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A Batak shamans manual for making magical protective devices
written in the secret Hata Poda language in a bark-leaf, accordion-fold book with its original wooden boards

[Pustaha, incipit:] Poda ni pagar si jongga [= jonggi] [Advice for magical protection].
[Northern Sumatra (around Lake Toba), ca. 1870/1900?]. 19 x 27 x 7 cm. A manuscript in the old esoteric Hata Poda language used by the Batak "datu" (shamans), with the text written in the Batak script and the decorations and illustrations drawn, both in black ink on both sides of stiff leaves (0.8 mm thick) made from the inner bark of the alim tree, with 17 to 23 lines of text per page and about 28 illustrations, figures and diagrams in the text (22 on a single page). Made from a single long strip of bark, scored horizontally across the (vertical) grain and accordion-folded at the score lines. A waste(?) slip with Batak characters has been affixed to the first blank page at the end and 2 more have been used to strengthen hinges. In its original wooden boards (about 1 cm thick, tapering toward the head and foot, with horizontal grain, the upper board with a horizontal ridge across the middle and carved with geometrical decorations), with the blank outside surface of the first leaf and last 2 blank leaves affixed to the upper and lower boards. With a later carrying cord (made from 3 double-twisted cords) tied through 4 holes in the upper board, and with a later braided rattan band to hold the book closed. [53] ll. written on both sides except that the 1st and the last 4 pp. are blank.
€ 22,500
A rare Batak "pustaha" or divinatory manuscript from northern Sumatra, written in the old Hata Poda language, used as a secret language by the Batak "datu" (shamans, magicians or "witch doctors"), and illustrated with about 28 small drawings in the text, some showing human figures, others centipede-like, others abstract diagrams. It is a sort of notebook or manual with instructions for various methods of divination and/or hints serving as reminders for the shaman already familiar with the methods. Few survive in their original wooden boards, as in the present example. In general a pustaha discusses the art of preserving life, the art of destroying life and astrology. It therefore combines elements of religion, medicine and astrology. The main part of the text in the present pustaha describes procedures to create various defensive and offensive magical devices, totems or charms, along with their accompanying "tabas" (mantras).
The book is accompanied by a report about it by Dr. Uli Kozok, Professor of Indonesian at the University of Hawaii, and we describe it based primarily on his report. Numerous features of the text and the physical form clearly show that the book was made for actual use by a datu (shaman), and not merely copied for a tourist or collector.
The book is written on a folded strip of inner bark ("laklak"), but not extensively worked, beaten and macerated like tapa, so that the leaves remain stiff and the grain straight, the result resembling the thin split wood used in many countries for making shingles, boxes and the boards of very small books. On most pages of the first side of the accordion-fold, one can see that the pages were blind-lined.
From the collection of Thomas J. Perkins (1932-2016). The manuscript inevitably contains an occasional hole or crack, some clearly present when the manuscript was first produced, and some of the hinges have cracked (but not detached), with two repaired, probably when the manuscript was still in use.
A rare and important record of Batak culture when it still survived relatively free from European and Christian influences: a bark-leaf divination manual in its original wooden boards. For pustahas in general: René Teygeler, "Pustaha: a study into the production process of the Batak book", in: Bijdragen tot de taal-, land- en volkenkunde, 149 (1993), pp. 593-611.
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Asia  >  Indonesia / Dutch East Indies | Southeast Asia
Autographs, documents & manuscripts  >  Manuscripts & Documents