"ORAL TRADITION" in Tidore Island, North Maluku - Indonesia  


Written By : Margaret Florey
Posting By : Busranto Latif Doa

Which language is this questionnaire on and where is it spoken ?
Tidore, North Moluccas - Indonesia

1. List as completely as possible the genres of oral traditions which you are aware of in this ethnolinguistic group. These may include (but are not limited to):

I’m not really aware of many of the literary genres, for reasons explained below. For my own dissertation I have some Pantun and a few songs (Lagu Daerah), but I have had to restrict myself to more prosaic genres such as :
a. Conversation
b. Personal history
c. Explanation of ritual
d. Origin myth
e. Children’s story
f. Recipe

I am absolutely certain that there are quite a few genres of oral tradition, some of them quite sacred and/or archaic, concerned with history preservation and healing.

I do know of (although I never witnessed) Kabata, a song performance between two groups of people whereby (a singer from) one group tries to outwit (a singer of) the other. In addition, there is a genre of Dorobololo, which is somewhat different from Pantun but I don’t know exactly how they work. I have heard of Moro-moro, a kind of very sacred speech which is just murmured and unintelligible to outsiders.

2. Identification of oral traditions. Do members of this speech community differentiate between the various genres you have listed through:
a. Naming of genres ?
b. Topic (e.g. celebrating or marking a particular aspect of life) ?
c. Differences in function ?
e. Structural differences ?
f. Note any other means speakers use to differentiate genres (for example, through association with a particular composer or performer, or with a particular location, time of year or season, etc).

Tidore speakers distinguish the Pantun, Lagu Daerah, Dorobololo, Moro-moro, and Kabata, as well as stories about the monkey and the turtle referred to as jafa laba jafa ori (or jafa ori jafa laba), and the story Kie Raha (Tujuh Putri).

These seem to fall in categories of their own, but except for their specific subject matter there are no characteristics. Finally, narrations of the history of the sultanate may be considered a genre, being the only type of speech in which abbreviated deictics Nde and Ngge are considered inappropriate on reflection (although they are used) and should not be written down.


1. What functions are filled by the oral traditions which you have listed ?
I really cannot make any claims about Moro-moro and Dorobololo. The other genres are for entertainment and to recall history.

2. On what occasions are the genres you have listed heard or performed ?
Consider, for example:
a. On what occasions might folk tales be narrated to young children (in the evenings in the home, in garden huts, etc) ?
b. On what occasions might origin or creation tales or epic tales be narrated ?
c. When would particular song styles be heard or performed ?

Kabata is used when working in gardens or on boats, or during rituals, such as Legu Gam (see below), when many people gather and sit up all night singing.


1. What are the structures of the genres you have listed ?
Consider, for example : I have insufficient data for any claims
2. Parallelism. No pervasive parallelism in any of the genres that I have recorded.


Are there speech levels (similar to those described for Javanese, Balinese, Sundanese) in this language ? No.


In some speech communities composers are acknowledged and venerated. For the language/s with which you are familiar:
1. Is the right to compose restricted to certain parts of the community (by clan or lineage, age, gender, status, etc) ?
The traditional stories and Pantun simply ‘exist’ and are told in more or less the same fashion. Kabata, Lagu Daerah and Pantun may be composed freely by anyone.
2. Are members of the speech community aware of the composer of oral traditions? For example, are certain narratives said to have been composed by a particular person ?
I have never heard such claims made on traditional stories/Pantun, but for modern songs, the band members and composers are well known.
3. Are certain members of the community renowned as composers ?
Some are renowned as narrators, but not as composers.
4. Is composition in some oral traditions (e.g. origin or creation tales) attributed to a key ancestral figure ?
Not that I know.
5. Are some oral traditions said to have been created by non-human composers (e.g. Alune midwifery knowledge was created and transmitted by cuscus (Phalanger spp) ?
Not that I know
6. Are particular composers associated with certain oral traditions (e.g. songs, epic tales, mantra, riddles) but not with others (e.g. historical narratives, chants performed at village-wide ceremonies) ?
Not that I know


is the right to speak or to use or perform certain oral traditions restricted to one part of the community (by clan or lineage, age, gender, status, etc) ?

Moro-moro is restricted to one or two men only. Songs and poems can be recited by everyone.

1. Are other constraints on ownership of knowledge noted for this speech community ?
2. Who are the performers in this community ?
3. Can non-human entities (animal, spirit, deities) be performers or participants ?
4. Are particular performers associated with certain oral traditions but not with others ?
5. Are certain members of the community renowned as performers ?
6. Who are the ritual specialists in this community ?
7. What performance contexts have you noted in this speech community ?
8. Are certain oral traditions restricted to particular performance sites or prohibited from occurring in certain sites ?
Consider, for example:
a. Public vs private
b. Men's or women's ritual houses
c. Within or external to residential areas
9. What time frames are associated with various oral traditions ?
Consider, for example:
a. Time of day (or night)
b. Period of time (hours, days)
c. Seasonal aspects
d. Ceremonies/rituals which may be performed in several phases with varying lengths of break between phase.
10. What constitutes the 'stage' in performance ?
11. What is the relationship between 'audience' and performer ?

For all these questions goes that I simply do not have enough knowledge of these oral traditions.


1. Is there evidence of change in the structure or function of any of the genres you have described? If so, what changes have you noted, or what changes do practitioners or audience note ?
For example:
a. Are marriages still associated with 'traditional' ritual practices or have they become part of modern state and religious (Christian/Muslim) practice ?
Muslim practice is at least 600 years old, so traditional and Muslim are one on Tidore. The amount of ritual in marriage is large, but they do not have oral traditions (discounting a short Koran recitation and a formal speech by the Imam in both Indonesian and Tidore) associated with them.

b. Is bridewealth still paid and is there an associated ritual/ceremony ?
Bridewealth is referred to as Mahar. The groom and his family pay this to the bride. Nowadays 5 grams of 23 carat gold in the form of a ring is considered quite appropriate.

c. If there were restrictions on the language which could be used during hunting or fishing, is this register still used? Always? Occasionally? Only by older members of the community ?
I don’t know. Women don’t go fishing or hunting

2. Do healing practices still draw on, for example, a healing register, healing rituals, the use of incantations or mantra ?
Yes, combined with Al-Quran recitations.

3. Are genres of oral traditions being composed in a language other than the language indigenous to this community: for example, a regional lingua franca, a regional Malay variant, or Indonesian ?
Arabic is used in Koran verses, but it is not used to compose new texts.

4. Are new styles or genres emerging ?
I suspect there are, but more study is needed here.

5. Which rituals are still performed regularly ?
a. Salai Jin once a year. A healing ritual for the clan, whereby a number of people get possessed by a totem spirit. There are no songs or stories associated with it, as far as I know.
b. Legu Gam once every decade. Also a healing ritual, but this time for the whole island. Ideally, it should be preceded by another ritual celebrating the ‘periphery’ - the gardens, the other islands in the realm. This is the ritual celebrating the Gam ‘town, centre’. As the old proverb has it: Oti ma-bara
c. Bara Jiko se Doe ‘the outriggers of the canoe are the capes and bays’, or: what keeps the centre balanced is the periphery.
d. Dabus (Malay Badabus). this ritual is carried out to commemorate a deceased by stabbing oneself with a Dabus : a large iron pin with a heavy wooden knob on it. It is an Islamic Sufi ritual to prove one’s invulnerability to death, probably introduced through early Islamic traders from Java where this ritual has also been reported.
e. Other Rituals, are :
1) Wedding rituals (in particular bathing in fire and water),
2) Baptising boats and houses
3) First step on soil
4) Circumcision, and first cutting of baby’s hair
5) First menstruation, and funeral rituals.
None of these appear to have literary genres associated with them.


We are interested in learning more about reasons for :
a. The limited documentation of oral traditions by linguists working in the East Nusantara region, and
b. The difficulties some linguists in the field report in attempting to record this kind of information. If you have worked through this questionnaire and found that there is little which you can say in response to these questions, we would like to learn more about why that may be the case.

When I arrived on Tidore, people immediately assumed that I wanted to live in the most traditional and backward village to find out what life, culture and language were really like in the good-old-days, when Tidore was still pure, traditions still worked, and no one yet spoke Malay (probably 800 years ago?). Evidently, anthropologists got here first! Yet, this was not what I wanted, and I really had to make a point explaining that what I wanted was the language as they spoke it in the late twentieth century, with all the language mixing, borrowing, sloppiness and dialectal differences mixed in.

Fortunately, one of the anthropologists was studying precisely the traditional healing genres and I am still eagerly waiting for her dissertation to come out. I concentrated on non-literary genres, such as those mentioned earlier, and even then I had to be very careful people would not point me to exactly the wrong people.

Unfortunately, this meant that I had to steer away from oral tradition, since if the word spread that I was interested in this, then I probably would never get beyond the Halus word for ‘eat’, and the explanation of Jou as a polite form of address - people would otherwise immediately shut up or talk in Malay/ Standard Indonesian as soon as I switched on the tape recorder.

If you have encountered difficulties in gaining access to and recording certain genres of specialised knowledge, can these difficulties be attributed to, for example:
1. Ownership of knowledge.
2. Taboos or restrictions on the right to transmit knowledge.
3. Restrictions on the right to narrate/sing/chant/perform.
4. Reluctance to discuss ancestral (pre-Christian or pre-Islamic) practices.
5. Other reasons ?

No, I think none of these would be a problem. It was simply that I had to make very clear what I had come for. Perhaps in the future, this questionnaire may be useful getting new information.

Referensi : 2000 EAST NUSANTARA LINGUISTICS WORKSHOP (Sunday 23 July 2000)
Workshop coordinator: MARGARET FLOREY

This entry was posted on Monday, 15 December 2008 at Monday, December 15, 2008 . You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments feed .

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