One of the Dayak Bidayuh National Association’s (DBNA’s) vital contributions to the Bidayuh community in the state are its ongoing efforts in the Bidayuh language development. These are actually great attempts with good results.
Dating back to June 2000, thanks to DBNA, the Research and Development Movement of Singai (REDEEMS) first invited the Malaysia branch of SIL (Summer Institute of Linguists – based in US) International to a meeting with its committee to discuss the possibility of contributing their expertise in the area of language development among the Bidayuh. A month later, representatives from REDEEMS, plus those from the various Bidayuh dialect groups and SIL Malaysia met and drew up an initial draft of a project proposal. In October that year REDEEMS submitted a revised proposal to State Planning Unit (SPU) of Sarawak.
By December 2000, the SPU had approved the proposal for the Bidayuh Language Development Project (BLDP) with one of the conditions being that financial help came only from resources other than the state government. Another condition was that a copy of the final research report would be submitted to the SPU.
In January 2001 REDEEMS organised a formal meeting to discuss how to proceed with the project. This meeting included several key community leaders among the Bidayuh, who now constitute the main committee (JKKK) for the BLDP.
In Feb 2001, SIL consultants began to collect wordlists from the various Bidayuh dialects. The committee made a formal request for grant from the Sarawak Foundation, the Ministry of Agriculture and Food with the amount requested being RM20,000.
It is stated that the purpose of the BLDP formation is to preserve and promote the Bidayuh Language in the home, in schools and among communities of Bidayuh, so that the language and culture will continue to be used and practised, passed from one generation to the next.
The long-term goals of this project include developing a standardised writing sytem for all dialects of Bidayuh; expanding the body of literatue, written in Bidayuh so that there is a wide literature base; collecting terms that may be forgotten or neglected into a resource, such as a dictionary; developing a curriculum and resources necessary for Bidayuh to be taught in schools as well as promoting the Bidayuh language and culture as a resource among the Bidayuh and in the world.
In November 2001, a proposal for the Bidayuh United Orthography Framework (BUOF) was put together. It was introduced as well as explained to key people among the Bidayuh at an othorgraphy promotion workshop in March 2002.
This BUOF is an attempt to create a standardised orthography for each of the dialects of Bidayuh, wherein the similarities of the dialects are maximised in the writing system – Orthography is the practice or study of correct spelling according to established usage; in a broader sense, orthography can refer to the study of letters and how they are used to express sounds and form words.
Subsequently, writers’ workshops were held in each of the four Bidayuh regions (Bau, Kuching, Serian and Lundu). The proposed orthography was introduced to the participants at these workshops, and the participants’ use of the orthography was informally observed.
Since its introduction the orthography has been tested and refined. SIL consultants were engaged in more formal testing of the orthography. The results of these tests were to further adjust and improve the proposed orthography. Later Bidayuh leaders and reps from the different regions gathered in two orthograpy consultations to evaluate these choices and decided on a final orthography. A decision by consensus was reached in August 2003.
This agreed-upon orthography is now being used by those Bidayuh people compiling dictionaries and engaging in other activities of the project.
One of the major long term goals of the BLDP is to expand the body of Bidayuh literature so that there is a wide literature base for the community. A body of literature can also provide practice material for any outsider who is beginning to learn the language.
Dictionaries are also strongly desired by many Bidayuh to preserve their cultural heritage and also to encourage usage of “old words” that are now being lost.
Among initiatives by DBNA in multilingual education was organising a seminar and workshop called Multilingual Education Seminar. It was organised by BLDP on 30 – 31 January 2006 at the DBNA Headquarters in Kuching. This seminar discussed the possibilities of such a programme among the Bidayuh. The presenters were Jim Smith and Karla Smith, SIL Asia Area Consultants for Multilingual Education projects. Most of the participants expressed interest and enthusiasm in the programme. Such positive reactions gave high hope for the programme planning and implementation.
By May 2006, Jim Smith had already made contact with UNESCO in Bangkok and later found out that UNESCO was desirous of a Multilingual Education Pilot Project in Malaysia. This matter was conveyed to DBNA President Ik Pahon ak Joyik who agreed with the project proposal.
After lengthy deliberations and discussions the DBNA Education Sub-committee decided in favour of the project. A number of officials, mostly former educationists were assigned to draft a proposal paper of the project. They included Jonas Noeb, Robert Sulis, Anna Dreba and Josak Siam as well as SIL officers.
The proposal paper was sent to UNESCO in Bangkok on 22 June, 2006 for consieration and approval. Josak ak Siam was officially appointed as the project coordinator. The project received a US$10,000 contract from UNESCO in Bangkok. A special gathering of Bidayuh politicians, leaders and individuals was held on 30 July, 2006 at Holiday Inn to officially launch The Bidayuh Language book entitled ‘YESTERDAY, TODAY AND TOMORROW’.
Jim Smith on behalf of UNESCO announced the DBNA/UNESCO MLE Pilot Project. The contract was signed and sent to UNESCO Bangkok on 2 Aug 2006. The first instalment of USD $6,000 was received on 30 Aug, 2006.
In the months of August and September of that year preparations for the setting up of the Heritage Language Playschools were carried out by the education sub-committee.
The first working committee meeting was held on 1 Oct of that year. Later activities such as Awareness Raising talks, identifying of villages for the Playschools implementation, identifying and appointing teachers, appointment of facilitators, meetings in the villages amd purchasing of materials and teaching aids were conducted.
The first teacher training was conducted by SIL International Malaysia on 8 – 12 January 2007.
Playschools officially started on 15 Jan 2007 at Kampung Gahat Mawang (Serian), Kampung Bunuk (Penrissen), Kampung Skio (Bau), Kampung Pasir Hilir (Lundu/Rara) and Kampung Jampari (Lundu/Salako).
According to Josak in his writeup on the MLE project, among the primary objectives of heritage language playschools are:
• Aid the family in the intergenerational transmission of the language and culture.
• Enable the children to know their heritage and roots, and to have a sense of identitiy.
• Give the children a confidence in who they are, where they come from and prepare them for the changing world which is becoming more and more globalised.
• Build a strong foundation in the heritage language or mother tongue.
• Provide a good development bridge to second and third languages – the case of Malaysia, to Malay and English.
• Help the parents and other family members in laying a foundation for the development of attitudes, knowledge and skills.
• Prepare the children for kindergarten and primary school.
Others include developing the children’s potential holistically in preparation for life and self adjustment with their environment.
By end of November and early December 2008 the final report done jointly by the chief facilitator who is also the MLE Project Coordinator (Josak Siam) and SIL Consultants was completed and was sent to UNESCO Bangkok in the second week of December that year.
UNESCO funding of the project stopped in 2009 but the MLE project is still ongoing to this very day, thanks to funding by DBNA and JKKK, Josak told the New Sarawak Tribune last Tuesday.
“This funding by JKKK includes paying for the teachers’ and facilitators’ allowances and other expenses,” said Josak.
The playschool project, which is also ongoing, has scored highly in terms of its benefits to the children of the Bidayuh community and the constultants are still around to monitor the programme.
When interviewing Josak about two weeks ago this author was introduced to one of the SIL consultants James Arritt who has been in Sarawak with his wife (who is also a SIL consultant) and children for six years.