From Generation to Generation: Passing on a Thriving Heritage

Oma (left) and family

In the 6th grade, Yedida Ora (known to her friends as Oma) was studying all the usual subjects in the Indonesian school system. But that year she had a teacher, Heronimus (Roni) Bani, who was not only passionate about teaching basic reading, writing, mathematics and science—he also emphasized the value of the student’s own language and culture. In addition to their Indonesian studies, Pak (Mr.) Roni encouraged the children to learn to read their own mother tongue, Amarasi, and to develop skill in traditional art forms such as Amarasi dances and a'a sramat, a traditional style of poetic greeting with a leader and choral response. When overseas guests came to work with Pak Roni on making books written in Amarasi, the teacher asked Oma take the lead role in welcoming them with an original a’a sramat he had composed.

Years later, after completing high school in another town, Oma returned to her own village. Pak Roni, as enthusiastic as ever to keep the Amarasi culture thriving, invited the studious young woman to help with language development activities such as compiling a dictionary, translating the Bible into Amarasi and selling Amarasi books. 

As the translation team worked, it became obvious that Oma was a gifted translator. Her drafts were careful in their sentence structure and meaning, as well as in their spelling of the complex Amarasi language. Oma hoped to continue her education and pursue a university degree. But then tragedy struck. Several members of Oma's extended family died. Only four months later, her father also died. On the mountain slopes of semi-arid Timor Island, Oma’s mother worked to save the family’s plot of corn, but first drought and then floods wiped out the entire crop.

In the midst of so many losses, one thing seemed clear: Oma's dream of going on to university would have to be set aside. However, the Amarasi Team Advisor and his wife had observed Oma’s gifts in language development and wanted to support her goal of pursuing a university degree. They offered to cover the cost of tuition, fees and basic living expenses.

As of 2014, Oma is halfway through her university training to become a teacher. In addition to her studies, she has continued to work on the Amarasi Bible translation, which is nearing completion, and other publications. Oma has also traveled to the capital of the province to receive training in language and culture documentation. She learned how to make audio and video recordings of Amarasi events, stories, histories, folktales and songs, and how to transcribe those recordings into written form. Whenever she returns to visit her family in her home village, Oma makes time to put these skills to work by recording local stories and songs. She recently recorded and transcribed a number of Amarasi texts for an Australian student working on a PhD in linguistics.

First inspired to appreciate the uniqueness of her language and culture by her teacher, Pak Roni, Oma will soon be a teacher herself. She knows it will be a challenging job, but looks forward to the opportunity to follow in her teacher’s footsteps, passing on the Amarasi language and culture to a new generation of young students.

Related: "Our Language is Sweet and Good"