That is the traditional greeting of the Batak, Simalungun and Mandailing people, located in North Sumatera.  Up until 1947 or 1957, the peoples of Sumatera were free to sail across the Strait of Malacca to trade or visit relatives on the Malayan side.  When immigration laws came into force with the formation of both Indonesia and Malaysia put a stop to it all…almost.  Malaysia is still a magnet for Indonesians to chance a better living, legally or otherwise.

I am a Mandailing by descent, and my ancestors are from the Nasution marga (family or clan).  Although I know next to nothing about my people or their traditions, I am proud to tell fellow Malaysian Mandailing that I am a Nasution.  There are many famous Malaysian Mandailing and they include the late nationalist educationist Aminuddin Baki (marga Lubis), the late Judge Tan Sri Hashim Yeop Abdullah Sani (marga Rangkuti), the late former Menteri Besar of Selangor Dato’ Harun Idris (marga Harahap), former minister Datuk Mokhtar Hashim (marga Harahap), actor Dato’ Ahmad Tamimi Siregar (marga Siregar), former Inspector-General of Police Tun Mohammed Hanif Omar (marga Nasution), former Chief of Air Force General (Rtd) Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad (marga Nasution) and last but not least, broadcaster and singer Rubiah Lubis (marga Lubis).

Tor-Tor Dance (courtesy of Malaysia Chronicles)

Recently, the Minister for Information, Communication and Culture, Dato’ Seri Utama Dr Rais Yatim announced his Ministry’s intention to preserve the Mandailing traditional TorTor dance and Gordang Sambilan as part of the Malaysian Mandailing heritage, and this, as did other attempts to preserve other traditions inherited from the Indonesian ancestors, got the Indonesians all riled up.  On Twitter, hashtags such as #MalaysiaMiskinBudaya (Malaysia is Culturally-Poor) and #TorTorPunyaIndonesia (The Tor-Tor is Indonesian) ruled the timeline with Indonesians bashing Malaysia for allegedly stealing the former’s culture.  What is more shocking is when an Indonesian Batak politician, Ruhut Sitompul, was quoted in the Jakarta Post as saying:

“Once in a while, I think it’s necessary that we bomb [Malaysia] as a form of shock therapy. Otherwise they will keep oppressing us. There’s no need for diplomacy – they always find excuses”.

It is funny that a country with 28 million people (plus more than a million who are Indonesian citizens working here) can be threat, oppressing Indonesia that has 240 million inhabitants.  Perhaps, Ruhut Sitompul was looking for a way to shift the focus of Indonesian Muslims (the Mandailing are Muslims) from his recent fiasco with the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) and Islamic People’s Forum (FUI) over the Lady Gaga concert ban.

Majority of the Twitter hashtag users were from the Jakarta side, rather than from the Sumatera side; while most Malaysians who laugh at the Ministry’s effort to preserve this culture from disappearing from the Malaysian Mandailing community altogether are either non-Malays, or those who are staunchly anti-government.  Some of the comments can be found here .  Perhaps, they would be happy too if China one day declares war on the overseas Chinese community who practice Chinese traditions outside of mainland China.  And the Malays who do not support the preservation of heritage are the ones who are happy when the Wayang Kulit Jawa of Selangor and Johor have disappeared totally from the face of this planet, save for some puppets.

The Malaysian Mandailing Association President, Ramli Abdul Karim Hasibuan said that Malaysia intends to recognise the Tor-Tor dance and the Gordang Sambilan as a Mandailing heritage here, not claim it to be a Malaysian culture.  After all, the two belong to the Mandailing, not Malaysia nor Indonesia.  And I, would of course like to learn more about the culture of my Mandailing side. Maybe, a lesson in history is in order here, for the uninformed Malaysians and Indonesians as well.

Among famous Mandailings in Indonesia include Indonesian actress Tia Ivanka (born Artia Dewi Siregar), composer and musician Rinto Harahap, and singer Diana Nasution.  However, two famous Indonesian Mandailing with ties to Malaysia are the late Adam Malik, a marga Batubara who was a foreign minister of Indonesia and also a Vice-President; and the late General Abdul Haris Nasution, a former Minister of Defence.

Adam Malik was actually born in the town of Chemor, near Ipoh in the state of Perak.  His mother. Siti Salamah, was from Chemor. Every time Adam Malik visited Malaysia, he would take the opportunity to visit his relatives in Chemor (see Abdur-Razzaq Lubis, Adam Malik, anak Chemor, Surat Berita Mandailing, Jilid I, No. 2, 1996: 2-3.).  In fact, both Adam and Haris hailed from the same village of Hutapungkut, right in the middle of the Mandailing homeland in Sumatera.  And it was in major part due to these two Mandailing men that the Indonesian confrontation against Malaysia ended.  They were both against the Confrontation.  Haris even bluntly refused to go to war with Malaysia because he likened it to going to war against his own relatives.  Why is this so?  Haris, who was a General in the Indonesian Armed Forces then, had a nephew also from Chemor, Perak, who was in the Royal Malaysian Navy (retired as Vice-Admiral) Dato’ Mohammed Zain Mohd Salleh (see A.H. Nasution, Memenuhi Panggilan Tugas, Jilid 1: Kenangan Masa Muda, Jakarta: Gunung Aung, MCMLXXXII: 6).  After the peace treaty was signed between the two governments in Bangkok in August 1966 to end the Confrontation, Adam Malik immediately took the opportunity to visit Chemor to assure his relatives (see Adam Malik, Mengabdi Republik, Jilid 1 Adam Malik Dari Andalas, Gunung Agung, Jakarta, 1978; Abdul Rahman Rahim, Jatoh-Nya Sa-Orang President, Penerbitan Utusan Melayu Berhad, chetakan kedua, 1967).

As such, the Indonesians and Malaysians have cross-border ties, ties that bind the two together as the same people divided only by political and diplomatic boundaries, but who are really one.  Therefore, the Tor-Tor, Gordang Sambilan, should be preserved by the people of Malaysia as a heritage so they would and could remember how the bond of this Nusantara  is still very much alive.  And like the Barong dance of Bali that preserves the Hindu Epic of Ramayana from India, strengthens cultural and spiritual ties between nations.  The only way for this to be achieved is to suppress extremism and getting rid of ignorance.

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