Carakan, also called Dêntåwyånjånå, is the traditional script used in writing Javanese, as well as Sundanese and Balinese. As a language, Javanese is spoken by approximately 80 millions people. Sadly, few Javanese still know and use Carakan to write their mother tongue.
It was in the 19th century that the Dutch imperialists who, for their own convenience and with disregard for the aesthetic, cultural and historical importance of Carakan, replaced it with the Latin alphabet.
Carakan is probably the best example to illustrate the profound cultural ties with Hindues. Javanese belongs to the Polynesian family languages. And Carakan was based on the ancient Indict script, Brahmin. Their script is clearly the source for the orthographical signs of Javanese. The two written languages share a similar syllabic structure. In fact, Aksårå, the Javanese word for syllables is the same as that in Sanskrit.
With Carakan, a single consonant, which carries with it an assumed vowel, can represent an entire syllable. To change or eliminate the vowel, one need only add small marks known as Sandangan Swårå or Pangku respectively. Clusters of consonants within a syllable are written by adding form of the consonant, known as Pasangan, to the main consonant.
There are also consonant forms called Aksårå Gedhe or Aksåra Murdå that can be used to represent proper names. These shapes and combinations make for a script that has great economy of form. Carakan’s twenty two consonants and six vowels, at once graceful and practical in their combinations of forms can, by comparison, make writing the Latin script seem plodding and cumbersome.
After centuries of great calligraphic tradition, typefaces were developed in the 19th century and were used, with decreasing frequency, up until the World War II. Since that time, Carakan has been reduced to a tool with which scholars explore the rich history of Javanese literature and language.
With each successive generation, the fluent used of Carakan wanes. It is tempting to characterize the decision of the Dutch to replace Carakan with the Latin alphabet as a deliberate act of intellectual aggression.
Whether it was aggression, or mere selfishness, they have no doubt contributed to the increasing distance between the youth of Indonesia and their own culture. It is yet another example of the colonial legacy.
It is through our understanding of our pre-colonial heritage that we can begin to free ourselves from the inferiority that still grips us as a result of colonial oppression.
Just as Marcus Garvey preached to American Blacks that their only freedom was in returning, in their hearts if not bodily, to Africa, we must return to pre-colonial Nusantara.
I do not mean that we must reject modernity, or ignore the last 400 years of history. I simply mean that we must see ourselves as whole and independent from our past colonial oppressors.
Understanding, if not actually readopting Carakan is one step in this journey.