Introduction / History
The Belitung live on Belitung Island in Bangka-Belitung Province. The Belitung call themselves Urang Belitong. The Belitung language is a branch of the Malay language cluster. A distinctive feature of their language is that it does not have the letter 'h' and that they use the letter 'e' (as in the vowel in the word 'bet') at the end of words that normally end with an 'a'. For example hujan (rain) becomes ujan, putih (white) becomes pute, and apa (what) becomes ape. Another distinctive feature is that they use derived terms from two or more words. For example, hendak kemana (where do you want to go) becomes nakmane. This is similar to Bangka language, but Bangka uses the phoneme /e/, which is similar to the "a" in the English word 'mate'.
What are their lives like?
The Belitung island is considered important because of its tin mines. Many earn their livelihood from mining tin and kaolin (a soft white clay essential in the manufacturing of china and porcelain). Others work as traders, fishermen, boat builders, iron smiths or office workers. Only a small part of the land is suitable for rice cultivation. Planting rice is usually done with slash-and burn farming techniques. Besides dry rice farming, they also plant corn, cassava, sweet potatoes, and banana trees. Other crops include rubber, pepper, cloves, and coconut. The handicraft industries developed by the Belitung are porcelain, ceramic, and rattan crafts. The traditional Belitung house is built on wooden supports with bark walls and roofs of sago palm leaves. They also build temporary villages near the jungle to be used during the harvest. Currently, the traditional homes have begun to be replaced with homes made of brick and concrete. These homes are built on the ground rather than off the ground, due to increasingly restrictive regulations on forest logging. The ancestry of the Belitung can be traced through the line of either the father or the mother. A village is formed by a group of families, called a keleka. The keleka is led by a traditional chief and his assistants and has its own regulations. The religious leader is a shaman who leads the religious ceremonies of the village.
What are their beliefs?
The Belitung adhere to Islam which came to the area around the 17th century. Besides Islam, many Belitung also believe in animism and superstitions. These beliefs are focused on seeking protection through magic by either appeasing or controlling both good and bad spirits. This can be seen in their ceremonies for working the rice fields, fishing, and weddings. They still believe in magical forces that inhabit sacred places. They also have many taboos. One of these can be seen in how they believe tin must be mined. They believe that tin is a 'hot' object and guarded by a spirit. If the miner is not Belitung, he will not be successful.
What are their needs?
They need guidance to develop their job skills. The small industries that already exist, such as handicrafts and ironworking, need more professional management so that they can achieve greater success. They need help to develop alternative sources of income, as the tin reserves are being depleted and mining it has taken a toll on the environment.
Text source: Copyright © PJRN - Indonesian National Research Network. Used with permission.