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Are we now better able to answer the question “Who is ‘me’?” Do we have, in the West, single solitary selves, inalienable from the physical body of our persons?Or are we more like the Bataks, who believe that the self is segmented, separable, and situated in different particular social contexts?Are you simply “me,” or do you experience your self as one that always knows when it is a child, when a sibling, a friend, a stranger—whether it is motivated by its cravings or its obligations? Does it matter if that self is abroad, at home, or in a dream? The more you think about examples from your own life, the more you will understand the complexity of the simple question posed at the start. In this chapter, you have been introduced to aspects of the Toba Bataks’ perceptions of the sense of self as a complex amalgam of three intertwined parts, a kind of social braid: the personal character, the integrated spiritual entity, and the individual as collective. In addition, you have seen how none of the three takes necessary preference over the others, and none is fully in control of the others. While the scenarios presented here may imply that the three parts are constantly synchronized, this is not true. The complex interactions they share are not precisely defined nor easily constructed, and many Bataks find that their lives unfold as a constant struggle to find balance between them. They find, as many of us do in the West, that the working of one part of the self is always contingent on the interactions and contexts of the other parts. Perhaps because Toba Bataks are attentive to the different parts of the self, they are able to face the adversities of life through a creative ability to draw on the strengths of each one of the parts (the personality/character, the spiritual tondi, the adapt bound collective), and in doing so both maintain the integration of them in the pursuit of a successful and long life. In thinking about the Toba Bataks’ complex notion of self as presented here, we realize that perhaps it is not all that different from our own. An important difference may be their conscientious alertness to keep the needs of themselves always in balance with that of their social group, an alertness we in the West might learn to better develop.



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