Sun, 02 Oct 1994

Good day Mom, Dad, ...

JAKARTA (JP): Or uncle or auntie... even little brother (or sister). Not, however, gramps or granny.

Now what is this all about? Forms of address, that's what.

When you took your first hesitant steps on the rocky road towards mastering Indonesian, your teacher probably told you that when addressing a male in Indonesia you use the word bapak. And if talking to a woman, you use ibu. They mean, as your teacher told you, Mr. and Mrs. No sweat. You swallow that.

Come the next lesson you learn that bapak means father and ibu means mother. What is this? What happened to Mr., Mrs., Miss and Ms.? Again your teacher explains -- Mrs. (or Miss or Ms): ibu. Mr.: bapak.

"But they mean mom and dad."

"Yes. We Indonesians are one big, happy family."

Actually, there was a time, not all that long ago either, that there were such words as tuan (Mr.), nyonya (Mrs.) and nona (Miss). But they smacked too much of colonialist class distinction, elitism. The "me up here" against the "you down there." You would, for instance, say tuan Karel Knoopsgat and nyonya or nona Griet Grotebek -- the use of first names was optional. However, don't think it was only the Dutch who had those handles in front of their names. There were enough Indonesians who insisted on being called tuan, nyonya, and nona.

Anyway, colonialism ended, and tuan, nyonya and nona were swept out. Or were they?

First let's have a look at the search for the proper form of address in the new society of liberty, equality and fraternity. The euphoria of new-found independence was still aflame, and in the midst of it came the word bung (brother). The first president was referred to as such, so were the becak (pedicab) drivers and the sate vendors, etc. There was no equivalent for women, however. The first president's wife was always referred to as ibu, and, as some of my Indonesian female acquaintances said, the expression bung was extremely sexist. Maybe that's why you don't hear it anymore. Non-sexist, and also hailing from approximately the same period, was saudara (brother) and saudari (sister). But these two also seem to have diminished in daily usage.

Well, what do you hear today? Bapak and ibu, of course. With bapak there's no problem. Every adult male is bapak. It looks, however, as if nyonya and nona are sneaking back in for women. In print, as well as in the electronic media, the first lady is sometimes referred to as nyonya; while nona has also made a bit of a comeback. Generally, however, they appear to be used more for foreign residents. So Mrs./Miss Ofelia Da Cruz from Brazil may well be called nyonya/nona Ofelia, but Mrs/Miss Ofelia Da Cruz from Indonesia would usually be ibu Ofelia. And don't think there are no Da Cruz's in Indonesia. Go look around in East Timor.

Bapak, ibu, nyonya, nona.... You could call them formal forms of address. The first two definitely are. What about informal forms? Aha. That's where the rest of the family comes in; like om and tante. Both are derived from Dutch oom (uncle) and tante (aunt). Sure, in some areas like North Sulawesi and perhaps Ambon those two words are very much in use, but there you're dealing with local dialects. I've been called om (also pronounced um or oom) in Jakarta, Surabaya, Yogya and Bali.

By the way, did you notice the absence of last names? Right. In Indonesia you don't use last names, unless you have to write them on an envelope. So Aristophanes Papazafiropoulos is bapak or pak Aristophanes, not bapak Papazafiropoulos, and you refer to Signora Veronica Vermicelli as ibu or bu Veronica.

--Jak Jaunt