Cultural Practice of Anti-corruption of Toba Batak

Meta Ose Ginting | CRCS | Wednesday Forum Report

subandri-simbolonCorruption is one of many problems that Indonesia as a nation faces. It is not only a law-related problem but also a cultural problem. As such, culture and the values it promotes could also in one way or another be a powerful weapon to fight corruption. These are the points that Subandri Simbolon emphasized in his presentation about a ritual of sharing meat as a value to prevent corruption in Toba Batak society.

To begin his presentation, Subandri showed a video about the process of sharing meat (membagi jambar) ritual at a wedding in Batak land. The video tells about how the meat is shared to certain groups of families as a symbol of acknowledgment and appreciation of their existence. In the video, family members circle around the meat as it is being cut into specific portions and one person lifts up a portion of the meat and calls out family names and gives the meat to them as other people can watch them clearly. The portion of the meat is given out based on the Batak system of family kinship called Dalinan No Tolu..

The process of sharing jambar is arranged in some parts. First, mengalap ari. Mengalap ari is the process of choosing a good day to begin the ritual. Secondly, the ritual begins by cutting the meat into certain portions while the audience can see it clearly. The leader will then share the meat to the people by calling their names. Here is the strong educational point by the sharing meat ritual happened. By sharing the meat and let everyone watch it, it teaches people about honesty, appreciation and acknowledgment of the relationships among families. The meat being shared in jambar juhut is a representative of “source of life”. By receiving the source of life, people are receiving blessings. Other than being a symbol of blessing, meat also a symbol of people’s rights. When they receive their portion, it means their existence and their rights to be involved and participate are being acknowledged.. Therefore, discussing blessing and rights in the Toba Batak context invites people to not be greedy and to say enough when it is enough.

Subandri highlighted the point that in the process of sharing meat there are strong and meaningful interpretations where the generations can learn about anti-corruption attitudes. Moreover he added, in the ritual of jambar juhut there is a strong relational concept shows that humans are connected to each other. Because this cultural conception is to some extent closer to Batak Toba people’s daily lives than the abstract legal definitions of fairness and government laws, Subandri argued  that it can be more effective and powerful to turn people from corruption. In a relational framework, corruption is an activity that is detrimental because it violates and even negatesrelationshipsReflecting on this relational framework, Subandri  revisited the meaning of sharing meat in Toba Batak tradition, arguing that it can be interpreted as an effort to strengthen relationships and promote honesty.

During the discussion session there were many fascinating questions that led people to deeper reflection on how humans sometimes are separated from their tradition to such an extent that they no longer think of it as a part of their existence or as a medium to learn from but merely as ceremony. One challenging question was about how, in many other traditions, instead of fulfilling the intention of renewing people’s understanding about relationships, this kind of ritual fails because it becomes a problem because of economic reasons. In order to answer that, Subandri encouraged the audience to think about the meat as a symbol of source of life: if it feels burdensome, people can replace the meat with something else like vegetables so that no one will be excluded.   Subandri was also asked about the role of Christianity as the major religion in Toba land in this kind of ritual. He answered that while sometimes a priest or pastor is invited to begin the ceremony with prayer, there is not really any significant influence.

The discussion came to an end with a challenging invitation for all of us to find in our own culture the values that we can use to develop  a cultural defense against corruption.  Even though there is always to the possibility we might misinterpret the meaning of rituals such as this one,  in the end, it is worth trying.

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