IT takes a village to raise a child. The phrase conveys the message that it takes a collective body of people belonging to a given socio-cultural space to provide a safe, healthy environment for children, where children are given the security they need to develop and flourish, and to be able to realise their hopes and dreams.
From the broader perspective of socio-anthropology, the word ‘community’ is generally used to refer to a group of people who are united by a common interest, social and behavioural norms, and moral and religious beliefs and a host of other dynamics.
I have taken the liberty to use Batak Toba as an example of a community where the concept of collectiveness and social belonging is closely observed and practised, and with the younger generation it is done, if necessary, under the watchful eye of community elders and guardians of local customs and tradition.
I spent 10 days recently at the Batak Highlands, making pit stops at important historic and cultural places and visiting a few relatives in Dolok Sanggul and from Kisaran, Asahan.
Even though it was brief, the trip to rediscover myself vis-à-vis ancestral land provided me a deeper understanding and respect of some of the fundamental, unique values and philosophical views that are part of the Batak Toba community.
I am aware of the time and distance constraints that would prevent me from giving a thorough account in my study, leaving much to secondary data and processed information.
With a population of approximately 10 million, the Batak Toba of Northern Sumatera offer an intriguing and perceptive socio-anthropological study of an ethnic group that is bound together by a strong value and cultural system.
The ‘marga’ (clan surname) is recognised as a key determinant of identity and social pride with a lineage history that can be traced back to approximately 700 years.
According to the most recent census in Indonesia, there are close to 700 ‘marga’, and each Batak takes great pride in using their clan surname after their name.
Two-pronged concept of community
The concept of community is presented in two ways in the Batak Toba. The first is a location where certain clan groups have built residence and their own farms in a designated hamlet, or ‘huta’, that has been there for a few hundred years.
The second is the social environment, which includes Internet platforms, that transcends time and place and is where ethnic Batak from various clans come together to engage and seek out new possibilities to strengthen their bonds.
Whichever conceptual definition or approach is taken, at the end of the day, the Batak man returns home to Toba-Samosir.
He never loses sight of his origins. He never forgets the community where he was raised.
He remembers the padi field behind his parents’ home, the historic village church where he attended Sunday school and groups of farmers from his village making their dusk-time way back to their homes by meandering down the treacherous Toba hills.
Love, care, duty, and a sense of belonging shape the emotive attachment and commitment to the community.
The three philosophies of life that the Batak people place a great importance on are ‘hamoraon’ (wealth), ‘hagabeon’ (producing successful children), and ‘hasangapon’ (honour in social position). Consistent with these is the importance of education of children across the community irrespective of their economic well-being.
Assistance from well-to-do villagers is never a problem if help is needed to finance the education of a child from a poor household. All around the Batak community, there is a strong sense of cohesion, support, and assistance. Inherent in the Batak concept of the village is the notion that caring for children is a shared responsibility amongst many.
One of Batak Tob’sa living motto is ‘anakkokin do hamoraon in ahu’, which means that children are the most precious assets. They will try to educate their children to become responsible men and women who can enhance the dignity of their family, clan and Batak community.
Education core of Batak value system
A good education also aids parents in instilling moral virtues in their children, such as self-control, honesty, independence, and loyalty. These qualities not only become the standard in interactions with peers, but also in all subsequent encounters with the professional world and to become individually advantageous to the community and country.
Over the years, many Batak have successfully completed their studies in top Indonesian universities and institutions abroad, mostly in the fields of Law, Mathematics, Engineering, and Medicine, which are popular and preferred among the Batak.
This is attributed to their tenacity, self-control, dedication, and responsibility to raise their children in the best interests of their family and community, as well as the power of a deeply established traditional value system across the community.
They give pride and honour to their family and community. Conversely, individualism and personal glory are frowned upon by the wider Batak community.
Many of them ventured into wider fields of opportunities as lawyers, entrepreneurs, professionals and academics outside their family home in Toba-Samosir.
Successful and reputed among the top and richest lawyers in Indonesia are Dr Otto Hasibuan, Hotmar Paris Hutapea, Hotman Sitompul, Ruhut Sitompul, Luhut Pangaribuan, Juniver Girsang, Todung Mulya Lubis and Juan Felix Tampubolon.
They have set up base in Jakarta and over time, ventured into acquiring properties and other profitable assets using the wealth they gained through their legal practice.
Touching base with the community
However, it is not all about Jakarta and seeking wealth and fame in the city. They have not forgotten their villages in Toba-Samosir as many also speak of returning home to the highlands to be with their family and Batak community, especially during Christmas and New Year, to renew family and community bonds.
Many of the successful Jakarta-based Batak entrepreneurs and lawyers have contributed generously through organised channels to fund children’s education and village church renovation or expansion. They must uphold their responsibility to care for and cherish their community. It remains the habit of the heart.
The legendary 87-year-old Oppung Harangan Wilmar Hutahaean, who lives in Pekan Baru and commutes fortnightly to Balige, Toba-Samosir, is another shining example of a prosperous Batak businessman who gives back to his community.
He is the founding chairman of the Hutahaean Group whose business profile includes oil palm plantation, rubber estates, transportation, properties, golf course development and management, hotel and resort. His latest flagship project is Labersa Hotel and Resort, which is the first five-star hotel in Toba-Samosir.
The Group provides employment to 26,000 Indonesians, the majority of whom are Batak.
Like most Batak of his age and socio-economic status, Hutahaean also supports local community projects and activities, and is widely known to initiate and fund many community church activities and physical expansion programmes, apart from sitting on the local community church advisory board.
He proudly informed the writer during breakfast at the Labersa Hotel in Balige that he must come home to Toba-Samosir and take part in local economic ventures that would benefit the local Batak people.
He is modest and unassuming. Coming back to Toba-Samosir is a duty to the family and community. It is a habit of the heart.
Yet another example of a Batak with an illustrious career in military and politics and business and who has decided to join the likes of Hutahaean and Sitorus to give back to the community and help the young Batak to succeed in life, is Ex-General Luhut Binsar Panjaitan.
Batak-community school Top 3 in Indonesia
Together with his friends, he established Yayasan Del, which in turn provided funding for the establishment of Del Institute of Technology in Laguboti, Toba-Samosir in 2011 to give students with strong academic potential access to high-quality education in information and technology. Today, Del Institute of Technology is ranked No 3 in Indonesia and many of its alumni have gone on to pursue their higher degrees in Harvard and LSE in the UK.
More than 500 young Batak men and women have gone through the institution’s portal on their way to achieving higher stations in life, demonstrating how successfully the institute is helping the community.
And as the community comes together to raise a child until he completes his education and starts a career, the habit of the heart to connect and serve his community remains embedded.
There will soon be a new generation of young people with the heart and brains to help the community.
The cycle continues, and the wheel continues to turn.
* Toman Mamora is ‘Tokoh Media Sarawak 2022’, recipient of Shell Journalism Gold Award (1996) and AZAM Best Writer Gold Award (1998). He remains true to his decades-long passion for critical writing as he seeks to gain insight into some untold stories of societal value.