Kamis, 23 Oktober 2008

Bajo people losing their identity

It was before dawn, but already a number of men were on board their boats. Some were preparing to fish in the open sea, while others cleaned their vessels for the day ahead.
This is a typical daily routine among the ethnic Bajo, or Sama, who live along the shores of Bone bay in Tanete Riattang Timur district, in Bone regency, South Sulawesi.
The cycle of cleaning and preparing their boats is an activity that has lasted generations, and has now almost become the final remaining identity of the Bajo people. Often known as boat people, this seafaring community is largely identified by its reliance on the sea for food and shelter.

Over time, the life of Bajo people in Bone regency has changed.

While still depending on boats for their livelihoods and a place to sleep, the Bajo people are adapting to and interacting with Bone's indigenous land-based ethnic group, the Bugis.

Most of the Bajo people now choose to live in wooden houses on stilts, resembling the distinctive Bugis-Makassar ethnic dwellings in South Sulawesi, and while in a simpler form, they still live near the shores.

When the tide rolls in, the space beneath their homes is flooded, providing moorings for their boats.

"Before the Bone regency administration built embankments on the bay shorelines, our homes were floating on the water, making us feel one with the sea," 57-year-old Roso, one of Bajo's community leaders, told The Jakarta Post, in Bone.

Several years ago, the regency administration built dikes along the shores of Bone bay with asphalt roads to facilitate activities leading to the local port near the Bajo settlement. The roads in particular also pave the way for tourism developments.
The paths were built with paving blocks between settlement homes to replace the wooden bridges which previously linked the housing clusters in the village. A large number of Bajo homes are no longer swamped and entirely occupy land areas.

Bone Regent Andi Idris Galigo said the development of infrastructure in the Bajo settlement was intended to prevent the ethnic group from becoming isolated and left behind.

"We don't want Bajo people to live in isolation, we want them to mingle and grow, as does the Bone community," he said.

Under this pretext, no gates have been built to mark the Bajo village, but instead the settlement is shared with residents from Bone and others from Wajo and Bulukumba regencies.

Apart from the change in living traditions, some aspects of Bajo culture handed down by their tribal ancestors have now been abandoned.

The ancient language of the Bajo people is dying out. The native Bajo tongue is spoken only by the ethnic group's elderly males, in their day-to-day communication at sea.

The young people of the Bajo tribe no longer recognize their native tongue because they associate with people from the Bone regency, who communicate largely in Buginese and Indonesian. Through daily use of these dialects, young Bajo people have slowly adapted to these other customs.

The typical Bajo dialect is a blend of five languages -- Indonesian, Malay, Buginese, Makassar and Javanese -- but sadly, it is slowing fading from usage. As a result, the traditions, ethnicity and culture it identifies are also slipping away.

"A decreasing number of people speak the Bajo language, which arouses the concern of members of Bajo's older generation. Our children no longer speak their own tongue but are more fluent in Buginese and Indonesian," Roso said.

He hopes the Bone regency administration will prepare special schools or include the Bajo language in the regular curriculum where Bajo children are educated. Then, both at school and at home, the native tongue could potentially be preserved.

Some local customs -- such as maccera tasi, a traditional ritual offering of gratitude to the Creator for the abundant fish catch throughout the year -- are no longer practiced. The ceremony was once held annually by floating prayers into the sea.

"We've had no more rituals for fear of being seen as opposing the teachings of Islam," Roso said.

The same is true of Bajo art performances.

Aruwe, for instance, is an almost forgotten traditional dance depicting the local fishermen's method of catching fish using trawl nets.

The only living art inherited from their ancestors is genrang Bajo or gendang (drum) Bajo.

However, this music, always performed at Bajo wedding ceremonies, is not as identifiable because it resembles many other slow drumming techniques.

Slowly but surely, Bajo people are blending in and are losing their identity.

The Jakarta Post. Thursday, October 23, 2008

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