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3. Moluccan languages in the Netherlands: documenting moribund languages in an immigrant setting

Margaret Florey (University of Newcastle, Australia) and Aone van Engelenhoven (Leiden University, the Netherlands)

Introduction. In 1997, the authors began work on a collaborative research project which is focused on the most severely endangered languages of the Maluku region of eastern Indonesia . The project goals include documentation of moribund languages and working with remaining speakers and their descendents to develop appropriate language programs. Depending on the interest and language fluency of members of the speech community, these programs might entail language awareness, language renewal, or language maintenance.

We have both worked throughout the past decade with speakers of indigenous Moluccan languages - Florey in Central Maluku and van Engelenhoven in South Maluku. Certain stages of this project were planned to involve working with speakers of a number of languages in the indigenous setting in Maluku and other stages were planned to involve working in the migrant Moluccan community in the Netherlands.

The task of documenting these languages is critical given the very small populations of remaining speakers of moribund languages and the lack of written materials for most of the languages. However in late 1998, inter-ethnic violence erupted in the regional capital of Ambon city. Throughout 1999, the fighting spread to other parts of Ambon island and to other islands in Maluku, resulting in several thousand deaths and extensive loss of homes and government infrastructure. We were therefore faced with postponing indefinitely the intensive documentation work which we had planned to base in Maluku during 1999 and 2000. Instead, we shifted our attention to work among the migrant Moluccan community in the Netherlands.

This work is proving to be very rewarding. Most exciting has been locating speakers of languages which are moribund in the indigenous setting. By working within the migrant community, we have therefore been able to commence documentation of a number of languages. We have also been able to respond to requests from members of the first and second generations of migrants who are keen to work with their ancestral languages (bahasa tanah 'languages of the land'). In this report of our work to date, we discuss the status of bahasa tanah in the Netherlands and describe some of the language activities which are taking place.

History of the Moluccan exiles in the Netherlands. The large migrant population of Moluccans in the Netherlands is a consequence of events in Maluku following the proclamation of the Republic of Indonesia by Indonesian nationalists on the island of Java in 1945. In 1949 the Dutch government finally accepted the independence of its former colony. However, Moluccan members of the government of the former state of East Indonesia did not accede to inclusion within the Republic of Indonesia. On April 24th, 1950 an independent Republic of the South Moluccas - Republik Maluku Selatan (RMS) - was proclaimed on Ambon Island. When a few months later the Dutch government disbanded its colonial army, the KNIL, the Dutch Court of Justice disallowed any involuntary demobilisation on Indonesian territory. As a result, in 1951 the Dutch government transported to the Netherlands 12,500 Moluccan soldiers who had either not yet resigned or refused to go over to the Indonesian army.

It is estimated that up to 50,000 Moluccans live in the Netherlands today. Van Engelenhoven (1999: 2) observes that 76% of the migrant population originated from Central Maluku (Maluku Tengah) and the remaining 24% from Southeast Maluku (Maluku Tenggara). The majority of Central Moluccan members of the armed forces were drawn from Christian villages in Ambon and the so-called Lease islands of Saparua, Haruku, and Nusalaut. 97% of the Central Moluccan migrants are Christian and the remaining 3% Muslim (ibid.).

The languages of Maluku. The precise number of languages in Maluku is unknown, but is estimated in the Ethnologue (Grimes 1996) to number 131. Behind this picture of rich linguistic diversity, Maluku could reasonably be assessed as the most severely endangered linguistic region in Indonesia, with a large number of languages which are moving rapidly towards obsolescence. We note, for example, that seven languages indigenous to western and central Seram Island have fewer than fifty speakers: Hulung, Loun, Naka'ela, Piru, and West Littoral have fewer than ten speakers, while Amahai and Paulohi have perhaps fifty speakers each. Language shift is occurring primarily towards the regional creole, Ambonese Malay, which has functioned as a lingua franca in Maluku for more than four hundred years (cf. Florey 1991, 1997). The national language, Indonesian, is also clearly impacting on the linguistic economy through its status and role as the language of education, the media, government, and so forth.

Despite the threat to its languages, Maluku remains one of the least known regions linguistically. Very few modern descriptions of the languages of the Maluku region of eastern Indonesia have been produced. The most detailed to date include grammars of two languages of Central Maluku - Nuaulu, spoken on Seram Island (Bolton 1990) and Buru, spoken on Buru Island (C. Grimes 1991); one language of North Maluku - Taba, spoken on Makian Island (Bowden 1998); and one language of Southwest Maluku - Letinese, spoken on Leti Island (van Engelenhoven 1995).

Languages of the Moluccan migrants in the Netherlands. For much of the past five decades it has generally been considered unlikely that any bahasa tanah were represented among the migrant Moluccan community in the Netherlands. It has commonly been thought that language shift in this community is following the pattern which has been noted in many immigrant settings - of language shift in three generations from the language spoken by the migrants at the time of migration to the language of the country to which migration took place. From this perspective, Malay was the language of the Moluccan migrants and shift is taking place from Malay to Dutch. This is a pattern which is indeed taking place, however such a picture greatly oversimplifies a very complex sociopolitical and linguistic setting which provides a valuable opportunity to add to our very limited knowledge about bahasa tanah. Our research indicates that languages represented within this community include Dutch, perhaps twenty-five bahasa tanah, and a number of Malay variants . This project represents the first attempt to learn to what extent bahasa tanah have been maintained by the remaining members of the first generation and the extent to which these languages have been transmitted to the second and third generations. The initial stage of our work in the Netherlands has therefore involved delineating the status of bahasa tanah and the linguistic economy of the various generations within the migrant Moluccan community.

Lack of awareness of the existence and use of bahasa tanah among members of the migrant community may be explained by recourse to three factors. The first factor derives from the association which has developed in Central Maluku between language and religion. Before the arrival of the Portuguese colonial authorities in the 16th century, Ambon and the Lease islands were part of the North Moluccan sultanate of Ternate. The Portuguese and later the Dutch colonial authorities successively stationed garrisons on Ambon and the Lease Islands to break Ternate's control of the area. The redistribution of political power resulted in Central Moluccan Muslim villages aligning with Ternate, and Christian villages aligning with the Dutch. Closer ties with the Dutch provided Christian villages with greater access to education and to employment in various government departments. As Malay was used as a lingua franca from early in the colonial era, its use has predominated among Christian Moluccans. Linguists working in Central Maluku have noted that bahasa tanah in Christian villages in Maluku are becoming obsolescent at a much faster rate than languages spoken in Muslim villages (cf. Florey 1991, 1997, Grimes 1991). Given the demographics of the migrant population, the assumption that few, if any, bahasa tanah are represented becomes understandable.

The second factor which has played down the existence of bahasa tanah concerns the role of Malay. At the time of migration everybody spoke a variety of Malay. Depending on the region of origin, the variant may have been Ambonese Malay, used by Central Moluccans, Southwest Moluccan Malay (Malayu Tenggara Jauh), or Southeast Moluccan Malay (Malayu Tenggara Dekat). A Malay pidgin known as Barracks Malay had also developed among the soldiers and their families living together in the barracks.

Malay has retained an important position as a lingua franca among the Moluccan community. It has great symbolic value in the RMS - the Republic of the South Moluccas independence movement which has continued to thrive in the Netherlands. The use of Malay has been encouraged by the RMS government in exile as it allows the community to present itself as unified to the Dutch government, the general Dutch population and the wider world. Some dialect divergence has occurred during the past fifty years, and the Malay variant spoken by younger people in the Netherlands is known as Melaju Sini (literally "Malay here"). The linguistic research which has been undertaken among Moluccans in the Netherlands has focused entirely on this variant (cf. Tahitu 1988). Particular emphasis has been placed on the development of Melaju Sini for use in the school curriculum by descendents of the migrant population (cf. Pusat Edukasi Maluku 1990).

The third factor which has reduced knowledge about the existence and use of bahasa tanah is that of concealment of ethnolinguistic identity (van Engelenhoven 1998). A sociocultural pattern of concealing language use outside the indigenous community has been noted among Southwest Moluccans; for example, among the Letinese, Meher and Oirata people. This pattern derives in part from issues of language ownership: Who owns a language? Who owns the right to speak it? It also derives from the issue of 'safe' vs 'dangerous' usage of a language, which delineates the circumstances under which it may be appropriate to use bahasa tanah . Concealment has been exacerbated by the lack of numerical strength of the Southwest Moluccans and the political dominance of the Central Moluccans.

Our research during the past two years has coincided with a strong revival of interest in ethnolinguistic identity and bahasa tanah which has been driven largely by the second generation. This interest has encouraged elderly members of the first generation to reveal their residual knowledge of bahasa tanah - in many cases for the first time since migration. We have therefore been able to uncover a great deal of linguistic complexity within the migrant community.

The first generation of Moluccan migrants to the Netherlands included speakers of bahasa tanah who predominantly originated from the islands of southeast and southwest Maluku, but also included some people originating from the islands of central Maluku - Ambon, Haruku, Nusalaut, Seram, and Buru. We have been able to confirm that there are speakers of twelve languages and have reports of speakers of a further thirteen languages. The distribution of languages among the regions of Maluku is shown below.

Eight of the twelve languages which we have confirmed are still represented by speakers in the Netherlands are moribund in their homeland. A further six of the thirteen languages which are reported to have speakers in the Netherlands are also moribund in their homeland. This community therefore presents a very unusual situation in which there are opportunities which are not available in the homeland to document and support the retention of a substantial number of severely endangered languages in a migrant setting.



Community action: language-related activities in the Netherlands. Among different ethnolinguistic groups in the migrant Moluccan community, aspirations relating to bahasa tanah vary widely. A range of activities are now taking place which vary according to interest, access to speakers, and access to written materials. Some people are eager to become speakers while others wish to learn about the languages and cultures of their parents and ancestors and perhaps incorporate a few words into their speech as markers of identity. All of the language activities have been initiated by members of the community, some of whom have subsequently sought linguistic support from the authors. Some of the language-related activities are described briefly here.

Younger Moluccans who are fluent speakers of Dutch and have a working knowledge of German have been drawing upon historical records stored in the Netherlands in university libraries and the library of the Koninklijk Instituut voor Taal-, Land- en Volkenkunde (KITLV ). These records include material produced since the mid-nineteenth century by Dutch and German missionaries, soldiers, administrators, and researchers working in Maluku. Some of the bahasa tanah represented in the Netherlands have been the subject of modern linguistic research - either by members of the academic community or by members of the Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL) team which is based in Ambon. Younger Moluccans who speak English are also able to utilise these materials, which have provided a starting point for learning more about bahasa tanah.

As noted earlier, the revival of interest in bahasa tanah has been driven largely by the second generation. However there are cases in which language revival is led by elderly speakers in the first generation who promote the importance of bahasa tanah and the value of language learning. One such case concerns the Amahai language which is located in south central Seram - one of the languages which is nearing obsolescence in its homeland. One speaker of Amahai, Mr. Dede Tamaela, lives in the Netherlands.

Central MalukuSoutheast MalukuSouthwest Maluku
Ambon Island
Hila (?)
Hitu (?)
*Tulehu (?)
Kei Islands
Kisar Island
Seram Island
Alune (?)
*Kamarian (?)
Tanimbar Islands
Selaru (?)
*Selwasa (?)
Yamdena (?)
Teun-Nila- Serua Group
Haruku Island
Aru Islands
Dobo (?)
Babar Islands
*Central Marsela
*Imroing (?)
*Southeast Babar (?)
*Tela (?)
Buru Island
Buru (?)

* = language moribund in Maluku (< 50 speakers)
(?) = unconfirmed reports of speakers

In addition to the languages which are or may be still represented in the Netherlands, there are at least six bahasa tanah which were represented among the first generation of migrants but which are now obsolescent in the migrant setting. These are listed below.
Central Maluku Southeast Maluku Southwest Maluku
Nusalaut Banda Leti

In February 1998, Mr. Tamaela compiled a guide to learning the language he terms Bahasa Koako. This work reflects his very strong interest in his ancestral language and his keenness to encourage young people to learn and use Bahasa Koako. Mr. Tamaela notes in his introduction: "I hope that this book will be a bridge for our children and grandchildren and the generations to come who may yearn to know or be acquainted with the language of their ancestors" (1998: i). A secondary aim is to provide language material for members of the broader migrant Moluccan community.

The language learning material has been prepared trilingually in Amahai/Koako, Melaju Sini, and Dutch. It incorporates wordlists of numerals, kin terms, pronouns, adjectives, interrogatives, and frequently used verbs and nouns. A number of short dialogues are aimed at assisting young people in learning the language. In December 1998, Mr. Tamaela requested the assistance of a linguist in continuing to document Amahai/Koako and to prepare teaching materials and work has now begun with Florey. Mr. Tamaela provides the following advice to young members of the community (1998:15):

Young men and young women you must not forget!!! that
a. Language is an utterance from the soul!
b. If you know your own language that means you will even more understand and be familiar with our own traditions!
c. Language by itself can even more arouse and strengthen all of our national spirit!
d. The nation which is great is the nation which holds in high esteem its own traditions and language!

In October 1997 a radio program about this project which was broadcast on the Moluccan community radio program Suara Maluku resulted in two second-generation members of the Haruku community approaching the authors. The men had already compiled a collection of archival material about the Haruku language and culture. They were asking for assistance in learning how to work with elderly speakers so they could document the language and also wished to have a Haruku dictionary and language learning materials produced. Florey was able to begin working in 1998 with four elderly men who have some residual knowledge of Haruku.

While these men are eager to become speakers, another Haruku descendent is drawn to the sounds of the language. Ms. Monika Akihary is a professional jazz singer who is a daughter of one of the remaining speakers of Haruku. She has been consulting with van Engelenhoven about the incorporation of Haruku into her song texts. Ms. Akihary composes a preliminary text in English which she translates into Malay. Her father and uncle then try to provide a Haruku translation. Ms. Akihary does not aim to become a speaker of Haruku and focuses on the feeling which the sounds evoke in her music rather than the accuracy of the translations. Like a number of other second-generation migrants, Ms. Akihary also draws on historical sources about other ethnolinguistic groups in Maluku and incorporates cultural concepts and elements of myths in her songs.

The Alune language is symbolically very important in the Netherlands as its speakers are located in western Seram in the territory commonly held to mark the location of Nunusaku, the mythical mountain from which all life is held to derive. Both historical and contemporary linguistic and anthropological material exists for this language. One second-generation man has used all available written material concerning Alune to teach himself the language, which he claims as his ancestral language.

Unlike Amahai, Haruku, and Alune, there are no speakers of the language of Saparua in the Netherlands, yet members of this ethnolinguistic group are very keen to learn more about their languages. Saparua is one of the largest migrant sub-communities. In 1998, a community member was focal in the publication in the Netherlands of a dictionary which was compiled in Saparua by a number of speakers (Supusepa 1998). Language classes have been organised within Saparuan community organisations (kumpulan).

Members of the Keiese community have requested van Engelenhoven's assistance in working with the Ewaw language. This is an interesting case in which the language community has been replenished by a pattern of arranged marriages which sees Keiese men continuing to return to Maluku to marry Keiese women. The women arrive in the Netherlands as bilinguals - speakers of Southeast Moluccan Malay (Malayu Tenggara Dekat) and Ewaw. However, within the Netherlands, Keiese is only used inside the home by the women. Ongoing in-migration of speakers means that Keiese is maintained in one town in the Netherlands in a restricted sense as a women's language. Van Engelenhoven has been working with the women to check archival material , to continue to document the language, and to prepare language learning materials.

In the Fordate community, language classes have been initiated and organised by young people. Elderly speakers draw upon material produced by an SIL team which has been working in the Fordate speech community in Tanimbar to use in the classes. Young Tanimbarese from Selaru, Yamdena, and Selwara do not have access to material in these languages but have been able to join the Fordate classes.

An interesting use of bahasa tanah has been noted among some members of the community. Some speakers are drawing on a pool of lexical items from a number of bahasa tanah and incorporating these words in their everyday speech. This kind of usage is also found in the poetry of a performance artist who is a descendent of the Nusalaut language group. Like Saparua, there are no speakers of the Nusalaut language in the Netherlands and very few written records. Recitation in his poetry of unrelated lexical items from a number of bahasa tanah evokes identity and strong emotional ties to Maluku.

Conclusion. Performances such as that of the young Nusalaut poet and the commercial availability of products such as CDs of Ms. Akihary's music, are increasing the exposure of bahasa tanah in the Netherlands. This not only means that language material becomes more widely available but is also resulting in increased status for bahasa tanah and increased interest in language renewal.

This project will continue throughout 2000 and, we hope, for a number of years to come. This year we will broaden our work in the Netherlands and plan to run a number of language workshops in conjunction with the Moluks Historisch Museum, Utrecht, and various community groups (kumpulan). The workshops have been planned in response to the expressed wishes of members of the second and third generations, who wish to learn more about bahasa tanah and who wish to gain the linguistic skills required to maintain or revitalize their languages. Students will be taught basic linguistic skills such as elicitation and recording techniques, phonetic transcription, basic issues in analysing morpho-syntactic structures, selecting an appropriate orthography, and literature production.

This unusual situation provides a unique opportunity to assist in reversing the fortunes of severely endangered languages. We share the hopes of Moluccans in Maluku and the Netherlands that peace may be restored in Maluku in the near future and look forward to returning to that region to continue this work.


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