aristo.prabowo's picture
Dutch Language Coordinator

by aristo.prabowo on 

August 9, 2019
Celebrating Indigenous People the Polyglot Indonesia Way
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You may not know this but every year on 9 August, the United Nations observes the International Day for the World's Indigenous People. The day is an occasion to celebrate, promote, and protect the indigenous peoples of the world as well as recognizing the achievements and contributions of indigenous people towards world issues like environmental protection.

This year in particular marks a very special time for us here at Polyglot Indonesia because not only is it a chance to celebrate the incredibly diverse indigenous people of Indonesia, but also a chance to share with the world the beautiful languages still spoken throughout the Indonesian archipelago.

The year of 2019 has been chosen by UNESCO as the International Year of Indigenous Languages. It is an international celebration of indigenous languages and the diversity of thought and points-of-view they bring. These same languages are also under threat of extinction and if efforts are not being done to help preserve and carry on these indigenous languages we will see more and more ways of thinking disappear.

The threats toward indigenous languages are many and I will only give a few examples here. First, in many countries there is economic incentive to learn foreign languages such as English or Mandarin Chinese. Second, some governments may not support or foster indigenous languages either through neglect or by actively suppressing them. One final example, and one I am personally affected by, is the lack of desire by younger people to learn the language of their elders. There are certainly many more factors that contribute to the endangerment of indigenous languages but these are the most common.

Here at Polyglot Indonesia we have been hosting a series of language meetups called "Langlang Buana Nusantara" or "Traversing the Archipelago" with the purpose of introducing the indigenous languages of Indonesia to a new audience in Jakarta. The linguistic diversity we have here cannot be overstated, as much as seven hundred are spoken in our archipelago. Some like Javanese and Balinese have speakers in the hundreds of thousands if not millions while some like the various Papuan languages have mere handfuls of speakers left. So it is a rare opportunity for us and our audience to learn about greetings in indigenous languages, some interesting facts such as how one word "Tabe" can have so many meanings in the Samawa language, and of course some forms of art unique to certain languages.

We were lucky enough to get help from students of the University of Indonesia who were willing and able to share the languages of their hometowns. Thanks again to the student clubs and associations at UI for working together with us, especially students from: Papua, West Nusa Tenggara, Maluku, Sulawesi, East Nusa Tenggara, and Kalimantan.

As social media partner for IYIL 2019, we were able to record a few languages and upload them on our YouTube channel. While not nearly as rigorous as an archival documentation, at least we are able to share a few phrases of some local languages such as Ambonese Malay, Ngalik, and Mandar.

We have also informally approached certain stakeholders in Indonesia such as language enthusiast and Wikipedia editor Ivan Lanin, whose efforts on standardizing spoken and written Indonesian have made him much admired, and the Language Agency (Badan Bahasa) of the Ministry of Education and Culture. In a casual chat we discussed between the three of us the issues affecting the continued existence of indigenous languages and we hope this will lead to further actions in the coming years.

For the rest of the year and in 2020 we will continue to document and present the indigenous languages of Indonesia to our Jakarta audience. Our hope is that these efforts will spur interest in indigenous languages especially among young Indonesians.

If you are in Jakarta within the next six months, please join us in celebrating Indonesia's indigenous languages and the rich culture of the indigenous people!

Warm salutations on this International Day for the World's Indigenous People!

About the author

Aristo grew up in a multilingual household with parents that spoke English and a grandmother that spoke Dutch. Later on he moved to the U.S. where he graduated with a bachelor's in History and a master's in Near Eastern Studies. As a college student, he picked up Portuguese, Persian, Armenian, Arabic, and a little bit of Swedish. Besides being the Dutch Language Coordinator for Polyglot Indonesia Jakarta Chapter, he is currently a Curator at Antique Maps and Prints of Indonesia and handles PR for the Indonesia Nederland Youth Society.

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