Renewed focus on heritage at Malay Language Month

Children picture-book author and storyteller Jumaini Ariff will be telling folk tales at the Bulan Bahasa launch at the Malay Heritage Centre.
Children picture-book author and storyteller Jumaini Ariff will be telling folk tales at the Bulan Bahasa launch at the Malay Heritage Centre.PHOTO: BERITA HARIAN

Annual festival to kick off at Malay Heritage Centre on Sept 9

This year's Bulan Bahasa, or Malay Language Month, will return to the Malay Heritage Centre for its launch on Sept 9.

The yearly festival has not kicked off at the centre since 2008 and its return underscores this year's focus on language and heritage.

Among the highlights of the launch at Kampong Glam is children picture-book author and storyteller Jumaini Ariff, who will be telling folk tales while accompanied by a live gamelan troupe.

The writer of eight Malay-language books is one of Bulan Bahasa's three language ambassadors, or duta bahasa. She told The Straits Times that some of her fondest memories of falling in love with the language were from listening to the Warna radio channel at home as a child.

"I would sit at the counter while my mother was cooking, and other than speaking to her or annoying her, I would learn things like pantun (rhymes), the formal diction of the radio presenters, how they addressed the elderly, and storytelling," said Ms Jumaini, 38.

"There are so many stories living inside my head. So as an author I have a wonderful outlet to share what I know."

This year's programmes will revolve around the themes of ilmu (knowledge), budaya (culture) and mesra (relationships). Some of them will be in Malay as well as English so that the non-Malay-speaking public can take part. Bulan Bahasa is celebrated from Aug 15 to Oct 15.

The festival was launched in 1988 by the Malay Language Council to encourage the use of Malay in the everyday lives of Singapore's Malay community.

Chairman of the Bulan Bahasa 2017 committee and MP for Jurong GRC, Ms Rahayu Mahzam, said: "Our legacy, stories and values can survive the test of time only if we make the effort to preserve our appreciation of the Malay language.

"Our mastery of the language can only enrich our understanding of our Malay identity. It is important to perpetuate this in the younger generation so we can continue to flourish as one community."

According to the General Household Survey 2015, 78.4 per cent of Malays spoke mainly Malay at home in 2015, down from 82.7 per cent in 2010. Ms Rahayu told The Straits Times the challenge lies in getting people to use Malay in their daily lives and to learn to appreciate the importance of preserving the Malay culture through the language.

"The celebration of the Malay culture is out there - everybody loves Malay culture and it's easy to have activities revolving around it, but the appreciation of how language ties in with that is not as strong," she said, citing the example of silat, the Malay martial art form, and how people may not appreciate the strong links between the cultural value of the weapons and moves and the Malay words for them.

In the light of recent language gaffes, such as the use of the wrong character in the Speak Mandarin Campaign launch and wrongly typed Tamil in some National Day Parade pamphlets, she said that the Malay Language Council has a large network which it taps to ensure the correct translation and dissemination of Malay-language material.

Ms Rahayu, who is a member of the council, said the network includes people such as literary experts, teachers and previous Bulan Bahasa language ambassadors.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 15, 2017, with the headline 'Renewed focus on heritage at Malay Language Month'. Print Edition | Subscribe