During the recent holiday, for several days I, my sister, and my mother went on a journey to my mother’s ancestral village in Tarutung, North Sumatra, Indonesia. We had been planning to see our ancestors’ burial ground as my mother’s clan had preformed a “Mangongkal Holi”.
What is “Mangongkal Holi”?
Ok, before I continue to Mangongkal Holi, let me tell about my familial heritage! I’m Bataknese, and a member of my father’s Nainggolan clan. However, my matrilineal lineage is tied to the Lumban Tobing extended family. In the Batak tradition, there is a reburial ritual that called for the exhumation of the bones of the dead. This rite is called mangongkal holi. The word mangongkal means “dig”; while holi means “the bones of the dead”.
A few days ago, my mother’s clan had preformed this rite, but there are some parts that had been lost because we felt that it didn’t comport with our Christian faith. This tradition was upheld because my maternal grandmother – my opung boru – had advised my mother’s older sister (I call inangtua) to do this before she died. In addition, all of my mother’s brothers are in Indonesia now (some of them live in United States). There are many purposes for this traditional rite grounded in our earlier Batakneses’ beliefs, such as respecting and venerating the souls of our ancestors’ soul, but for us they are not our goals. Our desire is only to unite the bones of my opung and my mother’s opung (my tulang) in one place, the ancestors’ village and to properly seal that familial bond. This tradition is very similar to that of Central Sulawesi, called Mogave. This is not a coincidence: historically, the Toraja and Bataknese originated from the same people, the Proto Melayu.
My maternal greatfather
Details of The Mangongkal Holi Tradition
Before the exhumation is begun, the opung’s Hula-hula (brothers in law from the wife’s opung) provides the demban (betel) by saying: “I hope the exhumation can go well and the bones can be found swiftly.” They say that because the bones often can’t be found. In such a case, the host group takes a lump of earth from the bottom of the burial ground and ask the attendants whether they may regard this earth as the bones of the ancestors or not. If the attendants consent to the proposal, the earth is laid in the reburial tomb as the substitute for the bones of the ancestors.
After that, the hula-hula (brothers in law from the wife) make the first dig, followed by the other siblings. This is a symbolic dig: other men do the real digging after the siblings have done their ritual. During the exhumation, the family will throw money in the pit. This shows that they are present: they also pray to insure the bones can be found quickly.
When the bones are found, the family will mangandung (mourn) as if their relative had died just that day. Afterwards, the bones will be brought home by the daughters, cleaned by water, and bathed with turmeric and limewater. After that, the bones are dried for a moment before placed in a case.
After the exhumation, all of the family members, hula-hula, and the village elder are asked to go into home to share in a feast. After the bones are almost completely dry, they will be saved into the little case, placed in the center of home, and the descendants will pray to the ancestors’ spirit.
The next day, a major celebration will be held. Parhobas (the worker) has started to work since the early morning. Parhobas actually are the local citizens and boru (i.e. the daughters that exhumed the bones, and the party organizer). The peoples that organize the party are called bona suhut.
There are two parts of the party, first is galang raja by the horbo baratan (buffalo butchery). It’s for thanking the village elder for permission to hold the ceremony of Mangongkal Holi. Second, buffalo for jambar (a gift) from the hula-hula family is presented and eaten. Then, the guests will come one by one. The hula-hula will actually bring the rice and gold fish. If the guest is from the hula-hula, they usually don’t sit under the tent directly, but they will gather until their group is complete, and then enter the tent. After that, the gondang (drum) will be sounded as the response called manomu-nomu (asking) by the boru from the bona suhut.
Hula-hula is everyone that respected in the Batak relative. So, they are believed can give pasu-pasu (blessing). When they manortor (the Batak dancing), their hands position are blessing giving position, open to downright whereas boru is the worker. So, if they meet hula-hula, they will be deepest respect, their hands position will be in front of forehead.
Hula hula will go up to the grave and say a few words whereas bona suhut and boru are under. At this moment, hula hula usually will ask thanks symbol from bona suhut family and after that will give blessing by pantun (kind of traditional poetry). Then, all of them are back to home, continue the feast, and give jambar.
The Batak Traditional Belief Behind The Mangongkal Holi
In Batak traditional belief, the respective status of a soul is not static. Status and respective can be increased. The glory increasing will be gotten by that soul if it has the status “sumangot” (analogous to the ancestors’ soul). Sumangot status will be had if every descendant had made a permanent grave that was crave from the stone or made from cement then decorated by the ceramics. On that new place then saring-saring (skull) was saved.
A long time ago, for kings worthy of great respect (na sangap), the ceremony to enter their bones into a grave carved from stone was called “horja turun”. This ceremony was celebrated by a huge party. The human corpse was deposited into an opening case and in the tropical environment swiftly decomposed to bones. After that it was moved into the permanent grave. The bones ascending from the ground to the place that was available in that stone grave is a symbol of the parents’ soul. The luxurious of a grave was a glorious symbol, said to be accepted by the parents’ soul in the world of the dead. For their descendants, that luxurious grave is a sign of social prestige among the Batak. So, every family would compete to make a luxurious grave. This competition was sparked, perhaps, by hatealon (pride) among the Bataknese. Those luxurious graves are not only for the ancestors’ bones resting place, but were also a symbol of sumangot in the descendants’ life. That grave is a sign of the relationship between the parents’ soul and their descendants. The grave is seen as a spiritual center of the dead people’s soul, which can give blessings. The highest status that can be gotten by a soul is “sombaon” (deepest respect) status. This status give the dead people state is one level under Debata (goddess). In this state that soul would receive veneration from their descendants. In tonggo-tonggo (prayer) it will be called after Debata and asked for blessings. This status increases only if their family grew into a new clan or a major branch of a clan. A family which has grown in wealth and status can provide bigger ceremonies, and hold them for a longer time. This ceremony is called “santi rea”. This ceremony had been forbidden by old Dutch colonialists governor but this fact doesn’t mean that it has been forgotten. That belief still lives in the Bataknese’s heart, and took a new form: memorial building.
This developing is done by collecting tumpak (money) from all the relatives by “punguan marga” in some cities.
In the chosen memorial monument, they prepare a place for the ancestors’ saring-saring. Before the bones are moved, they usually use a headman (witchdoctor) to insure that there are no misunderstandings that could invoke a sumangot’s anger.
The luxurious of a memorial fesat is a sign of many blessing that has been accepted by the descendants. All of that blessing show the power of the ancestors’ soul. So, for that soul is given a glory place as a pinomparna (saying thank you from their descendants).
The Comparation of My Family Tradition With The Traditional Tradition
We have leant about mangongkal holi. As Christians, my family members didn’t do all of the ceremonial rites. They just digged the ground, found the saring-saring, and prayed. There are differences some parts of the ceremony that my family members did, such as: a digger must the daughters (although can be helped by other people). After the saring-saring was cleaned and saved into many mini-cases, they were given to the sons. Then, the sons gave to hula-hula (of my maternal grandparents’ and greatparents). As the information my family members do this ceremony for my opung and my mother’s opung.
Furthermore, for the next day the mini-cases were brought to ancestors’ village, then placed directly into their graves. Then, they prayed again and said a few words.
Actually, I’m not sure if it is right to pray to God during the mangongkal holi. According to my mother, it’s permitted because inside that devotion we only pray for the ceremony can be done well and for the descendants that still live, not for the dead peoples’ soul.
Yet, I’m still confused about it – but I don’t care very much because in my opinion the tradition is something amazing, and contains some valuable morals. As the young generation, we must preserve our cultures, right?
Written by: Catherine Maname Uli
Edted by: Mr.Alvin Plummer, EF Pluit Teacher
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