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BATAK DANCES AT BOLON-SIMANINDO (SUMATRA) THE DAYAK WAR DANCES IN THE VILLAGE OF BUNUK (SARA WA K) Bettina L. Knapp Batak is a Malaysian term for "robber," and the Bataks are descendants of mountain dwellers, nomadic clans living originally in Thailand and Burma. Overcrowded conditions and the expansion of Mongolian and Siamese tribes encouraged their migration to Indonesia some fifteen hundred years ago. Some Batak clans settled in the remote mountainous regions of Lake Toba (which fills the crater of an extinct volcano), and during the course of time they underwent a profound Hindu (Tamilnadu) influence. They incorporated the highly sophisticated Indian philosophy into their own magicoreligious and animistic rituals. They also practiced cannibalism until the early 1900s, despite the fact that they had been converted to Christianity by Dutch and German missionaries. The Batak dances took place in the isolated village square of BolonSimanindo , on the island of lake Toba, in front of the chief's house. His dwelling faces a high mountain, considered the abode of deities. The musicians accompanying the dancers were seated on the balcony of the chief's house, thereby incorporating this magnificent structure into the living spectacle . The function of the band (gondang)-consisting of cloth-covered gongs, five drums (wooden and metal), a reed instrument, a two-stringed mandolin, a small bamboo clarinet-like device, a xylophone, and other sound-making objects-is to beat out the tempo the dancers follow. The traditional musical schemes of five tones (do, re, mi, fa, sol) repeat sets of specific melodies. As these are played over and over again during a performance (which may last throughout the day), the modulations and rhythms are intended to mesmerize both participants and spectators, enticing them into a state of trance. The Buffalo Dance (Mangan Horbo Bius) begins as the witch doctor, dressed in a dark, loosely fitting cloaklike garment, enters the village square or stage space. His footwork is rhythmic, but subdued and measured. As he moves about in elliptical lines, he carries most carefully a very special dish, piled high with sacred herbs. His back, now turned toward the audience, faces the buffalo which has just made its appearance. The witch doctor entices the buffalo to follow him, always in keeping with the slow but continuous rhythmic beats of the gondang. Once the buffalo makes his way toward the banyan tree, two members of the tribe come forth and attach him to this sacred force. The buffalo now in place, the witch doctor begins his very special body work: he sways back and forth, slowly, intoning his magico-religious litanies, asking God to accept his offering, to keep the evil spirits away from the tribe. Invoking lesser deities one after another, he 67 THE BATAK'S DANCING WOODEN DOLL-SIGALEGALE turns from side to side, ever so slightly, holding the dish of sacred herbs in his hands. Activity suddenly ceases. Silence absorbs all phenomena. Other dancers, men and women, come forth and occupy center stage. Males and females never touch each other. Two distinct groups are set up, each forming a semi-circle and facing the witch doctor. As priest or shaman, it is he who directs the dancers in sequences of short and relatively simple footwork: a step forward, another backward, one to each side. This pattern is repeated several times, along with hand, wrist, and finger movements. Four fingers on both hands are stretched forward and kept rigid while the thumbs move up and down in cadence. Each of the dancers-now numbering twelve-begins swaying from side to side; then they stand motionless for a few moments, only to pursue their movements, slowly and subtly, to the complex, almost contrapuntal drumbeats. The musical tonalities emanating from the mandolin, xylophone and flutelike instruments are subdued at the outset, then increase in intensity, thus paving the way for the ritual's climax. Two lines of dancers now circle about the stage space: the men first, then the women. Each follows the witch doctor's every gesture, as though hypnotized by this godlike force-this man who possesses the secret of the universe. Divested of their identities, the dancers seem to flow from one into the other...


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pp. 67-72
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