Before you travel around the world, it’s normal to check out the language of the locals. After all, it is easier to ask for bathroom in a native language, right? Bali, Indonesia is a well-loved tourist destination. English is not that common here since the natives speak Indonesian. However, this is not the case in the deaf community of Bengkala.
Bengkala is a little known village in Bali. Most tourists will not make their way there. It is small and off the beaten path with only about 3,000 people. Yet the way that the villagers talk to each other is unique. They use sign language as their main form of communication.
In the traditional era, deaf people were not seen as equals. It was Aristotle, on one of the oldest records in the world, who said that people could only learn things if they heard them. So deaf people could not learn anything and were not allowed to be taught.
After being condemned for centuries and not allowed the basic rights as people, deaf people finally found their voice. There were a series of people looking into deafness, from Geronimo Cardano, who proved Aristotle’s questionable theory wrong, to Juan Pablo de Bonet who taught deaf children speaking, writing and reading skills.
Talking with Your Hands
If you are speaking with someone who cannot hear what you are saying, you naturally will start to pantomime. You will use your hands to point, shake, or take something to tell the person what you mean.
Naturally, sign language was born. The first public deaf school popped up in 1771 in France. Children from everywhere went there and showed the school the signs they had learned at home. From those, the headmaster made a standard sign language, which is now called Old French Sign Language. That was just the tip of the iceberg. From there, other schools popped up, including American Sign Language.
Bali Sign Language
So while the world was working on a way to let the hearing and the deaf talk to one another, the deaf community of Bengkala had already created their own version. Few people in the world learn sign language on a whim, but the entire village of Bengkala uses their own version.
While it is not always the first language in the village, you can be sure that it is taught as a second or third language. Children are taught to use it from an early age so it comes naturally and does not seem out of place.
The DFNB3 Trouble
The reason that so many people use the local sign language is because they have a higher than normal amount of deaf people. It is 15 times higher there than anywhere else in the world, and is thought to have gone down in recent years than it was before.
They found that many people in the village carry a recessive gene called DFNB3, which has been tracked back at least seven generations. Because it is recessive, deaf parents may have hearing children and vice versa.
Related: Fun Facts about Trinidad and Tobago
Treatment of the Deaf
Unlike the sad history of deafness in Europe, Benkala does not look at it as a bad thing. There is no discrimination of deaf people within the village. Deafness is a part of their culture.
A common belief in the village is that deafness is a gift from the god of the dead, Dewa Kolok. But another belief is that the village was cursed by two magicians who cursed one another with deafness. Either way, the deaf are thought to be tougher, more loyal, and more honest than the hearing and are often hired as local guards because of those traits.
Traditions of the Deaf Community of Bengkala
In the Bengkala School, children are not separated between the hearing and the deaf. They are all taught that both are normal. As a community, they do not see the deafness as an oddity since it is their norm.
The younger generation of the deaf has tapped into modern forms of speaking as well, including smart phones, computers, and international sign language. It has allowed the youth to speak to the deaf on a global level, something they could not do before.
The Oneness of the People
The most special thing about the deaf community of Bengkala is not that everyone can use sign language, which is just remarkable. It is special that the community does not see the deaf as a different kind of person. They are all in it together, as a unified community.
While Bengkala is amazing, it is not the only village in the world with sign language as a main language. There are also villages in India, Turkey, Thailand, and Jamaica, among others, who use a village sign language. While they are losing some due to the ability to communicate outside of the village, they are not all gone and only prove what humans can do when together.
Related – Martha’s Vineyard Deaf Community?
Martha’s Vineyard, a popular island off the coast of Massachusetts, had a thriving deaf community for about 250 yards. The island had been isolated and mostly had fishing and whaling towns. Because of the small population and a mutated gene, the island had more deaf residents than most places in the United States.
As deafness was pretty common, no one saw it as a disability. Hearing residents would learn sign language from friends or family who needed them to use it and it started to be used all over. Fishermen started using it between themselves. It, like the Bengkala sign language, was unique to Martha’s Vineyard and was not found elsewhere.
Inside Bengkala, the Indonesian village where 80% of residents use sign language