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SIL brings Malaysian Bajau representatives and New Zealand’s Maori community together

Bajau horseman (November 2006)  SIL multilingual education consultants organized a two-week visit to New Zealand of Malaysian nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) that represent several minority ethnic groups. Four leaders of United Sabah Bajau Organization (USBO) joined other NGOs to learn how the Maori people of New Zealand have brought their culture back from the brink of extinction.

The Bajau people comprise one of Malaysia’s better-known endangered ethnic groups. The focus of this trip was to study Maori educational institutions from pre-school to university level, including the mother-tongue syllabus, language curriculum, and adult non-formal education curriculum. In addition, they held discussions with leaders and representatives from the Maori community about ethnic distinctives and their way of life.

"The purpose of the visit was to see and learn about the experiences of the Maori community that has successfully managed to defend its customary heritage and culture, including their mother tongue," said one of USBO's leaders who went on the trip. He added, "We hope, through the trip, USBO will be able to rekindle the spirit among the Bajaus to appreciate and to enhance their grasp of the mother tongue, including helping the organization spread its effort to enhance the language.

The Bajau ethnic group is composed of several sub-ethnic groups with a heritage rich in culture and customs needing to be properly preserved and developed. While some sub-groups are well known for their communities of stilt houses over water, some Bajau sub-groups are now land based. The Bajau are traditionally sea faring, and possess an endangered artistry of skillfully handcrafting fishing canoes and migratory vessels. Community leaders hope that the Bajau community will be encouraged to defend and enhance its own customary and cultural heritage though cooperative planning.

USBO was formed and is headed by former Chief Minister Datuk Seri Salleh Said Keruak with the object of defending the plight and welfare of the Bajau community throughout Malaysia. USBO members visiting New Zealand were Deputy President III, Chendramata Sinteh, Information Chief, Mohd Said Hinayat, Assistant Secretary-General, Dr. Liddy Sallun, and Special Language Workers' Team Chairman, Mohd Sirun Siboh.

SIL has facilitated various language development projects for 28 years in Malaysia in cooperation with various government agencies, first in Sabah, then in Sarawak, and extending more recently to Peninsular Malaysia.

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