Christianity, Colonization, and Gender Relations in North Sumatra

A Patrilineal Society in Flux


In this book Sita van Bemmelen offers an account of changes in Toba Batak society (Sumatra, Indonesia) due to Christianity and Dutch colonial rule (1861-1942) with a focus on customs and customary law related to the life cycle and gender relations. The first part, a historical ethnography, describes them as they existed at the onset of colonial rule. The second part zooms in on the negotiations between the Toba Batak elite, the missionaries of the German Rhenish Mission and colonial administrators about these customs showing the evolving views on desirable modernity of each contestant. The pillars of the Toba patrilineal kinship system were challenged, but alterations changed the way it was reproduced and gender relations for ever.
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EUR €114.00USD $132.00

Biographical Note

Sita T. van Bemmelen, Ph.D (2012), is a historian, academic editor, and freelance gender consultant. She has published numerous articles on gender relations in Indonesia, and co-edited Women and Mediation in Indonesia (KITLV 1992).

Table of contents

Preface and Acknowledgements
List ofIllustrations, Maps, Graphics and Tables

1 Introduction
 1.1 Grand Narratives: Where Do Kinship and Marriage Fit In?
 1.2 The Toba Batak
 1.3 Discourse, Agency and Modernities
 1.4 Kinship: Structure, Process, and Issues
 1.5 Composition
 1.6 Sources

Part 1: A Historical Ethnography

2 The Construction of Toba Batak Gender
 2.1 Batak Adat and Its Divine Origin
 2.2 The Origin of Mankind and the Creation of the Earth
 2.3 Gendered Hierarchies
 2.4 The Woman as the Intermediary between Clans
 2.5 Prohibited Marriages
 2.6 The Most Coveted Union
 2.7 Reciprocal Marriage Payments
 2.8 The Right Marriage is a Fertile Marriage
 2.9 Myth and Reality: Recurrent Themes
 2.10 Toba Batak Mythology as a Reflection of Gendered Interests

3 Customary Marriage
 3.1 Hypogamy: The Ideal and the Practice
 3.2 Reasons for Forging Marital Alliances in the Nineteenth Century
 3.3 Fathers, Daughters, and Arranged Marriages
 3.4 Courtship and Premarital Sexual Relations
 3.5 Bypassing the Fathers
 3.6 Never Relinquished by Her Family of Origin
 3.7 The Crucial Factor: The Agency of the Daughter

4 Fertility, Mortality and the Pinnacle of Life
 4.1 Fertility, Morbidity, and Mortality in the Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Century
 4.2 The Concept of a Blessed Life
 4.3 Male Progeny and the Journey of the Soul
 4.4 Joy and Grief
 4.5 Strategies to Avert Disaster
 4.6 The Male Strategy to Reach the Pinnacle of Life
 4.7 Gendered Odds

5 Ruptures: Divorce and Widowhood
 5.1 Conflict, War, Mediation, and Jurisdiction
 5.2 Toba Batak Legal Terminology


Historians, anthropologists, Indonesianists, experts on customary law, gender and Christianity, interested in the interaction between colonizing forces and colonized people leading to changes in patrilineal societies.

Index Card

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