Batak Notion of the Individual ( Personhood)

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I discovered that Bataks consider each person to have an individual personality; in this respect, the Bataks are not unlike Westerners in holding a concept of the self. This aspect of the person is based partly on their physicality and partly on their character (sifat), and it is considered unique and particular in the world. In fact, a person’s sifat is often spoken of in terms of their “differences” (colloquial Indonesian: lainnya): a person’s behavioral quirks and physical imperfections are both parts of their sifat or character.Because Partoho, Ito, and I were all considered to be “humorous,” we shared a sifat characteristic, but we also each differed: Partoho’s sifat was creative and hard-�working, Ito’s was gregarious and engaging, and mine was bookish and curious. In addition, Partoho and Ito told me that my sifat tended toward plumpness while theirs tended toward wiriness and toughness. To further illustrate the notion of sifat, I recall that the Bataks I knew often brought up the term when discussing a person’s appropriate soulmate (using the Indonesian word jodoh). Finding a jodoh results from a search for someone whose sifat “fits” with one’s own: a person who meshes with one’s thinking and opinions, who suits one’s personality and heart, and who becomes a “friend for life” (Sihombing 1986:53–63). Religious training or academic education might alter a person’s outlook on life, but their sifat is believed to be inherent and mostly unchangeable.




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