Bantik – An Endangered Language: North Sulawesi

According to sources, perhaps the central feature of the Indonesian national culture in the late twentieth century was the Indonesian language. Malay was used for centuries as a lingua franca in many parts of the archipelago. The term Bahasa Indonesia, which refers to a modified form of Malay, was coined by Indonesian nationalists in 1928 and became a symbol of national unity during the struggle for independence. The language went through a series of spelling reforms in the 1950s and 60s to smooth over differences with Malay and expunge its Dutch roots.

Many educated Indonesians understand and are able to speak English. While Indonesian is the lingua franca throughout the archipelago, there are thousands of local languages as well.

Unfortunately, these regional dialects are on the brink of extinction. I recently posted an article on the Coastal Languages of Papua, and now it appears the same is occurring in Sulawesi. Jongker Rumteh recently wrote about the endangered language of Bantik:

Language extinction is a matter of serious concern for the Bantik, a small ethnic group in North Sumatra. There are no native speakers of the Bantik language in its original form and only a few speakers of the language in its new hybrid form.

The Bantik once led a nomadic existence in coastal areas of Gorontalo, the Satal Islands, Boul Toli-Toli in Central Sulawesi and a number of villages in Beri-beri district in Morotai, North Maluku. In Manado, Bantik settlements can be found in coastal areas from Molas, Bengkol and Tuminting to Malalayang and Kalasey.

According to Joutje A. Koapaha, a Bantik man who is studying the Bantik culture, the name of the language has changed three times, from Puak Pamaidan to Pondaiyi to Bantik.

The Bantik language dates back 2,000 years, making it as old as the languages of Kawi in Java and Steppa in Mongolia. The original form of the Bantik language is known as Lawargirang or Bahiga Lraba`idun. The new hybrid form of the language is rarely used.

Young Bantik people never use the language among their friends or in the family.

“The language is now teetering on the brink of extinction because it is only spoken by a few old people in Buola Toli-Toli and Bintauna, Bolaang Mangondow regency. In Manado, the language is only spoken by a few old people in traditional ceremonies,” said Joutje, who claims to have been told the history of the language in a dream.

He said a Bantik word always contained two consecutive consonants, either in the middle or the beginning. The first consonant is written as a capital and the other in lower case, such as Lr, Nd and Mb. The word BaLrei, for example, means a house, Lramo is big, KomaLrigi a palace, NdaLrea a road, Mbanua a hometown and Mbelrei means the song of war to call the ancestors’ spirits.

Originally, the characters R and L could not stand on their own. But as the language developed, each of the characters could be used independently. For example, Lrumopa became Rumopa or Lumopa.

Bantik has three tenses: the present tense, past tense and future tense. For example, Himende te means It rained; Humende ken means It is raining and Humende kasan means It will rain.

The old Bantik language was used in traditional ceremonies to raise the dead. Even though it has long been extinct, its traces can be found among the remote tribe of Huntuk Balrudaa in Bintauna, Bolaang Mangondow regency. It is believed that this tribe is from the Bantik ethnic group. The new form of the Bantik language can be heard in the traditional ceremony of Sumangi in the Satal Islands. In this tradition inherited from the ancestors of Tou Bantik people, they have a moment of silence to
commemorate their disappearing culture. Among the Bantik people this tradition is called tumangisi, Joutje said.

He added that the national hero, Wolter Robert Mongindsidi, who died in South Sulawesi, was a Bantik man.

According to a linguist at the University of Sam Ratulangi in Manado, Geraldine Y.J. Manoppo-Watupongoh, Bantik has become an endangered language due to the decreasing number of people who speak it. This is because, first, parents do not teach the language to their children or do not use it intensively at home.

Second, the disappearance of the Bantik language in North Sumatra, especially in Manado, is partly due to the strong influence of the Malay-Manado language as lingua franca, which is even stronger than the Indonesian language.

“There is even fear that Malay-Manado will not only cause the Bantik language to vanish, but also affect the people in their proper usage of Indonesian language. To resist the strong influence of Malay-Manado, we make it compulsory for students to write their thesis and dissertations in the official Indonesian language,” Watupongoh said.

She said that to preserve Bantik, the university continued to research the language.

“We are in the phase of studying the structure and usage of the Bantik language among the people as socio-linguistics, ethno-linguistics and anthropology-linguistics but we don’t teach the language at schools because it is still difficult to do,” she said.

In theory a language will never disappear as long as there are people who speak it, but it can change and develop because languages are dynamic.

Watupongoh, who teaches at the School of Letters, said the extinction of a language was a tragedy because language is the expression of a culture. It will not be the same if a different language is used as a cultural expression.

She related her experience of meeting a man from Tondano who had lived in the Netherlands since 1949. When he talked in Tondano, she and the other people could not understand because he spoke old Tondano, which is no longer used by the younger generation.

“We hope old people who can speak Bantik teach their children and use the language at home. I think people of other ethnicities in North Sulawesi, who feel that their mother tongue is threatened, also need to do this,” she said.

Languages can also unite people.

“Often there is a sense of frenzy among the community, but when we hear someone speaking our language, we will feel happy and be encouraged to help each other,” Watupongoh said.

She also said there was another threat to indigenous languages in the predominantly Christian community.

Some people believe that those who use tribal languages are not good Christians.

Besides Bantik, according to Watupongoh, some original languages in Minahasa like the Tonsea language are also endangered. She said this was because the Dutch colonial government had told the people that they should speak Dutch and convert to Christianity in order to raise their status in the community.