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One of my Batak friends, a man of great exuberances and intense melancholies, told me that his true desire in life had been to write novels and short stories. As a youth, he completed several such stories for pub­lication, and had begun sketching out a novel. I asked him what happened to his dream. He replied that his passion to write (the purview of the tondi) was thwarted by his fear of correction and rejection (feelings that are the purview of his more practical personality). This situation had created a huge conflict inside him, something that manifested itself as aimlessness and an urge to gamble.

Had I been Batak and sensitive to such feelings, I would not have left then (since the departure date was flexible) and would have engaged in activities that would have strengthened my tondi. How does one “harden” the tondi? According to Bataks who were willing to discuss this matter, the process involves constant experimentation, in­clud­ing, but not limited to, actively engaging in adat (that is, traditional values or behaviors such as participating in ritual dances or wearing the identifying fabric called ulos), pleasing the material-­sensual body in order to entice the tondi to stay in the human body, eating foods full of potency and nutrition, and engaging in the acts of studying or learning.

Elliptic request or begging/­imperative)4 Clearly, many of these Indonesian terms work rather differently than our generic word, please. The Indonesian phrasings make it more explicit than the English equivalents, whether the speaker is asking for assistance or compliance. Indonesian also is clearer than English about specifying whether what is being requested is considered to be for the speaker’s, the listener’s, or a third party’s benefit. Requests generally designate either an elder or superior’s rightful demand or a social inferior’s more humbling request.

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Lotus service notes


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