Endangered, Indigenous Languages of West Papua Need Revitalization

Get to Know Indigenous Languages of West Papua

When talking about the most diverse language in the world, according to the Ethnologue, Indonesia occupies the second position with a total of 720 languages. [1] Nearly half of that number are indigenous languages of West Papua. It includes all five provinces on the west side of New Guinea Island. 

However, as time went by, the use of the native language of Papua kept decreasing. You can read in this article many reasons why it happened. Aside from that, you can also find out about how the government tries to fix this problem. So, here is the explanation about that! 

The Segmentation of West Papuan Languages 

Basically, it is already common knowledge that New Guinea Island had an extreme nature. There are so many mountains and many wildernesses, even up until now. If the nature of the land of Papua is still raw up until now, imagine how the situation was tens of thousands of years ago. 

This kind of natural situation has limited human mobilization in the past. At that time, the native Papuans still rarely met with outsiders. They only interacted with the tribes that were geographically close to them. Even so, the interactions between these tribes do not always end up positively. 

The lack of interaction automatically creates language segmentations among the tribes. At least 428 regional languages of Papua have already been recognized, from Sorong to Merauke. [2] Some of them are even included in the language isolate, a language that is not part of another language family. 

The Reasons Why West Papua’s Indigenous Languages Are in Danger

Reasons Indigenous Languages ​​of West Papua are difficult

In fact, having many regional languages is great because it means the region has a lot of cultural diversity. It is an identity that is the pride of the nation. However, it cannot be denied that there are some negative points to this kind of diversity because more languages equal fewer speakers. 

Unfortunately, most of the Papuan languages are only oral. Most of these languages have no definite writing system, so the position is increasingly vulnerable. Because of that, unlike Sundanese or Javanese, the regional languages in the west side of Papua cannot be taught in schools. 

Introducing national culture, which is indeed diverse, especially regional languages, to children is crucial. It can preserve its regional languages in a modern environment and is not influenced by foreign cultures that are not under Pancasila norms.

This situation makes most Papuan children feel less familiar with these languages. It makes the speakers, which are only a few, become less and less. If this continues, these languages may become extinct one by one. 

Lately, two regional languages ​​in Papua have become extinct: the Tandia language and the Mawes language. [3]


The Ministry of Education and Culture Trying to Revitalize the Papuan Languages

The Importance of Knowing the Indigenous Languages ​​of West Papua

Because West Papua’s languages are getting endangered, The Ministry of Education and Culture is trying to revitalize them. This is one of the main objectives in the 17th episode of the Merdeka Learning program. 

There are three stages to revitalize regional languages. From the survey and coordination stages, the learning and training stages, to the festival and performances stages. [4] 

In 2022, seven languages were successfully revitalized. These languages are the Tobati language, Sentani language, Sobei language, Biyekwok or Beyaboa language, Biak language, Kamoro language, and Marind language. [5]

Then, in 2023, two more languages will undergo a process of revitalization. The two languages are Hatam language in Manokwari and Moi language in Sorong Regency. The teaching material books and dictionaries were also launched to support revitalizing these languages. 

However, preserving the indigenous languages of West Papua cannot be done without the participation of civil society. We can learn and practice our own regional languages every day, so they will not be eaten by time and face extinction.