The end of creole in Southeast Asia


The Portuegese-based creole in Southeast Asia took its last breath as the last generation of passive speakers in Kampung Tugu, home-village of a small, local community of Portuegese descent down from 15th century Portuegese settlers in Indonesia called Mardijkers, were gone without passing the specific language ability to the surviving generation.

Considered the degenerate version of the language of origin, most creoles that used to flourish in the newly discovered lands during the European age of discovery have become extincted one another.

Apart from the diminutive status in the now widely independent nations, the shrinking numbers of the community compared to the indigenous peopulation have naturally forced them to utilize localities, as such in the official language of a particular educational system.

Following the extinction of the recorded creole usages in Indonesia, such as in Flores – a chain of islands whose name derived from Portuguese in the Cape of Flower – the descendants of freed VOC slaves or armies in Kampung Tugu, one of the oldest villages in Jakarta, is in an imminent stage to a complete assimilation with Indonesian population.

A foreign report from 1980s even claimed the creoles in Southeast Asia had extincted.

In regard of geography and history, ethnic diversity forms the genesis of Indonesia. Although the goal of a sovereign state around the world is based on the creation of common grounds, such as shared ideology, commitment to human rights, or, the most practical one, lingua franca, the flourishing idea in peace time arguably promotes the value of diversity.

Anthropologist Abdul Rachman Patji lamented that the extinction of Portuguese creole in Indonesia undermines national identity in respect of multi-ethnicity.

However, the unification of national educational system, particularly in the way of practicing Bahasa Indonesia as national language, besides the notable indoctrination of Pancasila as national ideology following the national independence in mid 50s, has defined the national identity among today’s 230 million population and counting up.

On why decreolization does not occur in Indonesia like in Haiti, or English-based creole in Jamaica, to an extent that there is a distinguishing term “bad English” among the lower class people, perhaps the answer is not simply the domination factor in the world’s fourth most populous country.

Politics of language

Creole was a practical solution in bridging communication gap between people of different origins. It might have evolved from pidgin as another tool of communication in trade, used more frequently in daily lives for a century or so out of spontaneity but cut out and withered away because it lacked formal structure.

Nevertheless, the imposed official language by colony master likewise lost almost all of its lexical form in Indonesia.

Perhaps it is too naive to say that politics influences the demise of a language.

Gereja Tugu
Standing at the center of Tugu Village, Gereja Tugu, built in 1676, was and still has been a meeting point for the residents’ activities. The Portuegese ancestors, to which the Dutch imposed Protestantism, had managed to pass on non-tangible tradition Rabo-Rabo or Christmas in English, a religious celebration by a third of world population but with distinction in the way they dance the whole night through playing Keroncong Tugu, blending Western and Malayan band instruments.

Socio-historical approach in contemporary art

Bandung Contemporary Art Award #04
Lokale Hulptroepen (Legiun Lokal KNIL), painted with charcoal on pine wood by Maharani Mancanagara in Bandung Contemporary Art Award #04, Lawangwangi Creative Space, Bandung.

Just as the recent criticism on Indonesia’s fine art by some high profiles inside the art council itself underscores the lack of relevant social criticism, the more localised contemporary art bienalle in Bandung this year presents a more savvy view which involves a socio-cultural approach, a tendency to revisit interweaving human history with its conspicious butterfly effect we have seen today.

The fourth BaCAA situated in an art “hideout” on the upper Dago, opened since 2009 as a patron for contemporary exhibition by local artists, nonetheless is making an implosion to an updated textbook version of the local art scene, in that several young artists made a unanimous call for a contemporary exhibition that creates a distinction in the thinking of the past, in contrast of the relentless if not laborious effort to the public and the new generation artists themselves to find a tiny standpoint in the spinning universe they are trying to keep up with.

Globalisation turns out to be a push-factor that leads people into becoming lost in making perspective, not to mention the bigoted art commercialisation. The subtlety of what appears to be an inward art critisicm is implied in the dozens of A4 jumbled prints sticked to the front wall of Lawangwangi Creative Space, one of them is a derivated copy of Jean-Michel Basquiat’s drawing, American’s second to none global icon of pop artist besides Andy Warhol, whose idea is about distancing what is continuously mentioned as a modern art and the established old artworks.

What strikes most is the artist’s opinion about what constitutes a contemporary art instead of the hopeless attempt of late to make oneself considered an artist through quirky aesthetics and subjective vision of sophistication. He believes the answer is a profound understanding of the root. Hence, the search of simplicity as inquired in Marcus Aurelius first principles of each particular thing, “What is it in itself?” Perhaps this too leaves the title of his work Belum Ada Judul.

“You Promised Me Mars Colonies Instead I Got Facebook” by Nurrahmat Widyasena, who gets honorary mention in BaCAA #04, Lawangwangi Creative Space, Bandung.

A revisit to the struggle for independence against centuries of Western colonisation, for instance, constructs a piece of work through the wall-mounted frames of ethnic-based freed slave group of Mardijkers who were unable to find the ground during the making of a new nation due to the established social and cultural distance from the indigineous people.

A community shaped by the Dutch’s policy at the dawn of colony era in Dutch East Indies, the Mardijkers, or literally the greats, whose word originates from the Sanskrit, posed in the daguerrotypes which hadn’t it preserved, their proof of existence will fall into oblivion. And so too the existence of the Maluku people the nationalists abhorred during the post-independence struggle, where they formed a considerable part of the Dutch KNIL forces in retaking the former colony by force, and failed due to vanishing international support in the wake World War 2.

The exodus of hundreds of thousands of Moluccans was a historical and political burden carried by the Netherlands in the modern history that Indonesians could not care less. For the alliance to the western invaders predisposed to the national sentiment. In addition to the two cases above,the hate-mongering political behavior against the enemy of the majority that resulted in an outcast also came to light with the social antagonism to the homosexuals, in its way revealing the name Khem Parasti Berman, the voice of LGBT whose role was almost unheard of in the post-reformation era.

Muhammad Vilhamy - Belum Ada Judul (BAJ). Mixed media on paper, plastic.
Belum Ada Judul (BAJ) by Muhammad Vilhamy, one of the three winners of BaCAA #04.

Talking about art commercialisation in Indonesia, In Kurasi dan Kuasa, Agung Hujatnikajennong argued that one of its major outcome is impoverishment (pemiskinan), in the practice of entirely submitting to the medium of painting to allow the exorbitant price tags. Therefore the independence of the modern world gives rise to new media, among the most feasible is photography, but done so without compromising the beauty of its essence, that is, history disclosure.

To unclassify information means that the intellectual society demonstrates a self-taught approach to comprehend the time and space around them as opposed to rootless visual aesthetics that often deliberately hid under the complex disguise of the overhyped word conceptualism. Just take a look at Guggenheim museum as the proponent symbol of contemporary art that has chain operations abroad. It suggests that globalisation, and the “mental internet”, as suggested by Iranian intellectual Daryush Shayegan, a Western-educated professor, is a major factor in shaping the uniformity in how the west-east continents perceives the present dynamics.

The recent tendency to focus on building the dialogue of civilisation, his famous rebuttal against Samuel Huntington’s Clash of Civilisation, is really taking place, for admittedly a good reason to nurture a peace era. But at the same time we are trapped in the energy-consuming endeavor for outward thinking, whereas we go farther backwards in perceiving who we really are. After all – without minisculing art’s nature as visual and auditory spectacles – the thought-provoking paradigm for the sake of self-assesment among the maturing society is an absolute necessity.

Sing and laugh it out lout in Mezzotono’s a capella show

Indonesia Jazz Review


The Italian a capella group of five, Mezzotono, performed in front of the public audience they claimed to be the greatest under the concert title “The Mezzotono Show” in Ice Palace hall, Jakarta, 29 September.

Indeed, the title implied an attempt to present a more than just musical concert, but combined with a rehearsed stage comical gesture. They take the laughter business seriously.

As a capella rose steadily as a musical style without the accompaniment of instruments since Renaissance, and was made apparent at church service, its development in the current days has brought a variety set of culture that predisposes to the new pop-oriented styles.

In the case of the globe-trotting, Italian modern cultural ambassador Mezzotono, their show is strongly committed to the diffussion of Italian music and culture through voices that managed to reproduce the sounds of instruments, often introducing a comic touch and encouraging audience participation.

Besides, who is not surprised by the sound effect of electronic beats and synthesizers that was coming from vocal section?

But the audience seemed to be slow in adapting with the show due to initial failure in expecting an original musical performance with a twist of humor exchanges. And perhaps, the selection of Italian songs only gained an appreciation but less enthusiasm.

The sweet, final touch

However, the “greatest audience” came to fully enjoy the show apparently at the end of the show, when Mezzotono had concluded one of Italian’s most recognized song of 1962 Quando, Quando, Quando, or the hilarious, inventive twist of the Gangnam Style.

Humor never lost its universality. As the tenor vocalist Fabio Lepore, insisted the audience to at least try and make it look hard to see show ended, they have invented a novelty in a capella show.

Four other members are Daniela Desideri as soprano, Gaia Gentile as the semisoprano, Marco Giuliani as the baritone, and Alessandro Gnolfo with his fine skill of mimicking the multilayered sound of drum set as the bass vocal.

See also events held by Instituto Italiano di Cultura Jakarta:

The Sum of Stefano Bollani’s Tenacity

The quartet who play music, with a caveat