Cultural research, education and a Mentawai dictionary

Each day we move a step closer toward achieving our goals with Suku Mentawai and the Cultural and Environmental Education Program (CEEP). These past few months have been particularly productive.

Program director, Esmat Sakulok, gathering cultural research in Mentawai

Travelling to Siberut Island with the Director of Suku Mentawai , Esmat Sakulok, our mission was to gather research about the history of Mentawai people and how their Arat Sabulungan culture evolved. We were fortunate to discuss this with groups of elder, very knowledgeable shaman (Sikerei). The conversations were lengthy and often continued late into the evenings. We documented these on film.

Program director, Esmat Sakulok, gathering cultural research in Mentawai

This particular research (among other things) is to be used as part of a Mentawai cultural education booklet we’ve been developing. Our vision is to create a visual-based storybook presenting cultural content in a way that is both engaging and relevant to the current and coming generations. The booklet is purposed as a guide to teach (Mentawai children) and learn from.

IEF Director, Rob Henry, working on a cultural education booklet with Mentawai children

Our next stop was Padang city, on mainland Sumatera. We’d been invited to participate at a revitalisation conference organised by Indonesia’s Ministry of Education. The focus was on West Sumatran culture (Mentawai & Minangkabau), allowing us to discuss our work with education departments, research experts, writers, professors, and other like-minded NGOs working within the region.

Program director, Esmat Sakulok, discussing Mentawai culture with Indonesia's Ministry of Education event organisers Suku Mentawai director, Esmat Sakulok, listening to Dr. Bambang Rudito speak about Mentawai culture

Whilst there is a long way to go, it is extremely heartening to see that indigenous culture is slowly being recognised as an important element of education. The doors are beginning to open and the voice of the community being heard. It’s a very interesting and exciting time to be campaigning for cultural education here in West Sumatra, Indonesia.

Mentawai Sikerei sitting at the Hotel Grand Inna in Padang in their loincloth and traditional clothing Andalas University Professor of social and political science, Pak Nursyirwan Effendi, comparing Mentawai and Minangkabau culture Discussing Minangkabau and Mentawai culture with elder and humanist, Musra Dahrizal Katik Jo Mangkuto

During our visit to Padang we also spent time with Mentawai university students at the Mentawai Student Forum (Forum Mahasiswa Mentawai – Formma). It was interesting to discuss and observe their views on the issues surrounding Mentawai’s loss of culture and local knowledge.

Mentawai Student Forum, meeting with Mentawai university students studying in Padang

We also met with head of the West Sumatran language department (Balai Bahasa Provinsi Sumatera Barat), Pak Agus Danardana, to discuss the development of a Mentawai dictionary.

Meeting with head of the West Sumatran language centre to discuss the development of a Mentawai dictionary

Mentawai is currently not a written language and, with limited access for people to learn how to speak it (not taught at any level of schooling), their dialect is slowly being replaced by the mainstream.

Gravely concerned about the impact loss of Mentawai language will have on the future of the local community, their culture and identity, we decided to make this a more urgent focus of the Suku Mentawai foundation. Pak Agus welcomed our proposal with open arms and we are now discussing a suitable date to conduct a joint research expedition. Great news.

Meeting with head of the West Sumatran language centre to discuss the development of a Mentawai dictionary

Finally, you may be pleased to hear that the production of our social-impact documentary film, As Worlds Divide, is almost complete. Keep an eye on the film’s website and facebook page for further updates, including premiere and release dates. We’re extremely excited to share this important film with you all. Thanks for your support.

Suku Mentawai.

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