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.