By Susan Rodgers
(Associate professor of anthropology at Holy Cross College in Worcester, USA. She obtained a Ph.D. in anthropology at the University of Chicago and has previously published ‘Batak Tape Cassette Kinship’, American Ethnologist 13-1, 1986, and Power and Gold: Jewelry from Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines. Dr. Rodgers may be contacted at the Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Holy Cross College, Worcester, MA 01610, USA.)
Navigating the journey from a-‘traditional past’ of purportedly limited social horizons toward a more cosmopolitan and ‘enlightened’ modern existence in a multi-ethnic Indonesia has been a central, recurrent theme of Indonesian-language fiction since the 1920s. The social dilemmas and emotional pain entailed in this transition from tradition (often, ethnic tradition) toward modernity typically provides much of the tension of novels as diverse as Abdul Muis’s Salah Asuhan (1928), Merari Siregar’s Azab dan Sengsara (1927), Marah Rush’s Sitti Nurbaya (1922), and Pramoedya Ananta Toer’s much more recent BumiManusia (1980) and Anak Semua Bangsa (1980).1 Different generations of Indonesian novelists have portrayed the purportedly competitive worlds of tradition and modernity in different ways, as have important essayists such as those who discuss the same matter in the pre-war issues of Pudjangga Baru. Some writers have been optimistic about the chances of moving into an age of modernity, while others (a larger group) have generally taken the bleaker view that life in a modern state will necessarily lay personal lives to waste.2
The latter tended to be the consensus view of many of the more prominent Balai Pustaka novelists of the 1920s and 30s. Their familiar love story novels and accounts of growing up are often ‘journey novels’ of aborted transitions from ethnic childhood worlds toward various versions of Indies modernity, often conceptualized as located in Sumatran cities or in Jakarta. Written in a finely modulated style of Indonesian, and thus attractive and accessible to educated audiences from various ethnic groups, many of these pre-war Balai Pustaka novels were nonetheless indelibly Minangkabau in their social setting and plot lines. The action in these books generally takes place in modernizing market towns and school centres around Bukittinggi and Padang; the focal characters are likeable Minangkabau young people who have dual loyalties to village traditions and to the more cosmopolitan life of cities, books, and schools. The time period portrayed is generally an era several years before the book’s publication date (a device which allows writers to inform their readers that they are reporting ‘real’ happenings which recently took place). The social world of ‘Minangkabau tradition’ portrayed in these works tends to stress the very local features of matrilineal clanship, arranged cousin marriages, strong brother-sister ties, and financial reliance on the maternal uncle. The young heroes and heroines of the novels, however, tend to see beyond these local Minangkabau kinship conventions: they often pursue marriages based on personal choice and love, and tend to seek formal educations, outside the confines of the family-centred village. Such choices promise to lead them out of stultifying rural life and beyond unreasoning parental control onto a new plane of personal responsibility and modernity, centred in cities. However, most of these love affairs and educational forays go awry. This often leaves the main characters (frequently, the young women) suspended unhappily between tradition and modernity in unfulfilling, forced marriages to people they do not love.3Advanced schooling, too, often results in incomplete assimilation to Dutch colonial culture, accompanied by much personal unhappiness for both the young protagonists and their parents.
These novels generally end sadly and, indeed, a number conclude with the death of the main characters. These stories of unsuccessful Minangkabau attempts to negotiate the social changes of the contemporary colonial world apparently struck responsive chords in other parts of the archipelago, for the Balai Pustaka editions of many of these books enjoyed large circulations.
The Pudjangga Baru essayists typically took a more sanguine perspective on the possibilities of intellectual change in the Indies. As Heather Sutherland writes (1968:118), their optimistic program was ‘… the creation of a new Indonesian culture out of the interaction of East and West’. In the view of some deeply Westernized Pudjangga Baru intellectuals such as Armijn Pane, this new Indies-wide culture would have few ties to the archipelago’s separate regional cultures. A second faction within the Pudjangga Baru group, however, proposed a different cultural solution as the proper path to Indonesian modernity. Sutherland (1968:115) describes their strategy, which involved the deliberate conservation of ‘old ethnic cultures’, as follows:
‘… some modernizing intellectuals endeavored to revive and adapt traditional values. This was not simply a reaction to the inroads of Western ways, although the Western cultural threat was a key stimulant. It also represented the recognition of the continued vitality of tradition. Indigenous cultures sustained their identity — particularly in the Javanese principalities of Jogjakarta and Surakarta —and continued to have some meaning even to an intelligentsia far removed physically and mentally from the cultural heartlands. Under the auspices of the cultural nationalists, European techniques of organization and communication were brought into the service of tradition, and attempts were made to adapt the form and content of Indonesia’s heritage to a changing world …’
Such cultural conservation efforts doubtless involved energetic inventions of tradition of the sort described for other colonial societies (Hobsbawm and Ranger 1983). Indeed, students of pre-war Indonesian literary history should not understand ‘ethnic tradition’ and ‘modernity’ to be objectively real social entities. Rather, the two concepts are best seen as complex and changing figments of the public imagination, in various sectors of Indies society.
Over 40 years and numerous literary generations later, Pramoedya is still addressing much the same core dilemma of tradition’s place in modern Indonesia, still constructing novels about historical memory and the past, and still inventing tradition and modernity. In Bumi Manusia and Anak Semua Bangsa Pramoedya offers a particularly demanding and affecting ‘solution’ to the tradition and modernity question: his main character, Menke, at first hopes for a modern Indies of scientific enlightenment, which will necessitate the rejection of the indigenous feudal order of the past. He finds himself strongly attracted to modern, Westernized, urban society, but quickly discovers that this social order, too, is grindingly oppressive. Modern life in the Indies leads not to liberation but to personal defeat, and cultural debasement. By the end of the second book, Menke has realized that the only path out of the past is not some form of personal liberation but a clear-sighted awareness of the large political structures that shape society.4
This perennial preoccupation with ‘the modernization question’ must obviously form a central focus of scholarship on 20th-century Indonesian literature. However, the subject cannot be fully explored until observers have access to the full range of major Indonesian literary works addressing the topic. Most scholars apparently imagine that the fictional portrayal and critical discussion of tradition/modernity issues has been a matter of Indonesian-language discourse, rather than ethnic or regional-language literary attention. In the main this is probably a valid assumption, but as George Quinn (1983) has pointed out, certain Indonesian ethnic societies such as those of Java and Sunda have major modern 20th-century fiction and non-fiction traditions written in those ethnic languages. Quinn reports that Javanese popular fiction is much concerned with issues of modern life in socially complex Indonesia; he also makes the important point that Javanese-language fiction exerts a strong affective hold on its readers, rendering it a true ‘literature of the people’ and thus making it a compelling medium for portraying issues of time, society, tradition, and modernity. Quinn contends, in sum, that strong regional literatures cannot be ignored in any balanced account of literature and social thought in 20th-century Indonesia.5
All this is also true of southern Batak fiction written in the Angkola Batak language.6 Like Javanese literature, it has also been largely overlocked by the more common scholarly focus on Indonesian-language prose, particularly (in this case) that written by Minangkabau. Angkola’s small but intense ethnic-language fiction produced a number of prose narratives serialized in 1920s-30s Tapanuli newspapers, as well as one exceptionally fine, socially panoramic novel, entitled SittiDjaoerah: Padan Djandji na Togoe (Sitti Djaoerah: The Vow). Published first in a Sibolga ethnic-language commercial newspaper in 1927 and then reissued in book form in 1929, Sitti Djaoerah is a journey novel which evokes a number of transitions central to the southern Batak experience of 20th-century life. SittiDjaoerah grapples directly with the modernity dilemma. In the course of the novel, the book’s protagonists make the trip from rural Tapanuli childhoods to married life near Medan; they walk on foot from the Tapanuli town of Padangsidimpuan to the Deli plantation belt, moving through various Sumatran ethnic worlds as they do so. As the characters mature, they also penetrate further and further into the colonial Indies: into the world of schools, printed texts, plantation jobs, and Deli coast political life of the first decade of the century. The novel’s narrative styles themselves also chart a transition. Early sections of the book draw heavily on ritual oratory forms and have an episodic, romance-like character, while later parts are more firmly novelistic, with the characters operating on a realistic social plane and with the story told in firmly literate prose.
In this paper, I would like to examine the way this superbly crafted (though almost unknown) Batak-language novel handles the problem of tradition and modernity. At issue here is the way the book’s author, MJ.St.Hasoendoetan, imagines tradition and modernity — and links the two fictional social worlds so that both are proposed as vital, necessary components of contemporary (circa 1920s) Batak life. In contrast to the more familiar Balai Pustaka novels in Indonesian, Soetan Hasoendoetan provided his Batak readers with a strikingly positive vision of ‘the journey to Deli’: readers could, his novel asserts, retain parts of the Tapanuli world within them as they emigrated to the lowlands and entered the modern Indies. In fact, maintaining ties to certain aspects of Tapanuli culture was the key, he implied, to success in Deli. I offer this account so that later synthetic general histories of 20th-century literature from the country will have a more complete range of sources to draw upon. It is regrettable that few surveys of 20th-century Indonesian literature treat ethnic-language literature in any depth, or investigate the ways in which local oral and literate narrative traditions have shaped 1920s-30s prose fiction. As we shall see, SittiDjaoerah’s conceptual organization and rhetorical strategies demand such expanded perspectives. “
Since this is a largely unknown novel from an unfamiliar Sumatran fiction tradition, let me begin by providing some background on southern Tapanuli literature of the time.71 will describe the novel’s action in some detail, to illustrate how the writer imagines tradition and modernity and how he asserts that both can be possible components of the same personal lives. I will also examine one particularly telling chapter in this regard (a chapter whose implicit focus is the place of ancient chant speech in modern Deli). I will then go on to make several general comments about this type of ethnic/language fiction, in the Conclusion. I am not a literature specialist, but rather am a cultural anthropologist with a particular interest in the ways in which print technology and print literature have transformed social thought in Angkola, where I have done ethnographic fieldwork on village and market town oral and literate communication systems since 1974. My previous research on oral genres such as chanted epics, blessing and praise speeches, verbal duels between wife-givers and wife-takers, and political orations delivered at night-timecongresses by adat chiefs allows me to approach Sitti Djaoerah in terms of its many ties to Angkola’s vibrant oral heritage. Beyond this, my research on the society’s swift transition to print literacy over the last 120 years also allows me to locate this splendid novel within Angkola’s universe of print works. Pre-War Southern Batak Print Literature Soetan Hasoendoetan published his novel in a complex Batak and Sumatran print world which was located quite close to a still thriving oral heritage. As is the case with most fine pieces of southern Batak printed literature, Sitti. Djaoerah derived much of its aesthetic effectiveness from its author’s shrewd interweaving of orally based narrative forms and images with prose conventions anchored in deep literacy (conventions such as newspaper-style reportage, and the realistic prose of social fiction).
In interpreting the novel, it is important to keep in mind the fact that it was published only a few decades into Angkola’s era of print literacy. Before this period, the southern Batak societies had restricted literacy in the old Batak syllabary for what was probably a period of several centuries. The old script was employed by village priests for divination lore; some genres of oral art such as turi-turian chants, andung mourning wails, love laments, and folk-tales seem also to have been recorded on bark . in the script.8 Mass literacy in a widely accessible alphabet only arrived in Tapanuli in the 1850s and 60s, however. During that period German and Dutch Protestant missionaries established village Bible schools, where basic reading and writing skills were taught to both Muslim and newly converted Christian children. (Islam had been introduced in the 1820s during the Padri Wars. The Arabic script remained a runic code for recitation of prayers rather than an instrument of mass literacy until post-Independence times.) Bible school classes at first used a Batak-script version of the New Testament, but by the 1880s and 90s most instruction had switched over to the Latin alphabet. This was also the case in Tapanuli’s network of government schools, which taught children to read and write with the aid of Batak folk-tale readers and expertly written primers, such as Willem Iskandar’s Si Boeloes-Boebes, Si Roemboek-Roemboek. These early primers offered children elegantly phrased compendia of old sayings, laments, complaint songs, and folk-tales; the tradition continued with Soetan Martoewa Radja’s 1919 Doea Sadjoli, another excellent reader drawing on oral sources. By the nineteen tens an antiquarian literature for older children and adults had developed; this consisted of prose and poetry versions of some of the old chanted epics (for instance, Mangaradja Goenoeng Sorik Marapi 1914). By the 1920s, adat guide-books were being published on a small scale. Typically, these works related the progress of fictional families through all the major adat
ceremonies, complete with sample speeches.9
With the lure of salaried jobs as clerks in Deli acting as a spur, village and town families encouraged their children to enroll in school. The east coast plantation belt from Pematang Siantar to Medan offered young Batak employment as railroad and plantation clerks, low-level health personnel, and bank employees. Both high-born and low-status villagers and townspeople moved permanently in considerable numbers to Deli. This established the fundamental split in southern Batak society which has persisted to the present day. There is, that is, a rural farming population ‘left behind’ in Tapanuli and a large diaspora community in cities outside the home region. By the 1920s and 30s the southern Batak areas had a number of prominent ‘school towns’ (Sipirok, Padangsidimpuan, Panyabungan), popular largely as entry points to salaried work in the diaspora. This part of Tapanuli also had numerous bookstores and small publishing houses. The area’s community of readers was drawn from these precincts, as well as from the school system and the newspaper business.
Angkola’s strong oratory traditions thrived alongside this growing print culture, due in part to the colonial government’s support of certain powerful noble lineages. These ‘rajas’ held extravagant adat ceremonies, involving much ritual speech-making.10 The southern Batak print literature that developed in the 1920s and 30s had the intriguing feature of maintaining especially close ties with the rhetorical styles and conceptual world of southern Batak village oratory, myth, and chant narratives (or turi-turian). While continuing to draw on the aesthetic resources of such an oral village world, the Batak novelists writing in the 1920s-30s period were also creating a deeply modern vision of the changing Indies, via narratives written largely in prose.11 Sitti Djaoerah was part of this tradition.
Batak-language fiction of the pre-war decades was published in a complex print world which included several popular-fiction traditions, verse narratives, newspaper writing, and numerous non-fiction works, which often focused on themes of Batak history and Batak ethnic culture. Popular pulp fiction in Indonesian was being turned out with great energy by Acehnese and Batak authors during this period. Chinese-Indonesian authors were also publishing numerous dime novels for the popu-lar market in both Sumatra and Java. In northern Sumatra, much of this popular literature was published in Medan, with smaller numbers of titles coming out of the newspaper publishing houses of Sibolga.
Southern Batak fiction in the 1920s and 30s was of several sorts: pulp fiction; serialized stories in the Angkola language, published in Sibolga newspapers; serious fiction in the Angkola language (a small tradition, including Soetan Hasoendoetan’s works and Soetan Pangoerabaan’s 7b/-bok Haleon); pulp fiction in Indonesian, often on crime themes, or dealing with unhappy love affairs; and serious Indonesian fiction, such as Merari Siregar’s Azab dan Sengsara (see Rodgers 1981:154-159). This entire body of work was concerned with the dilemmas of rapid modernization in Tapanuli. It dealt with such questions as the relation between village adat and life in the ‘more enlightened’ Indies; with the conflict between the ‘kaum muda’ and the ‘kaum kuno’ (as Tapanuli newspaper editorials often put it); and with questions of women’s lives in a changing society. As is the case with SittiDjaoerah, the other major southern Batak novel of the time, Tolbok Haleon, concerns the choice of marriage partners, adat and modernity, and migration beyond the home region.12
Southern Batak prose fiction also developed in close interaction with Batak-language and Indonesian-language verse narratives. Published in considerable numbers in Medan and Sibolga in the 1920s and 30s, these narratives generally concerned young people caught in some sort of conflict between adat and modern life in their love lives. In other words, the verse narratives were confronting the same sorts of modernization dilemmas as were Tapanuli newspapers and the Indonesian- and Batak-language prose novels.13
Newspapers were a major venue for grappling with modernity and tradition questions, via editorials, news stories on family situations which violated adat in some way, and serialized fiction. By the 1915 -19 3 0 period, Tapanuli commercial towns such as Tarutung, Sibolga, and Padangsidimpuan (and, to a lesser extent, Balige and Sipirok) had all become small centres of newspaper publishing. Weekly or bi-weekly commercial newspapers included Soeara Ra’jat, Soera Sini, Poestaha, Soera Tapanoeli, Oetoesan, Partoengkoan, and Pertjatoeran.1* Edited by Batak, staffed by Batak, and apparently directed to a Batak readership, these papers contained a mixture of commercial news (e.g., rubber prices, commercial law developments), court news (inheritance disputes, assault charges, conflicts over brideprice payments) and late-breaking stories (for instance, warehouse fires). The papers would also run long, factual-sounding descriptions of elaborate adat rituals, such as investitures of new adat chiefs. Alongside such articles would be the papers’ two other major sort of entries: serialized fiction and folkloristic renderings of’old village speech’, such as turi-turian chants. The publication of all these forms of writing in juxtaposition with each other delivered a subliminal message: all the main topics covered in the various newspaper stories, from adat matters to rubber prices, were proper objects of leisure-time or business-time contemplation on the part of an enlightened group of modern newspaper readers. And, although the individual story would report a specific incident which occurred at a particular time and place — and different stories would report disparate events located at different temporal and spatial points — the newspaper reader would be implicitly assigned the task of organizing all the reported stories into a single coherent framework. As Anderson has pointed out (1983:37-40), this particular mode of newspaper writing resembles the role assigned to the reader of a realistic novel: the different events and times of the book ‘make sense’ as a single narrative to the’reader, who stands back from the flow of events and observes them holistically. This is exactly the sort of reader Soetan Hasoendoetan calls for in SittiDjaoerah.
The novel has many newspaper story-like chapters (adat ceremony reports, court cases, folklore sequences, and so on). It is the reader’s task to organize these diverse, small social scenes into a single, coherent Sumatran social world, stretching form Tapanuli to Medan. This extra dimension of sophistication in fact helps move Sitti Djaoerah beyond the realm of a romance and into novelistic discourse. For instance (as we shall see in more detail later), a chapter which includes a long excerpt from an oral epic will frame such a rendering within a larger story about fully human characters who recite such stories to each other, for their personal entertainment.
Soetan Hasoendoetan’s introductory essay to the first publication of Sitti Djaoerah in the newspaper Poestaha (2 September, 1927, p. 1) indicates the work’s many ties to these several other sorts of print publications. At the same time, the essay shows the novelist’s continued closeness to Angkola’s oral heritage. He begins his essay with a formulaic salute to the ‘rajas and nobles’, taken direct from adat oratory. He apologizes for his ‘ineptness’ at putting words together (another borrowing from adat speech) and then writes, ‘Now, there are by now many, many books issued by Balai Pustaka for the populace to read, written by clever folks, books which bring much news about what has happened and transpired here on this Earth … but as yet there aren’t any books in people’s own language. So, that is one reason I was bold enough to take up my hand to write this story, to add to what is available …’ Clearly, Soetan Hasoendoetan is launching his Angkola-language book into a literary world he knows is already crowded with Indonesian-language novels, newspapers, and verse stories. In writing his novel in the Angkola Batak language, though, and in choosing much of its vocabulary and phraseology from the high ritual oratory, Soetan Hasoendoetan is retaining a heavy oral residue in his book.
Soetan Hasoendoetan is little known as a literary figure outside the immediate Sipirok area (the highland market town where he grew up). From interviews with family members15 it is possible to note that the novelist’s own life had quite a similar structure to the journey the novel’s protagonists took from rural Tapanuli to Deli. Soetan Hasoendoetan was from Sipirok’s small and politically rather insignificant Sipahutar clan. He attended Batak-language elementary school in Sipirok and then migrated to Pematang Siantar at the age of about 19. He took his new wife with him; they had eloped. After working briefly in a Dutch bank, he found employment as a clerk on a Dutch tea plantation near Siantar. He remained there for his entire career, becoming a staff manager. He wrote as a sideline and an avocation16; he was also the author of a folkloristic edition of an Angkola turi-turian epic (1941), as well as a verse narrative entitled Nasotardago11, and a second prose novel called San Roente Simata Maridjen (this last book I have not been able to locate in any library collection, and the. family members I have talked to also do not have a copy).
A Precis of Sitti Djaoerah
Reflecting its newspaper serial origins, the text of Sitti Djaoerah runs to 448 pages. The novel offers a tour de force evocation of Tapanuli rural town life around the first decade of the century. It is set in Tapanuli’s parochial world of Batak patrilineal clan allegiances and asymmetrical marriage alliances. At the same time, though, the novel carries the reader towards Deli, to the ethnically-mixed plantation society there, where the heroine and her schoolteacher suitor seek a better life after suffering family pressures and financial reverses back home in the Tapanuli town of Padangsidimpuan.
The novel comprises a Part One (144 pages of text, covering six chapters) and a Part Two (304 pages, with 17 chapters). Each of these could easily stand alone as a self-contained work, although there is a definite link between the two sections, in the person of Djahoemarkar. At the end of Part One he is the infant son of that first book’s hero, Pandingkar Moedo. The latter dies in Chapter 6, which allows Djahoemarkar to emerge as the protagonist of Part Two. The author clearly intended the two sections to be read as a single book, however, since he entitled the whole work ‘Sitti Djaoerah’ in its early .newspaper edition, although that female character does not enter the narrative until the second chapter of Part Two. The entire novel is concerned with a time span of about forty years, from the early adolescence of Pandingkar Moedo, to his marriage, to the birth of his son, to Pandingkar Moedo’s death, and finally to the childhood, adolescence, young adulthood, courtship, and marriage of Djahoemarkar and his friend Sitti Djaoerah. The writer rarely dates incidents in his narrative with any precision, although he does write of a livestock pestilence that beset Tapanuli in the 1903-05 period, when Djahoemarkar was about 20 years old. Thus, the final part of the story is set in a time a short period before the reader and writer’s own time. This pattern is similar to that found in the classic pre-war Minangkabau novels and, as in those novels, lends an air of reportorial factuality to the book’s events.
The novel as a whole spans a large conceptual and social area and relates its story through a wide variety of narrative forms. There is a distinct movement in the book’s philosophical assumptions and storytelling techniques as the reader progresses more deeply into the novel. At the most obvious level, Part One is more of a romance and a sort of collage of stories and set pieces, while Part Two is more firmly novelistic. This is not the only transition to be noted here, however. By the end of the book, Angkola readers of the 1920s must have felt that they had experienced two entire Batak social worlds: that of a Tapanuli realm located close to oral myth, Angkola kin ties, and ‘the village past’, and a new world of Dutch schools, Deli plantations, burgeoning commerce, ethnic variety, and big city excitement. The genius of the novel is the author’s ability to link these two worlds together into an emotionally compelling whole, where the terms of one world help the reader to make sense of the other.
In fact, Sitti Djaoerah is a book about transitions at many levels. The narrative of Part One frequently moves back and forth between oratory forms and the volume’s main prose narrative. As the reader shifts between these communication styles, he or she is also asked to shift between the imagined realms associated with them. For instance, early in this initial volume we are introduced to Pandingkar Moedo (whose name means Young Martial Arts Battler), the 12- or 13-year-old protagonist of this part of the story. At first, he seems to be a normal, if somewhat irresolute, Angkola teenager. He helps his widowed mother around the house and the gardens they have inherited from his father, who died in an epidemic. Soon, however, Pandingkar Moedo encounters two mysterious young helpers.
These are boys of about his own age named Rangga Poerik and Rangga Balian (fighting-cock titles). At first they, too, seem normal (and more specifically, fully human), but soon they spirit Pandingkar Moedo off to take ‘mystic lessons’ with a village guru. Then they pull him on into the deep forest, to collect incense. While there, Pandingkar Moedo’s two aides-de-camp (as they are now styling themselves, in courtly terms) take on a distinctly supernatural character. The narrative itself acquires a dreamy quality at this point. The writer incorporates long stretches of turiturian chants into his story at thisjuncture. These are, again, the sung epics told after dark in Angkola villages. Rangga Poerik recites one of these epics (printed in verse form, pp. 72-83) to Pandingkar Moedo out in the woods after an exhausting day of gathering incense. Turi-turian depict other-worldly kingdoms of great rajas and their lovely daughters, as well as supernatural battles and spirit journeys between the ‘Continent’ of this world of humans and the Continent of the Spirit World in the heavens.
Pandingkar Moedo hears the chant (as do the book’s readers, for this section of the novel is clearly meant to be read aloud, as the writer instructs us). Later that night, after the other two have gone to sleep, Pandingkar Moedo wanders away from the camp and walks deeper and deeper into the woods. He is still under the spell of the chant. Far into the forest, he meets a female apparition. She is one of the raja’s lovely daughters he had heard about in Rangga Poerik’s turi-turian. Falling in love with her, but shaken from the experience of meeting such an ethereal person, Pandingkar Moedo faints. This is clearly an instance of soul loss, not a simple physical blackout. This situation leads to more mystical adventures, before Pandingkar Moedo finally emerges onto a highway, outside the forest. He is rescued by a Padangsidimpuan merchant named ‘Awaiting Riches’, who gives him a good job. From that point in the narrative, matters become firmly realistic once again and the majority of the remaining action takes place on the human plane.
Part Two never has these oscillations between other-worldly realms and the mundane world. In that later part of the book, when the author does employ oral narrative forms such as chants, he always brackets them off clearly as ‘folklore’, which the by now very modern characters recite to each other for their entertainment, rather than as a device for invoking an alternative supernatural world.
As it progresses, the novel ushers the reader to another transition. That is, as we go from Part One to Part Two, we meet Pandingkar Moedo’s son Djahoemarkar and that young man’s childhood companion, student, and later wife, Sitti Djaoerah. Part Two becomes a record of their mutual journey from childhood to married adulthood, and from Tapanuli residence to life in Deli. The pair start out as Padangsidimpuan children, growing up in a relatively narrow world of shopkeeper families. Then they go to a Dutch-run school, which opens up social vistas beyond Angkola and even beyond the colonial Indies. They read books and study world geography. Finally, they move outside the Angkola region in a literal, physical sense, as first the 19- or 20-year-old Djahoemarkar and then Sitti Djaoerah and her mother journey on foot from Tapanuli to Deli. For the young couple, this geographic journey is also their social and personal journey to adulthood and towards marriage and salaried work on a Dutch plantation near Medan. The ambitious plot of Part Two allows Sutan Hasoendoetan to describe the social landscape of all the different parts of Sumatra as his protagonists traverse them. This volume calls for closer inspection, to give the reader an idea of its sociological scope and narrative devices.
The first chapter, ‘Djahoemarkar’, introduces that character as an infant. In her despair at losing her husband, Si Taring has neglected to name her little son. Since she often tells her friends that the boy’s face and mannerisms remind her of Pandingkar Moedo, they start to call the child ‘Raja Opener-of-Deep-Longings’. The nickname sticks, and the long turi-turian phrase evoking his name thereafter recurs frequently in the novel. That is to say, when the baby’s, and later the more mature Djahoemarkar’s name is mentioned by one character or another, or by the narrator, the text will often read ‘Djahoemarkar Raja Opener-of-Deep-Longings, He-Who-Opens-Wells-of-Sadness’. This formulaic saying opens the chapter, in fact, and was also used by the author to open his introductory essay to the serialized publication of the novel in the newspaper Poestaha. As the story progresses, Djahoemarkar begins to grow up (‘like a cucumber’ — an adat phrase from ritual speech). He soon starts school.
His mother is quite progressive and wishes him to continue his studies as far as possible. The author recommends this course of action to his readers, too, in their dealings with their own children. Djahoemarkar wins school prizes for his high grades and gentlemanly behaviour. In fact, Djahoemarkar’s character and behaviour are unrelievedly excellent throughout the book. Like a great raja in a turi-turian epic, he never makes a moral mistake or intentionally harms anyone. Evil deeds and thoughts come his way, but, with his sterling character, he is generally able to ward off these dangers (or bald).
In the next chapter the schoolboy Djahoemarkar begins to accompany Sitti Djaoerah (four years his junior) to school, where her mother is sending her with the tolerant acquiescence of the girl’s father. Sitti Djaoerah’s parents turn out to be none other than Awaiting Riches and his wife. The boy and girl had met at Sitti Djaoerah’s naming ceremony when she was an infant. At that time Djahoemarkar begged his mother to let him take the baby home, ‘as a little sister for me’. Their relationship is indeed presented, at one level, as a friendship of siblings. Djahoemarkar protects his little Sitti Djaoerah and she comes to him for advice; he admires her intelligence and fine character. She is also without moral blemish, although she can be a bit bossy.18 In the ensuing chapters, the pair grow towards adolescence and confront their first crisis: Djahoemarkar has been asked by an advocate of his, the Dutch schoolmaster, to become an assistant schoolteacher. The schoolmaster tells him that, were Djahoemarkar not an only child (and thus needed by his mother as her companion), he would be sent to Teachers’ Training College. Djahoemarkar is gratified by any improvement of his school fortunes, but he despairs of taking the new job because he is (as he tells Sitti Djaoerah) too poor to buy the new clothes his lecturer position will demand. Djahoemarkar and his mother actually are quite comfortably off, since Pandingkar Moedo has left them a large water buffalo herd as their inheritance. Djahoemarkar hides this fact from Sitti Djaoerah, however. Playfulness of this sort is characteristic of their relationship until they are well into their married life, as parents, late in the book.19 The same bantering tone characterized the relationship of Pandingkar Moedo and Si Taring earlier in the novel. In fact, the two love relationships parallel each other in many ways.
Sitti Djaoerah convinces her shopkeeper father to fit out Djahoemarkar in an elaborate set of clothes, which she picks out for him. The families of the pair get along famously at this point; they all look on indulgently at the child couple’s growing devotion to each other. This relationship is still presented as a siblingship at this point, but it is evident to readers that the pair will soon fall in love. Many set-piece folk-stories, courtship duels, riddles and complaint songs are inserted into the narrative as the couple’s relationship develops. Soetan Hasoendoetan also takes up long passages of the text to describe social events such as post-Fasting Month celebrations. He does insert his characters into such tableau scenes, but these fetes and so on are clearly put into the narrative to lend local colour. Often these scenes are accompanied by long, quite realistic renderings of ‘social visit’ speeches which the characters deliver to each other as they travel about the Tapanuli countryside. Amid all this talk and visiting, the story edges forward: a rich, lecherous old merchant has espied Sitti Djaoerah all dressed up for the end of Ramadan, carrying a fringed pink parasol. He instantly falls in love with the thirteen-year-old girl and plots to snatch her away from her assistant schoolteacher. First, the merchant (named Sutan Hardwood, the Sutan-Ashamed-to-Grow-Old) unloads his present wife by sending her and his son back to her home village for the duration of his new dalliance. Then he hires a bogus Muslim expert to offer Sitti Djaoerah’s father a series of ‘Religious Lessons’. In what is probably the book’s funniest, and certainly its most socially critical section, this Muslim sage persuades Awaiting Riches to take his daughter out of school, since secular learning will lead to ‘great sins’. This, the teacher avers, means sexual play with boys. It is better that teenage girls be simply married off safely to responsible older men, Awaiting Riches is told. His wife is heartbroken at the decision to remove their daughter from school. Eventually, the mother submits to her husband’s wishes, however. She has no choice: the Muslim teacher has caught Sitti Djaoerah in a secret rendezvous with Djahoemarkar down by the river, where he has disguised himself as a fisherman in order to converse with his friend (see Rodgers 1981:149-152). They both realize the threat posed by Sutan Hardwood. Speaking in indirect, courtship speech style, Djahoemarkar gets Sitti Djaoerah to promise that her wedding day will also be his wedding day: that is, that they will marry each other and no one else. This promise is ‘the Vow’ of the novel’s sub-title. The plot speeds up at this point: Sutan Hardwood prepares his family representatives to go to Awaiting Riches’ house to present Sitti Djaoerah’s bridewealth payments. The very night before this, Sitti Djaoerah and her mother (now her firm ally) flee the home to avoid the marriage. They hide out in the postal cart making the night run to Mandailing. Soon they find lodgings with relatives in Panyabungan, who sympathize with their plight.
The mother and daughter support themselves by selling cakes in the weekly market. Sitti Djaoerah by now is an extremely pretty teenager and she attracts the attention of many Panyabungan male market sellers. She only has eyes for Djahoemarkar, though, with whom she is communicating via passionate love letters. She slyly conceals the exact wording of these letters when she reads them and her replies out loud to her mother: Sitti Djaoerah simply changes the wording of the sentences as she recites the letter contents to her parent. Back in Padangsidimpuan, Djahoemarkar and his mother have fallen on hard times. A great pestilence has wiped out their buffalo herd. Si Taring goes mad from grief (in an affecting scene she goes out to the animals’ corral after they have all died, thinking they still need tending). She soon dies and Djahoemarkar, now totally impoverished, decides that he must seek his fortune in Deli. He writes to Sitti Djaoerah and her mother that he is going to set off on foot on the journey to Deli; he will send for them from there, he promises. On his trip, as he passes through the different Batak regions, the language of the characters’ dialogue and the novelist’s narration itself shift from Angkola Batak to Toba Batak. Similarly, while in Mandailing, Sitti Djaoerah and her mother often use regional phrases from that area. Djahoemarkar has many exciting adventures in the land of ‘Toba Sirara’, the fearsome Red Toba. Finally, he arrives in the port city of Belawan and works in a series of jobs as a deckhand on barges and freighters. This section of the book includes many travelogue-like passages about coastal society and labour conditions. Back in Mandailing, Sitti Djaoerah and her mother have resolved to walk to Deli, too, to find Djahoemarkar on their own. Chapter 16, ‘Kitchen Chat’, is presented entirely as a dramatic dialogue between a Mandailing husband and wife who debate the merits and dangers of migrating to Deli. They finally resolve to move their family there, since they fear that they will all be drafted into the corvee labor gangs if they stay in Panyabungan. This couple later become the companions of Sitti Djaoerah and her mother on their journey to Deli. This second walk to Medan is not related in detail. Once in Medan, the women locate Djahoemarkar by placing an advertisement in a Malay-language newspaper. There is a joyful reunion; Djahoemarkar and Sitti Djaoerah physically embrace while her mother deliberately stays out of the room. Soon after, the pair are married in an adat ceremony, paid for by Djahoemarkar’s fond boss on the plantation where he now is employed. The remaining chapters detail life in Deli: Sitti Djaoerah studies Javanese so that she can talk to her new neighbours in the plantation housing complex for employees; Djahoemarkar is urged to become a labour union spokesman and practises his speeches out among the rows of rubber trees, standing on a box; the Javanese coolies revolt over what they see as wage inequity and threaten to kill the Dutch boss. During this crisis, Sitti Djaoerah dresses up as a Javanese prince who has purportedly come over to Sumatra to investigate the labour dispute. Working on behalf of the management, but leading the labourers to believe that she is an objective outside observer, she settles the dispute to everyone’s satisfaction and then calmly takes off her Javanese royalty costume to become an Angkola wife once again.
Some years pass. The couple have children, whom they name in very traditional Angkola ways. One day, a French aviator (Tuan Chanteloup) comes to town, to give Medan its first airplane exhibition. Djahoemarkar and his whole family go out to the airfield to marvel at the wondrous machine. Fascinated, Djahoemarkar and Sitti Djaoerah come back several days later to take a ride up in the air. On the way to the airfield, riding in a car borrowed from the plantation, Djahoemarkar tells Sitti Djaoerah that the airplane reminds him of the aerial exploits of the seven beautiful daughters of the Upper World Raja, as recounted in the turi-turian of Datuk Tuanku Tuan Malim Leman. ‘What’s that?’, Sitti Djaoerah asks, and her husband begins a lengthy (22-page) recitation of the beginning of this chant. This is printed in prose form in the novel, but the phrasing remains quite close to oral versions of the turi-turian. Djahoemarkar cuts short his rendition of the chant as they arrive at the airfield.
In the next chapter, Djahoemarkar joins a study club and begins to discuss politics with his fellow-workers. Finally, in Chapter 23, the whole family, including Sitti Djaoerah’s mother, makes a brief, clandestine visit back to Tapanuli to view their ancestors’ tombs (to ziarah, in the phrase the writer uses). They visit Pandingkar Moedo’s grave site and of course all cry. They emerge from the experience feeling more ‘firm-souled’ (a typical Angkola representation of the spiritual benefits ofziarah activities). The book ends on a bitter note, as Sitti Djaoerah and the narrator think back to her father’s hard-hearted attempts to force her to marry the old merchant: the novel ends with the sentence ‘The woman’s heart ties to her father were all broken, to that father of hers who would have sought a highranking son-in-law for himself (pp.458-459).
Two Imagined Worlds in Sitti Djaoerah
This lengthy and obviously complex work is too large in scope to fully detail here, but we can focus briefly on several sections of the novel which show how Soetan Hasoendoetan delineates a world of tradition and a world of modernity and then sets his protagonists on a trajectory toward the latter. As is already obvious, there are many journeys of this sort in the book: Pandingkar Moedo’s movement from his forest adventures with his mystical helpers towards life on the socially realistic plane as a rubber merchant; Part One’s shift from folktale-like narration to a more sturdily novelistic plot line; Part Two’s journey from rural Tapanuli to polyglot, urban, Dutch-influenced Deli. Short comments on several of the novelist’s techniques in reporting such journeys follow, after which we can look at one of the book’s chapters in more detail.
Soetan Hasoendoetan makes some of his major points about the role of tradition in modern life through his manipulation of language. A typical example comes in chapter two, Part One. The chapter preceding this one is unabashedly realistic. Offering a vision of modern Padangsidimpuan, it sets the geographic and social scene for the story. The small city, we find, is Tapanuli’s commercial centre. Then the narrative turns to the city’s social character, as a grand meeting-place of different classes and peoples. This section includes several socially realistic, almost sociological vignettes of labour conditions and the public school situation in town. The writer ends the chapter by naming the many rivers that flow through the residency, two of which bisect Sidimpuan into distinct neighbourhoods. These will become important later on in the book, since Sitti Djaoerah and Djahoemarkar will live in the two separate areas.
Chapter 2 offers another, even fuller, social portrait of the city. Entitled ‘About the Past’, it details the roster of different types of day labourers who rush out of their homes each morning at dawn to hurry to their work. Tapanuli was experiencing a flurry of road-building at the time, and much labour was needed to chop down the forest in the mountains. The labourers are portrayed as ‘coolies’, who are herded from task to task by their Batak overseers and Dutch bosses. Continuing the chapter’s headlong narrative movement, the second page tells the readers about the cake-seller women who pour out of their houses at 4 a.m. to sell their wares to the day labourers. We learn of one little girl sweet vendor who forgets to collect her money from a worker who rushes off. She fears what her mother will say when she counts up the profits later, back home. Then Soetan Hasoendoetan shifts his focus back to a greater distance, and comments, ‘When all the various people go out of their houses to their jobs, they’re like little birds flitting out of their nests, and when they go home in the evenings they’re like ants marching back to their anthills in long lines’ (p. 12).
This wonderful passage is entirely typical of Soetan Hasoendoetan. It draws heavily on deeply evocative adat oratory phrases (birds’ and ants’ movements figure heavily in adat speech), while at the same time making strikingly up-to-date, critical observations on Indies society. For instance, addressing his audience as ‘Dear Reader’ (literally, ‘Friend, Reader’), the author leaves us with no doubt about what he himself thinks of such Angkola behaviour as toadying to the Dutch bosses. While Soetan Hasoendoetan is making such points, though, his sentences are laden with elegant, often alliterative phrases taken from such village oral forms as turi-turian, kobar (the standard adat speeches), and osong-osong (verbal duels delivered between wife-givers and wife-receivers). Soetan Hasoendoetan’s typical strategy is to use such adat speech forms as a storehouse from which to select images and phrases, rather than reproducing entire long speeches.
The novelist’s use of language — specifically, his presentation of ‘old’ oratory genres as an entertainment form of deep poignancy for his modern readers — is an important feature of another section of Part One, namely the chapters dealing with the young Pandingkar Moedo and his adventures in the forest.The journey to modernity here ends in the adolescent hero’s unceremonious expulsion from the deep woods, where he has been lulled into a mystical state of consciousness by one of his friends’ recitation of a turi-turian chant. Pandingkar Moedo ‘grows up’ in the process and leaves his tendencies to consort with spirit beings behind. Shortly after emerging from the forest, he courts and marries a young human woman, and the novel’s narrative as a whole (as noted) shifts permanently to a socially realistic key, where chant speech henceforth appears in conceptual brackets, as marking old oratory forms used by the characters in their recitations to each other as entertainment. This part of the novel spans several chapters and takes several detours.
The last part of Chapter 3 (where the sequence of events begins) concerns the luxurious and carefree life Pandingkar Moedo lives for several months as a rich heir. The two opportunistic boys Rangga Poerik and Rangga Balian soon latch onto him as their potential meal ticket. The two boys represent their relationship in grander terms, though, with Pandingkar Moedo emerging as their sponsor and they as his faithful aides and foot soldiers. The pair soon lead Pandingkar Moedo to the local gambling den, where he proceeds to lose most of his fortune.
In this part of the chapter (pp. 18-21) the narrative is cast entirely in prose, in relatively unadorned conversational Angkola Batak. Soon (by page 22) the language turns more elaborate and oratorical, as the two young foot soldiers suggest to Pandingkar Moedo that they all make a journey out to Sihitang Village to take mystical self-defence lessons from a great guru (this is a common bit of action, too, in turi-turian epics, which also often concern adventuresome adolescent boys). The great guru in question is named ‘Awaiting Battle’. After much cajoling, he finally agrees to teach the boys the martial arts, which they hope to be able use to fend off their creditors from their gambling exploits.
The boys learn how to defeat supernatural animals and how to ‘force back’ mystical attacks. This part of the chapter is very reminiscent of turi-turian, although it maintains a consistent mood,of joviality and good humour. Turi-turian, by contrast, are generally more solemn and mysterious. In a typical passage in this chapter, the readers are told that Awaiting Battle’s young wife is a superb cook who stuffs the boys full of steaming curry, while her husband is feeding them on mantra and secret lore.
Still in the same chapter, the boys return home to Padangsidimpuan. There, Pandingkar Moedo’s mother is surprised to find that the trio do not want to eat the large meal she has prepared. They confess that they have already been fed out in Sihitang. This situation leads to a long section in which Pandingkar Moedo and his mother trade stories, all on the themes of how one must tell the truth as best one can. Each of these stories has a set-piece flavour to it. The tales are highly amusing and resemble Malay folk-tales. However, they involve real human characters and are set in a Tapanuli social locale (the longer story here involves a judge, a rich man, a poor fisherwoman, and a lost fishing-net). At the end of the chapter the boys return to Sihitang for more self-defence lessons.
At this point in the novel the oscillation between Pandingkar Moedo’s house in Sidimpuan and the boys’ journeys out to distant villages like Sihitang has set up a clear dichotomy of worlds. Sidimpuan is a land of human social relationships, commerce, and social troubles, while the forest villages are located in a dreamlike realm of magic, bountiful food, generous older women, and wise mystics. The boys shuttle back and forth between the two worlds and at this point in the narrative never really break out of this pattern. Chapter 4 shows the author in his role as a freelance newspaper writer. Without any advance warning, Soetan Hasoendoetan switches from his stories about Pandingkar Moedo and the two sidekicks to a long descriptive piece entitled, ‘A Great Adat Feast in Batu na Dua’. The latter is the name of a village between Sipirok and Padangsidimpuan. The chapter simply describes an elaborate adat ceremony that took place there, and none of the characters we have so far become familiar with appear until far into the narrative. Indeed, Soetan Hasoendoetan acknowledges in a footnote (p. 39) that he has taken this chapter from a previously published issue of Poestaha. The various stages and the speeches of the adat ceremony are described in ethnographic detail, with abundant verse passages representing the high oratory delivered by the chiefs. Finally, Pandingkar Moedo is brought back into the story line, in a late section in which he takes part in the heated gambling occurring along the fringes of the ceremony.
Chapter 5 (‘Searching for a Livelihood’) begins with a heavy-handed scene-switching technique of which Soetan Hasoendoetan is fond. He opens the chapter as follows: ‘Friend, Reader…. we’ll move the story away a bit from all the folks coming home from the gambling out at the Great Horja Feast which was related in Chapter IV, so that we’ll have a roadway available to bring this story to its proper conclusion’ (p. 58). Soon after that the chapter detours briefly into an exciting story about an uprising of Nias ‘coolies’ on a plantation near Sibolga. Pandingkar Moedo and his two companions stand off on the side to this story, as listeners. This particular narrative has the flavour of a rather sensationalistic newspaper story. After this, the focus shifts back to the boys’ own adventures. Rangga Poerik and Rangga Balian work out their scheme to walk to Simintjak Mountain and collect incense. They hope to reap enough profits from the sale of the sap to be able to pay off Pandingkar Moedo’s gambling debts and thus fend off the police. As they push deeper and deeper into the forest, the boys’ speech begins to feature phrases from the esoteric ancient language of the camphor gatherers. Rangga Poerik and Rangga Balian teach their protector how to cut the trees and collect the sap. Then, at night, as was noted, Rangga Poerik sings the others into a trance-like state by chanting a long turi-turian.
As was previously mentioned, Pandingkar Moedo meets the magic spirit woman as he hears this chant. After the other boys drift off to sleep, he wanders out into the woods alone in search of her cloudy form. This is the first time that he has been affected by female beauty. He loses his way; chilled, starved, and terrified of the forest at night, he soon becomes delirious. While lying on the ground nearly unconscious, he is attacked by a huge tiger (perhaps a real one, perhaps a chimera). Rangga Poerik and Rangga Balian witness this attack but scamper off into the woods, fearing for their own safety. With this perfidious act, they have broken their sacred vow with Pandingkar Moedo: at the start of their forest adventure, the three had promised each other that they would always be ‘of-a-single-life, ofa-single-death’, come whatever danger might to any of them. Pandingkar Moedo is mauled by the tiger and left for dead in the mud by the side of the road leading from Sipirok to Padangsidimpuan. A rich merchant happens along, riding his fine carriage home to Padangsidimpuan from the market in Sipirok. This gentleman is called Mananti Kayo, ‘Awaiting Riches’. He recognizes Pandingkar Moedo (under all the mud) as a distant relative. The older man rescues the boy and carries him back to Padangsidimpuan, where his wife gives him a good meal. Awaiting Riches sizes up the boy as an honest, hearty soul and soon offers him a partnership in his forest rubber business. Pandingkar Moedo gratefully accepts the offer. As the chapter draws to a close, the narrative is now firmly back on the mundane social plane with regular conversational Batak speech. In Chapter 6, Pandingkar Moedo grows to adulthood, by becoming a successful merchant and, secondly, by abandoning his old fascination with the forest spirit woman to court and marry a human girl.
As Pandingkar Moedo has moved towards maturity and a sophisticated awareness of the essential falsity and danger of the forest world, the novel’s readers have moved forward in the book towards a species of maturity of their own: they now know they may encounter the old chant speech in a work of fiction. Turi-turian speech has appeared to them as one of the enjoyable interludes in a session of leisure-time reading. The latter was an indelibly modern experience for southern Bataks of the 1920’s. As they progressed through the novel, the readers savoured other, even more aesthetically satisfying samples of turi-turian chants, such as the one reproduced in Chapter 21.
Modernity and Tradition in Chapter 21, ‘Airplane’
It could be argued that every chapter in Sitti Djaoerah is a transitional one that bridges the gap between the oral and print worlds and speaks of social change while looking to both the past and the future. However, the twentyfirst chapter, coming near the novel’s end, when the protagonists are successfully established in Deli, provides a particularly forceful statement on these themes. The narrative also draws especially heavily on oral genres that evoke a distant Angkola past. The oral genre at issue’ here again is that of a turi-turian epic. Importantly, though, the use of oratory is set firmly in the modern print world: Sitti Djaoerah and Djahoemarkar relish these old oral verses and the ancient, supernatural world they evoke in their role as modern-thinking, fond connoisseurs of’old traditions’. Delightfully, they do so while riding along the streets of Medan in an automobile, on their way to an airplane ride. An examination of the story-within-a-story framework of this chapter will allow us to discover one of Soetan Hasoendoetan’s major techniques for juxtaposing tradition with modernity within the same novel and arguing to readers that both worlds, if properly defined, may exist simultaneously.
The action of the chapter is as follows. As was noted in the precis, an airplane exhibition organized by Tuan Chanteloup has come to Medan to give northern Sumatra its first air show. Djahoemarkar, Sitti Djaoerah, the latter’s mother, and the children all go out to the makeshift airfield to see the plane. Djahoemarkar warns the others that this outing is all probably a waste of time and money, but ends up enjoying the show immensely. Several days later, at the old mother’s urging, the married couple go by chauffeured plantation car to the air exhibition again, this time to actually take a plane ride. On the way there, their driver takes them on a scenic route through Medan. They speak of the pending flight. Sitti Djaoerah wonders aloud how heavy planes can fly. Djahoemarkar teases her by saying that magic flying-suits once sufficed to carry people upwards towards the Upper Spirit Kingdom (Lumban Dibata Diginjang). Here, Djahoemarkar is quoting from one of Angkola’s most famous turi-turian epics, called the ‘Turi-turian of Datuk Tuongku Tuan Malim Leman’.
Djahoemarkar laughingly tells his wife that women in the turi-turian would don ‘badjoe bialal bioeloeF (bialal biulul suits) and go flying upwards into the clouds. She wonders whatever these costumes can be (she doesn’t know any turi-turian). Djahoemarkar then launches into a long narration of condensed passages of the turi-turian. These concern the adventures of the young Datuk Tuongku and his younger brother, the attempts of the two to cure their frail mother with a magic potion, and their playful interaction with the seven lovely daughters of the Upper World Raja. This particular turi-turian is a southern Batak version of a familiar Sumatran and Malay epic, although its recitation is presented in the novel as a strictly Angkola affair. As Djahoemarkar speaks, Sitti Djaoerah is awed by his splendid, elegantly phrased narration.
When Djahoemarkar playfully stops his recitation before the end of the story (using the fact that the car has arrived at the airfield as an excuse), she is sorely disappointed. She asks him to tell her more, but he laughingly demurs, saying that people will joke that they have set out to go planeriding but have ended up chanting old epics. The author adds a footnote at this point (p. 444) telling his readers that he hopes to publish the entire text of this turi-turian when time and God’s will permit. This is a reference to the book on this particular chant that he has in fact published, in 1941.
The chapter continues with the couple purchasing tickets for the plane. They are soon looking down on the city of Medan. This leads them both to draw joking parallels between their flight and the turi-turian events. In this section the writer employs many elegant metaphoric phrases drawn from the chant. Soon both the flight and the chapter end. The exceptionally entertaining narrative of’Airplane’, with its story-ina-story framework, accomplishes several important things for the Angkola reader. First, it locates him or her firmly within a modern spatial and temporal context. The action takes place in Deli, on a plantation, and in Medan, in automobiles, and even, of course, in Medan’s first airplane.
Djahoemarkar is so modern a man, in fact, that he not only takes his family out on a pleasure trip to the airfield (as virtual tourists in their own town) but returns later with Sitti Djaoerah as husband and wife, without the rest of the family. In adat speech as well as in village ritual life today — and almost certainly in Soetan Hasoendoetan’s time — a married couple rarely appears as a couple in public. Rather, the husband appears in groups of men, while the wife would be seen only in groups of other married women; or the couple would be totally submerged in their role as parents.
Besides giving this portrayal of ‘modern married life’, the author flatters the reader as a modern sophisticate by framing the recitation of the turiturian as an ‘old story’ told by a 20th-century urban man. Presented this way, the epic appears as a piece of Angkola folkore. This narrative strategy could have been used in such a way that the events of the turi-turian and its recitation were presented in a condescending way, as ‘old-fashioned lore’ in a negative sense. By contrast, however, Soetan Hasoendoetan takes the subtler course of presenting the epic with oratorical precision and obvious respect. He allows his readers to savour the language of the turiturian in its full aesthetic force.
By presenting the chant in this way, with most of its aesthetic attraction intact, the author is able to suggest to his cultivated readers that it is possible to appreciate full-bodied ancient Angkola traditions in modern times, outside Tapanuli. ‘Airplane’ is also one of the novel’s most uniformly happy chapters. The protagonists have largely attained their ideals and left their struggles behind them, and now have the time and the money to go on pleasure trips. The couple’s ability to indulge in the speech forms of the old epics while riding in modern conveyances is clearly an ideal which the writer is holding up to his readers, as an exemplary resolution of the Angkola question regarding tradition and modernity.
Conclusion: A Traditionalist Novel of Modern Life
At the end of the novel, thanks to chapters like the one just described, Angkola readers must have felt swept along towards Deli and a keen enjoyment of Djahoemarkar’s and Sitti Djaoerah’s successful life there. In Part Two, none of the novel’s main sympathetic characters, with the one exception of Djahoemarkar’s mother, die, fall ill, or find themselves in strained marriages, as would have been the case in the more typical 1920s-30s Sumatran novel. Bad luck tends to befall the unsympathetic characters of this last part of the book: Sitti Djaoerah’s father is abandoned by his family, for instance, while old Sutan Hardwood fails to ensnare Sitti Djaoerah in marriage. The heroic characters escape the misfortunes, poverty, and social injustices of Tapanuli and emerge as emotionally sturdy, gainfully employed Deli-coast residents. They have negotiated this transition quite without destroying their personal lives, and without jettisoning Angkola ethnic culture in the process. Angkola ethnic culture, in fact, has become an object of fond discussion and entertainment for them, as a set of folk-ways in the most positive sense. Now living in Deli, the main characters are still able to gain access to an Angkola world ‘from the past’ by indulging in some of its more powerful ritual speech forms, understood and executed with sympathy and respect rather than condescension.
Family histories collected recently among Angkola now living in Medan often invoke these same themes of success and prosperity attained on the journey to the diaspora. And, again in a pattern quite similar to that found in the novel, city migrant families often relish adat oratory, which they seem to take recourse to as a means of recapturing some of the emotions of an imagined ancient village world.20 Observers of the Batak (for instance, Bruner 1973) often note that the more urbanized migrants become (and the more fully integrated into the Indonesian nation), the more devoted they become to learning and conserving adat lore, especially the more highly emotion-laden genres of ritual speech. This dual attraction to Batak tradition and to city life in Indonesia is, in fact, the leitmotif of recent Batak social history. Soetan Hasoendoetan seems to have intuitively grasped this folk perception of social change and presented it in vivid fictional form. This gives his novel a claim to being a work of true mass literature. In future accounts of 20th-century Indonesian literature dealing with tradition and modernity issues, an investigation to what extent other ethnic-language fiction traditions formulated similarly forceful and optimistic views of modernity would be valuable. It would also be interesting to discover the extent to which these other literatures employed a strategy of combining the imagined world evoked by ritual oratory with the socially realistic realm of prose.
1 Particularly good background sources on this general topic include Keith Foulcher’s study of the imagery of time in 1920s poetry (1977), C.W. Watson’s thesis (1972), and Freidus’s examination of the early Minangkabau novelists (1977). Teeuw 1967 provides a framework within which to understand Tapanuli literature of the pre-war years, although he concentrates on the better-known Indonesian-language works. It should be noted that for the rendering of all Indonesian names and titles, including those from the earlier period, the modern Indonesian spelling has been followed throughout the present article. So I have written Rusli instead of Roesli, Nurbaya instead of Noerbaja,
2 See Keith Foulcher’s Pujangga Baru (1980) for a comprehensive discussion of these writers’ views of tradition and modernity.
3 Hatley (1981) and Peacock (1968) both assert that the dramatic presentation of family disputes and unhappy marriage choices acts as a sort of code for discussing the strains of rapid modernization in Javanese popular culture. Extremely interesting comparative work could be done on common Sumatran and Javanese uses of family motifs in popular art.
4 See Foulcher 19 81 for a thorough discussion of social and time imagery in these two novels by Pramoedya.
5 See also Paul Tickell’s similar argument (Tickell 1987).
6 The major collections of these Angkola-language works are to be found in the National Library in Jakarta, in its pre-war Tapanuli newspaper holdings, and in the Koninklijk Instituut voor Taal-, Land- en Volkenkunde (KITLV) at Leiden. The Indonesian government’s Ministry of Education and Culture has been reissuing a few of the major pre-war prose and verse narrative works in its ethnic languages and literature series (TolbokHaleon, for instance, has been reissued under these auspices). I use the term Angkola here to designate the entire area south of Toba and north of Mandailing. The Angkola language is quite close to that of Mandailing.
7 I base this section on an examination of the library collections noted above, and on 1989 interviews in Sipirok, Medan, and Sibolga on fiction and verse-narrative writing from the 1920s; I also collected information on southern Batak publishing houses. For general background information about Angkola and particularly Sipirok contemporary society and its oral and printed literature, see Rodgers 1978, 1979a, 1979b, 1981, 1983, 1984, 1986, and 1990a, based on my 1974-77, Dec. 1980, and Oct. 1986 – March 1987 fieldwork. Rodgers 1990b includes translations of Andung speech.
8 By 1900, the old script was already retreating to the status of a special subject in school. Today few Tapanuli residents read it fluently; it is used almost exclusively to decorate tombs. A very few Sipirok-area houses still have heirloom bulu aor tobol, which are lengths of bamboo with andung laments on them, written out in the old script.
9 Typical examples of this small genre include A.N. Loebis’s Harondoek Parmanoan and H. Soetan Paroehoem Pane’s Adat Batak II.
10 A version of this still remains today. The region went through something of a renaissance of adat ceremonialism in the 1970s, funded by prosperous city families. See Rodgers 1979b and 1983 on political oratory.
11 Armijn and Sanoesi Pane’s father, the newspaper editor and publisher Soetan Pangoerabaan, was pursuing similar themes in a series of tracts and” folklore readers published in his home town of Sipirok in the 1920s and 30s (see, for instance, Parkalaan Tondoeng and Mentjapai Doenia Baroe).
12 There is continuing confusion in Sipirok about Tolbok Haleon. In 1975 I was told that a partial photocopy of Sitti Djaoerah which I had was actually Tolbok Haleon (thus I identified the book as such, incorrectly, in my 1981 essay, ‘A Batak Literature of Modernization’).
13 Typical titles here include A. Hadi’s Ende Oengoetoengoet ni Si Boetet and his Postpakket.
14 Partial runs of these newspapers can be found in the National Library in Jakarta.
15 These biographical details were provided by one of Soetan Hasoendoetan’s daughters, in a July, 1989, interview.
16 Soetan Hasoendoetan also contributed freelance articles to Sibolga newspapers. The close link between fiction publication and journalism was quite strong in both the southern Batak regions and Minangkabau.
17 Sutan Pangoerabaan Pane published an edition of this book under his own name (a mistake which the Ministry of Education and Culture’s ethnic literature series has perpetuated).
18 In South Tapanuli, bossiness is said to be characteristic of girls from the Siregar clan from Sipirok. We learn that these are Sitti Djaoerah’s origins.
19 My 1981 ‘A Batak Literature of Modernization’ includes a translation of a passage from Sitti Djaoerah where Djahoemarkar speaks to Sitti Djaoerah in courtship rhymes (pp. 147-149).
20 Turi-turian are rarely performed today. However, when I sponsored one in 1976 (in order to tape-record the chants), the audience assembled in the Sipirok house where we held the session was awe-struck by the performance. Sung in a singsong voice for many hours on end, these chants are near-trance-like performances, even today, in an era in which they have virtually disappeared.
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