‘Pioneer Iban alphabet students will promote system’


KUCHING: Universiti Teknologi Mara (UiTM) senior lecturer Assoc Prof Dr Bromeley Phillip said the first step in introducing his well-developed Iban alphabet into the Malaysian education system and anywhere else in the world is to get its first batch of learners.

After successfully promoting and re-introducing the Iban alphabet during Saturday’s KPSU-UB Forum Jaku Iban 2011 (FJI 2011) here, Bromeley said the first batch of students may come from his own students in UiTM and FJI 2011 organising committee event managers.

The late Dunging Gunggu first created the alphabet system in 1947 starting with 77 characters that symbolised sounds in the Iban language but Bromeley managed to discard the characters representing redundant sounds from the system. The useful ones are now developed into computerised fonts for easier learning access.

Currently, only three people in the world can read and write the Dunging or Iban alphabet. They are Bromeley himself, longhouse chief Tuai Rumah Bagat Nunui and teacher Ngambong Katoi. The rest has passed away.

Bagat is the adopted son of Dunging who is also Dunging’s nephew (the son of Dunging’s sister). Bagat is a retired teacher. Bromeley and Ngambong on the other hand are cousins whose grandfathers Mawan and Munan are Dunging’s brothers.

“I was encouraged by our Deputy Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Tan Sri Alfred Jabu’s advice in his text of speech delivered in the forum that said only three people could read Dunging’s alphabet and that was simply not enough,” he said over breakfast with FJI 2011 organising secretary Churchill Edward Drem at Crown Square Pending yesterday.

He added that he now realised that if he wanted to bring the Iban alphabet to a higher level there must be more readers and writers using the system.

Bromeley said even during the late Dunging’s era, there were few followers and they created something akin to an Iban intellectual society at the longhouse back then.

During the forum proper, Ngambong was seen crying tears of joy because suddenly there was a platform for people to talk about and re-introduce the alphabet after an absence of 26 years, Bromeley said.

“The Iban alphabet is well researched and developed and it is now transformed into computerised fonts. Articles about the research and development appeared in the July 2009 Sarawak Gazette edition and Cambridge Asia Research News in 2010,” he pointed out.

The Sarawak Gazette stated that the Iban alphabet was an important finding while the Cambridge Asia Research News stated that the system had been well researched.

The magazine also traced the origin of the alphabet and spelt out the method of research used.

Bromeley said the idea to set up a tuition centre for short courses on the Iban alphabet was for real but he still has to talk to the authorities in UiTM Sarawak on how to go about it.

He said he would not mind having the course premise nearby the campus so that he could always be accessible to learners or trainees. He also said he would have to purchase a few computers that were compatible to the Iban alphabet system.

Meanwhile Churchill said he felt honoured that the FJI 2011 committee members are accepted as part of Saturday’s Iban language forum which recommended that the Iban alphabet system be recognised and adopted and, a centre be set up to further the development of the language.

In fact, he said, they started small as event managers under the purview of Ministry of Social Development and Urbanisation (KPSU) in August 2011 to set up a platform for language forum members to talk about various matters on the Iban language.

“Even so, Saturday’s forum treated us as protagonists of the language and in fact is fine by me,” he added.

As Jabu had encouraged the organising members cum event managers to take up the Iban alphabet course within two years with Bromeley, Churchill said all the committee members, being Iban, should adhere to the advice.

“As Assoc Prof Dr Bromeley is a friend and still around in Kuching, I will be more than glad to become his student. And I do hope he enlists me as a trainee in his first batch of Iban alphabet students,” he said.

Apart from KPSU, the other co-organiser was the local daily Utusan Borneo, which began a-four page Iban section in March 2006. In 1998 The Borneo Post publised a one-page Iban section in tabloid form for a six-month trial run.