Language Primer: Madurese

A Madurese trait, it would seem, is to stay hidden in plain sight.

For an island in such a central location – a couple of hours to Surabaya’s north and within striking distance of Bali – it remains an enigmatic locale. The tourism trade is mostly non-existent and the few who do manage to make it there tend to congregate solely for the annual bull races. Mostly, mention of Madura is met with a shrug and a non-committal shake of the head. Not that the fiercely independent Madurese seem to mind all that much.

Historically there have been feuds with Java and Kalimantan, resulting in bloodshed, and it still seems even today there is a lingering mutual resentment. Accusations of coarseness and pigheadedness are met with derision; it soon becomes clear how much pride the Madurese take in their fang-shaped island. It’s also very obvious how little they care for their neighbours’ opinions.

Wordy welcome

Unsurprisingly, then, this strong sense of identity extends to Madura’s indigenous language. Madurese is one of Indonesia’s 300 different native dialects. Should an outsider attempt speaking it they’ll initially encounter confusion, then shock and the smiling disbelief. And then another phrase or two; with so few resources available the best way to learn Madurese is to absorb it. Happily, the islanders are more than happy to share.

Read more: Life Lessons: Recollections of an Ajarn in Bangkok.

For all its stubborn reputation Madura is also incredibly friendly. Visitors will find people simply want to talk to them and, should they open up, will soon be equipped with the skeleton of a new vocabulary. This list, by no means complete, is an example of that. Gleaned on a bus journey between Bangkalan and Sumenep it’s evidence of not only the warm welcome in store but also, perhaps, a sign that Madura is more than happy to reveal itself when the time is right.

(Language Editor: Although Bahasa is widely spoken across Madura it’s useful to know a few indigenous words. Whilst this is by no means a comprehensive list, if you want to know the Madurese for ‘bald’ look no further.)

Thank you – Sakalangkong

No problem – Depadeh (artinya)

Excuse me (seeking help) – Ta’ langkong/takalong (similar to ‘permisi’ in Bahasa)

Please (greeting) – Tore lenggi

I want… – Kaule terro

Ask – Atanya ah

Where is… – Edimah…

Assassination Classroom – Kelas ghebei mate e oreng*

Bald – Bhutak

Tall – Tengghi

*No, us neither


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