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Project Highlight: Tonsawang: a collaborative multimedia project documenting an endangered language of North Sulawesi

Today on the ELAR blog, ELDP grantee Tim Brickell discusses a session collected during his documentation project on the Tonsawang language. Tim has been researching endangered languages in North Sulawesi since 2011. His research profile can be viewed here

My ELDP documentation project (IPF0246) involves working with community members from the villages of Silian and Kali Oki’ in the Tonsawang/Toundanow (Malayo-Polynesian > Western Malayo-Polynesian > Philippine > Minahasan) speaking area situated in Southeast Minahasa province, North Sulawesi, Indonesia.

Ariel Pangau, Jan Pelleng, Tim Brickell, Marten Pangau

During the project I have recorded a number of culturally and economically relevant activities, some of which are no longer being passed on to younger generations. After being edited and narrated in the local language, these videos are distributed locally and online and are also used as elicitation stimuli for further linguistic data collection. These videos can be viewed on the ELAR catalogue:

Preparing and cooking vegetable porridge

Making copra

Making palm sugar

Making the ‘kolintang’ musical instrument

Preparing and cooking pork in bamboo

Preparing and cooking ginger rice

Preparing and grilling mujair (talapia) fish)

Making palm sugar brandy

Preparing and cooking vegetable pancake

Preparing and cooking pork skewers

One regularly occurring activity is the collection and utilisation of sap from the palm sugar (Arenga pinnata) tree. I previously recorded this process in Popang forest, approximately 15 kms from Silian village, near the base of the Mt Soputan volcano. Recent heavy rain made access difficult as the trails were extremely muddy. Filming was also challenging due to uneven terrain, insects, and intermittent rainstorms.

To collect the sap, a branch high in the tree is prepared and cut so as to allow the sap to drain into a container which is later collected. The person tasked with this is 16-year-old Krisna Pangau who regularly climbs trees up to 20 metres tall barefoot without any safety equipment. He has been doing this difficult and dangerous work since he was 12 years old.

forest near where session was filmed (Popang)

After collection, the palm sugar sap is used in various ways. It may be drunk directly as palm sugar wine, or tuah, which is sweet when freshly collected and becomes stronger and more sour as it ferments. It may also be distilled into high-alcohol palm brandy, or sopi, or alternatively boiled in a large wok until it thickens, cools, and hardens into the reddish coloured palm sugar or gula mèha’. These products can then be sold and consumed by community members – as they have been for many generations.

Ariel Pangau, Jan Pelleng, Tim Brickell, Marten Pangau

To learn more about Tonsawang/Toundanow, visit Tim’s deposit on the ELAR catalogue. You can also view videos mentioned in this post on YouTube, found here.

Post and photos by Timothy Brickell

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