A month before I came to the United States, I decided to get my tribal crest tattooed on my bicep with the traditional hand-tapping bamboo tool. The tattoo motif is called “Gorga” and it originated from the Batak Toba tribe that my parents belong to in North Sumatra, Indonesia. The Gorga is found everywhere in Batak culture – it decorates the roof and façade of traditional houses, woven onto textile for scarves or traditional clothing, and even painted on musical instruments like the flute, or the xylophone. The Gorga is believed to repel the object from spiritual harm, floods, earthquake and fire. The flowery undulations of the Gorga motif shows the unending facets of life bounded by its natural ecosystem, which presses the attachment between human bodies, the nature surrounding them and a homeland. Moreover, the Gorga pattern is always shown in bold colors, which are red, black, and white; showing the sense of pride and passion with a deep-rooted melancholy for home and family that most Batak Tobas have. This tattoo is significant to my immigration story because it carves a mark on my body which states that I belong to particular culture of which I honor, and that I have a sense ownership for my body. Given these reasons, my Gorga tattoo speaks the truth about my identity. It shows that regardless of my gender, religious beliefs, my citizenship, or what people say about me – my ancestral roots belongs to me and that I will always be proud of it and protect it wherever I go.
– Sarah Pardede