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Allow KDM use in Herald
Published on: Sunday, December 06, 2009

A news item by an Associated Press (AP) journalist Julia Zappei appeared in the internet last week, saying that the Catholic Church "The Heralds" newspaper printed and published in Kuala Lumpur was adding a page in Kadazandusun language.

If this had happened, it would have been another milestone for the community - the Kadazandusun of Sabah.

It would mean a further recognition of their language and probably help prevent the disappearance of the language in Sabah, in Malaysia and indeed in the world. The Kadazandusun language is the language of about 500,000 people in Sabah, and nowhere else.

However, the younger generation of Kadazandusun do not speak the language as their parents prefer to speak to them in Malay in their homes.

The language is disappearing fast and some social scientists fear that the language might disappear altogether in the next 50 years.

The same news item appeared in the Daily Express last week headlined "Rejection Was For Only The Extra KDM Page". The Herald's editor, Fr. Lawrence Andrew was quoted as saying that the newspapers' annual licence had been approved but not the request to publish a supplement in Kadazandusun.

The Herald is published weekly in four languages, English, Malay, Chinese and Tamil. The editor wanted to add a page in Kadazandusun. Officials from the Ministry of Home Affairs did not give any explanation of reasons for the rejection. However, I believe that Fr. Lawrence, the Editor, had withdrawn the application.

This writer, however, is optimistic that when the "investigation" is completed and common sense used, the publication in Kadazandusun would have been approved too. For I see no hidden agenda in this matter, nor anything else that could conceivably prevent approval.

I believe an insignificant number of Malays know how to speak and read Kadazandusun in West Malaysia, and for that matter, in Sabah or Sarawak.

In Sabah, some of the Bajau community in Kota Kinabalu speak Kadazandusun as well as the Kadazandusun in the same area.

This is especially in Putatan-Petagas in the West Coast area where there is a concentration of mixed communities of Bajau and Kadazandusun. The relationship is so close - some are blood relations or by marriages, that it is inevitable that they speak both languages and indeed communicate in both languages.

But they are very few and I believe not one of the Bajau community ( they are Muslims) in the area read any Christian publication. If Fr. Lawrence had indeed withdrawn the application, it seems a great pity.

The Kadazandusun language is more or less given official recognition by the Federal Government.

This is largely due to the efforts of Tan Sri Bernard Dompok, the President of the "United Pasok Momogun Kadazandusun Organisation" (Upko) and a Federal Minister, who "agitated" for the teaching of the Kadazandusun language in national schools.

Today, the language is not only taught in national schools as one of the subjects to learn, but a Chair of Kadazandusun Language was set up at the University of Malaysia Sabah (UMS) headed by an Australian woman academic. It would appear that presently the Kadazandusun community has not yet produced an academic fit or qualified enough to hold the post!

Meanwhile, too, a Kadazandusun Language Foundation was also set up with a very qualified Kadazan woman helming the Foundation. Part of its work is to produce a Kadazandusun dictionary, helping in the publication of books for use in schools by Kadazandusun students, and more.

The Kadazandusun language is also published in a supplementary page in all the three main Sabah newspapers, The Daily Express, The Borneo Post and the New Sabah Times. A supplementary page in Kadazadusun is also published by the Catholic Sabah, a weekly newspaper.

When I was the Editor of the Sabah Times (old) in the 60s, there was a Kadazan Corner page published every day. It was then pioneered by the late Datuk Joe Manjaji. And when he became involved in politics as the Member of Parliament for Penampang, his place was taken over by the late James Mudi of Penampang. He worked under me.

I also started a weekly Kadazan six-page tabloid with lots of feature articles, and of course, news items. But it was discontinued because of lack of advertisements and hence lack of finance to carry on the publication.

In the mid-50s, Radio Sabah Kadazan section was also introduced. The late Datuk Fred Sinidol was the first head of the Kadazan Radio Sabah section.

He pioneered the recording of songs - modern and old songs - and also recorded a lot of Kadazandusun tales and legends. He co-opted me to produce a Kadazan weekly youth programme.

It was amazing how both the radio and the newspapers helped increase the popularity of the language in those days. News was disseminated throughout Sabah and even the remotest district managed to hear Radio Sabah, the Kadazan section. There was no electricity then. The radio was powered by a small dry battery which when exhausted of power could be thrown away and replaced by a new one.

I remember setting up an aerial as high as the coconut tree next to the house some 30 feet high.

This was to get a good reception. I could even get a good reception from Radio Australia known as the Australian Broadcasting Service (ABS) from Melbourne.

I was told to make sure of burying a wire connected to the aerial to prevent lightning from striking the aerial and burning the radio set - which was either a Philips or Telefunken!

As I said, Kadazandusun is the language of about 500,000 people. As I also said, not many of the younger generation speak the language. A whole generation of young Kadazandusun are unable to speak, read or write in Kadazandusun. This young generation were those born in the mid 1970s (1976 to midst 1980s).

It was during this period when the Kadazandusun language was no longer spoken at home, and indeed, this is still the experience today. Indeed, during that period, the leaders of the period, including Kadazandusun leaders, decided to call the various communities under one name "Pribumi" and the explanation was that it was for the sake of "integration" of the communities.

It was more a programme of "assilimilation" of the various indigenous communities. But never mind, the term Pribumi is no longer in use today.

The majority of Kadazandusun are Christians. The biggest denomination are the Roman Catholics, followed by the Anglicans, Lutherans, Seven Days Adventists (SDA) and many other smaller denominations, including self-proclaimed denominations who split from the main and bigger denominations.

The Herald is a weekly Catholic church newspaper, published and printed in Kuala Lumpur.

I am told that the weekly circulation is only 14,000 copies. And this is one of the newspapers for the Catholic community of Malaysia which number about 1 million people. The population of Malaysia is approximately 28 million people.

The weekly "The Herald" is sent and distributed to the many Catholic churches in Malaysia, including Sabah. I estimate that not more than 1,000 copies are sent and sold amongst Catholic congregations in Sabah.

Kadazadusun readership would also be confined to only a small group of people too. If "The Herald" was allowed to print and publish a supplementary page in the newspaper, it would have been regarded by the Kadazandusun community as an honour and a great to tribute to them as the single most numerous community in Sabah.

They will look at the effort of "The Herald" newspaper as a great help in preventing the language from going extinct!

I am sure Kadazandusun leaders of all religious leanings would welcome the appearance of Kadazandusun in the "Herald" and would be grateful to the Minister of Home Affairs, Datuk Seri Hishammudin Tun Husein for his assistance and contribution for the preservation of the language.

Perhaps The Herald should reconsider its decision to withdraw the application.

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