Batak Notion of the Group (Collective Self )

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But the Bataks’ notion of self is not simply bipartite. There is additionally a sense of self that is part of a collectivity. For the Bataks, the individual is always part of a group: family, peer group, profession, clan, ethnicity, and nation. As we will see, many authors have noted that Bataks often consider themselves as members of the society before they see themselves as individuals. To fully appreciate this, we must realize that for the Batak, as for many other Indonesian groups, “tradition” (adat) is paramount. The moral and legal code handed down by the ancestors, called adat, outlines the appropriate behavior for everything from the sale of land to proper behavior toward elders. Adat is sacred, and the ways to enact it properly are taught from childhood.Everyone who wants a contented tondi and blessings from the ancestors adheres to constraints of the adat, and everyone identifies with it personally. To reject the adat rules or the code is to divorce oneself from the group and to risk supernatural sanctions (Ross 1962:5). Arne Bendtz (1986:26), a scholar of Batak culture, noted that a principle concept for the Bataks is that humans are esteemed beings endowed with the rights to respect and goodwill of each other, of nature, of supra-�human powers, and of the supreme deity. To balance this individualism, Bendtz maintains that the individual “does not have a personal life apart from the collective life of the clan loyalty to the community is therefore absolute” (ibid). A Batak is the collective, and so the love of the community is love of self; they are not separable. One’s actions are guided by the community’s laws and regulations, and one supports them as an expression of “self.” Furthermore, one’s sense of self is inextricably bound to one’s family, particularly the patriline clan known as the marga. The Bataks’ marga society consists of three conceptual groups:

(1) those who share your clan name (dongan sabutuha, translated roughly as “womb sharers,” with whom marriage is impossible because it is considered incestuous);

(2) those to whom your clan provides daughters as wives (boru), and who are considered to be slightly inferior socially;

and (3) those from whom your clan accepts daughters as wives (hulahula), and who are considered to be socially superior.These relationships are eternal, and cut across geographic distance and socioeconomic class; one may never marry dongan sabutuha, no matter how distant the actual ancestral connection is; one may always expect a favor from the boru; and one must always respect the hulahula. The Bataks call this vital social arrangement Dalihan na Tolu (‘the Three Hearth-�stones,” referring to the fact that three stones are necessary to hold up the pot in the kitchen firepit), and it is kept very much alive in everyday life. For example, Partoho was obligated to teach a distant cousin of his wife how to carve, despite the fact that the young man had very little real interest and even less talent. The erstwhile student chipped Partoho’s best carving knives and wasted wood, but the teacher had to remain calm and respectful because the cousin was a member of his hulahula.In the village or town, everyone knows their marga relationship with everyone else, but when a Batak individual goes beyond the homeland, the Toba Batak Selvessituation can become complex. Because two Batak strangers must clarify their relationship before they can engage socially, the first question they ask of each other is Margana aha do hamu? (‘What’s your marga name?”). Once the name is known, they will know whether they will deal with the new acquaintance as a “brother,” a social inferior, or someone to whom due deference must be shown.Despite the fact that Bataks might want to portray themselves as unique individuals, and despite anything their tondi might urge them to do, the responsibility of a self as a member of the marga collective takes precedence; one must always act in accordance with the appropriate behaviors set out in the adat rules. To make matters of identity even more complicated, Bataks, like many other Indonesians, tend to perceive others in their social world as divided into two different kinds of “we.” In the Indonesian language, there are two words for we: kita and kami (in Toba Batak, the terms are hita and hami). Kita/ hita is the form that includes all (self and all others), and is sometimes referred to as the “collective we” or “we inclusive.” This is the term one would use to say, “In the end, we all must die.” The term kami/hami expresses the we that assumes there is some Other that is excluded. What is interesting about the kami/hami grammatical formation is that it constructs the notion of we as a single entity, precisely because it is distinguished from others. The use of this construction requires that the speaker suppress the notion of a solitary self. As the Indonesian psychologist and philosopher Fuad Hassan says, It is essential for each individual sharing the kami�world to reduce his individuality and maintain a maximum solidarity with the other constituents in it. This is necessary for the sake of positioning kami against those outside it. The strength or quality of the feelings of solidarity among individuals constituting a kami mode of togetherness depends very much on the readiness of each individual to inhibit or reduce his subjectivity. (1975:24) In this way, the “self” is no longer the individual person, but rather the particular group as defined in opposition to all outsiders. The nuclear family is the primary collective, and it is not uncommon to hear individuals of a family present their own personal opinions or observations by using the pronoun kami/hami (collective we) rather than the more accurate saya (meaning I). In most of my chats with Partoho and Ito, they used the term kami/hami, whether they were saying “I [along with my group] already ate,” or “We [the family] are strong in our religious beliefs.” This notion of a collective we/I emerged most clearly for me when I tried to gather information by means of a written questionnaire: I provided exactly enough forms for each family member to complete, and upon retrieving the forms, would get the same number returned and these would contain precisely the same responses, carefully written out separately by each parent and each child.

 

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