• 591,104 KALI



Sumatra Heritage Trust, Malaysia


The issue of our time, the survival of human beings with individuated consciousness and communal ties, is in peril…. Freedom, then, is the path to this new life. A freedom which begins with the individual, confirms him in his place with his people and his language and his culture, yet by that specific location of his being there, grants him a world perspective to recognise his brothers and sisters elsewhere in their ʻdifferentnessʼand their challenge (The World Crisis).


The Mandailing people inhabit as their homeland the southwestern corner of the province of North Sumatra on the island of Sumatra, Indonesia. For centuries they have migrated throughout the Indonesian archipelago and Peninsular West Malaysia. They have made enormous contributions to politics, society, music, literature and the press both in Indonesia and Malaysia. Their social and cultural markers include the markoum sisolkot, the patrilineal clan-based Mandailing social structure governed by customary law (adat)1; the urup tulak-tulak (Mandailing script); the tradition of consultative governance as embodied in the judicial assembly of Namora-Natoras (traditional institution of Mandailing governance); the totem sculpture Sangkalon, a symbol of justice; the Gordang Sambilan (nine great drums), the ritualistic Mandailing music; the Abit Godang, the ceremonial shawl; the Bindu gable that represents the Mandailing’s philosophy of life; and the rarangan (protected areas) in environmentally challenging times.

Yet the Mandailings have been culturally marginalized in Indonesia and Malaysia. Academic works have subsumed them as an appendix of the Angkola, Batak and Malay. In Malaysia, racial politics and statesponsored social engineering in the name of nation building, backed by the academia, have resulted in the acculturation of the Mandailings into the dominant Malay racial category. In Indonesia, the Mandailings have been lumped into the dominant Batak group since the Dutch colonial era.

Recently, Malaysian politicians from UMNO (United Malay National Organisation) and politician-academics from Gapena (Gabungan Penulis-Penulis Nasional/ Union of National Writers) have been travelling to Indonesia, as well as sponsoring Indonesian scholars to ‘Malay World’ conferences, to promote the idea of Melayu inklusif (inclusive Malay identity) – an idea based on the colonial perception that the native people of the Indonesian archipelago and Malaysia are of the Malay race/stock (rumpun Melayu).2

The basic human right of the Mandailings – and of other cultural communities and indigenous peoples – to define themselves has been overlooked by most Malaysian and Indonesian intellectuals and the academia who have accepted the state’s discourse on ethnicity. Responding to threats of endangered human diversity, indigenous people all over the world are reviving traditional forms of governance, communicating their cultural identity, and using modern information technology for networking and building international alliances.  Of late, interest in Mandailing identity and cultural heritage in Malaysia and Indonesia has intensified owing to increased networking and the use of the Internet among concerned Mandailings. Furthermore, Mandailing scholars are part of regional movements to deconstruct mainstream history and state-constructed ethnic categories. 


This project represents an effort in the same direction. In the course of the API Fellowship, the author carried out several activities to gain further understanding of the dilemmas facing Mandailing identity, and to engage others in valuing that identity. Several activities were academic: the author presented papers in symposia and colloquia, wrote articles for journals and the popular press, facilitated workshops, prepared cultural heritage guides, and accepted interviews from leading Indonesian dailies.3

But a great part of the effort was also non-academic, some of which the author would like to highlight in this paper. These are efforts related to the movement for cultural identity, the promotion of cultural pilgrimage, regional autonomy and the devolution of power, environmental management, cultural performance, the promotion of indigenised ‘Mandailing-Islam’, the promotion of alternative currencies, the improvement of the Mandailing website, and the holding of a photographic exhibition.

All these tasks must be seen as part of a broader concern to construct a socio-cultural and political identity for the Mandailing people, the purposes of which are: first, to strengthen Mandailing community and civil society through the development of cultural heritage resources and environmental stewardship; and second, to mobilize the Mandailing community towards increased selfdetermination through public participation, cultural heritage and environmental activism.



The author took a participatory observer approach in addition to doing library and archival research. In Jakarta, he was mainly engaged in library research, and most of the relevant material was obtained from the two libraries of Lembaga Ilmu Pengetahuan Indonesia (LIPI/ Indonesian Institute of Sciences) and Perpustakaan Nasional (National Library) as well as from bookshops (secondhand ones especially) and private collections such as that of Basyral Hamidy Harahap.

He managed to obtain substantial background material on Indonesia’s modern history, some of which was used for his paper presentations. There is potentially more material on the Mandailings in Dutch records of the 19th century, but unfortunately the author will have to get assistance in translation as the language is inaccessible to the author.4 In Jakarta, the author’s host was Yayasan Pelestarian Budaya Indonesia (Indonesian Heritage Foundation).

Medan disproved the author’s earlier fears that there is a paucity of material written in Bahasa Indonesia and the Mandailing language concerning the Mandailings. For years the author had been led by his fellow Indonesian scholars to believe that there was not much written on the Mandailings. Archival and library research in Medan shows that there is a substantial amount of material on and by the Mandailings. A bibliography of these works should be done to facilitate further studies of the Mandailings.

In Medan, library research was conducted at the various faculty libraries as well as the main library of Universitas Sumatera Utara (USU), the major government university in Medan. The library research at USU proved the most productive. USU has the most Bachelors’ theses (skripsi), Masters’ theses and research reports (laporan penelitian) on the Mandailings, albeit mainly on Mandailing literature.

Library research continued at Universitas HKBP Nommensen (private, Protestant Christian-based university), Perpustakaan Daerah Sumatera Utara (North Sumatra Provincial Library), Badan Warisan Sumatra (Sumatra Heritage Trust) and from private collections. The author’s host in Medan was Badan Warisan Sumatra (Sumatra Heritage Trust). The Universitas HKPB Nommensen’s Pusat Dokumentasi dan Pengkajian Kebudayaan Batak (Batak Documentation and Cultural Research Centre, previously known as Pusat Batakologi/Batakology Centre) has arguably the best collection on the Batak including some written in Dutch and German. However, the amount of materials in the collection has remained static over the last few years for lack of funding.

While in Jakarta, Medan and in the Mandailing homeland, the author conducted selected interviews to gauge perceptions of history, culture, architecture, identity, etc. Mandailing personalities, academicians, activists and conservationists (both environmental and cultural) were interviewed. These interviews were done formally as well as informally. In the course of his research, the author made two visits to the Mandailing homeland to participate in adat (customary) ceremonies as well as in a photographic expedition.


Nine key activities were undertaken to promote Mandailing ethnic identity. These were:

Movement for cultural identity. Over the last few years, the author has sought out and nurtured a network of Mandailing scholars and intellectuals from organisations such as the Yayasan Pengkajian Budaya Mandailing (Yapebuma), Ikatan Kebajikan Mandailing Malaysia (IMAN), Himpunan Keluarga Besar Mandailing (HIKMA) and Bindu Matogu, a Mandailing environmental non governmental organisation (NGO). Yapebuma and Bindu Matogu are based in Medan and HIKMA in Jakarta with branches in Medan and Mandailing, whilst IMAN is based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.   All the groups mentioned above are directly engaged in activities promoting Mandailing cultural identity. These and other associations such as student bodies with the same objectives, are linked together through the Mandailing website. Internationally, the author maintains a network of friends and supporters, especially amongst academic and activist communities, particularly through the use of the Internet.

Promotion of cultural pilgrimage. In the early 19th century, many Mandailings left their homelands to seek their fortunes in the rantau (outside the homeland), especially in Minangkabau (province of West Sumatra today). After the Padri War (1820-1833), many fled to the west coast of the Malay Peninsula (West Malaysia today) via Riau and Jambi. In the late 19th century, Mandailings started to migrate to Medan when the east coast of Sumatra was opened up for plantations by the Dutch. In the early 20th century, Mandailing migrants to the west coast states of Peninsular Malaysia arrived via Medan.5 Consequently today there are substantial Mandailing communities in Medan and along the east coast of Sumatra.

Many Mandailing sojourners to West Malaysia returned to their Mandailing homeland regularly. For example, the author’s family and relations have been visiting their homeland since the 19th century, interrupted only by the Second World War, the Independence Revolution and Konfrontasi (Confrontation) against the formation of the Malaysia. However, many of the present-day Malaysian Mandailings who know only the names of their ancestral settlements, have never set foot in Mandailing itself.

In Malaysia, the focus of Mandailing activities is in the west coast states of Perak and Selangor, where most Mandailing migrants settled. Many well-to-do  Mandailings are concentrated in Kuala Lumpur, the federal capital of Malaysia. Malaysian Mandailings do make the trip to the homeland, usually travelling via Medan, a trip that takes 12 hours by coach. The journey can now be shortened as flights are now available from Kuala Lumpur to Padang, the capital of the province of West Sumatra, Indonesia, making it possible to travel to Mandailing via Padang in only 6 hours. Having explored Mandailing over the years, the author is now of the view that the Mandailing homeland is suitable for the promotion of cultural pilgrimage amongst Malaysian and Indonesian Mandailings. The cultural and natural attractions in Mandailing include pre-Islamic (‘animistic’, Hindu and Buddhist) sites; traditional sites, such as sipelebegu graveyards; Islamic sites, such as the waqf; colonial influences (Portuguese, Dutch, Japanese, etc.); sites where there were anti-colonial struggles such as the burial site of Raja Mangkutur; sites significant for the Independence movement such as the birth-place of General Abdul Haris Nasution; scenic terraced paddy fields; cultural performances including Gordang Sambilan performances; active volcanic mountains (such as Sorik Marapi and its surrounding hot-springs); hundred-year-old rubber trees, the seeds of which came from 19th century ‘British Malaya’6; and extensive man-made irrigation systems (bondar saba).

In view of Mandailing’s cultural tourism potential, a guide book that captures and promotes the cultural and natural attractions should be prepared. Cultural tourism can help build bridges between Malaysian and Indonesian Mandailings to restore and rebuild relationships that were sundered by colonialism, nationalism and regionalism. It is likely that Indonesian Mandailings can benefit from an access to a wider range of resources and expertise, while the Malaysian Mandailings can recover their roots and identity.

Regional autonomy and devolution of power. During the colonial period, Sumatra was carved up by arbitrary and artificial administrative boundaries. There is a need to remap the frontiers of the Mandailing homeland in West Sumatra and Riau along lines based on commonality of culture, language, geography and a Volk. In the context of Indonesia’s decentralisation, administrative units have been restructured all over the archipelago, resulting in the formation of new Pemda (local governments) starting in 1999. Regional autonomy is considered potentially more democratic than a centralised system as it favours pluralism and does not subject people to the same standards. It prevents the accumulation of centralist power based on one particular culture, religion, belief or ideology. The provision of ‘village parliaments’ as provided in the UU (National Law) No. 22 of 1999, could enable the traditional institution of Namora-Natoras (Nobles and Elders) to be revived and revitalised to play a critical role in the management of local affairs.

This will help Mandailings recover their tradition of consultative governance, and encourage them to challenge the newly-created district of Mandailing-Natal (abbreviation Madina)7 to promote participatory planning and decision-making. Although the original purview of the institutions of traditional Mandailing governance covered all aspects of adat life, its functions now are circumscribed to marriage and rites of passage. The call for regional autonomy and devolution of powers within the Indonesian state has stimulated the people to engage with their authorities. In this context, on 19 October 2000, a seminar entitled Pembangunan Mandailing-Natal (The Development of Mandailing-Natal) was organised in Panyabungan, Lower Mandailing. Mohammed Dolok Lubis, a young lecturer, organised the seminar, with financial backing from USU and the cooperation of the newly constituted district of Mandailing-Natal. The seminar had the objectives of ‘increasing the role of the sons and daughters of the district in its development in order to promote a civil, participatory Mandailing-Natal’. Mandailing scholars and activists from Medan participated in the seminar.

The general consensus of Mandailing people in Jakarta, Medan and Mandailing is that the Pemda (the local authority) is ineffective and possibly corrupt, reflecting the general sentiment of Indonesians towards their governments. In May 2002, when Indonesian television aired a half-hour programme on the state of kabupaten (district of) Mandailing-Natal, Mandailings from all over Indonesia called in criticizing the district’s bureaucracy. This is a case of Mandailing rakyat (people) criticizing Mandailing civil authorities. Many vocal Mandailings say that the present line-up should be replaced with a new set of more honest officers. To foster transparency and local consultation, locallocal dialogues could be conducted to explore areas of multi-sectoral collaboration and capacity building as well as making local-global links with experts and resource centres for good governance and environmental management. The objectives would be to strengthen the Mandailing people as stakeholders in national and regional development, allowing them to better realize their options in the post-modern world.

Stewardship of the Mandailing environment. The process of Indonesianisation has resulted in lands, forests and minerals being usurped as national resources to be exploited by the state and its cronies, Mandailings included. The granting of concessions to national and international logging and mining companies is part of Indonesianisation. In this way, kabupaten Mandailing-Natal’s natural resources were appropriated in the name of national development. In consequence many urgent issues facing Mandailing today are environment related, in particular illegal logging, the harvesting of bird’s nests, and water management. Illegal logging, which has been taking place for over a decade, is the most pressing of these issues. In October 2002, the author, together with Dr.Zulkifli Lubis, an ecologist, held a series of meetings with environmental NGOs, including the North Sumatran branch of Wahana Lingkungan Hidup Indonesia (WALHI, or Indonesian Forum for Environment), the leading Indonesian environmental NGO, to discuss the course of action to be taken to address the issue of illegal logging in Natal. It was decided that a second field trip should be conducted from 26 to 30 October, to verify the seriousness of the situation. The first field trip was organised in March 2002, the result of which was subsequently released to the media.8

In contrast to the forestry situation, where there is virtually no organised action at the local level, initiatives have been made in fisheries and water management. For centuries, communities in the district of Mandailing-Natal have managed their own watersheds and river resources under their adat. In the 1970s, this was formalised into river protection I(lubuk larangan) schemes by local committees. The Mandailing-Natal district with 29 local committees has the largest number of such schemes in the province of North Sumatra.9 The practice prohibits the harvesting of river resources close to human settlements for 6 to 12 months in a year.

Come ‘harvesting’ time, a small fee is charged to residents and sojourners10 alike to catch the fish. The income derived is then used to pay for the development of social facilities such as schools, roads and mosques, and to provide educational scholarships and administrative salaries and grants to orphans, poor families and invalids.  Given the unstable political and economic situation in Indonesia, where remote communities cannot depend on governmental funding for development, this income-generating exercise is beneficial to the community. It instils confidence and financial selfreliance. However, much still needs to be done to overcome over-exploitation of certain species, and to gain the full cooperation of the Dinas Perikanan (Fisheries Authority). The following are suggested in addressing the problem of environmental management in the Mandailing-Natal district:

  • Empowering adat or local communities in making equitable ‘public policies’ which utilise local indigenous knowledge in the management of natural and cultural resources;
  • Formulating an ideology of environmental stewardship in keeping with Mandailing adat

and Islamic principles for customary lands, waqf (Islamic endowments) and harangan (Mandailing

term for prohibited zones);

● Introducing organic farming practices; and

● International marketing of eco-friendly products.

Throughout Mandailing, rivers are treated as ‘sewers’ for rubbish: in the past this posed no immediate

environmental problems in view of the organic nature of the wastes, but with plastic packaging and other

inorganic wastes, continued dumping could eventually endanger Mandailing riverine environments.

In order to address this pressing issue, a ‘model’ project has to be implemented for other settlements to follow suit. Maga has been identified as a possible site for a pilot composting project.

Gordang Sambilan Competition

The performance of the Gordang Sambilan, a traditional set of nine drums, has ritualistic functions in adat

ceremonies such as weddings, installations of nobles (namora-mora, plural for raja or chief), receptions of

dignitaries, and funerals of rajas. They were also played to mark the death of a tiger, regarded by Mandailings as the king of the forest. The drums are made from old Meranti trees that have hollow centres. Meranti, or Ingol in Mandailing language, refers to a group of hardwood species found in native forests. The conservation of these trees for drum making is another good reason to preserve the diminishing Mandailing forestlands. It takes a skilled craftsman one to two months to make a completely new set of the nine drums.

Formerly, the performance of the Gordang Sambilan had to be approved by the huta (settlement) leaders, the Namora-Natoras, and a buffalo had to be slaughtered for each occasion on which they were used.

A performance of the drums requires five to seven drummers and usually lasts about half an hour. The

performance of the drums is physically quite exhausting for the drummers, some of whom enter into a trance-like state while playing. The cost of the drum performance plus the shortage of buffaloes eventually led to the drums falling silent as ordinary Mandailing families did not have the means to pay for such ‘extravagances’.

In order to revive the Gordang Sambilan, HIKMA (All Mandailing Clans Assembly) has pushed for the

relaxation of customary conditions for their performance. Initially there was resistance from the conservative namora-mora, but this was eventually surmounted. Thus since the 1970s, the Gordang Sambilan has come to be considered as one of the performing arts of the Mandailing people. Gordang Sambilan troupes from the many settlements in Mandailing compete with each other in an annual Gordang Sambilan festival.11

During the author’s last visit he discovered that the Gordang Sambilan has resumed its prominent place

in Mandailing society. The fact that there are new commissions for the rather expensive sets of Gordang

Sambilan indicates that this performing art is making a comeback. The settlement of Tamiang in Upper

Mandailing was well known for its Gordang Sambilan craftsmanship. Now Manambin and other settlements have their own Gordang Sambilan craftsmen. The Gordang Sambilan set is displayed prominently in many settlements.

In view of the fact that the Gordang Sambilan is unique to Mandailing music, it has become the cultural marker of Mandailing identity. In the state of Selangor, West Malaysia, where there are significant numbers of Mandailings, IMAN has successfully lobbied for the Gordang Sambilan to be made the official state musical ensemble albeit compromised by subsuming it under the Malay identity. In 2001, the Pesta Pulau Pinang (Penang Fair) in Malaysia was officially opened with a performance of Gordang Sambilan by a troupe from Mandailing, Indonesia. The playing of the Gordang Sambilan during the Malaysian Independence Day on 31 August 2002 is perhaps the highest recognition to date for these fantastic drums.


Indigenised Mandailing Islam

The first encounter between Islam and Mandailings in the interior was probably through the port of Natal,

on the west coast or by traders coming up the Batang Gadis River from Singkuang (Chinese for New Light) river north of Natal. There are indications that Islam also entered Mandailing from the east coast of Sumatra. More significantly, Mandailing society was historically transformed by a radical brand of Islam – Wahabbite Islam brought by Padris in their white garb from

Minangkabau (the province of West Sumatra today). This brand of Islam, now backed by puritan Arab

states and the western intelligence community, is still a menace even today! The Padri episode was one in a series of historical incursions by Minangkabau into the Mandailing homeland, and during this time many Mandailings embraced Islam at the point of the sword.12

The coming of Islam brought with it many values from this universal religion and its global culture.

In conversations with Dr. Nur Fadhil Lubis, who is also an API Fellow, it was revealed to the author that no one has studied the phenomena of ‘Mandailing Islam’. The author then visited tombs/mausoleums of Mandailing religious leaders, pesantren (Islamic schools), historic mosques and waqf (Islamic endowments). Previously, he had visited cultural heritage sites like tombs/mausoleums of the progenitors of Mandailing clans, sopo godang (council house), and bagas godang (dwelling of the raja).

The author and his travelling companions had the fortune of being treated with a zikir13 session by Raja

Syahbudin at his home in Maga, where he and his companions were stationed during their stay in

Mandailing. The author also attended a zikir session marking a wedding ceremony in Maga in September

2002. This latest visit gave the author a glimpse into the practice of Islam in Mandailing society, a subject

that has been largely ignored by Mandailing scholars themselves.

In stark contrast with many Islamic settlements or towns where the mosque takes centre-stage, in traditional Mandailing settlements, the most prominent buildings are the traditional bagas godang and sopo godang buildings. The indigenous architecture of Mandailing rajas’ tombs do not conform to the appearance of typical Islamic gravestones found throughout Indonesia and Malaysia.

However, the traditional architecture of Mandailing mosques is presently giving way to globalised Islamic

architecture, that is, the Moghul-style mosque of domes and minarets. Likewise, the same pattern is observed with gravestones – even the dead are not spared from the imposition of globalised Islamic culture. The author’s preliminary impression is that Islam has been indigenised and harmoniously integrated into Mandailing adat, culture and way of life. That is to say, the interpretation and application of Islam in Mandailing is very different from that of the Minangkabau. The Minangs are matrilineal and adopt a position of custom based on Islamic law (adat basandi syarak), while the Mandailings are patrilineal and adopt a position of adat on par with Islamic law. This is reflected in the maxim ombar do adat ugamo, that is, the adat is on equal footing with Islamic law.

The latter understanding is closer to the Madinan tradition (amal of Madina)14 than to the Shaf’ie madhhab

(school of thought) dominant today in Malaysia and the Indonesian archipelago. In the Madinan tradition

local custom urf is regarded as part of public benefit or public good and is to be encouraged so long as it does not go against Islamic law. Traditionally, Islam is expressed in Mandailing terms and not in Arabic terms as with Malay-Islam. Of late, Middle-Eastern, Indonesian and Malaysian brands of Islam appear to be making headway. Thus, there is a need to promote an understanding of an indigenized Islam distinct from globalised Islamic trends promoted through the mass media and through global Islamic publications such as annual calendars. Madinan Islam offers a critique of the present situation in which Muslims find themselves and also a way out of this predicament. The challenge of traditional Mandailing leadership is to retain this unique way of maintaining and reconciling traditional customs with the Islamic religion in the face of globalised revisionist-modernist Wahhabite (Arab)- Islam and regional statist Malay-Islam.

Alternative economic and development models. Concerned citizens, interest groups and communities the world over are looking at alternative models of economics and development. Over the past two decades, there has been a flood of literature about organic farming, natural medicines, back-to-nature lifestyles and so on. Interestingly, the initial four-year development plans for the Mandailing-Natal district prepared by consultants that included academics took ‘green’ approaches into account in their development module.15

In this regard, the author himself has written works particularly on the re-introduction of bi-metallic currency and commodity trading as a means of exchange. The author has been actively promoting this at the regional and international level. In Malaysia, the Prime Minister, Dr. Mahathir Mohamed, has taken this on and adopted bi-metallic currency as a parallel currency to the US dollar.

Since the translation and publication of the author’s Jerat Utang IMF (1998) and Dinar Emas Solusi Krisis Moneter (2001) in Bahasa Indonesia, the movement to promote these alternative currencies has gained greater momentum. Nusantara Islamic Mint in Bandung and Yayasan Dinar-Dirham (Dinar-Dirham Foundation) in Medan have been set up to promote the minting, and the usage of gold and silver currencies respectively. In fact, Logam Mulia (literally Noble Metal), the Indonesian government mint, has already minted gold and silver dinar and dirham coins.

Recognising that the district of Mandailing-Natal has been a gold-producing region since time immemorial, the author initiated talks with Dr. Helmi Thalib, a founding member of Yayasan Dinar-Dirham on the possibilities of setting up a Wakala (clearing house) in the district for the purchase of gold nuggets procured by the local population through dulang (panning) washing as well as for putting gold coins into circulation. A proposal is being prepared for sponsorship by Bank Muamalat, to be followed by a field survey in Mandailing-Natal district.

The Yayasan will also approach the local government for its support in this project. The idea is to explore the possibilities of introducing a distinct currency for the Mandailing-Natal district in the light of regional autonomy and of making it a distinctive part of the Mandailing identity. In order to address the question of poverty in Mandailing-Natal district, the author has been told by Dr. Rizali H. Nasution, a Mandailing and the chairman of Yayasan Pokmas Mandiri (Foundation for Self Reliance of Groups of [Poor] People), a micro-finance institution (MFI), about plans to introduce microcredit in Mandailing starting in mid-2003.

A Mandailing website / database. Currently the dual-language (Bahasa Indonesia/Malaysia and English) Mandailing website has around 200 pages of text and pictures, and has on average of 20,000 hits monthly. The Toyota Foundation gave seed funding to set up the site in 1998. The author has been maintaining it at his own expense since then, for it serves as a database of Mandailing studies as well as a gateway for cultural tourism to the Mandailing area. Mike Ionescu, who is currently upgrading and updating the Mandailing website, has suggested that the capacity be increased ten-fold from its current capacity and to host it on another server. At the moment the website is being hosted on a server based in Malaysia.

The benefits of increasing the website’s capacity as well as changing its server will be to make it faster, to allow for the posting of photographs suitable for making reports and for general expansion. Mike has also suggested that the contents of the website be converted into Microsoft Word document format and sold as CDs. Arbain Rambey, one of Indonesia’s leading photojournalists and national daily Kompas bureau chief for the province of Aceh, North Sumatra, West Sumatra and Riau (Sumbagut), has offered the use of his photographs for the website.

Mandailing photographic exhibition. From 14 to 30 September 2002, the author went with Arbain on a photographic expedition to the district of Mandailing-Natal. In this exercise, he acted as a guide while Arbain captured Mandailing and Natal in pictures. All in all, Arbain took 42 rolls of both colour, and black and white photographs, for the purposes of documentation as well as exhibition. Arbain took pictures of the remains of the pre-Islamic (sipelebegu – traditional faith of ancestral reverence, Hinduism and Buddhism), Islamic, Dutch and Japanese as well as post- Merdeka periods. One of Arbain’s photos of a traditional dentist in Pasar Maga, Mandailing was featured in Kompas.16

On 12 October 2002, an exhibition of Arbain Rambey’s photographs from this expedition was launched at Gallery One in Medan. Ibrahim Champion, a long time friend of the Mandailings, owns the gallery. The exhibition entitled Jejak Mandailing (literally, Mandailing Trails) displayed a total of 53 frames and was to run for one month.17 In conjunction with the exhibition, a group discussion was held on the question of Mandailing identity, with a panel including Prof. (Emeritus) Dr. M. Solly Lubis, Dr. Zulkifli Lubis and the author himself. The exhibition was very well received by Mandailings as well as non-Mandailings. One of Medan’s leading dailies, Analisa,18 carried full-page exclusive coverage of the exhibition. The exhibition had a visible impact on those who visited it. Many visitors interviewed at the exhibition showed that they did not know that Mandailing held such cultural treasures. The organisers received many queries on how to get there. For Mandailings who grew up in the homeland, Arbain’s pictures gave them fresh insight into the Mandailing world which they previously took for granted. They could now see Mandailing with different eyes and in that sense, the exhibition was very successful.

The organisers, including the author, are now in the midst of trying to interest certain parties to bring the exhibition to Malaysia. The author assumes that the exhibition will be well-received by Malaysian Mandailings, many of whom have never laid eyes on their ancestral homeland, and this hopefully will trigger visits, and in the long run, sustained cultural pilgrimages.


In order to promote Mandailing studies and cultural identity, research on Mandailing cultural heritage including architecture should be sustained and a strategy developed for an ecological and cultural base development approach/model that is sustainable and environmentally friendly. As such, the author proposes that the following recommendations be considered as a follow-up to the Fellowship:

  • Translate selected materials from the Mandailing language (in Mandailing script tulak-tulak or Romanised Mandailing) into Bahasa Indonesia. This is critical for the study of Mandailing, simplybecause many Mandailing, including the author, can no longer speak or write the old Mandailinglanguage. In addition, translate source materials from Dutch into English to make them accessibleto a wider range of scholars.
  • Compile and publish an annotated bibliography of references regarding matters Mandailing topromote and facilitate research.
  • Upgrade, update and maintain the Mandailing website with the objective of it becoming aknowledge networking and resource site to nurture and sustain interest in all things Mandailing as well as to promote Mandailing studies.
  • A conference would be desirable and timely to bring together community leaders, activists and scholars from Malaysia, Indonesia and elsewhere to debate the issues and chart a future directionfor Mandailing studies. The conference would act as a catalyst for further initiatives in the followinglong-term goals:

1) Enhancing the distinct cultural identity and worldview of the Mandailing people.

2) Recovering language, culture and indigenous knowledge.

3) Establishing an educational, cultural and environmental centre in kabupaten Mandailing-Natal.

4) Restoring Mandailing traditions of governance to empower local communities and civil societies to engage in public participation in the context of Indonesia’ decentralisationprocess.

5) Strengthening the ties between Mandailings in Malaysia and Indonesia through the Internet, cultural pilgrimages, exchange programmes and common projects.


1. The key concepts are marga (patriclan), kahanggi (lineage), mora (wife-giving clan) and anak boru (wifereceiving clan) as well as tarombo (genealogy).

2. For a study of this, see Anthony Reid, “Understanding Melayu (Malay) as a source of Diverse Modern Identities,”Journal of Southeast Asian Studies 32.3 Oct. (2001): 295-313.

3. See Appendix on Academic Activities.

4. Raymond Kennedy, Bibliography of Indonesian Peoples and Cultures, Southeast Asian Studies, Yale University, second revised edition 1974. First published in 1945.

5. A good summary of this migration is provided by Pande Maradjar, “Perpindahan Orang Mandailing” in the magazine Mandailing, No 11, Tahoen ke 2, Chamis 29 Maart (1923): 2-3.

6. According to informants, rubber was introduced into Upper Mandailing in 1918. See Donald Tugby, Cultural Change and Identity: Mandailing Immigrants in West Malaysia, University of Queensland Press, 1977.

7. This new district incorporated the Natal area on the west coast of the island of Sumatra and Mandailing, into a new kabupaten (district) of Mandailing-Natal. Natal adjacent to Mandailing, was never part of the Mandailing homeland but its relationship with Mandailing spans a few centuries. Through Natal, Islam and other foreign influences was introduced into Mandailing.

8. “WALHI blames destruction of forests in North Sumatra on six firms,” Jakarta Post, 20 March 2002. See also <http://www.ecologyasia.com&gt;.

9. Daftar Lubuk Larangan di Proponsi Daerah Tingkat I Sumatera Utara, 1999.

10. Those who return to the homeland from elsewhere in Indonesia and Malaysia for a short visit.

11. The performance of the Gordang Sambilan troupe from Maga has been featured in the Pulse of the Planet @NationalGeographic.Com(http://www.pulseplanet.com/current.html) in a write-up by anthropologist Peter Zabielskis from New York University. The author assisted Peter Zabielskis in this venture.

12. Dja Endar Moeda, however, put the date of the spread of Islam in Mandailing as late as 1859. Dja Endar Moeda, Riwajat Poelau Sumatra, N. Venn Snelspersdrukkerij “Insulinde,” Padang, 1903, 70.

13. Recitation in praise of God and the Prophet, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him.

14. For a critical discussion favouring the Madinan school over the other madhhabs within the Sunni school of thought, see Syakh Abdalqadir al-Murabit, Root Islamic Education, Madinah Press, 1993 (2nd ed.). First edition published in 1982. On the Madinan amal, see Yasin Dutton, The Origins of Islamic Law, The Qur’an, the Muwata and Madinan Amal, especially the chapter on “The ‘Amal of the People of Madina”, Curzon, Surrey, 1999. 32-41

15. See Draft Propeda Kabupaten Mandailing Natal 2001-5 and Pola Dasar Kabupaten Mandailing Natal 2001-5 published by Pemerintah Kabupaten Mandailing Natal.

16. Kompas, Kamis, 10 Oktober 2002, 11.

17. Gallery One is the exhibition space on the second floor of Restaurant Number One at Jalan KH Wahid Hasyim No. 1, Medan.

18. Analisa, Minggu, 13 October 2002, 12. The paper featured seven (7) of Arbain Rambey’s photos as well as notes

on the author’s involvement in the exhibition.


Analisa, Minggu. 13 Oct. 2002.

Daftar Lubuk Larangan di Proponsi Daerah Tingkat I Sumatera Utara. 1999.

Dutton, Yasin. The Origins of Islamic Law, the Qur’an, the Muwata and Madinan Amal. Surrey: Curzon, 1999.

Harahap, Parada. “Dari Pantai Kepantai Perdjalanan Ke-Soematra.” Bintang Hindia Oct.-Dec. 1925 dan

Maart-Apr. 1926. Weltevreden: Itgevers Maatschappij,1926.

Jakarta Post. 20 March 2002.See also <http://www.ecologyasia.com&gt;.

Kennedy, Raymond. Bibliography of Indonesian Peoplesand Cultures. Southeast Asian Studies. Yale University,1974.

Kompas, Kamis. 10 Oct. (2002): 11.

Lubis, Abdur-Razzaq. “The Transformation of Traditional Mandailing Leadership in Malaysia and

Indonesian in the Age of Globalisation and Regional Autonomy.” Antropologi Indonesia, Indonesian Journal of Social and Cultural Anthropology, Th. XXV, No. 66, Sept.-Dec. (2001): 114-125.

Lubis, Abdur-Razzaq. “Perceptions of Penang: Views from Across the Straits.” Penang Story International Conference, 18-21 April 2001.

Lubis, Abdur-Razzaq. “Mandailing Movement to Malaysia, Millennium Markers Series.” The Star, 29 Oct. 2001.

Lubis, Abdur-Razzaq. “Orang-Orang Indonesia di Pulau Pinang.” Pengkisahan Melayu Pulau Pinang. First Colloquium of the Penang Story, A Celebration of Cultural Diversity, 25 Aug. 2001.

Lubis, Abdur-Razzaq, The Sumatran Community in Acheen Street, George Town, Penang. Article commissioned by Academy of Social Sciences, Malaysia (AKASS) for a book on Straits Muslims, 2003.

Lubis, Abdur-Razzaq. “Managing the Environment in Kabupaten MADINA, from Regionalism to Autonomy.” 3rd International Symposium of Journal Antropologi Indonesia on “Rebuilding Indonesia, A Nation of ‘Unity in Diversity’: Towards a Multicultural Society.” Udaya University, Denpasar, Bali, 16-19 July 2002.

Maradjar, Pande. “Perpindahan Orang Mandailing.” Mandailing no. 11, Tahoen ke 2, Chamis 29 Maart (1923): 2-3.

Moeda, Dja Endar. Riwajat Poelau Sumatra. Padang: N.Venn Snelspersdrukkerij ‘Insulinde’, 1903.

Pola Dasar Kabupaten Mandailing Natal 2001-5. Pemerintah Kabupaten Mandailing Natal.

Propeda Kabupaten Mandailing Natal 2001-5. Pemerintah

Kabupaten Mandailang Natal.

Pulse of the Planet @ NationalGeographic.Com <http://www.pulseplanet.com/current.html&gt;.

Rambey, Arbain, “Kerinduan Mandailing dari TanahSeberang: A Profile on Abdur-Razzaq Lubis.” Kompas 3 Oct. 2001.

Reid, Anthony. “Understanding Melayu (Malay) as a Source of Diverse Modern Identities.” Journal of Southeast Asian Studies 32.3 Oct. (2001): 295-313.

Syakh Abdalqadir al-Murabit. Root Islamic Education.Madinah Press, 1993.

The Penang Story Project. <http://www.penangstory.net&gt;.

Titian. Media Komunikasi Masyarakat Indonesia di Wilayah Areditasi KJRI Penang, Edisi Perdana, Volume 1 July 2002.

Tugby, Donald. Cultural Change and Identity: Mandailing Immigrants in West Malaysia, University of Queensland Press, 1977.

Women’s Centre for Change, Penang. <http://www.wccpenang.org&gt;.

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