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Bona Sijabat (c.1800 – 1862) was a well respected and long-time chief of a Batak tribe. Natives of North Sumatra, the tribe was led by Sijabat in to a battle that would ultimately result in many deaths, but also freedom from oppressive Dutch land ownership.

Childhood

It is not known exactly when or where Sijabat was born, though it is believed that his family had always lived in Samosir. His father was an influential elder of a north Sumatran village at the time of King Singamangaraja, but was killed before Sijabat’s birth. His mother was said to be a strikingly beautiful woman, and as a widow devoted her whole being to raising her son.

Sijabat first showed an interest in leadership when he was around 8 years old. He would nominate himself to lead hunts for food and resources, despite being one of the younger children in the hunting group. He was strict in his leading, but compassionate in his manner, even for a boy, and many tribe members had beliefs of his father’s reincarnation or spirit being within him.

As a young tribe member, Sijabat excelled in all pursuits. He was skilled with basic weaponry and was known to have a wonderful singing voice. He involved himself in many aspects of tribal life, from religious rituals to song and dance, and even weaving. Some said that without a father figure in his life – his mother never married again – he had an inclination towards typically female-oriented tasks. This did not alienate him from his peers, but contrarily earned him respect as a motivated, diverse individual who appealed to all members of his Batak tribe.

Adulthood

As time passed Sijabat became eager to give back to the community he loved in other ways. When he was about 25 years old, a witch doctor from the bordering areas passed through his village, and Sijabat is said to have spoken with him at length during his stay. After the doctor’s departure, Sijabat spent a number of years practising healing and regeneration rituals and potions, hoping that he would become sufficiently skilled to provide his people with medicines and cures for their ailments.

It was not long after this time that the tribe’s chief, Sidapitu, fell gravely ill – possibly with what we would now call bowel cancer. Sijabat saw the opportunity to help his revered leader, and worked closely with the chief for many months: firstly attempting to rid him of his disease, then acting to ensure his comfort during his final days.

Sidapitu had no sons, and as his death approached he asked Sijabat to take his place as the head of the tribe. His modest, humble nature would have him refuse the position, but other tribal elders had seen the compassion and selflessness he had shown Sidapitu and implored him to reconsider.

Tribal leader

Sijabat became tribal chief in 1832.

It was around this time that Dutch people began to enter deeper Sumatra. They brought with them grazing animals – sheep, cattle and oxen – on the promise of large areas of habitable, vacant property. The locals, as well as nearby tribes, were forced from their homes and many were taken as slaves.

Fierce conflict over the land resulted in much bloodshed, and a great number of slaves died from starvation and widespread disease.

Passive and peace loving by nature, Sijabat felt conflicted by the unrest in Sumatra. But he was intensely angered by the Dutch, and was proactive in rallying fighters and leaders from several tribes to reclaim their homes. In May 1840, he led his makeshift army in to a great battle, which would later become known as the Battle of Mount Simalungun.

More than one thousand lives were lost, and countless livestock slaughtered.

Wounded Dutch burned tribal villages to the ground before returning to their settlements. They did not return until many decades later, after peaceful grazing had been established in particular areas of Sumatra.

Following the war, Sijabat fathered ten children – of which only one was a son. He established groups of workers to rebuild the villages, and used his own medicinal skills to assist members of the tribes who had been injured in battle.

When Sijabat died of natural causes in 1862, his son took his place as the tribe’s chief, and vowed always to maintain the same compassion and humility as his father. To this day, some small villages hold an annual remembrance ceremony for Bona Sijabat and the profound affect he had on his people and their future.

Bona Sijabat is now a common name given to the eldest child for families of Sumatran Indonesian descent.

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Bona Sijabat (c.1800 – 1862) was a well respected and long-time chief of a Batak tribe. Natives of North Sumatra, the tribe was led by Sijabat in to a battle that would ultimately result in many deaths, but also freedom from oppressive Dutch land ownership.

Childhood

It is not known exactly when or where Sijabat was born, though it is believed that his family had always lived in Samosir. His father was an influential elder of a north Sumatran village at the time of King Singamangaraja, but was killed before Sijabat’s birth. His mother was said to be a strikingly beautiful woman, and as a widow devoted her whole being to raising her son.

Sijabat first showed an interest in leadership when he was around 8 years old. He would nominate himself to lead hunts for food and resources, despite being one of the younger children in the hunting group. He was strict in his leading, but compassionate in his manner, even for a boy, and many tribe members had beliefs of his father’s reincarnation or spirit being within him.

As a young tribe member, Sijabat excelled in all pursuits. He was skilled with basic weaponry and was known to have a wonderful singing voice. He involved himself in many aspects of tribal life, from religious rituals to song and dance, and even weaving. Some said that without a father figure in his life – his mother never married again – he had an inclination towards typically female-oriented tasks. This did not alienate him from his peers, but contrarily earned him respect as a motivated, diverse individual who appealed to all members of his Batak tribe.

Adulthood

As time passed Sijabat became eager to give back to the community he loved in other ways. When he was about 25 years old, a witch doctor from the bordering areas passed through his village, and Sijabat is said to have spoken with him at length during his stay. After the doctor’s departure, Sijabat spent a number of years practising healing and regeneration rituals and potions, hoping that he would become sufficiently skilled to provide his people with medicines and cures for their ailments.

It was not long after this time that the tribe’s chief, Sidapitu, fell gravely ill – possibly with what we would now call bowel cancer. Sijabat saw the opportunity to help his revered leader, and worked closely with the chief for many months: firstly attempting to rid him of his disease, then acting to ensure his comfort during his final days.

Sidapitu had no sons, and as his death approached he asked Sijabat to take his place as the head of the tribe. His modest, humble nature would have him refuse the position, but other tribal elders had seen the compassion and selflessness he had shown Sidapitu and implored him to reconsider.

Tribal leader

Sijabat became tribal chief in 1832.

It was around this time that Dutch people began to enter deeper Sumatra. They brought with them grazing animals – sheep, cattle and oxen – on the promise of large areas of habitable, vacant property. The locals, as well as nearby tribes, were forced from their homes and many were taken as slaves.

Fierce conflict over the land resulted in much bloodshed, and a great number of slaves died from starvation and widespread disease.

Passive and peace loving by nature, Sijabat felt conflicted by the unrest in Sumatra. But he was intensely angered by the Dutch, and was proactive in rallying fighters and leaders from several tribes to reclaim their homes. In May 1840, he led his makeshift army in to a great battle, which would later become known as the Battle of Mount Simalungun.

More than one thousand lives were lost, and countless livestock slaughtered.

Wounded Dutch burned tribal villages to the ground before returning to their settlements. They did not return until many decades later, after peaceful grazing had been established in particular areas of Sumatra.

Following the war, Sijabat fathered ten children – of which only one was a son. He established groups of workers to rebuild the villages, and used his own medicinal skills to assist members of the tribes who had been injured in battle.

When Sijabat died of natural causes in 1862, his son took his place as the tribe’s chief, and vowed always to maintain the same compassion and humility as his father. To this day, some small villages hold an annual remembrance ceremony for Bona Sijabat and the profound affect he had on his people and their future.

Bona Sijabat is now a common name given to the eldest child for families of Sumatran Indonesian descent.


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