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Language Policy in West Papua and Indonesia
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Language Policy in West Papua and Indonesia

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A description of the situation with regard to the language of instruction and of text books in Netherlands New Guinea and in Indonesia

A description of the situation with regard to the language of instruction and of text books in Netherlands New Guinea and in Indonesia

Published in: Technology, News & Politics

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  • 1. 1Languagepolicy in Dutch New Guinea and IndonesiaAt Ipenburg, 2000There is at the moment, in the context of the local autonomy, a kind of Risorgimento forthe textbooks the Dutch used in the 1950s. These were specially made for Papua. Verypopular was the reading book written by IzaakKijne, who used as a basis for the story thekoreri motive. This is the famous "Kota Emas" series. A Dutch girl and a Papuan boy(mind the division of the sexes between the two population groups), after manydifficulties find the Golden City, where Jesus himself is sitting and talking to them, beforethey go back with their story to Papua.There was the series "Omhoog en Vooruit" (also in Malay "NaikdanMaju" if I am not mistaken). Igot from a colleague the book “Paradijsvogels” (Birds of Paradise), volume 9 . It is a story abouta very clever boy from Biak, who finally gets a scholarship to do his high school in Holland,where he will stay in the house of the parents of his Dutch friend. All harmony and self-confidence. The book is written with 2,400 words and was used in the last grade of the primaryschool.The book written by an early missionary Van Hasselt Junior, "In het Land der Papoeas"(Di Tanah Papua") is now translated into Bahasa. It tells about the coming of the Gospel on theNorth coast in the early years of the 20th century. This is part of the process of“meluruskansejarah”, the process whereby the Papuans reclaim their own history. One has to dowith the other. It is a massive effort by Papuans to reclaim their right to their own particularidentity as Papuans, separate from Indonesians.For decolonization and for the empowerment of the local people Papua was a special case. TheDutch realized that they had the territory only temporarily. It was threatened by an Indonesianinvasion and by Indonesian successes on the diplomatic front. They had in the first place tomake annual reports about progress made with regard to "papuanization". In the second placethey had to show the world how good and benevolent they were as colonizers compared to theIndonesians. Papuans would agree). In the third place there were hardly any settlers, apart froma few Indo-Dutch who fled Independent Indonesia in 1950. This helped to keep the relationshipsbetween the Government and the Papuans friendly. The Dutch just began colonizing here at atime when European and American colonialism in general was already on the wane.There is usually not a conscious effort to make oneparticular language the national languageafter Independence. So many countries choose the language of their former colonial power.India had till the 1970s two subcontinent wide languages, Hindi and English. Hindi had becomethe national language, notwithstanding opposition by the Tamils in the South who wanted to staywith English. Maybe as a compromise or maybe just for practical reasons English staid the“official” language. Tanzania, a former German colony taken over as a League of Nationsmandate by the English, did more or less the same: Swahili became the national language andEnglish the language for tertiary education. Swahili, by the way, is the language of the Arabslavers, who went, from Zanzibar, far into the interior by the middle of the 19thcentury. Kenyaand Uganda followed the example of Tanzania. Malawi and Zambia, however, choose Englishas the national language.
  • 2. 2At Independence in December 1949 Indonesia claimed the whole of the Dutch East Indies,including West New Guinea. It did not exclude claims to West Borneo, East Timor and Malaysia.This is Indonesia Raya, Greater Indonesia, the true successor state to the Majapahit Empire. ButIndonesian national unity was very fragile, as development and traditions were very different indifferent parts of the country. There were secessionist threats in Ambon, Sumatra, theMinahasa, and Makassar. There were also threats from the Darul Islam, strong in West Java,among the Sundanese, and of the communists, strong in East Java.There is a principle, already advocated by NicoloMachiavelli, that if a nation has internalproblems it should create an external enemy. In the 1950s Soekarno made the Dutch fulfill thisrole as the main internal and external enemy. The Dutch were the former colonizers, a role theydid not want to give up as they hang on to West New Guinea. The Dutch also controlled majorparts of the Indonesian economy, like shipping, until 1957 when all the Dutch businesses werenationalized. In that year also all the Dutch Indonesians, who were still living in Indonesia, about75,000 people, were forced to leave the country. In 1962 New Guinea was handed to the UN,which handed it to Indonesia in 1963, under pressure of the Kennedy administration. The USjust began at that time to increase American involvement in the war against communism inSouth East Asia. When the Dutch had given in and there was no longer any Dutch presence inIndonesia there was need of a new enemy and immediately Britain was targeted to fulfill thisrole, because Britain established the Malaysian Federation, another so-called "puppet state” likeWest Papua. This led to the “confrontation policy”, a guerilla war in the Malaysian jungle, inwhich the Indonesian army did not perform well. Immediately after the “Trikora”, the threefoldoath to conquer West New Guinea, there was the “Dwikora”, the two-fold oath to conquerMalaysia.In 1965, after the coup d’etat, the new enemy became international and national communism.The national communists were outlawed. They were many of them, as the communists usuallygot one third of the votes at the elections. This has set the pattern for the “dwifungsi”, thepolitical role of the army. The civilian population was threatened by an internal threat fromcommunists.The national unity continues to be threatened. The Christians of East Indonesiacould well become the new enemy, replacing successively the Dutch and the communists.This is related to language policy. In 1951, from one day to the other.Soekarno, forbade the useof Dutch at universities. At that time there were still a good number of schools, which used Dutchas a medium of instruction. These schools aimed to have the same level as schools in theNetherlands. Graduates could without further examination continue their tertiary education inHolland. Dutch was, however, also very important for the study of Law. The original law bookscame with some adaptations from Dutch codified law, which received it from the French. Foraccess the jurisprudence one has to know Dutch. Dutch was also the mother tongue of possiblyhalf a million speakers on a population at that time of 70 million. This decision of Soekarnotoforbid Dutch as a language of instruction at tertiary institutions, was a great setback for theeducational level. Dutch was not replaced by another universal or global language. In the 1940sthe nationalist have been musing about the introduction of a new national language to replace
  • 3. 3Dutch. This could be English (as in Malaysia and Singapore) or French (as in Vietnam). Butnothing came out of it.The Dutch language is not unimportant in the world . It is a language of more than 20 millionspeakers, spoken in the Netherlands (16 million) and in Flemish Belgium (6 million speakers).The language spoken in South Africa by people of Dutch, French and mixed descent, Afrikaans,is mutually intelligible with Dutch. Afrikaans may also have some 6 million speakers. Till 1994Dutch, next to English and Afrikaans, was an official language in South Africa. Students could doexaminations in Dutch. Dutch was an official language in law courts. Also in Surinam and theNetherlands Antilles, six flourishing islands in the Caribbean, have Dutch as the officiallanguage. Dutch was spoken in Sri Lanka by the “burghers”, descendants of the Dutch whoruled parts of Sri Lanka from the beginning of the 17th century till the Napoleonic Wars. Dutchwas the liturgical language of the Burgher churches till the second half of the 20th century. TheOttoman sultan had the Dutch who had a settlement in Izmir recognized as a “nation” in theOttoman Empire, with special privileges. There was in Izmir till the fall of the Empire with KemalAtaturk a Dutch hospital and a Dutch congregation. However, in the latter usually the churchservice was in French. In Brisbane there is at present also a Dutch speaking congregation ofDutch migrants. Japanese scholars used Dutch to communicate with the world outside Japan tillCommander Perry opened Japan with military force, in 1854. The Dutch had from 1641 till 1859a settlement on Deshima, a small artificial island in Nagasaki Harbor, being the only Europeanpower to be allowed by the shogun to trade with Japan.The Dutch language, brought by the sailors, made its impact on Indian languages likeMalayalam, and Indonesian languages, African languages, Russian and other languagesthrough loan words. These languages also made their impact on Dutch. Indonesian, forinstance, has no less than 5,000 loan words from Dutch, though some are now replaced byEnglish equivalents. The Dutch language has numerous words from Malay.Language remains avery intriguing topic.Suriname got its independence in 1975. In 1954 Suriname got a basic law, which made it anindependent part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, with its own parliament and government.Foreign affairs and defense remained under the control of the Dutch. The Dutch Antilles stillhave this form of relationship with the metropolitan power. I guess West Papua would have beengiven in the early 1960s a similar relationship with the Kingdom of the Netherlands as Surinamegot in 1954.There have been debates in New Guinea about language policy. One could consult the minutesof the Council for New Guinea (“Nieuw Guinea Raad”). The supremacy of Dutch in educationmeant the use of Dutch, and thus relatively expensive teachers for a long time to come. The useof Malay, though maybe less adequate as a language of learning and study, would be muchcheaper. There was also the political consideration that one wanted to give West Papua its ownidentity separate from Indonesia. This favored the use of Dutch. There were also practicalconsiderations, e.g. in the limits of Dutch teachers willing to work in West Papua and thefinancial constraints.

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