The Jakarta Post
Let me tell you something: A teenage boy whispers to a girl during the Gondang Naposo festival in Samosir, north Sumatra. (JP/Apriadi Gunawan)
Juni Simbolon smiled as Disky whispered something amid the sounds of gondang (drums) and sarune (flutes) on the beach at Tanda Rabun in Dos Roha village, Simanindo district, Samosir regency, North Sumatra.
The ethnic Batak musical instruments merrily accompanied the graceful steps of dancers at the Gondang Naposo Festival, which was held on April 28.
They were part of a number of youngsters attending the annual festival on Samosir Island in the middle of Lake Toba.
The festival is part of the ethnic Batak culture manifested in the community’s tradition of finding rokkap ni tondi (marriage partners).
“In the past, a woman drawn to a man dancing at the festival became his partner right away. Today, couples go through a process of romantic relations before getting married,” 18-year-old Juni Simbolon, a resident of Pengururan, Samosir, told The Jakarta Post after the festival.
Juni added that prior to the festival, she did not know a thing about her dancing partner, Disky, who is a resident of Simalungun.
“We did not know each other at first but now we continue to communicate even more intensely through WhatsApp messages, thanks to the Gondang Naposo Festival,” she said.
The same belief was expressed by Arjuna Bakkara from Pematang Sidamanik district. The 29-year-old is convinced that the youth taking part in the dances at the festival will find their future wives.
“We’re directly interacting here to complement our emotional ties with the women we choose,” said Arjuna who accompanied his friend to the festival. Arjuna plans to participate in the festival next year to meet his future partner.
Batak cultural expert Thomson HS said the Gondang Naposo was the Bataknese tradition to find soul mates for desperate singles.
He added that a village with a lot of singles would traditionally arrange the event so that they could find their future partners.
“Gondang Naposo is mostly facilitated by parents so that village residents or members of the younger generation wishing to meet their would-be spouses can go to the festival,” he told the Post.
Finding your mate: Young Bataknese couples dance during the Gondang Naposo Festival in Samosir, North Sumatra. (JP/Apriadi Gunawan)
Thomson explained that Gondang Naposo was routinely held in order to remind the Batak youth of their tradition.
He also noted that ulos (Bataknese traditional shawls) were usually absent during Gondang Naposo because they were normally worn by married Batak people.
“It should be understood that in general, the tradition of Gondang Naposo displays no ulos,” Thomson pointed out.
However, in the context of entertainment and tourism these days, festival participants frequently wear several pieces of ulos.
Thomson warned the tourism industry to not wipe out ethnic Batak cultural values.
“Tourism benefits from culture but its values should be correctly and clearly indicated,” he said.
Lucas, a British tourist, said he was amazed by Gondang Naposo, which he had watched for the first time and recorded on his camera.
“The Batak culture is very unique and appealing. Everything is as beautiful as its natural scenery,” added Lucas, who had spent three days with his friends near Lake Toba.
Meanwhile, the head of the Samosir Tourism Office, Ombang Siboro, said his office had been encouraging Bataknese cultural preservation through various events around Lake Toba this year.
The events include the Samosir Art and Culture Festival from June 18 to 20, the Sigale-Gale Carnival on June 20, the Samosir Music International on August 25 and the Samosir Jazz Seasons on October 27.
“All the activities are part of the Horas Samosir Fiesta aimed at boosting tourist arrivals at Lake Toba,” Ombang said.
According to him, the different programs implemented over the last few years have increased the number of tourists visiting Lake Toba and Samosir.
President director of the Lake Toba Tourism Authority Agency Arie Prasetyo voiced his support for the diverse cultural events around Lake Toba as an effective form of promotion to attract visitors to the tourist zone.
“Batak land abounds with cultural wealth and natural beauty, which constitute Lake Toba’s remarkable tourism potential,” said Arie.