Magazine article UNESCO Courier

The Hornbill's Quest

Magazine article UNESCO Courier

The Hornbill's Quest

Article excerpt

A Dayak writer from Indonesia visits the Koreans of northern China

I am a Dayak, one of the indigenous people of Kalimantan (Borneo) in the Indonesian archipelago. I was born in the heart of the island, which we call Tanah Dayak (Dayak Island), and ever since I was a little boy I have always been conscious that I am an Indonesian of Dayak origin.

When I left Tanah Dayak at the age of thirteen to go to Java to continue my studies, my family said, "Do not come back unless you can make a substantial contribution to our suffering people. We have fought the Dutch and the Japanese, and we won independence. The task facing your generation is to develop our people and our region because we cannot believe that anyone else will do so."

As "a young warrior" I knew that this was a challenge that I could not refuse. I did not reply, however, and went silently down to the ship that took me a thousand miles away from my dear forest and river, my childhood playground. Since then I have travelled to many places with a big question in my small head: "What can I do to help my suffering minority people?" I have always asked this question throughout my eventful life, and it was very much in my mind during a visit I made to the People's Republic of China about fifteen years ago.

After listening to my questions, my Chinese hosts in Beijing seemed to have understood what I was interested in and arranged for me to visit many minority regions. I was able to go almost everywhere except Tibet and Xinjiang.

It was winter when Lao Wang, my Chinese host in Beijing, organized my visit to the Korean minority that lives in Heilongjiang in northeast China.

My Korean hosts were waiting to welcome me as I stepped down from the train. Lao Wang spoke to them in Mandarin and introduced me to them.

"So you speak Mandarin too"

"Mr. Kim is in charge of the ethnic Koreans here," said Lao Wang. We shook hands warmly.

"I hope you are not too cold," said Mr. Kim.

"I think I have enough clothes, thanks to the serious responsibility and full attention of Lao Wang," I answered. "So you speak Mandarin too."

"Every Korean here speaks Mandarin because we learn it at school," said Mr. Kim on our way to the guest house. "In China there are a lot of Korean translators. In our schools Korean is used as the teaching language, but of course we also have to learn Mandarin, our national language, so that we can communicate with other ethnic groups in our big country."

"I should like to know how you Koreans here think of yourselves," I asked Mr. Kim. "Do you regard yourselves primarily as Korean or Chinese?"

"Our nationality is Chinese and our ethnic group is Korean," said Mr. Kim. "I do not see a contradiction between my nationality and my ethnic origin."

"Contradictions--conflicts even--between ethnic groups will come to the surface if you do not have a correct ethnic policy," added Lao Wang. "It will turn out badly if you neglect their existence and their rights."

"Do you think you are the real masters of your home region here?" I asked. "Don't you have an idea of forming an independent state or joining North or South Korea? I don't want to cause offence...."

"Don't worry. Ask any questions you wish," said Lao Wang.

"I am sure that our Korean friends will show you everything you need to see."

"Let's go and visit some Korean families," said Mr. …

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