Indonesia: Early to mid-20th century. Unique. Hardcover. The 'pustaha' [named by the Batak people of interior province of northern Sumatra, Indonesia] are manuscript books constructed and composed by their "datu" or magicians and healers. Origins of the pustaha remain somewhat clouded to non-indigenous research, although, records of provenance date to the 18th century. The Batak people settled mainly in the Lake Toba region of North Sumatra, and included three dominant dialects: Toba, Angkola, and Mandailing.
"The datu used three essential ritual objects: a magic staff, his medicinal horn, and a bark divination book (pustaha). The text runs parallel to the folds in the bark and is read horizontally from left to right and contain black and red drawings. Batak books use a script that is related to southern Brahmi of India and ancient Javanese writing systems. Like Sanskrit, it is syllabic in nature, and it is widely believed to derive from Sanskrit. The texts deal with divination, magic, and medicine. They could be used to determine auspicious days for ceremonies or new endeavors, or for reference when casting spells, influencing the weather, finding lost objects, diagnosing illness, or prescribing medicine. In addition to appearing in books, writing is found on other ritual objects."--Bookseller.
The books themselves are frequently made with alim tree-bark; written and illustrated with other natural ink pigments. The pustaha is significant for the Batak, as the texts are idiosyncratic to the datu, meaning they are didactic tools for apprentices, but also for members of the community to interpret important decisions and advise on community issues, as reconciled by the datu. The books are often written in note-like script. The script is almost illegible for most members of the community, and indecipherable to Western scholars, however the syllabe script is thought to be derived from East Indian Sanskrit or to some scholars, Indian Palava script. Many contemporary pustaha (as this specimen is most likely) were made and sold to tourists of the region, as well. The content of the books vary, but generally are divination books, including diagnosis of illness, protective/destructive magic, and acts of cult. Many of the books are also astrological in nature and contain solar and lunar charts and tables, and in the case of this particular pustaha, which contains animistic figures. This book features a carved lizard in high relief on one of the boards with carved decorative elements, which is associated with fertility and fertility rites. Many of the figurative illustrations in the book [a spirit] [a god/goddess figure] [wheel] [star][scorpion and bird], also allude to creation myth, as the 'tendi' manifestation of 'life' and 'death' represented these symbols. The text is inscribed and illustrated on both sides of the bark. Although colonized by the Dutch government in the 19th century, many Batak people retain indigenous religious beliefs, although increasingly marginalized. Similar to the magical amate bark books of San Pablito, Puebla, Mexico. An exceptional and critical book for Indonesia history and culture. This copy in particular with bone carved boards, rather than alum tree boards.
Voorhoeve, P. "Batak Bark Books," Conservator, University of Leiden, John Rylands Library and the Manchester University Press, 1951.
Teygeler, Rene. "Pustaha. A Study into the Production Process of the Batak Book," 1993. Very Good+. Boards stained with natural pigments, wear to extremities, spotting to wood boards, although in remarkable condition, dark staining to edges. (Two-sided) panel concertina fold; fastened on handcarved bone original boards with lizard sculptural relief; inscribed and drawn on smoothed and pressed; ~closed, measures 9cm x 7.5cm x 5.5cm. Opened 90cm in length.; illustrated. Handwritten in red and black ink pigments. Item #11340