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Tuesday March 28th 2017

A Road to Dutch

Journal | Tuesday, 28 June 2011 | sundanesecorner.org

Hawe Setiawan

A colonial illustration of Indonesian transformation

Dutch is like a dead neighbour. It was actually very close to national and local languages of Indonesia. It was even the main language spoken by East Indies educated people, and yet, unlike English for Indian people, Dutch has long disappeared from Indonesian daily life since the independence.

As an Indonesian that was born in postcolonial era, I know nothing about Dutch. Dutch textbooks have been absent from our classrooms. Dutch voices do not reach our ears. Dutch culture was only partially seen in my short visit to Netherlands as a participant of Winternachten International Literary Festival in the Hague a couple of years ago.

I think I am regretting the situation. I do thank God for our national independence, but I feel sorry for our linguistic poverty. I do not speak Dutch while my Indian friend Rakesh speaks English fluently.

Oh, dat Nederlands op jou is te erg!’ said my Australian friend, who is of Dutch origin. I hope that was not an anger.

I have to find a way by myself. It is not easy to find Dutch course in Bandung nowadays. However, thanks to iTunes application I can routinely listen to the Wereld Omroep (World Service) of Radio Nederlands. Well, when I first subscribed the radio programme, it sounded like alien noises. I also try hard to read articles issued on the websites of De Telegraaf and NRC Handelsblad just like eating a piece of rubber.

What a difficult thing to master the pronunciation of ‘kh’ is. ‘Dutch is not so good for our throat,’ said my fellow Sundanese Jamal smiling at me.

I have to keep going. I just remember Tan Malaka, one of our founding fathers that once in his exile learned Chinese language under nobody’s guidance. He can, why don’t you?

On my table some Dutch books lie unopened like uneasy invitations. One of them is Licht- en Schaduwbeelden uit de Binnenlanden van Java ‘Light and Shadow Pictures from the Inland of Java’ (6th ed., 1867) by the late Franz Wilhelm Junghuhn (1809-1864). I have to read these books for the benefit of my own research of visual representations of 19th century Priangan.

There is no friend in this situation but the speechless dictionary. One of the dictionaries I like to consult is Kosmos Mini Woordenboek: Engles-Nederlands; Nederlands-Engels (Kosmos Reisgiden, 17th ed., 2004). It uses English as its instruction language. Its aim is to help travelers.

The most interesting section of this pocket dictionary is its appendix in which I can find the names of Dutch foods and drinks. Here they are: babi pangang, bami goreng, kroepoek, loempia, nasi goreng, and sambal (Kosmos Mini Woordenboek, pp. 343-350).

Wait a minute. They are not really Dutch. They are Indonesian. You see the compilers can’t find their proper English equivalents. The word sambal, for instance, is defined as ‘kind of spicy paste consisting mainly of ground pimentos, usually served with rijsttafel, bami or nasi goreng.’ (Kosmos Mini Woordenboek, p. 348).

I think this is a good news. I just realize a sort of Indonesian taste in Dutch. It seems to me that the road is not too hard to be taken. Hope so.***

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