Building on the momentum of London Book Fair 2019: Indonesia as Market Focus, British Council in partnership with Indonesia’s National Organising Committee under the Creative Economy Agency (Bekraf) and the Ministry of Education and Culture has created a series of cultural programmes. As a start, to celebrate the value of understanding of indigenous language, British Council facilitated six young poets from UK and Indonesia to participate in Makassar International Writers Festival (MIWF) to learn about East Indonesia’s indigenous languages and collaborate with UK poets before performing at Contains Strong Language Festival in Hull this coming September 2019. As stated by Paul Smith, British Council Country Director, “Amidst today’s rush of information and conversations, we believe poetry and indigenous languages hold a unique power to preserve and produce knowledge, exchange ideas and bridge differences.” 

The six poets are Mario F. Lawi from Kupang, Muazzammil D. Massa from Gorontalo, Irma Agryanti from Lombok, Rufus Mufasa from Wales, Roseanne Watts from Shetland Isles, and William (Billy) Letford from Scotland. The focus on East Indonesia poets is further supported by founder of MIWF, Lily Yulianti, “It is a bridge to link literature from UK and East Indonesia, where in social, economics, and political aspect are different from West Indonesia especially in Jakarta and Java, which are often used as main reference point.”

The poets spent their time together for almost a week, taking part in programme briefings and discussions for three days during the festival. Each day the poets were presented with different topics of discussion: History of Indonesia with Agustinus Wibowo, Women and Poetry with Avianti Armand, Understanding Indonesian Literature and Poetry with Aan Mansyur, and local languages with Mario F. Lawi. 

On other days every poet performed in various platforms in MIWF including the opening ceremony, reading poetry on a cruise ship boarding to recite poetry under the sunset, and other poetry programmes within the festival. The most interesting one was an event named “Do You Speak Poetry,” where the moderator throws one question that the poets and audience will need to answer in a poetry. There were also two trips to a Karst Area called Rammang-Rammang, and a plant conservatory and eco-tourism called Rumah Hijau Denassa where each poet were brought to see natural sites and understand the local way of living.

Language has always been a means for communication. In a broader sense language is needed not only to understand each other but to understand a culture at large. Poetry itself has the privilege to dissect sound, rhythms, and foreign languages into one meaningful verse which ultimately connect people in different backgrounds. As the poet Irma Agryanti mentions, “Poetry is something that presents cliché and give their meaning an opportunity to become wider.” And here poetry is an instrument to foster forgotten languages to a broader audience.