Home ยป Austronesian Language Traces: On Papuan Language and Culture

Austronesian Language Traces: On Papuan Language and Culture

by Senaman
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The discovery of ancient and historical objects or what is commonly done by archaeology still makes us realize how old the earth is. Fossils, inscriptions, and other very surprising discoveries always grab our attention, especially when these things are found in Indonesia, an archipelago that is said to have once been a single unit but is now separated from Sabang to Merauke, breaking it into large or small islands such as Sumatra, Borneo, Java, Sulawesi, and Papua.

3,000 to 4,000 years ago, an Austronesian speaker sailed from Taiwan and crossed the Philippine archipelago, eventually interacting with the people of Papua. On the island of Papua, speakers of different tribes have already settled. Genetically, Papuan speakers are ethnic Melanesians who have inhabited the second-largest island in the world since 50,000 years ago.

The migration of Austronesian speakers has influenced Papuan culture. This is revealed by various findings of very significant cultural relics on the westernmost coast of the island of Papua such as Raja Ampat, the north coast of Papua Island, and surrounding islands such as Biak and New Britain. In Papua, there are approximately two languages, the special term Austronesian language and the non-Austronesian language which is now known as the Papuan language. A distinctive feature of the Austronesian language is that its structure is like Indonesian in general, where the object used in the expression is S-P-O: ‘Saya Suka makan which means (I Like to Eat)’, while the non-Austronesian becomes S-O-P: ‘Saya Makan Suka which also means (I Like to Eat)’. Making the order similar to English.

The migration of Austronesian speakers who around 3,000 years ago stopped or had built settlements in Papua. Then their arrival made them interact with residents who had been

living in Papua for longer. This research maps the influence of Austronesian speech in Papua based on artifact findings at several sites along the Papuan coast and surrounding islands, the strongest evidence being pottery.

The influence spread through knowledge, such as sailing using long-distance navigation. Papuans in Biak and Yapen, for example, recognize ship technology that has a bow and stern. This also eventually earned the Biak tribe the nickname ‘Vikings from Papua’.

Ships with bow and stern features can only develop due to the influence of Austronesian language speakers. In contrast to Papua inland such as Merauke and mountainous areas that recognize simple boats, from hollowed-out tree trunks such as the Lesung Boat from the Asmat Tribe for example.

This encounter is also supported by historical mythology by Papuans today. One of them is the findings around Lake Sentani where it is believed that their ancestors came from the east of the ‘Place of the Rising Sun’, introducing tools such as pottery.

The villagers of Abar told me that there used to be people who came from the east and were rather scary. These people introduced the villagers to pottery and pottery making. The Abar villagers adopted and adapted these tools in the past when they settled at the Khulutiyauw Site until they eventually moved to the current location. This mythology is also supported by findings of pottery and earthenware.

Experts predict that Austronesian influences have been found on the coast, such as at Youtefa Bay. In the case of Lake Sentani, which is west of Youtefa Bay, the tribe that introduced pottery moved to deeper ground. Although it is still a matter of debate, who spread Austronesian languages in the Papua region, including Halmahera and Raja Ampat, this is still being further explored by BRIN’s Language and Literature Preservation Research Center.

Papua is known to have a wealth of languages, but some of them have become extinct and the remaining ones are threatened with extinction due to the small number of speakers of the language. The cause of language extinction is the social issues Papua is facing, such as the mandatory use of the Malay-Papuan language or people starting to abandon their mother tongue due to the impact of globalization and modernization.

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