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 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, which is associated with fertility and fertility rites. The verso board has a symbol of a star or a floral symbol. Many of the figurative illustrations in the book [a child] [a goddess figure with serpents] [star] [scorpion], 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.
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+. Twelve (two-sided) panel concertina fold; fastened on handcarved alim (or agarwood) tree-bark original boards with lizard sculptural relief; inscribed and drawn on smoothed and pressed alim tree-bark; 7 x 6.5 cm” (closed); illustrated. Handwritten in red and black ink pigments. Boards stained with natural pigments, in remarkable condition, dark staining to edges. Item #9997