COVID-19 Tune Educates, Empowers Indonesia’s Remote Marapu Community

This article by Fendi Widianto and Joseph Lamont is from EngageMedia, a non-profit media, technology and culture organization. This story was edited and republished on Global Voices as part of a content-sharing agreement.

As the COVID-19 pandemic retains its tight grip on life across the planet, the need to convey public health recommendations to remote communities that speak minority languages is more pressing than ever.

In Indonesia, both the government and civil society has regularly used song to convey these messages, with songs about personal hygiene and health, the importance of vaccinations and the dangers of illegal drugs among those that have found their way into the diversity of languages spoken across the vast archipelago in recent times.

Linguistically, Indonesia faces a unique challenge in terms of communicating government platforms.

The country hosts over 700 languages — almost half of which are now considered endangered.

The state language (Bahasa Indonesia) is spoken by less than two thirds of the population. ‘Message music’ moreover needs to consider diverse local cultural contexts, avoiding a blanket nationalistic approach.

A bottom-up cultural strategy for remote communities can have positive effects beyond getting the message out, such as empowering local cultures to be adaptive, by finding contemporary contexts for their traditional forms of expression.

The Marapu community is one community that has benefited from the bottom up approach after officials threw their weight behind a young singer-songwriter called Jekshon, who used a traditional song in the Kambera language to warn people about the dangers of COVID-19.

Shortly after Jekshon released the song “Rimanya na wiki nda”, which translates as “Take Care of Ourselves”, local officials began inviting him to perform the song at government events and at local health facilities.

Jekhshon’s song encouraged people in the East Sumba region, where Kambera is widely spoken, to fight COVID-19 by avoiding large crowds, staying home, and practicing personal hygiene:

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