Noor R Rahim

hapter i.

As a Malay, have you ever given thought to our mother tongue (Bahasa Ibu); or at least remember a few words that were spoken amongst ourselves in our small community/society (masyarakat)?

Our Bahasa Ibu is in peril of extinction; and in this article I will try to keep the dying ember alive by blowing on it with the breath of knowledge I remember from my childhood days. In order to get the flame to grow and glow brighter and cast an eternal light on the subject I can only implore on all those who know and have knowledge of the subject to join us/organization to contribute towards the resuscitation and advancement of our native Bahasa Ibu for posterity (untuk abadi).

It is a known and given fact that the Ceylon Malay Language in not Universal; and that for economic and present day fashion consciousness one may find it disadvantageous. But always remember that your Bahasa Ibu is part of your rich cultural heritage (warisan kebudayaan). Hence to call one self a Ceylon Malay; one must also be proud to say that you speak the language of a Malay. If we do not nurture and revive our Bahasa Ibu; it will simply fade away and die to be forever lost to our community/society (masyarakat).

In order to better understand the subject matter we must be reminded that the major influx of the Javanese (Malays) to Ceylon was during the period of Dutch rule of the island. Most of them were soldiers and a considerable number of exiles from their native land (tanah air) Batavia which is now renamed as Jakarta. Their Bahasa Ibu was Bahasa Jawi. The Javanese language at this time was written in a derivation of the Arabic script (tulisan tangan) without the accentuation marks on the top and bottom of the letter (huruf). Hence the script was called Pegon or Gundul (bald). It was also called Huruf Botak (bald letters).

Generally the language was merely a spoken language and only a very few of our ancestors did know to read the Jawi script. This was what led to the deterioration of the language with the passage of time. The loss of words led to the import of foreign words into the spoken Malay – particularly the language of the ethnic population of Sinhalese; Tamils and also English words.

Chapter ii.
One could say it gave birth to evolution of a Bahasa Campuran (Mixed Language) or Perkatahan Sehari-Hari (Colloquialism). Due to the loss of words (with time) our vocabulary got depleted and we used words in different meaningful capacities. For example we would say: Konjong berhentilah. Meaning – won’t you stay awhile. Konjong is a Tamil word for “a little”; and berhenti in the Bahasa Indonesia means “stop”. We also use berhenti to get a person to stand-up. Thus you will see that we use this one word berhenti with 3 different meanings. The proper way of saying to stay awhile would be: Tunggu Sebentar.

The greatest disaster to the language emerged after the British took over the reins of the Island from the Dutch. Our language suffered most when we started direct translation of the English sentences into our Bahasa Ibu. From the simple grammar we used – that of the subject or objective followed by the elaboration of the subject or objective we followed the English way of saying things. For example: We used to call a white man Orang Putih or Kulit Putih; this is now spoken as Putih Orang. Eyeglasses that were referred to as Kaca Mata became Mata Kaca. This has quite a difference in meaning; as Kaca Mata means eyeglasses and Mata Kaca means eye made of glass. Hence you can get into unwarranted situations if you changed the way of speaking the Bahasa in a Malay speaking country. 

Another example in which we can see the difference in grammar and usage of words is in the following sentence: Lorang, mana arr duduk? In translation: You people, where are you living? Now, the word “duduk” means sit. For the lack or for the loss of a proper word (Forgotten of course) we use the word duduk for sitting and also place of living. The sentence also follows a direct translation from the English – where are you living? The proper way of saying this in Bahasa would be : Anda, Tinggal di mana? Also note the word Lorang in the sentence. It is an acronym/abbreviation of two words – Lu and Orang. Lu is a colloquial word that is used in Jakarta for “you” and orang is “Man” or “People”. We Malays use a lot of acronyms when we speak the little bit of Bahasa that we can remember of. But do not fret; for acronyms are frequently used in Malay speaking countries and you wouldn’t be able to refer the meaning or find the word in a regular Malay dictionary.

It is almost certain that there are people in some parts of Indonesia that speak our Bahasa the way we speak it. Being neither an expert linguist nor a historian I cannot comment on the way we speak the Bahasa. But if we should contribute towards the reclamation of our Bahasa Ibu; we could do so by starting firstly in cleansing the vocabulary by finding Malay words to replace the foreign elements that have crept into the Bahasa and changing the grammatical manner of speaking the Bahasa. Most importantly speak the Bahasa within the family circles and the

Chapter iii.
masyarakat. I implore the seniors and other knowledgeable individuals to promote the use of our very limited (at this time) knowledge of our Bahasa and cultural traditions; and to contribute their experience and knowledge to the efforts of Young Melayu FB or any other interested organisations; and also by channelling their wealth of knowledge to the younger generation and generations to come; thereby kindling the ember into an everlasting and brilliant flame that will last untuk abadi.

In conclusion it must be brought to light the efforts made by our esteemed elders who tried to keep the Bahasa Ibu flame alive and burning. We had Malay Khatibs (Preacher/Mosque Official/Orator) and Registrars of Marriages who conducted regular religious services including sermons in leading mosques in Ceylon, in Bahasa Ibu. The marriage vows and registration of marriage was also conducted in Bahasa Ibu. These services are continuing to be followed through by the successor of a well respected and renowned Khatib in Slave Island. It is encouraging to note that on the completion of a funeral service this Khatib goes the extra mile and gives a homily or sermon in Bahasa Ibu. We have also had radio programs that highlighted Malay talent in singing Malay songs in addition to basic Malay classes. In the late 40’s and 50’s we had a Malay gentleman who tried to promote the Jawi language (Bahasa Jawi) by producing a newsletter in the Huruf Jawi. Unfortunately this was not a success. 

Perhaps this was due to the influence of economics. Why learn this language if there are no economic benefits and the circle of communications in this language is limited? This perhaps was the reason for its demise. We also had another cultural drop-out in the early 50’s. It was customary for elders to sing Malay Pantun(s) (Poems) at festive occasions. This practice is also far gone. We also had Malay Town Criers who would go from lane to lane and from Kampong (village) to Kampong crying out about events – especially obituaries. And finally I must mention a cultural event that was practised by the Malays until it was stopped in the 50’s; and that is worth mentioning. It was called a Panja Religious Ceremony. 

Panja is an abbreviation for Pancha Jari (Five Fingers). The symbol of the Hand is carried around in procession around the streets with the chanting of prayers and on the seventh day there is much revelry and the festivities are concluded with a fire-walking ceremony. The significance of this was to invoke the blessings of God, to ward off all calamities and for the safeguarding of the Community. It is believed that this Ceremony is still practised at the Tabut festival in Indonesia. Though this is not necessarily a part of the subject on Bahasa I mention this ceremony as a long lost cultural event and shouldn’t be forgotten.
Noor R. Rahim May 06, 2010
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