My wife and I are on the island of Samosir in Lake Toba in North Sumatra and, after three days of cycling around the island, taking the occasional dip in the lake’s waters surrounded by bubblegum-like pink snail eggs and chasing white cranes from the backs of water buffalos, we decide to visit a medicine man.
After all, we needed to recover from the exposure to endless love ballads that the local Batak men are so fond of singing at night in the company of other men.
Our search isn’t easy because we have to be specific.
Medicine men or women among the Bataks, known as datuks (always male) and gurus, come with three distinct specializations: healing, black magic and communicating with the divine.
The healing ones deal with ailments; the ones for black magic turn to rituals to inflict harm on someone or to win someone’s love, and the ones communicating with the divine deal with interpreting the wishes of gods and ancestors, and also deal in astrology for recommending auspicious dates.
So, whenever we asked for a guru, snap came back the question: “Which one do you want?”
We decided that we would rather deal with the healing specialist.......