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Susan Rodgers Siregar

The Batak peoples of North Sumatra have an almost alchemic knack for reshaping their traditional cultural patterns to adjust to social conditions in today's urban-centered, multi-ethnic Indonesia.

Institutions and ideologies built up over centuries in the homeland farming villages of Tapanuli have in many cases made the transition to town and rantau life with striking success.

The anthropologist Edward Bruner has, for instance, described the traditional Batak kinship system's ability to help many Tapanuli villagers adapt to life in large
Sumatran cities.
Bruner found that these new M city Batak'
do not
abandon their village patterns of asymmetrical cross cousin marriage
and firm clan loyalties.

Rather, they use these forms of traditional social alliance as very modern mechanisms for easing the transition to urban life.

Yet, not surprisingly, Batak kinship has changed considerably in the process, to the point that this basic idiom of local village sociality has been stretched to accommodate such outlandish new kinsmen as Javanese in-laws and Balinese daughters-in-law.

Village adat is another Batak domain that has survived in modern "national" society in sturdy hybrid form. Far from being static and
hidebound (as the usual translation of adat as "customary law" might im-
ply) , Batak adat has actually proven to be extremely adaptive and
creative over the past forty years.
Yet, like kinship, it has served
recent generations of villagers and townsmen as a sort of cultural
gyroscope allowing them to keep their balance in their society's truly
headlong rush into modernity.
(If the Batak today are rightly stereo-
typed as an education-minded, rantau-directed population set on launch-
ing at least one son or daughter per family into white-collar work
beyond the village, in the middle of the nineteenth century Batak
society was village-bound, xenophobic, subsistence-oriented, and
largely illiterate.
That so many Batak have emerged from this period
*This article is based onanthropological research onadat andoral literature
conducted by theauthor in Sipirok, South Tapanuli, from 1974 to 1977.
Edward M. Bruner, "Urbanization and Ethnic Identity in North Sumatra," Ameri-
can Anthropologist,
63, 3 (June 1961), pp. 508-21.
Bruner, "Kin and Non-Kin," in Urban Anthropology,
ed. Aidan Southall (New
York: Oxford University Press, 1973), pp. 373-92.
For a valuable bibliography of Batak sources in Western languages, theBatak
dialects, andIndonesian, seeToenggoel P. Siagian, "Bibliography ontheBatak
Peoples," Indonesia^
2 (October 1966), pp. 161-84.
Seeespecially entries onadat,
pp. 169-73. The basic ethnography of a Batak adat system as i t relates to kinship
is perhaps J . C. Vergouwen, HetReβhtsleven
der Toba Batak (The Hague: Nijhoff,

Page 2
of rapid modernization as cocky and feisty as they are is no small feat
in itself, and seems clearly related to the resilience of their adat.)
In serving these purposes, Batak adat, like Batak kinship, has
undergone a number of changes both at the ideational and the social
organizational levels.
In this paper I would like to investigate several of the major
fronts on which one Batak adat system has adjusted and adapted to mod-
ern life. Most of my information will be drawn from tape recordings
of the oratory at one spectacularly updated adat ceremony: a horja
bale or funeral ceremony held in a Tapanuli village in 1976, hosted by
a haji pilgrim, and attended by almost as many city migrants as home-
land villagers. The society in question here is South Tapanuli or,
more specifically, the South Tapanuli "traditional adat kingdom" around
the market town of Sipirok, an area approximately 90 percent Muslim and
10 percent Protestant Christian. Although all Sipirok Batak, with the
exception of a small Muhammadiyah faction of Muslim modernists, con-
sider themselves paradat, "upholders of the adat," as we shall see,
the content of that adat changes with virtually every adat ceremony.
The military metaphor of "fronts" seems apt here. From a sociol-
ogy of knowledge perspective at least,
Sipirok Batak adat is today in
pluralistic competition with the rival ideological claims of world
Islam, Protestant Christianity, and Indonesian nationhood.
Both in its
religious and its political scope, Sipirok adat has lost ground.
Though it is risky to reconstruct a history that is largely oral, up
to the 1820s when the area was first proselytized for Islam Sipirok
adat was probably a holistic system of village government, farming
practice, spirit beliefs, kinship classification, and kin-related role
behavior. The years since then have brought a number of assaults on
this adat: from the 1850s onwards Dutch and German Protestant mission-
aries spread the gospel, and with it the virtues of literacy and non-
farm work; Islam also deepened its influence on village life; the Dutch
colonial government set up grammar and secondary schools and opened the
floodgates to the rantau beyond Tapanuli; and finally, after the Revo-
lution, the administrative agencies of the new Jakarta government dis-
placed the traditional raja once and for all from any effective politi-
cal control of the villages and traditional kingdoms. From an exalted
position as arbiter of an entire moral and perceptual universe, then,
Sipirok adat has today been reduced to little more than an oral litera-
ture, a system of rules and moral precepts on the family, and a round
of family- and village-centered rite-of-passage ceremonies. The grand
old political alliances of Sipirok adat are now reduced to ceremonial
leagues of "raja adat"--impresario-like figures who are more stage
managers of other families' ceremonies than the village chiefs their
vocabulary developed by the sociologists Peter Berger, Brigitte Berger,
Thomas Luckmann,and Hansfried Keller for dealing with the "crisis of legitimacy"
faced by traditional symbolic systems in modernizing countries is especially useful
to the student of adat in Indonesia today. I borrow my use of "fronts" and "plural-
istic competition" from their work. Particularly helpful in understanding Batak
s currently precarious but nonetheless creative situation are Peter Berger and
Thomas Luckmann, The Social Construction of Reality (Garden City: Doubleday, 1966),
chapter 2, 2, "Legitimation"; and Peter Berger, The Sacred Canopy (Garden City:
Doubleday, 1967), chapters 1 and 2. See also Peter Berger, Brigitte Berger, and
Hansfried Keller, The Homeless Mind: Modernization and Consciousness (New York:
Random house, 1973).

Page 3
predecessors were. There have been major losses of territory in the
religious realm too: many of the more stubbornly pagan ancestral spir-
its of the old adat have been consigned to the spiritual dustheap as
the society has taken on more and more of monotheistic Muslim and
Christian doctrine.
Yet the confrontation of Sipirok adat with modern, monotheistic
life has not been a total rout. Sipirok Batak have in a sense adopted
a shrewd
cut our losses" strategy in their efforts to maintain their
adat world in a modernizing Indonesia. Oversimplifying greatly, one
might say that those parts of the adat which they can reinterpret,
they reinterpret with a vengeance; those parts of the adat deemed too
kolot (pagan, old fashioned, village-bound), they drop. This reinter-
pretation of the adat has greatly expanded the metaphorical scope of
its ritual symbolism.
The "cut our losses" approach has, in fact, resulted today in an
actual renaissance of adat ceremonialism in the homeland villages and
the towns. Rantau families, it should be noted, are some of the most
ardent supporters and bankrollers of the adat ceremonies now being
held in the homeland villages. For these city Batak, indeed, adat
ceremonies may be emerging as the centerpiece of their "ethnic cul-
ture." As fewer and fewer of them even speak the Sipirok Batak lan-
guage with their children, they seem to develop a corresponding enthu-
siasm for holding periodic adat ceremonies in their home villages.
Their city-bred children seem almost like students on an anthropology
field trip when they come back to the Tapanuli villages for three days
or so of nonstop adat ceremonies; since so few of the Jakarta and Medan
children are fluent in everyday Batak, much less in the high-flown
language of the adat ceremonies, these adat weddings and funerals and
so on must be nearly opaque to them.
In accommodating to new political and religious realities, Sipirok
adat has been pruned back to its ceremonial core: adat today means
largely adat ceremonialism, and it focuses on a series of lavish com-
munal village rites commemorating births, marriages, new houses, and
deaths in the recent or distant past. It is these adat ceremonies
that offer a meeting place for rantau people and their village kinfolk,
for oral and spatial symbols of the rantau experience and village life,
for rantau money and village labor, and for Batak modernity and tradi-
Grand ceremonial gestures and their moral implications are, then,
essentially what Sipirok adat is today. Adat ceremonies in the area
seem to be undergoing rapid change in four main spheres. Particularly
interesting for anthropologists are the various cultural strategies
Batak are employing in changing their adat in these spheres.
First of all, there has been a marked expansion in the number of
ceremonies. Sipirok people today say that this change has come mostly
in the last twenty-five years. The number of ceremonies "handed down
from time immemorial" is thought to have held steady through the Dutch
period. Then the Japanese occupied the homeland area during World War
II and "destroyed the adat" (largely, people say today, by dethroning
the higher-level village and adat kingdom raja).
During and for awhile
after the Revolution, adat ceremonialism was condemned by many Sipirok
people, in public at least, as "feodal" (feudal in the pejorative

Page 4
Then, in the mid-1950s a son of one of the best-placed local
lineages, who happened also to be a provincial official, decided to
hold a full-scale adat wedding for one of his own sons.
The wedding
was a huge success and Sipirok ceremony-giving began its long climb
back to the near-complete public acceptance it now enjoys.
Today, at
least fifteen big adat ceremonies (horja) are given in the Sipirok
area each year, and each village has upwards of ten smaller-scale cele-
brations {pangupaceremonies) annually.
Some of these ceremonies are, however, of a rather unexpected
According to the local experts, large-scale adat celebrations
should be held on only four occasions:
the birth of a child or grand-
child; the entering of a new house; the arrival of a new daughter-in-
law in a man's house (the marriage ceremony); or the commemoration of
the death of an old person all of whose children are grown and married.
(Horja for the formation of new villages and those marking the passage
of adolescents into adulthood are no longer held.)
In the last several
years, however, horja have been held to celebrate the formation of a
new ethnically-based denomination of the local Protestant church, for
the inauguration of certain provincial officials, and for the dedica-
tion of new government buildings.
Typical of a whole range of trans-
formations of ritual practice are the new uses found for thegondang
gong and drum orchestra of the horja ceremonies.
Though as recently
as ten years ago these instruments could not be played outside of horja
and certainly not without the direct supervision of the raja, they are
now established parts of the parades held in the town on Indonesian
National Independence Day.
The musicians are coming to see their con-
tributions to the adat ceremonies as art; indeed, the raja themselves
are beginning to consider their oratorical arts and the whole of horja
ceremonialism as Batak "culture."
Although such "new style" horja sometimes draw sharp comments or
chuckles from some raja in the Sipirok area, these men usually simply
decline to attend the offending ceremonies, leaving it to their fellow
raja to make the requisite speeches.
Second, there has been a considerable change in the content, if
not the delivery style, of the flowery orations (kobar) that are at
the center of any Sipirok adat ceremony.
These ceremonies were and
are essentially speech-making feasts, where different kinship and
political factions give long versified toasts to each other.
standards of rhetoric hold that the fast-paced, proverb-filled speech
is not only the most beautiful but the one most likely to convey bless-
ings and good fortune to the target audience.
Batak oratory was, and
is, grounded in the supposed magical efficacy of certain proverbs and
ancestral sayings.
Horja oratory, especially, should be phrased
For more information on this transformation of Batak adat from village custom
to art form, see my "Angkola Advice to the Newlyweds: Adat or Art," in Collected
Papers of the 1977 Summer Indonesia Studies Conference, Madison, Wisconsin, ed.
Edward M. Bruner (Athens, Ohio: International Studies Publications, forthcoming).
For transcriptions, translations, andcommentary on Sipirok andAngkola
"blessing speeches" of this sort, seemy "Angkola Batak Kinship through it s Oral
Literature" (Ph.D. dissertation, University of Chicago, 1978).
For information on similar conceptions of speech in Toba, see the introduction
to H. N. Van der Tuuk, A Grammar of Toba Batak [1864: Tobasche Spraakkunst], trans.
Jeune Scott-Kemball, ed. A. Teeuw andR. Roolvink (The Hague: Nijhoff, 1971); and

Page 5
almost entirely in the courtly old language of umpama (proverbs) and
pantun (four line verses on, in this case, adat themes). However,
many orators today, even in the horja, insinuate comments on life in
Jakarta, on the national history of Indonesia, and, it is perhaps need-
less to add, on national development programs, into their kobar. These
additions are accepted calmly by most raja; in fact, raja make some of
the best speeches of this sort.
Third, there has been a change in the ceremonial personnel. Men
genealogical background are now speaking as raja; non-
Batak are beginning to attend the adat ceremonies (sometimes as brides)
and great Landrover-loads of rantau Batak are participating in village
ceremonies though they often have only a passing acquaintance with
ceremonial adat protocol and the standards of horja poetics and rhe-
Last, there has been a change in the economic background of the
ceremonies. Once, these ceremonies were financed by gotong royong
(pulling together, helping each other out) among kinsmen of the host
family. Today, individual households, often from the cities, will
sometimes finance an entire horja celebration. This practice is
directly contrary to the
adat of the rajas/' the most systematized
and, purportedly, the most "genuine" version of the adat.
There are obviously several versions, or at least alternative in-
terpretations, of the adat. These are best examined with reference to
their "carriers." There is, on the one hand, the group of ceremonial
experts, most of whom tend to stress the "unchanging essence" of the
adat even if they do allow a few changes of phraseology. On the other,
there is the more overtly adaptive group, often based in the rantau and
the larger homeland market towns, who gladly admit considerable changes
in phraseology and even ceremonial form into the adat. Standing in
contrast to these two groups with their common commitment to the adat
are the local Muhammadiyah members, the Muslim modernists who brand
the central speeches of the adat ceremonies as blasphemies and who re-
fuse to attend many of the adat weddings, funerals, and so on.
One of the most intriguing questions, though one largely beyond
the scope of this paper, concerns the standards Sipirok Batak use to
determine whether a certain contemporary adat practice is "genuine,"
"newfangled," "ad hoc," "funny," and so on. Answering this adequately
would demand a full folk esthetics of oratory, dance, cooking, ritual
paraphernalia, and music, but a few of the more obvious criteria for
determining whether an adat ceremony or a section of one is "accepta-
ble" or "unacceptable" can at least be suggested. Any particular cere-
mony, it seems, must be able to be portrayed as some variation on one
of the basic ceremonies in the "adat of our ancestors"; for example, a
horja celebrating the completion of a new government building is por-
trayed in the oratory as a horja masuk bagas na imbaru, a horja-for-
entering-a-new-house. Second, all the standard horja components--pro-
cessions, presentations of food, ritual dances, and speech-making
sessions--must take place in some form.
It is essentially within these
J. C. Vergouwen, The Social Organization and Customary Law of the Toba Batakof
NorthernSumatra [1933: Bet Reohtsleven der Toba-Batak],trans. Jeune Scott-Kemball
(The Hague: Nijhoff, 1964).

Page 6
components that one finds considerable variations today. For instance,
as long as a wedding horja includes a series of tapian vaya bangunan
speeches (speeches delivered at the village bathing pool, to "firm up
the soul" of the bridal couple and the mothers and infants of the host
household and some of their kin), the raja giving the actual speeches
can weave in new elements as they see fit. Finally, extremely heavy
use either of Arabic quotations from Muslim prayers or of Indonesian
language phrases is considered bad form, especially in the speech-
making congresses most directly under the control of the ceremonial
Sipirok adat practice today provides numerous examples of all
these processes of institutional and cultural adjustment. Adat cere-
monies are used to celebrate a townsman's return from the pilgrimage
to Mecca, raja adat are called in to celebrate the inauguration of a
new bupati (chief administrator) for South Tapanuli, Arabic prayer
phrases are peppered throughout the ceremonial speeches of adat con-
gresses, and so on. The very clothes Sipirok people wear on formal
occasions are good documents on this curiously adjustive adat of
It has now become standard practice for men to attend big
adat ceremonies in Western-style dark business suits, around which
they wrap a Muslim style sarong, and over which they drape a tradi-
tional Batak ulos (ceremonial shawl).
In fact, one Sipirok adat cere-
mony-cum-national celebration went this pattern of male fashion one
step further. Held to dedicate a new police station--the first cere-
mony of this kind and viewed with considerable local amusement--it saw
a number of police and army personnel from the subprovincial capital
attending in full military uniform. During the adat dances, an indis-
pensable part of any large adat celebration, the officers further
decked themselves out in the red, black, gold, and beaded Sipirok ulos.
Doubly uniformed, they failed, however, to be doubly authoritative.
In lieu of reviewing all these newfangled adat practices in Sipi-
rok today, I will concentrate now on one horja bale. This ceremony
was a funerary rite held years after the death of a lineage ancestor
of the host family. The horja (Indonesian, kerja, a work, an under-
taking) involved the dedication of an imposing funeral obelisk {tugu)
to this ancestor, who had migrated with his son and son-in-law into
the Sipirok area from the more northern Toba Batak homeland some eleven
generations ago. This lineage is today intricately linked through
marriage alliance to the Siregar, the dominant, pioneer clan of the
entire Sipirok area. The host of the ceremony was a haji who had none-
theless remained a self-conscious supporter of adat after his return
from Mecca. Moreover, he was well-connected in provincial government
circles, and so invited a large contingent from the local DPR {Όewan
Perwakilan Rakyat, the Representative Assembly of South Tapanuli) to
attend. The extra-adat social identities of these participants were
much commented upon in the horja's ceremonial speeches.
I tape-recorded large portions of the speeches from this three-day
ceremony, and have translated portions of these Batak-language texts
(The Indonesian language is widely known but rarely used among
Batak in South Tapanuli market towns and villages; adat oratory is al-
ways in Sipirok Batak.) I have disguised the location of the village
and the clan identity of the participants, for this adat ceremony was
the occasion of more argument and backbiting than most. Batak adat
ceremonies are, on the surface, almost cloyingly full of fellow feeling

Page 7
Plate 1
Plate 2
Circles of dancers are arranged according to kinship category vis-
a-vis the host family. Use of the ceremonial ulos shawl is confined
to married adults, and the way it is worn indicates whether the
dancers are wife-givers, wife-takers, or fellow kahanggi-mates of
the host family. Men dancing as Raja representatives from various
adat domains also wear the ulos in ways to signify their rajaship

Page 8
and homiletics on the peaceful village life, but actually involve con-
siderable bickering and jockeying for power by rival lineages.
The horja was a modern adat event par excellence. Financed by a
series of fortunate real estate deals in Jakarta, it was attended by
almost as many city migrants as homeland villagers; it was boycotted
by a major faction of the lineage in question; its final day was high-
lighted by the impressive arrival of the party of government officials
from the subprovincial capital; and, typically, all the speeches were
broadcast over a cranky loudspeaker system.
(No Sipirok adat ceremony
today is complete without its loudspeaker system. These almost invari-
ably fail to work properly, and timid grandmothers, microphone in hand,
find their speeches punctuated by a variety of jarring whirs and metal-
lic screeches.)
On many counts, then, this horja bale can be taken as a text on
s changing adat system. Through the tape transcripts we can
investigate in some ethnographic detail one small example of the usu-
ally vaguely defined process of Indonesian syncretism, whereby local
adat worlds are reconciled to world religion and the Indonesian nation-
al state.
Sipirok Batak Homeland Society
Several features of Sipirok society most directly at issue in the
adat ceremony here can be reviewed briefly before we go on to look at
the horja in detail.
The keoamatan or county of Sipirok encompasses the old harajaon
("adat kingdoms" or "chieftaincies") of Sipirok, Baringin-Bungabondar,
and Parau Sorat, each containing over ten wet-rice-farming villages,
clustered around a market town named Sipirok. The area is overwhelm-
ingly agricultural, with all village families cultivating wet rice and
garden produce. Many families are also engaged in the cash cropping
of peanuts, green vegetables, coffee, and the currently fashionable
cloves. Many townsmen also work for the government, as schoolteachers,
civil service clerks, administrators, policemen, road maintenance men,
and military personnel. In addition, the town has the small component
of storekeepers, coffee stall owners, minibus operators, and male and
female market vendors common to all Tapanuli towns.
Sipirok people pride themselves on their history of success first
in the Dutch, and now the national school systems. Thanks to a long
tradition of good primary and secondary schools in South Tapanuli and
a huge network of relatives in large cities all over Indonesia, Sipirok
families have often been successful in garnering advanced degrees for
their children. For a student to martitel (sport an advanced degree)
is a great badge of progress for his entire family. The particular
village hosting the ceremony to be described below has many such be-
titled sons and daughters. Indeed, the villagers claim that more of
their people now live in the rantau than in the village. This would
not be surprising since the village has only about sixty households,
This is the normal size for such farming villages laid out on a short expanse
of plain between the rugged mountains of this part of upper South Tapanuli.

Page 9
and its people, like most Sipirok Batak, pride themselves on being a
progressive, resourceful, sharp-witted, and crafty population who have
not only scored economic and political successes in the cities but
have done so without relinquishing their ties back home. The ties
still linking the city and village are characteristic of the Sipirok
political system which has traditionally rested on strong kin-based
Political Alliance
According to folk history, the triple chieftaincy of Sipirok,
Baringin-Bungabondar, and Parau Sorat was founded some twelve genera-
tions ago by the three sons of the Siregar clansman who pioneered the
area from the Toba Batak homeland to the north (the "original homeland"
of all the Batak people).
Members of some ten other clans have moved
into the area and have affiliated themselves with the dominant Siregar
clan either by receiving Siregar girls as brides or giving their own
sisters and daughters to the Siregar. Lineages of these other clans
have founded villages of their own, and "own the adat" in those village
areas, just as the Siregar raja most directly descended from the three
founders are thought to "own the adat" of the entire triple harajaon
area. These raja, as we shall see, are mostly farmers who take on the
raja role only in adat ceremonies.
Villages are linked internally and one to another in an idiom of
patrilineal clan descent and marriage alliance. In fact, the core
metaphor of folk politics today remains the dalίhan na tolu ("three
stoned hearth"), an arrangement of three stones set equidistant from
each other on the ground to support a cookpot. In kinship terms, one
stone is said to be kahanggί (a man's close lineage mates of his patri-
lineal clan), the second anakboru (a comparable lineage segment of
three to five generations
depth that has received brides from the first
group and therefore stands in a ritually subservient relationship to
it), and the third mora ("wealthy"--another comparable lineage segment
that has long provided the first group with brides and therefore stands
in a ritually superordinate relationship to it). Mora is the source
of good fortune, blessings, and human and agricultural fertility, while
anakboru is characterized in adat oratory as the mora's "cane over the
slippery spots, torch in the darkness"--mora
s physical protectors and
all-round step-
Though this triad of marriage alliance relationships was once
played out through labor exchanges and sizeable rice payments, it is
ceasing to be central to Sipirok economics and agriculture today.
Ceremonial goods, bride price payments, "blessing speeches," and, of
course, brides, are still exchanged and keep the dalihan na tolu a
viable social system in Sipirok, but otherwise it is losing ground to
a variety of national development programs, government organizations,
and religious and educational institutions. The dalihan na tolu meta-
phor, however, is still used to explain the social structure of indi-
For local views of this genealogical history of the Batak in Sipirok, see
Ompu Gorga Siregar and Sutan Habiaran Siregar, Perkembangan Turunan Toga Siregar
(Medan: private publication, 1974), and Rodgers, "Angkola Batak Kinship," ch. 2. If
the reader is particularly stouthearted, see also Mangaraja Onggang Parlindungan,
Tuanku Rao (Jakarta: Sinar Pengharapan, 1964).

Page 10
vidual villages and the more encompassing harajaon domains. Each vil-
lage has a founding lineage (its "raja"--the term is coming to mean
all male descendants of the village founder and not just one senior
lineage) and, usually, several resident anakboru and mora families.
These families will have kahanggi mates of their own in villages all
over the triple harajaon. Many, in fact, are linked through descent
and marriage alliance to families in the neighboring subethnic areas
of Padang Bolak, Angkola Julu, Angkola Jae, and Mandailing. The vil-
lage founding line is itself linked to other kahanggi groups in vil-
lages all over the triple harajaon and beyond.
In practice, this means
that everywhere families are linked to each other in a dense mesh of
ties through clan descent and asymmetrical marriage alliance.
formation too is typically couched in these terms. Sons can split off
from their fathers
villages to form "son villages.
Entire villages
can be anakboru villages to the villages from which they split off;
this simply means that the new village founders stand in a son-in-law
or subservient wife-receiver relationship to the owners of the older
village. The entire harajaon is in effect a cluster of villages con-
ceptualizing their unity in terms of clan descent and ranked marriage
Beyond simple dalihan na tolu links, there is an overarching hier-
archy of rajaships in the area. These too are conceived in an idiom
of village founders, and patrilineal descent. Relations between raja
may also be phrased in terms of established patterns of bride exchange.
Seen from the viewpoint of the people in a single village (as happens
in any adat ceremony), there are five ascending levels of raja. All
have set roles to play in adat ceremonial, a set position on the roster
of orators, and, to some modest extent, a continuing role in the moral
governance of the area.
The five levels of rajaships are:
1) The village*s own raja, the harajaon parhutaon. Under the
Dutch, each village had only one raja, a man with demonstrable every-
day political functions as the village headman.
Today, the Sipirok
raja system has
gone popular
--the lowliest rice farmer is generally
outfitted with some such grand title as Baginda this or Mangaraja that.
In many villages, the most direct descendants of the village founders
have long since departed for the prosperous life in the rantau cities,
leaving the Tapanuli villages in the hands of the descendants of junior
lineages. Thus, any male patrilineal descendant of the village found-
ers can speak as the raja from that village at adat ceremonies held in
other villages.
^Edmund Leach has described the many political uses of such a kinship system
in his anthropological work on the quite similar Kachin society of highland Burma;
the southern Batak put their metaphors and institutions of family relationship to
similar political use. Edmund R. Leach, Political Systems of Highland Burma (Cam-
bridge: Harvard University Press, 1954), and Leach, "The Structural Implications of
Matrilineal Cross Cousin Marriage," in Leach, Rethinking Anthropology (London: Ath-
lone Press, 1961). For more on Sipirok kinship, see Rodgers, "Angkola Batak Kinship."
For comparative information on Batak politics, see Lance Castles, Stateless-
ness and Stateforming Tendencies among the Batak before ColonialRule, Pre-Colonial
State Systems in SE Asia Series (Kuala Lumpur: Council of the Malayan Branch of the
Royal Asiatic Society, 1975).

Page 11
Such harajaon parhutaon raja speak first in the major adat con-
gresses, after the various dalihan na tolu partners of the host family.
2) The harajaon torbing balok, raja from the 'Villages all around"
the host village. Some larger villages have a few satellite villages,
which count as harajaon torbing balok; others simply include the near-
est five or six villages as their harajaon torbing balok. in today's
rather ad hoc adat politics, the raja of a host village may have a
large hand in defining membership in this level of raja, though during
the colonial period, according to area experts today, such decisions
were in the hands of the higher level kepala kurίa (see below).
3) The harajaon na mangaluatί.
These are the raja from the sur-
rounding harajaon comparable to the Sipirok/Baringin-Bungabondar/Parau
Sorat complex: say, the raja from Padang Bolak, Angkola Julu, Angkola
Jae, and several areas in Mandailing. People from other large harajaon
are sometimes added to this group, depending on the origins of the men
attending the horja. Toba Batak, for instance, though they have no
such harajaon system as those in the south, can be asked to speak as
raja from Toba.
In fact, this harajaon na mangaluati category is extremely elastic
in present-day adat. It has even been stretched to accommodate Ameri-
can anthropologists, and female ones at that. In the ceremony under
discussion, for instance, I was put into the order of speakers as the
"raja's daughter from Tano Columbus" ("Columbusland"). The paralok-
alok (chanter in charge of calling out the order of speakers) was my
putative amangboru, or father's sister's husband, given my adoption
into the Siregar clan a year and a half before. Men of this amang-
boru's lineage traditionally married women of my particular group of
Siregar women, and, because of this, we stood in one of the classic
Batak joking relationships with each other. In fact, this "Columbus-
land" line probably had more to do with this relationship than it did
with traditional Batak politics.
Joking relationships aside, this practice of putting non-Batak
populations into the order of speakers at this harajaon na mangaluati
level may indicate that homeland Sipirok Batak think of such "ethnic
groups" as the Javanese, the Acehnese, the Minangkabau, and so on, as
essentially other "adat kingdoms" surrounding their Tapanuli homeland.
4) The core Siregar raja descended from the Sipirok/Bargingin-
Bungabondar/Parau Sorat founders. These are called the harajaon
haruaya mardomu bulung (Raja-of-the-Banyan-Tree-Whose-Leaves-Meet-in-
5) Finally, there is the raja panusunan bulung himself (Raja-
Gatherer-of-Leaves) , the ultimate master of ceremonies of the celebra-
tion. Under the Dutch, each major harajaon (Sipirok, Baringin-Bunga-
bondar, Parau Sorat) had a kepala kuria, a raja in the full political
sense of administering the area for the colonial government. Sipirok
people today single out this form of rajaship as particularly "feodal"
and seem in general quite glad that it has been left behind with the
Another time, in another horja, I found myself dubbed "Honored Lady from the
harajaon of Chicago."

Page 12
colonial past. Each horja today is presided over by a raja panusυnan
bulling, the nearest thing in present-day Sipirok to a kepala kuria,
but this is a purely ceremonial position.
According to most Siregar raja, the raja panusunan bulung of any
area horja should be a Siregar and a member of the harajaon haruaya
mardomu bulung. But village clusters dominated by other clans some-
times elect to use one of their own local adat experts in this role.
This happened at the particular horja bale under discussion: one of
the more accomplished orators of the Dolok clan (a pseudonym for my
host's clan here) served as panusunan bulung.
Obviously, all of these rajaships have lost much of their temporal
power in the modern period. They are essentially ceremonial offices
today, just as the grand old harajaon portrayed so vigorously in the
adat oratory are now largely kingdoms of words and fine gestures. The
everyday administration of the area is in the hands of the civil ser-
vants of the national government (the camat and the locally elected
village headmen). These administrators generally cultivate a benign
hands-off attitude toward the adat ceremonial government of the area,
taking care to put in an appearance on the final day of major adat
ceremonies. Significantly, the civil servants do not take part in
their capacity as government officials in the nighttime alok2 (speech-
making) sessions of the raja. This is the most important congress of
raja in Sipirok adat ceremonial, and is the scene of the most elegant
speech making on traditional political themes. However, camat some-
times speak in alok2 sessions in their capacity as raja of their home
villages or as dalihan na tolu partners of the host family.
Religious Background
The social history of Islam and Protestant Christianity in Sipirok
also shapes current adat practice. We have seen that the area is
approximately 90 percent Muslim and 10 percent Christian. Sipirok
Batak pride themselves on harboring no "pagans" (sίparbegu). Many vil-
lages have both Muslim and Christian families; a minority are all Mus-
lim, or, much more rarely, all Christian. Religious intermarriage is
discouraged from both sides, but it happens anyway in every kahanggi.
One spouse is obligated to switch over to the other religion for the
marriage to be celebrated; considerable hard feelings result and may
separate families that should, according to stricts adat, be on the
friendliest terms. Given a continuing history of mixed marriages over
several generations, however, a young man may find that his ideal mar-
riage choice (his boru tulang or mother's brother
s daughter) is a
member of the opposite religion. A marriage between the pair would
therefore be strongly encouraged on one level and discouraged with
equal force on another.
I have no statistical information on marriage
choice in such situations.
In the horja bale here, a large party of government officials from Padang-
sidempuan, the seat of the subprovincial government, arrived on the final morning of
the ceremony, of course missing the previous night's alok2 congress. They seemed to
attend the ceremony more in the capacity of visiting dignitaries than as intimate
ritual participants. Some were local Batak, some were Batak from other homelands,
and some were non-Batak.

Page 13
Sipirok was first introduced to Islam by the Bonjol armies sweep-
ing northward from Minangkabau in the 1820s.13
The Sipirok Siregar
writer Mangaraja Onggang Parlindungan provides a spirited and detailed
if rather idiosyncratic history of the proselytization of the area in
his book Tuanku
Protestantism arrived in the 1850s.
1 5
Sipirok was, in fact, the
first Batak area to experience Dutch and German missionary efforts.
After a decade or so of dubious success in constructing Bible schools
and converting villagers in this already heavily Muslim area, some of
the missionaries moved northward into the still-pagan Silindung Valley
and the Toba homeland areas.
There, under the aegis of the near-
charismatic Reverend Nommensen, the church made spectacular gains.
These northern areas are almost entirely Christian today.
Sipirok Protestants see themselves as a somewhat beleaguered
minority in the deeply Muslim southern homelands; this may help to ex-
plain their unusual piety and loyalty to the church.
Yet they partici-
pate fully in local adat ceremonies, differing from their Muslim neigh-
bors only in omitting Arabic prayer phrases from their orations.
Christians work New Testament examples into their
advice speeches"
for adat ceremonies, much as Muslim speakers draw on the social teach-
ings of Islam for the same occasions.
Both Sipirok Christians and
many Muslims profess to be "one in the adat
and make it a point of
pride to invite people to their adat ceremonies on a dalihan na tolu,
and not a religious basis.
The local Muhammadiyah members stand in contrast to both Chris-
tians and other Muslims on this issue of adat and world religion.
Stressing Middle Eastern texts unadulterated by local customs, they
refuse to take part in many adat ceremonies, especially those involv-
ing ritual dancing and the ritual "reading" of certain ceremonial
foods, weapons, and articles of clothing, regarded as particularly
1 6
Their views are thus antagonistic to the haji host of
our ceremony, who cultivates the adat in its full ceremonial sense and
avers that adat is fully ooβok (in accord) with Islam.
The Ceremony
The horja, like most adat ceremonies of this size, was financed
largely with money made in the rantau cities, though the villagers
contributed the rice for the three days of meals and much of the labor
See Siagian, "Bibliography on the Batak/' pp. 165-69.
See n. 8 above. Incidentally, Mangaraja Onggang
s voraciously inclusive
approach to Batak history is entirely typical of Sipirok thought. His knack for syn-
thesizing quite diverse areas of social thought resembles the way other Batak fasten
their adat to world religion and nationhood.
Siagian, "Bibliography on the Batak," pp. 165-169. The HKBP {Euvia Krίsten
Batak Protestant^ the original Batak church) publishes a yearly almanac with histori-
cal information on the early missionary period; the new, ethnically-based HKBP-
Angkola, headquartered in Sipirok, publishes a stream of revisionist church history.
For translations of typical "reading" speeches of this sort, see Rodgers,
"Angkola Batak Kinship," ch. 3.

Page 14
Plate 3
Grand tugυ to Oji Baginda Makmur
ancestor, topped with model of a bush
common to the area the ancestor pio-
neered. The monument rises out of
fields off the side of a mountain road
some 5 kms. from the home village. A
lineage genealogy is prominently dis-
played for the benefit of passers-by.
Plate 4
After the horja's sacrificial buffalo
has been slain, the host kahanggi affix
carved crossbars to the ends of the bale
funeral house
over the graves of Oji
Baginda Makmur
s parents, before the
procession moves on to the tugu site

Page 15
of seeing the festivities through to completion (the host
s kahanggi
and anakboru are the hard workers here--mora simply sit and get waited
on) .
The money came through several lucky real estate deals in Jakarta.
Land prices are high in the capital city, and Batak families (like this
one) who bought land in the 1920s and '30s and sell it today stand to
realize large profits. So large, in fact, that 0ji Baginda Makmur (my
pseudonym for the host) was able to build a cement tugu twelve meters
high in memory of his lineage ancestor (Plate 3) and "beautify"
{pauli) the graves of his parents and grandparents into the bargain
(Plate 4). The ceremony was thus a multiple-bale (funeral monument)
The ceremonial participants, over 200 strong, moved from the
grave-sites of 0ji Baginda Makmur
s parents, to his grandparents' bale-
site in the next village, and finally to the tugu itself, some five
kilometers from the host's village. The last stretch was covered in a
veritable fleet of chartered buses.
0ji Baginda Makmur
s horja bale included the standard ceremonial
events for funeral adat of this scale. An early-morning speechmaking
session on the first day secured the raja
s permission to play the
gondang instruments and to begin the formal kobar. Ritual dancing of
groups linked by dalihan na tolu ties went on almost constantly in the
front room of the host's house (Plates 1 and 2). The host
s household and
their dalihan na tolu partners went through a pataon tondί ceremony to
"firm up their souls" for the final day's somewhat dangerous procession
out to the tugu sites (souls are particularly liable to wander or come
under attack from spirits at certain points in horja ceremonies). The
final night of the ceremony saw the alok2 congress of the raja, and
the horja's concluding day consisted of the trips to the various grave
and tugu sites and the final return to the host's household to eat the
special mound of sacrificial foods. A water buffalo had been sacri-
ficed at dawn that final day, and many of the womenfolk spent the
morning preparing the "luck-giving" mound of rice and cooked meat that
the raja and the host would eat on their return from the tugu site
about noon.
Although there were so many participants in the ceremony the list
of people not attending rivals in sociological interest the group who
did. There was, first of all, the village's other Mecca pilgrim, an
old man of good repute in adat circles who had for years been 0ji
Baginda's close friend, trusted mora partner, and financial mentor.
But they had had a falling out several years back and now studiously
avoided each other's adat ceremonies. This meant that each had to
spend a good deal of time out of the village, since both were enthusi-
astic ceremony-givers (they were the only ones in the village wealthy
enough to give horja). The rival Oji was pointedly off on a trip to
Medan at the time of this ceremony.
As already mentioned, a rival faction of the lineage also boy-
cotted the horja bale. This was a kahanggi group closely related to
Oji Baginda's that argued that its apical lineage ancestor was the
senior brother, i.e., older than Oji Baginda Makmur's. This rival
lineage went so far as to hold a horja bale of its own the following

Page 16
Lineage disputes of this sort today indeed are increasingly the
result of status competition between lineage members in rantau cities
rather than of arguments over land or inheritance in the villages.
Large-scale adat ceremonies are excellent ways to display new wealth,
and rival lineages vie to attract the most impressive roster of adat
orators, sure that the word will spread quickly from village to vil-
Two parts of our horja offer particularly rich information on the
interface of adat and world-religion,and adat and nationhood: the
alok2 session and the actual tugu dedication.
0ji Baginda Makmur
s very titles immediately suggest his dual
loyalty to adat and Islam. He has, after all, completed the pilgrim-
age to Mecca and proudly uses the
haji" (
) designation. But he
also uses the harajaon title Baginda. Harajaon titles, such as Sutan,
Mangaraja, Baginda, and, less frequently, Tuanku or Tuongku are given
at horja to married men who, in theory, have some expertise in the
In practice, the greenest Jakarta civil servant may be made a
Sutan or a Mangaraja at a kinsman*s horja, simply by virtue of his
relationship to the host. In 0ji Baginda Makmur
s case, however, his
title reflects demonstrated skill in the oratorical forms and long-
time participation in the adat ceremonies of other local families.
a. Alok2 Session
This is the speech-making congress involving representatives from
every level of harajaon; upwards of forty men crowd into the front
room of the host's house, and thirty or so make fast-paced, verse-
filled speeches before the session ends.
In the course of the alok2,
the host family secures formal permission from the "owners of the adat
to sacrifice a water buffalo ("the livestock of the raja
), to use the
full ceremonial horja dress (another possession of the raja), and to
dedicate a tugu, celebrate a marriage or a grandchild's birth, or what-
Under the joint direction of the paralok-alok chanter (who sings
out the order of speakers in a vocabulary of set adat phrases) and the
raja panusunan bulung, the order of speakers proceeds through ever-
widening circles out from the host family. Women speak first: the
wives of suhut (the immediate host household), the wives of their
kahanggi, their anakboru (the sisters and daughters of the male host,
at a minimum), their pίsang raut (anakboru of anakboru--for example,
the daughters of the host's daughters), and, in all horja but weddings,
the wives of mora. Then male dalihan na tolu partners take their turn.
The host speaks first for the suhut, followed by his brothers and sons,
their kahanggi, and sometimes by their kahanggi pareban (other kahanggi
groups that share the suhut
s mora). The host's various male anakboru
(his daughters
and sisters' husbands and their sons) come next, sec-
onding his requests to the assembled raja, followed by the male pisang
raut. All these speeches are then "given blessings" {dίtuai) by the
suhut's mora. The raja of the home village and the Council of Village
Elders then second the suhut's request to hold the ceremony, and the
floor returns to the raja panusunan bulung. He proceeds to call in

Page 17
turn on the hierarchy of raja, outlined above, to state their position
on the request.
each raja approves the request,
care to defer to the raja panusunan bulung*s "greater expertise
these matters."
Once the raja panusunan bulung has
agreed to the suhut
s request, he asks what animal they hope to sacri-
"The livestock of the raja,
(our raja)," comes the imme-
diate, customary reply.
At this point, the raja panusunan bulung makes certain that the
suhut will not let the animal loose at night or fail to kill i t
(both near disastrously
inauspicious events).
He then goes on to give
his formal permission to continue the ceremony, in what should be the
speech of the evening.
Since 0ji
Baginda Makmur
s alok2 speech was rather more conversa-
tional and rambling than the usual alok2 oration, it might be helpful
to look firs t at a more self-consciously
traditional specimen of this
The following speech, taken from this horja bale, was delivered
by the paralok-alok chanter himself, Baginda Sori Langkat Hutasuhut,
speaking as the raja from the neighboring adat domain of Angkola.
Baginda Sori Langkat is one of the most accomplished orators in South
Tapanuli, and Oji Baginda Makmur knew he was very lucky to get the man
for his horja.1
Classical alok2 orations of this sort follow
a set agenda of
The speaker firs t
thanks the chanter for calling on him to
speak, then praises the assembled raja; recounts how he was invited to
the horja; gives his harajaon domain*s official
consent to the host
households request; expresses his deference to the greater wisdom of
the presiding raja panusunan bulung, and finally signs off with a bar-
rage of "luck-bestowing"
proverbs and pantuns.
I have separated the verses of the speech into a series of
self-contained units, though in the actual tape recording, the speech
is delivered
in the usual nonstop, hypnotic Sipirok alok2 style.
Olo da, panyuanan ni jelok
Hatubuan ni sitata
Mauli ate da na pande maralok-alok
Na baun marhata-hata
Anggo dung tu Pargarutan
Lalu tu Sibualbuali
Anggo dung do dielpasan
Nanggo tarbaen be mandali
Dipardau ni unte tonggi
Na mardabu to ogar-ogar
Madung bolkas tu simanangi
Ima panyobut ni goar ni
Baginda Sori Langkat
Anak ni Hutasuhut
Yes indeed, with the sowing of green melons,
With the growing of bananas;
Thanks to you, then, polished alok2 chanter,
Adept at saying words.
If we've gone to Pargarutan,
ve since passed Mt. Sibualbuali;
If the floor is passed to us,
Hesitating is not countenanced.
At the falling of the sweet orange,
Falling to the bamboo mat;
Already heard by Ear-theHearer,
The mention of the name of
Baginda Sori Langkat,
Son of the clan Hutasuhut.
1 7
It should be noted that Baginda Sori Langkat often speaks of himself in the
third person in this speech, as
the raja from Angkola"; words that are untranslated
from the Batak here are names of villages or local plants.

Page 18
Dangka ni tali mada on
Ampean ni andor baliang
Na mangalusi mada hami on
Dihata ni suhut sihabolonan
Jadi botima da
Haji Baginda Makmur
Di tolu ari na dung salpu
Ro do nangkinani
Doli-doli na lingkas langka
Dua sauduran
Sada mardetar
Na sada marabang-abang
Sada manyurduhon burangir
Sada mandok hata na denggan
Suang songon on tehe, raja i
Sian napa-napa ni Lubuk Raya
Marborngin to alaman ni
Huta Dolok on
Di ari Saptu songon on
Baen nada adong ambat bingkolang
Disuhut pe nada adong halangan
Nayang do nangkinani langka ni raja i
Sian alaman ni Lobu Layan
Manuat jumomba jomba
Manongkap jumule-jule
Mamolus tor mangarobaen
Manopi-nopi harangan
Marudan marlas ni ari
Λek Dolok
Manujuhon Aek Si Rontang
Manunjukkon jop ni roha
Sareto patandahon bohi
Tu harajaon bona bulu
Dison payak surat tumbaga holing
Ima surat pusako ni ompunta
Na jumolo sundut na robian
s o
diari udan
Na so mosok dipangan api
Ima burangir na hombang
Tampuk na marabi tu ujung
Ujung na marabi tu tonga
Mangihutkon pangalaho on
Anso hombang mada nangkinani
Adat ni anak ni raja
Rap dohot adat ni anak na mora
Manjagit holos ni suhut sihabolonan
Sanga bia ma rupani
Anso tulus dohot saut
Na niparsinta ni suhut sihabolonan
Branches of the tali plant this be,
A place for climber vines to weave about;
Answering indeed our task here,
To the words of the Great-Host-Household,
Like this then,
Haji Baginda Makmur,
Three days already past,
Along came
Comely young men striding smartly
One wore ceremonial turban,
The other wore brimmed hat of rajas,
One presented invitation-betel-quid,
The other spoke goodness-bringing words:
"Like this then, Raja,
From the foothill country of Mt. Lubuk Raya,
Come spend the night in the village of
Huta Dolok,
All of a Saturday night" like this,
There being no hindrance on the way
Great-Host-Household too has met no obstacle
Light indeed was the step of that raja
Coming from the village of Lobu Layan
Springing over obstacles on his way,
Leaping over depressions in the ground,
Climbing over rugged hills, going down
gentle grades
Hovering along the edge of forestlands
In rainy days, in heat of day
[Following the course of] the River Dolok
Headed toward the River Rontang
Coming to show joy of heart
As one who comes to meet
The harajaon of this home village
Here be letters-writ-on-leaves
Magic letters of our ancestors
First generations in the past
Betel quid not dampened on rainy days
Betel quid not scorched by fire
s betel laid on a plate
Their stems toward the edge
Their tips meeting at plate
s center
So that like this leaf arrangement
May all be joined as one, going the same
The adat of the Sons-of-Raja
The adat of the Sons-of-Noblemen
May they accept the wishes of
And whatever might be wished
Be it realized and accomplished
All that is hoped for by Great-Host Household

Page 19
Plate 5
The paralok-alok chanter tortor dancing, in his
capacity as the raja from the harajaon of Angkola

Page 20
la anggo haroro ni raja i do
Sian Luat ni Angkola
Nada on bolaon hotang
Mangalului panyipian
Suang do on takuju padang
Mangalului pardomuan
Bus pe ro hami tuson
Na dohot mada hami patumbuk
Sanga bia ma rupani
Anso tulus dohot saut
Na niparsinta ni suhut sihabolonan
Tai antong tutu
Haru hami dok pe songon i
Nada da halakkaan abara ambubu
Baen dison do ompui nangkinani
Na pargaja ni Silibung
Na margadingkon sian Sosa
Raja na martua marlidung
Na malo sumalung roha
Ibana do artina na tahu
Mangatap dohot mangetong
Sanga songon dia panggambar
Dohot pangatur ni ibana
I do antong na diihutkononnami!
la anggo hami do rupani i
Dohot pendek ni hata dohonan
Hami jagit do antong
Antong, Baginda Makmur
Pendekna, nada on mangangkok tu
Manuat tu SiMago-Mago
Nada on anggo dilanglang pangusayang
Olat ni na taralo gogo
Sintap ni na hami boto!
Jadi on pe da, ompung rajanami
Raja Panusunan Bulung
Laing na dohot mada raja i
sian Luat ni Angkola
Pasahat pasanggalkon
Sanga bia ma anso tulus dohot saut
Na diparsinta ni suhut sihabolonan on
And as for the coming here of that raja then
From the Domain of Angkola
Not this one then who splits mat-rattan
And takes part off to the side
Rather, like the mountain streams flowing
into a plainland
Are we, searching for one place-of-meeting
Even though we come here as raja
Certainly we go along in perfecting, in
helping fuse,
Whatever is hoped for
By Great-Host-Household
So that all is realized well.
But then indeed
Even though we say such things
Not we who bear the burdens, make the
decisions here
Since right here with us is that Revered
Elephant-owner of Silibung
Taking tusk-ivory from Sosa
The Raja of luck-giving words
The one adept at fusing hearts
He is the one of course who knows
How to measure and to count
And of course whatever picture
Or situation's measure he derives
That surely will be the word we follow!
And as for us then
In brief words we put it here
We accept indeed [the request of
Well then Baginda Makmur
In short, climb uphill to
Go downhill to SiMago-Mago
Not we who put obstacles in hope's way
We do what we can
Beyond that we cannot know.
Well then indeed Grandfather our Raja
Raja Panusunan Bulung
Again we go along, that Raja
from the Domain of Angkola
In presenting, in firming up [Great-Host-
Household's request to Raja Panusunan
So that all be realized and accomplished
With what is hoped for in Great-Host-
Household's heart.

Page 21
Songon na hami dokkon nangkinani
And as we said back there
Anso ulang nangkin na songon
May nothing here be like
Hotang na tangging
Rattan mats pulled taut
Disira na sanggolam
Like salt by the fistful
Ulang ma antong roha manjangga
May hearts and thoughts not jar and jostle
Disturbing eyes of sleep!
ManjanggaIkon mata modom!
Anso satahi mada tu SiGolam-Golam
So that we go all of a group to SiGolam-Golam
Manyalu Si Mauma-Auma
[Together we head for] Si Mauma-Auma
Anso sinok mata tarpodom
So that soundly our eyes might sleep
Diobankon sonang ni roha!!
Carried offby peace of heart!!
Botima da na baun na pandenamϋ!
That then, alok2 chanter, adept and
It is notable that Baginda Sori Langkat uses no Arabic prayer
phrases here, though like most of the raja at this ceremony he is a
As a sensitive connoisseur of adat oratory, he prefers to
deal entirely in old-fashioned adat proverbs and metaphorical speech,
much of it taken from the superb chanted sagas (turiΞan)
of South
1 8
Another element may also be involved.
Men who are suc-
cessful in the rantau life as lawyers, civil servants or businessmen,
may often fall flat on their faces in alok2 sessions because they do
not know the esoteric adat phrases necessary to make a good oration.
Thus for a short time, at least, the well-spoken village peasant can
lord it over the urbanite,
1 9
upsetting the stratificatory hierarchy of
modernizing, urban-centered Indonesia, often so damaging to the social
position and social worth of Tapanuli rice farmers.
From the very start the importance of rantau concerns in our alok2
session was unmistakable.
The raja panusunan bulung prefaced the ses-
sion by thanking the host family for dinner with the following ditty:
. . . adong na deter,
adong na dotor,
adong na insinyur,
adong na jadi doktor,
anso adong pangiteanmunu . . .
There are sounds that go "deter,"
There are sounds that go "dotor";
May you have descendants who become engineers,
May you have descendants who become doctors,
So that there be a hardy bridge for you [to
enter the prosperous life too]
Concerns well beyond those of the Batak village were also evident
in the frequent use of Arabic and Indonesian phrases in the ceremonial
The raja panusunan bulung, for instance, ended this same
initial speech by saying:
See, for example, Mangaradja Goenoeng Sorik Marapi Nasution
s Turi-turianni
Radja Gorga di Langit dohot Radja Soeasa di ΈΌvtibi (Medan: Mimbar Medan, 1957).
This is by no means always the case: some city-born Batak are excellent
alok2 orators, schooled in the horja held in the rantau cities.

Page 22
Jadi on pe da tapangido ma tu jolo ni Tuhan, parjolo hahorasan
na dihita ditano on, pardomuan totop amal dohot iman, dilehen Tuhanta
ma (
) saulak on, botima, husulai dohot Assalam alaikum
warohmatulohi wa barohkatυh!
(Alaikum salam)
Well then indeed, we ask before God, firstly good health to us
here on this earth, and may our coming-together and everyday rela-
tions be full of good deeds and good spiritual balance.
May our God
give us another such opportunity (to meet together) a bit further on,
that then!
I conclude with
Peace be unto you and unto you Peace
and God
s Mercy, we assume the prayer stance.
("Peace be unto you," from the audience.)
Such an ending is entirel y typical of Muslim adat orator s in
0j i
Baginda himself
began his alok2 speech with a rush of Arabic
phrases, after
f i r s t
thanking the paralok-alok chanter in Batak.
used a number of Indonesian words as well, italicize d
. . . Assalam alaikum alaikum na salam warohmatulohita allah
baroh katuh!! (alaikum salam! from the audience).
Bahat puji tu
Tuhanta yang markuasadohot salawat dan salam tu Nabinta Mohammed
Sololohi wassalam na dung mangalehen sada (
) dapat bertemu
hita dibagasta on dohot gembira asa hami saluhutna mandok godang
tarimo kasi dianak ni raja dianak ni na mora ima mauli bulung dibaen
aha maksud dohot tujuanna tutu songon burangirnami dison tarhadop
rajanami tarhadop gurunami sian bona bulu, sian torbing balok asa
sian desa na walu. . . .
Peace be unto you and unto you Peace and God's Mercy, we assume the
prayer stance! (Peace be unto you).
Much praise to our Almighty God
and prayers and greetings to our Prophet Mohammed-May-the-Lord-Bless-
Him-and-Give-Him-Peace who has given us an [opportunity] to meet
together in our house here with joy and all of us say much thanks as
well to the sons-of-raja
sons-of-noblemen, the venerated adat nobil-
ity [gathered herej.
What then is the reason and the aim here?
Well, as our folded sirih says set out in front of our raja and our
religious teacher from this stem-bamboo (home) village, in front of
the raja from torbing balok, and from the Eight Domains, beyond the
torbing balok. . . .
the Oji
s son used as much Arabic and Indonesian as his
to launch his own speech:
. . . taucapkon kepada Tuhan yang markuasadan hita nada lupa
mangucapkon salawat dan salam ke Nabinta Mohammed Sololohi wassalam
na mangalehen masadan waktu dihita bersama (
) dίsidang yang
mulia on, muse ima songon na dung dijojor ni ima amangnami ibana hami
na sasusunan. . . .
. . .
we say to Almighty God and neither do we forget to say prayers
and greetings to our Prophet Mohammed-May-the-Lord-Bless-Him-and-Give-
Him-Peace who has given us a period and a time for all of us together
This spelling follows the Batak pronunciation of the Arabic.

Page 23
to meet in this glorious session here, moreover as has already been
put forward by our father, he who speaks for all of us ofa-single-
grouping. . . .
The Arabic prayer phrases place the adat speech within a wider
frame of Islamic reference.
They also serve to disarm, so to speak,
the fairly frequent images of Batak ancestor figures used later in the
Indonesian phrases seem at first glance to be introduced when
the topic of the oration deals with extra-Batak concerns.
0ji Baginda
s alok2 speech was the first major one of the session
and by far the longest.
2 1
After the Islamic opening phrases, he went
on to relate the long series of family events over several generations
that led to the construction of the tugu.
As a young man, he was not
yet able to undertake the tugu
s construction:
. . . What should I say? We stomped upon the hard earth we
searched the deep sky [for funds] but all our hopes could not yet be
fulfilled . . . but Thanks be to Allah in the year 1974 whenour
younger lineage brother si Majid came home from Medan just exactly
at the time of Idulfitri [and we] came back here so he could join in
celebrating Hari Raya in our mother's house . . . and the house we
stayed in over that Hari Raya was the house of our Ompu Parsadaan
[our common grandfather] and we made the decision to refurbish his
grave which had been the hope of our father for a long time though
we had never seen our way clear to bring this about. . . .
0ji Baginda went on to say how the plan grew to include the repair
of the grave of his father and the lineage ancestors twelve generations
. . . so our decision was made, our raja, in our house, so that
all of us the three-of-a-single-father would repair the grave of our
father. . . .
He then related the lineage-brothers
tri p out to their
grave, and their direct conversation with his departed spirit :
. . . after we had repaired the grave, we asked, "0 Ompung
[grandparent], the Bestower-of-Luck!
Do not stir angrily or hurl
down curses because we have not come here for so long a time . . .
[it is only that we have] been for so long a time in a moneyless
Note that a devout Muslim here is reporting a direct conversation
with ancestral spirit s beyond the grave.
In other sections of his
various speeches in this horja, 0ji Baginda made i t clear that he con-
sidered the protection of his ancestral lineage spirit s crucial to the
The raja panusunan bulung and his alok2 chanter generally allow the host to
run on for as long as he likes--
s paying for it, after all,
runs one explana-
tion- -but other speakers are sometimes asked to cut their speeches short.
In fact,
some longwinded speakers will make the formulaic comment far into their oration that
"My words need not draw out much longer," and hear someone in the audience answer
back, "They certainly needn't!"

Page 24
continued good fortune and conspicuous financial success of his house-
He apparently saw no need to defend his conversation with ances-
tral spirits against any objection that such talk might be "anti-
This contrasts sharply with his quite defensive remarks about
constructing the actual tugu (see below).
0ji Baginda went on to describe his dealings with the subprovin-
cial government as he went about securing building permits for the
At considerable length, he detailed how he went from office
collecting official
stamp after official
Now, most
knowledgeable and traditional alok2 orators work with a vocabulary of
courtly old adat metaphors and proverbs, not in terms of civil
vants, official
stamps, and government offices.
That 0ji
speech was matter-of-factly accepted by the assembled raja is evidence
of the considerable leeway in choice of topic and terminology that
alok2 orators have today,
Yet his comments on government matters were deftly combined with
Arabic prayer phrases and hoary adat proverbs, in a pleasingly
paced speech that seemed to impress and entertain his audience despite
its unusual length.
Tugu Dedication Speeches
In his speech at the tugu site , 0ji Baginda went back over much
of the same family history leading up to the construction of the monu-
He described its immense proportions proudly--twelve meters,
one for each generation since the ancestor--and explained the symbol-
ism of the jaunty papier mάohe bush planted firmly at its peak (as
well he might, since foliage does not usually adorn Batak tugu).
shiny green bush, he said, was of the species found in profusion near
the village the ancestor founded and from which the village got its
Much of the speech was spent on eulogies of the government offi-
cials in attendance, but the most interesting section was his defense
of the tugu as fundamentally in accord with Islam.
He said:
. . . There are people who say, as when I first constructed this,
"Oh, just erect a simple grave marker over there," they would say.
However, I say that whosoever has gone to Mecca and who has not seen
the tugu of Nabi Adam . . . now, don
t you be fooled, that person
just is not a haji.
Oji Baginda Makmur from Huta Dolok says, Iam
responsible in this matter, this tugu does not partake of the notions
of those-who-have-not-yet-received-true-religion.
This is what I
this is cement, this is stone, there is nothing here but sand
and stone, so why should folks say that this resembles things made
by infidels?!
So, here, let us believe in this commemoration. Even
in Mecca, there are such commemorations: on the way in to Mecca
there are tugu, [on the way out?] there are tugu!
So all of this,
we made the top [of the tugu] like it is [with the little bush] be-
cause that's all the way it is in history, with all the generations
there. . . .
Oji Baginda went on to say that he hoped his descendants would be
able to improve upon even this superb series of funeral monuments.
Speeches by the raja panusunan bulung and various raja, and represen-
tatives of the South Tapanuli DPR followed,
each praising the tugu

Page 25
building endeavor.
Invariably, the government officials linked tugu
building to national development, quite a feat of syncretism in itself.
Only 0ji Baginda dwelt on the possibility that the tugu might be con-
strued as idolatrous.
His behavior throughout the ceremony reflected this same pattern
of reconciling adat to Islam without consciously compromising either.
As a haji, he could not participate in the ritual tortor dances at his
own horja--surely a blow, since he assured me he had been a fine tortor
dancer in his pre-haji days. The ceremonial events of the three days
were carefully dovetailed with the five daily prayers of Islam, and
special rooms were set aside as men's and women
s prayer sites.
In his insistence that the grander ceremonial events of the adat
need not be in conflict with Islam, 0ji Baginda is in agreement with
many local haji.
Like most village religious teachers, haji view
tortor dancing as dangerous trafficking with spirits. However, many
defend their participation in the yearly round of adat weddings, bride-
price sessions, house-enterings,
ceremonies, and so
on as actions that simply serve to strengthen good community order.
For them, the adat is being vigorously redefined as a moral system,
something sanctioned, if not set up, by Allah as a laudable set of
customs that fosters village peace and productivity.
The Minangkabau to the south of the Sipirok Batak have a charac-
teristically perceptive saying on the question of adat and social
change: "When the flood comes, the bathing place moves," or, as
social conditions change, adat adjusts. As will be obvious from these
few glimpses of Sipirok ceremonial speech, Batak adat today is a simi-
larly adjustive cultural system. We have examined the elasticity of
Sipirok adat in two major domains: adat
s developing synthesis with
Islam, and, less to the fore in the quoted speeches but equally impor-
tant in Sipirok adat as a whole, adat
s ongoing accommodation to the
incontrovertible facts of a national political presence in this rural
Sumatran province.
The spirit world of Sipirok evidently is becoming relativized
within a larger world of Muslim spirit figures and moral teaching. At
the same time, Sipirok adat has lost much of its effective political
base. No longer the exclusive driving force behind village cohesion
and area cooperation, the political aspects of the adat have neverthe-
less reemerged as a rather theatrical symbolic system played out in
periodic adat ceremonies. Raja have turned into raja adat. Lineage
disputes still thrive, but are as likely to be based on rantau-born
rivalries as on home-village concerns.
Adat oratory, far from being the hidebound system that such
rubrics as "ritual adat speech" might suggest, is actually at the
growing tip of Batak culture today. Adat oratory of the sort sampled
here is rapidly becoming a major means whereby homeland and rantau
Pork of course was not used; though pigs are the central ritual animal in
Toba Batak adat, they are not raised in the Muslim south by either Muslims or Chris-

Page 26
Batak redefine their adat world in its present national and Muslim en-
Paradoxically perhaps, adat oratory should therefore be a
major focus of modernization research in Indonesia today.
Plate 6
Speech-making sessions
Plate 7
Formal speech-giving sessions punctuate the horja ceremony at
frequent intervals. In Sipirok various verbal duels between
kin factions take place in the yard of the host's house or at
the village bathing pool. Delegations of rajas from neighbor-
ing villages are also greeted with outdoor speech-making
sessions in the front-courtyard or at the edge of the village.
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