Saturday, March 08, 2008

Proud to be Javanese

I remember the Sioux Indian children asking me to speak my native language when I visited them in South Dakota in May 2007. They were so mesmerised by my spoken Malay. When I asked them to speak some Lakota to me, they shrugged their shoulders and said, "We don't know how to. Only the Elders know..."

The children's remarks made me reflect on my own culture. How often have we heard Malay speaking parents speak to their children in Malay, only to hear the children respond in English? Or hear how some Malay parents unbashfully exclaimed that their children are performing badly in the Malay language. They say, the first distillation of culture is the erosion of language. Are we guilty of this distillation?

Singapore Malays trace their roots to the Bugis, Javanese, Banjarese, Minangkabauese, Baweanese, Mandailings, Achehese and other sub-groups belonging to the Malayo-Austronesian group located in the area known as Hesperenesia (an area spanning the southern part of Taiwan through the Philippines, Borneo, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and westwards to Madagascar). I trace my lineage to the Javanese (maternal side) and the Banjarese (paternal side). I recall how when I was growing up in Gedung Kuning, my mum and grandmother spoke some Javanese to me. Initially I thought they were Malay vocabulary and took the learning for granted. 

My interactions with the Sioux Indians made me realize that I should have taken my Javanese language informal lessons more seriously... 

*Mum in traditional Javanese dress worn at her wedding.

"Eloklah kita hentikan ngobrol buat seketika..."
"Sampai ketemu lagi. Jangan kangen sama den ayu..."

"Ah, so you speak Javanese too?" I shyly asked a fellow car enthusiast. The journey just took on a more interesting route...

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