A hidden language –Dutch in Indonesia

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A hidden language –Dutch in Indonesia

H.M.J. Maier (UCRiverside)

October 28, 1988, was a memorable day in the life of the Republik Indonesia: it was another Hari Sumpah Pemuda, another ‘Day of the Youth Pledge’, in memory of a pledge, taken by Indonesian youths in 1928, the late colonial days. It had allegedly been commemorated all over Indonesia, from Sabang to Merauke, every year since Independence 1.

In 1988 the Hari Sumpah Pemuda was a somewhat special one: the Pledge had been made sixty years ago, a rather round number, that is. National and regional newspapers – all of them in Indonesian - spent attention to it in their pages, as they did every year. In the playground of schools everywhere in the Archipelago uniformed children stood in line, saluting the flag, singing the national anthem and listening to the recital of the Youth Pledge by an ‘exemplary student’, as they did every year. Similar rituals were performed by officials in government offices. In many schools, students were asked to write an essay about the Pledge, its makers, its meaning for young Indonesians now. So far, so normal. So far, so traditional. But then, in Jakarta, the undisputed point of calibration in the Republik, some special activities were organized around the commemoration. A national congress was held where scholars, artists and community leaders from all over the Archipelago as well as some foreigners gave presentations about language, culture and literature, very closely connected topics in discussions about the national culture of Indonesia until this very day. The minister of Education and Culture opened the first meeting of the congress with a speech; not hard to guess in the totalitarian days of the New Order, he pictured the Pledge as a proof of the force of Indonesian nationalism, so adequately reflected in the state ideology of Panca Sila, the key for the National Construction. Ideology and rhetoric ask for symmetry, and His Excellency’s speech was centered on the sharply phrased text of the 1928 Pledge:
Kami putra-putri Indonesia mengaku bertanah air satu, tanah air Indonesia

Kami putra-putri Indonesia mengaku berbangsa satu, bangsa Indonesia

Kami putra-putri Indonesia mengaku berbahasa satu, bahasa Indonesia

(we sons and daughters of Indonesia declare to be of one homeland, the Indonesian homeland

we sons and daughters of Indonesia declare to be of one nation, the Indonesian nation

we sons and daughters of Indonesia declare to be of one language, the Indonesian language)

At the congress a new official Indonesian dictionary was launched, entitled ‘Large Dictionary of Indonesian’2, together with a new official grammar for Indonesian, ‘Standard Grammar of Indonesian’3 – and in the late afternoon special bounded copies of the two books were presented to President Suharto during a very formal reception in the palace, which was nation-wide televised in the evening news as the most prominent event of a day in the world. Newspapers and journals had more to write about than usual, in short: some congress papers were discussed, some participants interviewed about the meaning of the Pledge, about the meaning of having a national language. And the newly published dictionary and the grammar were hailed as great achievements that proved, once again, the power and energy of Indonesian. All Indonesians should be proud of bahasa Indonesia. All Indonesian should be proud of these two national monuments, the products of a long-standing project. They showed that Indonesia deserved a place in the world of nations

That is the surface. Those were appearances.

Here and there grumblings and murmurs could be heard and read, raising questions about the memorability and the ‘real meaning’ of the Pledge; about the growing authority of Indonesian (bahasa Indonesia) and its complement, the growing marginalization of regional languages; about the virulence with which the national language had spread over the country; and about the government’s drive for its standardization which was strangling linguistic creativity, reminiscent of the way the monolithic ideology of the Panca Sila was enforced upon Indonesian society. Yes, the Republik needed so-called ‘national days’ at which some event or some person was commemorated in order to confirm the nation’s unity. Or did they serve to strengthen the state’s unity? Or did it both at once? State or nation, a lot of things were wrong with the Republik Indonesia, and the Pledge was a symptom of everything that was wrong. It was made too prominent an element in the indoctrination and propaganda machine of Suharto’s New Order. It had been but a little ripple in the ocean of the Indonesian Revolution. And perhaps events such as the communist-inspired rebellions that had taken place some years before the Sumpah Pemuda or the foundation of the Partai Nasional Indonesia in 1927 by Ir. Soekarno in Bandoeng were more important fragments in the national order of things and, hence, more worthy of commemoration. Or perhaps the foundation of the Indische Partij in 1913, the first political association in the Dutch Indies that had brought the possibility of Independence for the Dutch Indies into public discussion. And who were the people who had made the Pledge anyway? Did they have the right to call themselves Pemoeda, Youth? Were they true and sincere freedom fighters, like the pemuda’s in the Indonesian Revolution of 1945?

Its relevance praised, its importance questioned, in the 1990s the Sumpah Pemuda was to remain the central point of a national day – and its creation and subsequent life could serve as a leading theme in a narrative about Indonesian politics, and about Indonesian language politics in particular4.

In October and November 1928, the Malay newspapers in Batavia5 had given considerable prominence to the events in which the Pledge was embedded, the Second Meeting of Indonesian Youth (Kerapatan Pemoeda2 Indonesia6), but it is not easy to make sense of their reports. The Dutch Indies administration was developing shrewdly inconsistent forms of censorship and repression, following a zigzagging path in its efforts to keep publications about nationalism and independence, discussions about racism and colonialism under control, and the editors and journalists of Malay periodicals were fully aware of the complicated conflict of interests that were being played out. As a rule, the conversations and demonstrations in Dutch were less cautiously monitored than those in Malay – those who used Dutch were in principle part of the elite, the administration reasoned, and ultimately the elite should be rational and sensible enough to know whose side they were on. It was becoming increasingly more difficult and urgent, however, to follow Malay words and activities. In Dutch eyes, Malay was a language that did not have a culture; basically it was just a confusing and disorderly group of dialects - maybe precisely because it did not have a culture, because it was so confused, the reach of the growing number of speeches and publications in Malay was hard to fathom. What did they ‘really’ mean? What did they really refer to? Did they not evoke a new world that should be destroyed before it came into being, forgotten before it could be memorized? And as so often in political life, zigzagging easily leads to violence and repression: a number of political leaders and activists were sent into exile or imprisonment in the margins of the Archipelago, others fled the Dutch Indies, and those who remained free had to be on their guard in order not be hit. Newspaper editors knew that their publications could be banned, their papers closed. Inlanders with a loud mouth were aware they were running the risk of being monitored, warned or worse. Thus the 1930s could be characterized. And the Malay newspapers that appeared in those years were hard to read.

The Second Meeting of Indonesian Youth was convened in Batavia 27-28 October, 1928, by a number of youth organizations – Jong Sumatra, Jong Java, Jong Islamieten Bond, Jong Ambon, Jong Batak - and local periodicals covered the proceedings (speeches and discussions) in report-like narratives, each with a different emphasis and with different heroes, all of them rather low-key and cautious. The confidential report of the Dutch observer, van der Plas, who attended the meeting, did not show any sign of the meeting’s anxiety and excitement either, if only because he preferred to write in a tone of derogatory amusement: these were hardly more than a group of firebrands who liked to perform a theatre play. Reading reports and narratives together, it is hard to develop a clear and comprehensive picture of the meetings during those two days. Photographs – in the days of the nationalist movement perhaps the most incisive tool for getting a feel of the relationships and emotions among people – are rare, the most famous one being the inevitable group picture: a number of conference’s participants (males, all of them)7 are looking into the camera, most of them dressed up like Dutch gentlemen in the tropics, some of them like palace servants from Yogyakarta, and only some of them with the black cap on their hair, which was to become the symbol of Indonesian nationalism, once Soekarno, the charismatic leader, began to use it.

Not clear, for instance, are the participants’ reactions to the way Soegondo Djojopoespito chaired the meetings8, and not clear either are, for instance, the reactions on what seems to have been the most important speech, performed by Mohammad Jamin, prominent member of Jong Sumatra, entitled ‘Unification and Nationalism of Indonesia’ (Persatoean dan Kebangsaan Indonesia) Unclear, too, is how Jamin read his text - a complete text was later published in the journal Persatoean Indonesia - in front of an audience, which may have become somewhat restless with his lengthy performance. And it could be questioned if the text was effectively and consistently performed in the language in which it was published: the Malay follows textbook grammars, its tone is very scholarly and detached. Did Jamin, a good speaker, not interlard his Malay with Dutch or even Minangkabau sentences and phrases? Was he not interrupted by participants who tried to change his monologue into a multiple dialogue, in the way the greatest orator of all time, Soekarno, would have operated? Many conversations and discussions in the Congress, the newspapers told their readers, were in Dutch. That should not come as a surprise: the youth that came together in Batavia to discuss past, present and future were Dutch educated and used Dutch as their language of communication about public issues. Their social status was an unclear one.

The Kerapatan Pemuda was one of the numerous meetings – congresses, conferences, rallies, gatherings - that ‘inlanders’9 were organizing in the 1920s, and a feel of obligatoriness and tiredness hangs over the local newspapers’ reports of the proceedings and events in Batavia in those late October days of 1928, perhaps because of routine, because of caution. Mention is made of ‘lively discussions’, of ‘postponing the discussions to the next day’. The names of well-known people present are given as well as summaries of the speeches they gave and the discussions they were engaged in. There is also mention of a Dutch policeman who called those present to order when he heard the word merdeka! (freedom), and some speakers – there were men and women - are described as looking at him during their speech, short sentences that could remind readers but of colonial intimidation. Still, the subalterns did occasionally speak up, and occasionally the newspaper reports are candid enough to make readers wonder if there was perhaps some censorship involved – and they knew there was.

Embedded in these repetitive reports, there were of course some striking novelties, as is the case in every repetition. There is, for instance, mention of confusion in which language the participants should speak and did speak: Dutch or Malay, or perhaps Javanese or Minangkabau. There is mention of an rude exchange of words between Jamin and the theosophist ‘Mr Rasid who shortly proposed the Congress should merge with the Dienaren van Indie (an association that smells like theosophy) because that Association is very strong indeed’. Perhaps the greatest novelty was the fact that in the meeting of the second day the composer Rudolf Supratman played a melody on his violin; only after loud applause and exhortations he recited the text, ‘Indonesia, my homeland’, as well, and under more roaring applause he proposed to make it the ‘national anthem of Indonesia’; the following year the proposal was unanimously accepted by Partai Nasional Indonesia, even though many leaders thought it too Western, not native enough. Supratman’s performance was to make the Meeting memorable with his music.

And of course almost all newspapers make more or less prominent mention of the resolution (keputusan), unanimously accepted without discussion, in which those present, sons and daughters of Indonesia, acknowledged the idea of Indonesian unity. The text of the resolution was published in several periodicals10.

Kami poetra dan poetri Indonesia mengakoe bertoempah darah jang satoe, tanah Indonesia

Kami poetra dan poetri Indonesia mengakoe berbangsa jang satoe, bangsa Indonesia

Kami poetra dan poetri Indonesia mendjoendjoeng bahasa persatoean, bahasa Indonesia.

(We sons and daughters of Indonesia declare to be of one place of birth, the Indonesian land

We sons and daughters of Indonesia declare to be of one nation, the Indonesian nation

We sons and daughters of Indonesia revere the language of unity, the Indonesian language)

The resolution consists of three sentences. It is a short text. Such declaration-like short texts are often composed on the spur of the moment, and apparently, this was also the case with this particular ‘resolution’11. Somehow, they tend to be worded in a way that could be called ‘deep’ or thick’ or ‘open’, offering space to a wild variety of readings and interpretations that could but easily lead to subsequent corrections or amendments – and thus they easily become new texts that play a more or less prominent role in the invention of tradition12. Short texts tend to have an aura of being utopian, conjuring up unfulfilled dreams, asking for implementation in real life. What was a ‘nation’, a bangsa? And what did ‘land’, tanah refer to? And what was ‘the Indonesian language’?

In retrospect, the resolution could be called a local interpretation – or a creative transposition, for that matter - of Renan’s famous 1882 lecture ‘Qu’est-ce qu’une nation?’, and such an interpretation is not only based on the fact that a Malay translation of the text was circulating among students in Batavia, Jamin among them, giving materials for many discussions and polemics. ‘A nation is a soul, a spiritual principle. Two things, which in truth are but one, constitute this soul or spiritual principle. One lies in the past, one in the present. One is the possession in common of a rich legacy of memories; the other is present-day consent. The desire to live together, the will to perpetuate the value of the heritage that one has received in an undivided form13’. The inspiration of Renan can also be deduced from the fact that he is the only writer Jamin explicitly refers to in his speech, in a quotation that reads like a creative transposition of Renan’s words: ‘Our love is growing. Of course our love for the house that we ourselves built is even greater, the house, that is, that we will leave to our descendants as a sacred heritage’. (Jamin 1928:147).

In Renan’s spirit, on Jamin’s instigation, the Meeting decided that the existence of Indonesia was inspired by the desire (kemaoean) to be together, and that youth was bound to play a prominent role in implementing this role. ‘ For us, youth of Indonesia, the unity of Indonesia is not a matter of belief, belief or disbelief. The unity of Indonesia is a matter of flesh and blood for each and all of us, a matter of emotions that keep our bones alive. If we want it or not, we all belong to the Indonesian nation, and if we want it or not, in our bodies streams Indonesian blood’. Indonesia had always been one country and one nation, Jamin argued, and its inhabitants were already pervaded by one language – and in the future this would be made visible thanks to the youth’s desire. The ‘Indonesian land’ remained unspecified, and so did the ‘Indonesian nation’.

The question which language was this ‘language of Indonesia’ remains unanswered too, and that was another shrewd move: language had been a sensitive issue since the idea of an independent state, later called ‘Indonesia’, had become a topic of public debate in the Dutch Indies in the 1910s in the wake of the Malay slogans, phrases and rallies that had been launched by the Indische Partij, Muslim associations, trade unions, and the Communist Party. However, everyone knew that it was to be Malay14, the language that for several decades had been the most used language in government offices and had been made the most common language in colonial educational efforts since the nineteenth century.

The original text of the Resolution, soon renamed Pledge, could be contextualized and of course the second Meeting is the most self-evident context, which could be extended to the first Meeting15, and – a short cut - to the cultural policies of the Dutch Indies administration. Present at the conference were people who preferred to speak Dutch among themselves but had another language for their so-called mother tongue: Javanese, Minangkabau, Toba Batak, Mandailing, Acehnese, Balinese – the colonial masters had counted at least three hundred fifty language in the Dutch Indies16. Living in the big cities of Java, far away from their homeland, and entertaining contacts with people of every possible walk of life and origin, they felt they had moved away from their land of origin, their homes, and they were looking for new roots and origins which, they thought, Dutch should give them, the language that had the aura of secrecy and sacredness.

Dutch was the language they had learnt at school: these were well-educated inlanders, most of them of good families, trimmed for positions in the administration and business in the Dutch Indies, so as to serve as mediators between Dutch masters and local subjects – and never they would have leading positions, which were only for Europeans, or rather: for white people, as the Dutch Indies was becoming a racially divided society, in which the ‘inlanders’ were told to remain in the margins of power and authority.

The Indies has often been described as a project: it was managed and developed by a relatively small group of Dutch technocrats, military, engineers and businessmen who had been given the task to transform the islands into a prosperous and harmonious society. The Indies as a project: ‘set up, developed, implemented and empowered by the Dutch, only the Dutch could complete this transformation. Indonesians who wanted to loyally cooperate in this project were welcome, but opposition was not tolerated as it could endanger the completion of the project’.)17 The language policy was one of the many elements in this colonial project – in tune with the administration’s constant reformulation of its targets and aims, also in the field of language planning conclusive decisions were made that were sooner or later subverted and replaced by new rules and regulations. In the ongoing discussions about language, some themes were to emerge again and again: Malay should be stimulated as the language of administration and education, other native languages should be taken to be less important, Malay needed a standard, and the knowledge of Dutch among inlanders should remain restricted. And when the Dutch Indies came to a violent end, Dutch was sent into hiding.

There are always previous beginnings: forms of Malay had been very common not only in what the masters were to call ‘the Malay world’ – the areas around the Strait of Malacca, with Riau as its center18 – but also in the urban areas in the nineteenth century and before – and Malay had been the language that had been used by local people in their contacts with other locals since time immemorial, that is, even long before Europeans had reached the Islands. Malay was shared, so to speak, by a wide variety of people on the islands, and in many variations and forms it could be resorted to in the exchange of information, in trade, in conveying religion, anxiety and political ideas; in the process a network of shared words and notions was shaped that, no matter how brittle and heterogeneous, was strong enough to be called elements of Malay culture.

As is so often the case with languages and the cultures they are assumed to formulate and implement, self-proclaimed outsiders had extensive discussions about the essence of the Malay language and the reality of Malay culture; spoken and written by people with authority and aura, their words then intervened in the daily life of the ‘insiders’, those who used Malay without being aware of it, driven, that is, by particular memories19.

The idea that there were basically two distinct forms of Malay had firmly taken root in administrative thinking the nineteenth century: on the one hand, there was the Malay that was used in Riau and the east coast of Sumatra20, on the other side (both geographically and culturally) there was the Malay that was being used elsewhere. That assumption was based on the belief that every culture should have a language (and the other way around) and that those people who knew a language next to their ‘own’ language could not make part of the culture that was supported in their so-called second language. In Riau and Sumatra lived the Malay nation which had, of necessity, used Malay as their language – a strange but necessary tautology – and elsewhere lived other nations and groups who had other languages and occasionally used Malay in their contacts with each other and with outsiders from far away.

The Dutch colonial project operated on, among other assumptions, this uneasy distinction between Malay as a ‘language of culture’ – used in the Riau archipelago – and Malay as a ‘language of communication’ – used elsewhere; this distinction was to have far-reaching consequences in colonial life, if only because in government circles and beyond heated conversations were held on the advisability to make the two converge. Dutch administrators found forms of Malay wherever they projected to transform local communities, and therefore they concluded that Malay could very well be used in its day-to-day contacts with the ‘natives’: it was thought to be an easy language21 - and given its simplicity and apparent lack of a standard it was perhaps not even a language. The Dutch masters thought it was just gibberish, but, then, it was good to write and talk it and they were excited to share a language with their inferiors, not only to give commands, but also to have a conversation or two which could elevate these inlanders.

When the Dutch-led administration became denser, companies expanded, and authorities in Batavia began to think about expanding education for the ‘inlanders’ so as to engage them in bureaucracy and business life, the need to enforce a standard Malay became more urgently felt; the basis of this policy was laid down in the so-called Regulations of primary education for inlanders (Reglement op het lager onderwijs voor Inlanders, Weltevreden, 1872) in which it was stated that: ‘Malay will be taught following the rules and spelling of the pure Malay as commonly used on the Malay Peninsula and the Riau archipelago’ – and phrases with a similar message were to be repeated over and over again in the regulations that the government in Batavia circulated among its officials until the Japanese invasion. High Malay (Melayu tinggi) it is was called, in opposition with Low Malay (Melajoe rendah), but it was to take a long time until this High Malay effectively gained the authority of a standard, not only because the competition with low Malay was vehement and confusing, but also because other local languages had to be neutralized as possible alternatives, Dutch, Javanese and Sundanese (including their variants) among them22.

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