Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Esperanto in Borneo

His name was known
in Borneo
On Sunday, January 13, 1907, the Washington Times included an article about Esperanto in its magazine section. It looks at the great prospects predicted for Esperanto in the coming years. To put this into some historical context: the meeting where Ido was unveiled was still about ten months away. In 1907, things were looking up for Esperanto.

The item in the Times is just a bit of a puff piece. We get a nice picture of Dr. Zamenhof, and a summary of some of the things that are going on around the world. The subhead states “Religious papers publishing primers of new tongue and missionaries in Borneo are using this language.” Were there really Esperanto speakers in Borneo? Yes, there were.

Things looked pretty good for Esperanto when the Times gave its beginning of year summary of the progress of Esperanto.
Impetus for “Esperanto”
Religious Papers Publishing Primers of New Tongue and
Missionaries in Borneo Are Using This Language.
“Esperanto”[1] —the universal language originated by Dr. Ludwig L. Zamenhof—and which was much ridiculed at the outset, now has received a great impetus.

Two years ago, or more, the far-seeing Pope Pius X testified his appreciation of this vital condition by conferring his benediction upon all Esperantists and their cause, and during the recent congress, he authorized the celebraiton of a mass in Esperanto in a church at Geneva.[2] On the same Sunday services in Esperanto were conducted in a Protestant church, affording, wrote the Frenchman Rene de Saussure,[3] “a very uncommon spectacle—the simultaneous Catholic mass and Protestant services, in the same language, enabling the people to choose between the preaching of an English clergyman and a Spanish priest.”[4] And after the services, in the parks and on the quays of Geneva, “all fraternized cordially, forgetting for a little while all of those things which under ordinary circumstances would have set them apart.”[5]

For some weeks various organs of the religious process have been publishing a primer in Esperanto for beginners. The North American Review has taken up the cudgels for the new language.

The proof of the utility of Esperanto has been demonstrated in a number of instances, it is shown in an article by Prof. George Macloskie, of Princeton University, in another part of the same issue of the Review. Speaking of those who are already employers of the new lingua franca he says:

“Remembering that some * * *[6] are grandly idealistic and poetical in their contact with this subject, I must confess that most of the crowder only commonplace people who fancy that the international tongue can be of service one way or another. Of this sort I suppose are the army and navy offices, who hope it find it useful in their relations, friendly or otherwise with outsiders; and the London business people and county councils, who are spending it though the schools with small regard for its idealism; and the worthy Roman Catholic friends, like the French priests, who are said to be turning the Gospel of Mark into Esperanto; and men like Editor Peltier of Tours, and Dr. O’Connor, of London, whose excellent text book is used by many of us. Dr. Wherry, the Indian missionary, informs me that missionaries in Borneo are already using it for corresponding with their patrons in Europe.”

“Now that the acceptance of the language as a utilitarian medium of communication has been made in some quarters,” says the Literary Digest, “it evidently appears to its advocates time to emphasize the idealism at the base of the movement. Dr. Zamenhof, the inventor of the speech, who insisted at the first congress, which assembled at Boulogne, that only the utility of the language should be emphasized, dwelt upon this other phase of the subject at the second congress of Esperantists, held recently.” The following is from his address:

“To the indifferent world Esperanto can only be a matter of practical utility. Every one who uses Esperanto or who works in its behalf is an Esperantist; and every Esperantist has a perfect right to see in Esperanto merely a language, simple, unemotional, calculated to be understood by all the nations, like the marine signal code, though more perfect.”
So, about those Esperantists in Borneo. It wasn’t just the missionaries. Later that year, sixty two people founded the Philippines Esperanto Association. Member #1 was Dr. H. W. Yemans, who three years later would be chairing the Universala Kongreso in Washington. (The membership numbers in the first issue run from 1 through 55, with seven unnumbered members at the end of the list.) It clearly wasn’t just missionaries writing to Europeans looking for some financial support.

The Philippines Esperanto Circular (July 1907) is mostly in English, with some Spanish, and a small amount of Esperanto. There is an apology for the English crowding out the Spanish and Filipino.
We must ask the Spanish and Filipino sections to excuse our devoting so much space to English in this issue, but, as has been explained, time did not allow of our doing otherwise.
By August 1907, the membership had increased to more than 174 members (that many are listed with a note that not all could be), and the publication has been re-named the Filipina Esperantisto. Membership reached 286 by the September issue. In the first three issues, I did not see a word of Filipino. Nor do these early numbers of the journal seem to have anything to do with Christian missionaries.

Finally, please note that unlike the New York Sun, the Washington Times was not under that mistaken belief that Esperanto was created by a Spaniard.

  1. Why is this in quotation marks? I haven’t the foggiest.  ↩
  2. The birthplace of the Reformation.  ↩
  3. de Saussure was Swiss, born in Geneva. Not a Frenchman.  ↩
  4. I’m going to assume that the Spanish priest was at the head of the Catholic service, while the Protestant service got the Englishman.  ↩
  5. In the original, the quotation mark isn’t closed. It either goes here, or directly after cordially.  ↩
  6. The omitted words are “like Zamenhof and Münsterberg.” Macloskie wrote that Münsterberg had written an article that  ↩
    attacks and condemns Esperanto for the sins of the dead Volapük. Its arguments give no indication that the water knows anything about either of the languages; and all of his arguments, except the opening discussion of the spelling reform, appear to be simply a popularization of the arguments of Professor Richard Hamel, in a German work which was published when Dr. Münsterberg was a junior professor in Freiburg.

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