Image of the Week – 143 (Language Maps)

Language is the roadmap to culture.
– Wayne Newell, Passamaquoddy elder

Click for larger image.

Minna Sundberg’s illustration, which maps the relationships between Indo-European and Uralic languages but not Asian-Australian, offers a perspective on our roots.

Our history is in what we say, yet of the more than 7,000 languages spoken in the world today – many of them unrecorded – up to half may disappear in this century. As languages vanish, communities lose a wealth of knowledge about history, culture, ancestral knowledge embedded, in particular, in indigenous communities, and the biodiversity of the natural environment.

Here in Indonesia, according to the UNESCO Language Atlas data set1  there are 120 Indonesian languages in decline, mere twigs on the language tree.

Of the 120, 46 are ‘vulnerable’, 27 are ‘definitely endangered’, 17 are ‘severely endangered’, and 26 are ‘critically endangered’. Timor-Leste, so recently an Indonesian province, has six languages on the ‘endangered list’, and one extinct.2

A country such as Indonesia, with a constitution which recognises pluralism and has a developing democracy, needs to recognise the importance of these languages; yet few of them are being recorded3.

Some thirty years ago4, I had a conversation with Barbara, an anthropologist about to trek into the Zanskar valley in the Himalayas to record a dying language. I suggested that in recording a language for prosperity its development is arrested. An oral tradition is transmuted into a static form, the solitary skills of reading and writing. That gives rise to the potential danger of a people’s culture, one reliant on communality, breaking down. The recording of a language requires a norm, a standardisation. Given an established set of parameters, there is scope for control.

I now feel that although that premise is valid, having the ‘wisdom’ of an extinct culture available for historians, future generations may yet benefit. There will come a time when globalism will have run its course, and pockets of homo sapiens will need survival skills. They will adapt to their immediate environment and will only consume for their needs rather than their wants.

And if they can decode the languages of the past, then it might be possible for a less acquisitive civilisation to emerge.
1 I have extracted the data for Indonesia and Timor Leste for the purposes of this post. Anus – stop sniggering at the back there – anus, the fifth language listed, is critically endangered because at the last count there were only 320 people in the tribe on an island off the Jayapura, West Papua, coast.
2 Batak is a ‘definitely endangered’ language in the Philippines spoken by no more than 1,500 nomadic forest dwellers on the island of Palawan. My wife, a Batak from North Sumatra, is no relation. She doesn’t go bare-breasted nor wear clothes made from bark.
3 The Endangered Archives Programme (EAP) run by the British Library has a number of projects digitalising fragile documents from Indonesia (and other countries).
4 I spent three months in Ladakh, and my diary is downloadable from here.

Image of the Week – 142 (Ladybird Books)

Ned the lonely donkey (1952)

Ladybird books are 75 years old this year, and many millions of us have been encouraged to read because of them.

For those of us growing up in the post war years, the early books are time capsules and tell of a safe and optimistic world, or so we used to think. And yes, they remind us of how we looked.
We learned about science – they had a huge amount of carefully researched detail – and thought that motorways were a good thing, as were trains. Geography, history, nature went next to well loved tales on our book shelves. We learned about grown ups and their jobs, although I’m not sure that teachers were profiled.

Now Ladybird books have ‘key words‘ and even phonics and spelling books.

Successive generations continue to ‘love’ these books as is clear from these four short documentary clips. Yes, the books were gender and class specific: men mended cars and women did the sewing, but both Peter and Jane did go shopping with Mummy.

Now we’ve moved on to e-books – well, I haven’t – and even pre-schoolers have their apps, and political correctness flavours our language. The series of ‘satirical’ Ladybird images here seems to offend a few but, hey, it’s part of our psyche to poke fun at British institutions.

If you share our warped sense of humour, then have a look at these five Ladybird pages. You/we had until Tuesday (27th) to suggest some witty one-liners and maybe win a prize.

…. and the winners are

Ladybird history.

Sins of the father?

The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father.”
- Bible: Ezekiel 18:20

When I was 17 in mid-sixties London, I was at school studying for my GCE ‘A’ levels before going to university. I knew that my father, a civil servant, voted Labour and his father voted Conservative, the familiar left-right political divide, but I wouldn’t have the vote for another four years.

At that age, in 1965, Bedjo Unjtung didn’t either, and wouldn’t be given the opportunity until 1982. His father was a People School teacher and a member of Persatuan Guru Republik Indonesia (the Indonesian Republic Teachers Union) which was labelled by Suharto’s military as a leftist organization because it had supported Sukarno’s policies.

In early October 1965, his father was detained, moved to Nusakambangan Island and then exiled to Buru Island without trial as was Pramoedya Ananta Toer and some 15,000 others. He wasn’t released until 1979

Bedjo was aware that the military sought the supporters of Sukarno, the first president, who, along with their families, they categorized as left wing.

However, he says: “Politically and ideologically I knew nothing. My duty was to just study.

Yet he was aware too of the widespread kidnappings, enforced disappearances and mass killings, with peasants and worker activists and their families being detained and the wholesale destruction of villages.

From 1965 until 1970 Bedjo avoided the military by sleeping in parks or on pavements, and during the day “survived by walking around Jakarta selling newspapers.”

On 24 October 1970, I was captured by Military Intelligence agents in Jakarta and spent the next year spent in the Kalong interrogation camp. I was interrogated and tortured by using electric shock. Both of my index fingers were connected by electric wire to a machine. Oh, it was so painful. It was like being knocked, kicked, without interruption.

There were hundreds of political detainees in the small barracks. A room adequate for two people, held twenty. The toilet was also used to hold detainees. I could not sleep sometimes because it was difficult to breath.

The door was shut, with only a small hole to pass in water or food. I was malnourished; the small ration of rice, dirty rice was full of sand and stones. At least 5 detainees died in this camp; two people attempted suicide by hanging, and two others by plunging into the deep well. They did this because they could not bear the torture in the hell.

There is still much to tell about the move to Salemba prison and then to Tangerang forced labor camp. There, because the military did not supply food to the detainees, I would eat rats, snakes, crackers, snails, poisonous herbs just to survive.”

Upon release, former political detainees were forbidden to apply for jobs in governmental sectors, and their identity cards had a special code ‘ET’ which stood for ‘Eks Tapol’. (Tapol is an acronym of tahanan politik, the Indonesian words for ‘political prisoner’).

In 2007, the Supreme Court accepted a petition from victims’ groups for a judicial review to ban Presidential Decree Number 28 Year 1975 which authorized the discriminative code. The court ordered President SBY to withdraw the decree on the grounds that it was unconstitutional. However, there is now a “special number” to differentiate between the regular rakyat and former political detainees.

Employment opportunities being scarce, Bedjo freelanced, teaching mathematics, music and English to private students. .

I studied those subjects when I was in the prison. I collected waste paper such as cake wrappers to write down words from anyone who knew English. I also studied music using a guitar I made in the jail using waste wood.

Most of my students were children, teenagers and sometimes adults. They came from well to do Indonesians and expatriates. Everyday I rode nearly a hundred kilometers around Jakarta on my small motorbike with a guitar on my back.

But in May 1998, with the mass riots, anti-race sentiments and Jakarta burning, most expatriates left and I lost my students. Fortunately, some Indonesian students still continue, although not so many. My wife is a government teacher with a regular salary, so I still live in a simple way.”

Most of Bedjo’s time is now spent with Yayasan Penelitian Korban Pembunuhan 1965/1966 (Indonesian Institute for the Study of 1965/1966 Massacre). YPKP65 was founded on April 7th 1999 by such former political detainees as Pramoedya Ananta Toer, the novelist, who was also exiled to Buru, Ibu Sulami, secretary-general of the Indonesian Women’s Movement (Gerwani), and Hasan Raid, author of The Struggles of a Muslim Communist.

Survivors of the 1965 anti-communist purge (pic fr. Jakarta Post)
Rosikin (left), Bedjo Untung (center) and Mudjayin

It is purely a non-profit institution, sometimes I have to contribute what I have to work for the victims. I am not paid but have dedicated my life and soul for humanity.”

YPKP has at least 200 branches with 2000 volunteers throughout Indonesia. The number may increase as the investigation has not reached all areas. It is estimated that there are somewhere between 80.000 and 200.000 survivors still alive, all of whom remain stigmatised.

Two years ago Komnas HAM (Indonesia’s Human Rights Commission) issued a report which had taken three years to compile due to the continuous intimidation of witnesses and a distinct lack of cooperation from the military and bureaucracy. Their conclusion was that the state-sponsored purge that followed the 1965 aborted coup met all the criteria of a gross violation of human rights, and that government officials were involved in the systematic and widespread killing and torture of members of the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) and countless other civilians with political ties to the group.

President SBY ordered the Attorney General’s Office (AGO) to follow-up on the findings but …

Komnas HAM also called for the establishment of a Commission for Truth and Reconciliation (Komisi Kebenaran dan Rekonsiliasi – KKR). However, the 2004 law which would establish one was not enacted because no members were appointed. Then, in 2006, the Constitutional Court annulled the law on petition from civil rights groups who feared that the legislation was so flawed that it would become a vehicle for granting amnesty without necessarily discovering the truth or compensating the aggrieved.

There are any number of NGOs seeking both clarity and compensation for the human rights abuses carried out during Suharto’s Orde Baru. These include the Victim Solidarity Network for Justice (JSKK), KontraS (the Commission for the Disappeared and Victims of Violence), Justice for Munir, Amnesty International, et al.

Bedjo says:”YPKP 65 cannot work alone. It must work together with people and groups which have the same vision and mission, which is to promote and strengthen Human Rights and Democracy.”

Perhaps now there is a renewed hope with a new President committed to changing the nation’s mindset?

I have to accept the reality: Jokowi’s Cabinet is still encircled by parties which supported the New Order regime. Behind the screen, some generals involved in human rights violations are clearly backing him.

But I remain optimistic that he can take action because civil society, human rights victims, and marginalized people who voted for him will always demand that he keeps his promise to uphold human rights.”

Whatever their politics were fifty years ago, people suffered, and the suffering is being passed down through generations.

Fathers and Sons

No person can carry the burden of someone else’s sin.”
- Qur’an: Verse 35:18
If you wish to support YPKP65, donations are always welcome:

————-YPKP 65
————-Bank Mandiri
Cabang: Cikokol Tangerang
No.acc: 155 0000 494537
First published in Indonesia Expat magazine 13.1.15

Image of the Week – 141 (5-Bedroom House)

“Wow” might be your first thought when you see this image.
– ‘Only’ £500,000 for that magnificent structure?
– A causeway, its own jetty … which lake is it on?

Well, it’s not. It’s just off the Isle of Grain which is in the estuary of the River Thames. It is a Martello tower built in 1855 with extensions added during the first and second world wars as a defence against invasions which never happened. The local town of Sheerness is of fading importance, having once been home to a major dockyard.

It all looks rather bleak to me and the picture above, an artist’s impression, does not tell you what the building looks like in daylight.

But that shouldn’t stop anyone from dreaming, should it.

In fact, friend Daniel Patrick Quinn, formerly of this parish, was so captivated by it that the second album of his group One More Grain was named Isle Of Grain. (Listen and download here.)

That was released in January 2008. Next month, he expects to release his next album, Grain Fever. This has been recorded in Stornoway, his current bleak domicile which is a town on the Isle of Lewis, in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland. Both Stornaway and Sheerness have a population of 12/13,000.

Dan is far from bleak, but he is an island unto himself and preferring his cottage presumably has no use of a 5-bedroom house.

For more, do have a read of Luke Turner’s fine article about Dan, the Isle of Grain and the bleak aftermath of love, .

In The Name Of The Father …

… his son, brother, uncle, nephew, manservant and brethren alike…

Browsing through my archives, now some 2,300 posts strong, I came across something I wrote in September 2010: The Danger Of Religious Zealotry.

It starts with this quote from the Guardian columnist Polly Toybee: wherever the institutions of religion wield real power, they prove a force for cruelty and hypocrisy.

She was writing about the exposure of seemingly rampant paedophilia by Catholic priests, but what she has to say applies just as well to the crazies wreaking terror worldwide in the name of their distorted version of Islam.

Sex lies at the poisoned heart of all that is wrong with just about every faith. Eve is the cause of all temptation in Abrahamic faiths (and) women’s bodies are the common battleground, symbols of all religions’ authority and identity. Cover them up with veil or burka, keep them from the altar, shave their heads, give them ritual baths, make them walk a step behind, subject them to men’s authority, keep priests celibately free of women, unclean and unworthy.

Blind Misogynist

Trying to deny the primal life force has led to centuries of persecution, suffering, secrecy and breathtaking hypocrisy. Wherever male cultural leaders hold absolute and unscrutinised power, women and children will be abused.

On paper, I’m a Muslim. I had to be; it’s the law of this land that a man and woman cannot be married if they have different faiths. My wife is a Muslim, on paper. As she says, if a person has a good heart, then it should not matter what faith s/he professes or, indeed if s/he professes none.

Polly Toynbee suggests that the human imagination is all we need to hold in awe. I disagree somewhat. Yes, there are some instances of creativity which can reduce me to a quivering wreck; the majestic Adagio from Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez, for example. At other times I’m gobsmacked, as Our Lad and I were at the mid-season conclusion of the Walking Dead.

But there is one almighty power which we are all beholden to, and she is Mother Nature.

She cannot be ‘tamed’ and bent to humanity’s will. Devastate all the forests, plunder the ‘natural resources’ which until a few centuries ago lay undisturbed for tens of millions of years, pollute the atmosphere, and she won’t care.

Some call her Gaia, mais elle est Charlotte aussi, and she will survive long after humanity is forgotten.
Memo to male suicide bombers
The 72 virgins to be found in Paradise are all octogenarian Catholic nuns.

Image of the Week – 140 (Je Suis Charlie)

Di Balik ’98

Memories for some of us ….

My diary is here and the music selection I compiled in the aftermath is here.

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