textile. Ernestina was taught to read and write at a missionary school. Her father, Elkana Hutagalung, was himself educated by missionaries and trained to be a teacher - guru zending - of the Huria Kristen Batak Protestan (HKBP) Church. The HKBP was the first Christian church established in the Batak lands and was founded by the Rhenish missonary, Ludwig Nommensen who was active in the Toba Batak area during the second half of the 19th century.

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 11 June, 2020