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Colorful: A fashion show is part of the festivities to celebrate Bataks of the marga Simbolon in Jakarta.(JP/Wendra Ajistyatama)
Amid the cacophony of Jakarta’s gubernatorial campaigns, it would have been fairly easy to assume that the ebullience displayed last Sunday afternoon at Parkir Timur Senayan was one of the events to boost a candidate’s popularity.
Yet, despite slogans bellowed and the array of red banners and uniforms at the site, the bond among those flocking to Senayan that day were something other than political preferences.
Many were those sharing the same last name of Simbolon.
Simbolon is one of the hundreds of last names, or marga, of the Batak people of North Sumatra. The Batak kinship is known to follow a patrilineal system and marga are one of the easiest ways to identify whether someone is related or not.
The thousands of Simbolons who gathered that day were attending Pesta Bolon, which was held to celebrate the fifth anniversary of PSBI — an organization that cites one of its missions as “preserving the inherited values of the ancestors of the Simbolon marga”.
Customary: A woman creates a traditional fabric called songket in Senayan, Jakarta, on July 1. The Pesta Bolon event continued for a week.(JP/Wendra Ajistyatama)
It was overall a cheerful event. Nearing sundown, a group of women were swinging along to upbeat Batak songs played by a band composed of young men wearing somewhat modified traditional attire.
The dancing kept on, alternated by short breaks, up to the performance by Cokelat at around 7:30 p.m.
The event’s media officer Rocklin Anderson Siagian said in total, around 6,000 — comprising Simbolons, Batak people from other clans, as well as people who were not Batak – attended the event that day.
Pesta Bolon’s agenda included a bazaar, a fashion show using elements of traditional Batak attire, a chess competition involving over 150 players, and of course songs and dancing.
Artists scheduled to perform included Cokelat, longtime band Panbers, Victor Hutabarat and Iwa K.
Balanced: Dancers perform at the Pesta Bolon event at Senayan in Jakarta on Sunday, July 1.(JP/Wendra Ajistyatama)
According to legislator Effendi Simbolon, who chairs PSBI, the acronym stands for Punguan Simbolon dohot Boruna Indonesia, with “Punguan” roughly meaning “organization”.
According to http://simbolonindonesia.wordpress.com, the PSBI was declared in Medan, North Sumatra, on August 12, 2006, and was officially established on July 28, 2007.
The organization’s activities include those centered around arts and culture, religion, “people-based economy” and education, Effendi said.
A PSBI congress that would discuss the organization’s programs, regulations and traditional law was slated for July 4 to 6, Effendi added.
Pesta Bolon, aside from being a celebration for the PSBI anniversary, was also triggered by the government’s decreasing attention to arts and culture.
Effendi cited the Dalihan na Tolu kinship system as being one of the values of Batak people. “There are ancestral lines that have given values to organize social relationships among the Batak people,” he said.
Anthropologist Bungaran Antonius Simanjuntak said that the growth of Batak society in the world should be accompanied by the younger generation’s knowledge about their culture, “or else it can experience degradation”.
He emphasized the importance of marga, which can be understood as clan, for Bataks.
Celebrating good times: Young and old dance together in Jakarta on July 1 at an event marking the Simbolons from North Sumatra.(JP/Dina Indrasafitri)
“[Marga] is Batak identitiy … it’s the fundamental element of Batak people,” he told The Jakarta Post.
Effendi said there are currently around 70,000 heads of families with Simbolon as their last name in various parts of the world. The number was obtained through registration processes, thus the figure might be less than the reality.
According to Effendi, there are already almost 30 generations of Simbolons spread throughout almost 1,000 years.
Among the famous Indonesians who have Simbolon as their last name are the late singer Charles Simbolon, singer Rani Simbolon and pianist Adelaide Simbolon.
“Bolon means big, Simbolon means ‘the big one’, so we hope that the Simbolon name will also mean big numbers [of family members] and big works,” he said.
Helman Saragi, a young, unmarried Batak man currently working in the film industry, said that the matter of marga usually becomes something very important in his social life when he is eyeing a potential life partner.
“I have been told for a long time that I should marry a Batak woman,” he said.
Helman said that he used to go to marga gatherings when he was little, and will likely go to such events again once he starts a family of his own.
The gatherings are usually occasions where family members kept up to date with each other’s lives.
“They ask about where each other work, how each others’ children are doing, whether one of them could help each other if needed, and so on … it could be an occasion to help each other, but it can also be one to show off,” he added.
The presence of strong or wealthy individuals in a gathering of people from the same clan could determine how big or luxurious the gathering would be, Helman said.
Aside from marriage-related matters, his family is far from limiting him to making friends or working only with Batak people. Someone’s marga, for example, hardly plays any role in determining whether that person is a potential business partner for him or not.
According to Bungaran, Bataks are as prone to nepotism as any other groups, especially if they are surrounded by those outside their group.
“If there are Filipinos, Vietnamese and Malaysians who meet each other in Europe, nepotism will certainly occur because they are all Asians facing Europeans,” he said.
However, the nepotism may not necessarily develop or be used for something negative.
Effendi said that although those who share the last name Simbolon are used to helping each other, nepotism is not a feature “that stands out” in their relationships.