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Catalog of Batak Texts

On this page, the manuscripts are arranged by material (bone, paper, bamboo). On the following pages, identified texts are grouped by functional categories:

The Museum of Anthropology also houses 18 bark books. These objects have not been included in the present exhibit because their fragile condition does not allow photography.

Bone

catalog 48497 catalog 48498

A pair of modified rib bones inscribed with a Karo-Batak text. The bones were possibly used as amulets, as the twine fastened to the top suggests that they were intended to be hung. The bones have been worked into a tear-drop shape and have drawings on the front and inscription on the rear. The drawings depict an anthropomorphic insect/human figure with a spiny body and hairy face.

catalog 48499

An incised rib bone segment that is rectangular in shape. The bone was possibly used as an amulet as the twine fastened to the top suggests that it was intended to be hung. On one side of the object is an incised calendar (porhalaan) depicting the days of the month. The other side has an inscribed hexagram motif representing the constellations and an hour-glass shaped motif in addition to five rows of inscribed Batak text. Four rows contain horizontally oriented inscriptions while text in the top row is arranged into vertical columns.

catalog 48502

Paper

catalog 48525

Paper scroll with Batak script, possibly the traditional Simalungun text "Partingkian Bandar Hanopan" known to have been copied for Bartlett by a datu.

Bamboo

catalog 48377

A long bamboo tube with inscribed Batak text from Sumatra. The tube consists of five sections, with each segment containing texts arranged lengthwise. Each section of the tube is separated by a decorative band and borders of a darker color produced from staining the bamboo bark.

catalog 48380

A short bamboo section with inscribed Batak text from Sumatra. The text is divided into two vertical sections. The lower half is further divided into two "stanzas" by a decorative band.

catalog 48382

A long bamboo tube inscribed with Batak text and depiction of a human figure possibly representing a sorcerer. The tube consists of two bamboo sections and may have been used as a pagar or amulet.

catalog 48396

A bamboo tube containing inscribed Batak text that begins with: "On ma surat . . . (19 characters of Batak alphabet) . . . ni utang." The text is divided by a lengthwise band of repeating "s" motifs. The execution of the script and design resemble 48397 and 48414. The tube consists of a single bamboo section and has not been smoked in the final finishing process. Bartlett labeled the tube "No. 70."

A short bamboo tube section inscribed with Batak text, which P. Voorhoeve identified as a short lamentation during his visit to the Museum of Anthropology (Voorhoeve 1979). The tube has not been smoked in the final finishing process. Bartlett labeled the tube "No. 71," and it is likely this tube may have been produced in the same location as 48396.

catalog 48404

A flat panel of bamboo containing a short Batak inscription and a human figure. The human figure is crudely executed in comparison to the other detailed renditions of figures typically found in Karo and Toba regions. This strip was possibly hung and used as an amulet. The tube has not been smoked in the final finishing process. Bartlett labeled the bamboo panel "No. 68."

catalog 48414

A short bamboo tube with inscribed Batak text from Sumatra. The text is divided by a lengthwise band of repeating "s" motif. Both the script and the band design are executed in the same manner as 48396 and 48397. The tube has not been smoked in the final finishing process. Bartlett labeled the bamboo tube "No. 52."

catalog 48424

A short bamboo tube with inscribed Batak text from Sumatra. Only half of the tube is inscribed, and the textual section is bordered by a band of interlocking "s" motif that is arranged lengthwise.

catalog 48425

A long bamboo tube with inscribed Batak text divided into two sections. The inscription reads "Kujaha ma surat . . . (19 character alphabet) . . . si manongon rudankgu ya rudang si bandaulu na lalap bani kor."

catalog 48429

A bamboo tube with inscribed Batak script. The last row of the text includes a row of Arabic numerals numbering 1-10. The tube may have been instructional in nature. The inscriptions are separated by two decorative bands: one containing the "s" motif and the second containing a series of triangles.

catalog 48431

Bamboo tube inscribed with Batak text. The text is divided by a vertical band of interlocking "s" motif. The tube has not been smoked in the production process. Bartlett labeled the tube "No. 33."

catalog 48440

Bamboo tube inscribed with Batak text. The text is divided into two vertical sections by an incised line and a band containing a crisscross pattern. Three small figures with tails are incised at the end of one section. The tube was smoked in the final production process. Bartlett labeled the tube "No. 43."

catalog 48441

Bamboo tube inscribed with Batak text. The bottom of the tube is closed. The top and bottom are bordered by a band containing two rows of small dots and interlocking "s" design. The vertical arrangement of the text is interrupted in the middle by a column of horizontally aligned text that is stylistically set apart by incised lines and a band. Within this section, the text is further subdivided into nine sections. The tube has been smoked in the final production process.

catalog 48442

Bamboo tube inscribed with a Batak calendar. The bottom of the tube is closed. The tube is divided into two equal halves: one containing the calendar grid, and the other containing vertically arranged columns of Batak inscriptions distributed along three horizontal rows. The tube has been smoked in the final stage of the production process.

catalog 48449

Bamboo tube inscribed with Batak text. The bottom of the tube is closed. The text is divided by a vertical band containing a sawtooth pattern. The tube has been smoked in the final production process. Bartlett labeled the tube "No. 16."

catalog 48466

A Karo-Batak love lament (birang-birang) inscribed on a bamboo weaving shuttle (turak). The inscriptions have been translated by U. Kozok. Kozok describes the writing as "standard Karo Batak writing." According to Kozok, the shuttle was intended as a gift to the beloved (Tarigan) of the first person narrator (Karo-Karo), an only child who has been forced to leave his Karo highland homeland. The lament reads (Kozok 2003:141-42):

          This is a lament on belangké bamboo
          slashed by the son of the Karo-Karo clan
          to become a shuttle for my sister of the Tarigan clan
          so that you will love to learn how to plait, how to weave
          O my sister of the Tarigan clan

          I say this because
          the product of your plaiting might become the bridge
          where my people will meet
          if not, I see that my people will expel me
          and where then shall I go, the son of the Karo-Karo clan
          the only child, the most unlucky person

          O friend, who reads the letters of my words
          don’t take offence
          O friend, who reads the letters of my words
          much is, I see, that I wrote
          not the eyes [but] I have to be able to tell it
          to the sister of the Tarigan clan, the youngest child

          The reason why I say this is
          because I can see the burden that I, your brother, have to carry
          it’s like the shimmering heat that is hanging in the middle of the day
          we can’t say it hangs since there is no rope to see
          we can’t say it lays because it does not leave any trace
          this is, I see, the burden that the son of the Karo-Karo clan has to carry
          the most unlucky person 
          O sister

          So there was no other way
          it was inevitable that I, your brother, had to leave
          traveling to the downstream land
          passing through the endless forest
          O sister
          Because that is the place where all those meet
          who carry ill fate
          O my sister of the Tarigan clan.

          The reason why I say this, is that
          small parts of white silver and yellow gold
          will be gathered by the goldsmith
          O sister
          when I have to wander far 
          will there be a place to settle?
          O sister of the Tarigan clan, say I, the youngest child.
          

The front half of the shuttle contains the inscribed lament, while the rear has incised vertical lines. The tip of the shuttle is stained a deeper hue.

A letter written by Bartlett on September 2, 1918, describes his purchase of this object from an elderly Karo woman in Kampong Poetren.

catalog 48467

Bamboo tube inscribed with Batak text. The bottom of the tube is closed and stained a darker hue. The top and bottom are bordered by a band containing the interlocking "s" motif. Vertically incised lines divide the text into three separate sections. Part of the text has been transcribed as reading "Jaha porang hita tu banuwa ni halak, volgens de pormamis."

catalog 48468

Three bamboo tubes inscribed with a calendar (porhalaan). The tubes are attached to twine and were likely intended to be hung, suggesting their potential function as household amulets (pagars). The medium-length tube is divided into two panels: the front half containing the grid that depicts the days of the year and the second half containing inscriptions divided into vertical columns possibly detailing calendrical readings. The remaining two tubes contain inscribed texts. The shorter tube contains inscriptions divided into two sections by a band consisting of a row of figure 2 pattern. The longer tube contains inscriptions divided into two sections by a band consisting of interlocking "s" motif. At the end of the inscription are also ten incised figures with spikes. The tubes have been smoked in the finishing process.

catalog 48470

Bamboo tube inscribed with Batak text. The bottom of the tube is closed and stained a darker hue. The top and bottom of the tube are bordered by a band containing interlocking "s" motif. Incised vertical lines divide the inscriptions into separate panels. The tube has been smoked in the finishing process.

catalog 48472

Bamboo tube inscribed with a calendar (porhalaan) and cosmological drawings. The bottom of the tube is sealed and stained a darker hue while the top end of the tube has a finished inner collar, suggesting that a lid may have originally been fastened to this opening. The tube is placed inside a cloth bag. The surface of the tube is inscribed with a grid depicting the days of the year and also three hexagram motifs representing constellations. The tube has been smoked in the finishing process.

catalog 48473

Bamboo tube incised with Batak inscriptions and drawings. The tube may have functioned as an amulet. The inscriptions are divided into two rows that are separated by a decorative band consisting of hatched lines. The inscriptions begin "Surung ma ho." The drawings consist of multiple hexagrams representing constellations and of a figure having a spiny or hairy body. The base of the tube is closed and stained a darker hue.

catalog 48474

catalog 48475

catalog 48482 catalog 48483

Set of two bamboo tubes, possibly calendars with Batak text inscribed along a lined background. Grass twine is fastened around the two tubes.

catalog 48485

catalog 48493

Bamboo tube. Transliteration inside on paper scroll.

catalog 48503

Twenty-one thin pieces of bamboo with names of the days of the month, used for divination. The strips are rectangular with a fashioned hole on top through which they could be strung together. The strips have been smoked in the final finishing process.