Nè’ne xàñúun a’ó
mbi’i rí nìrugáan,
àtsíyáa rí xùgii rí núñaa ikháán núñí ikhúún nye’,
nìndxá’wa ló’ ná nixphíbí rìga ràwúan,
ná nìgrigá’ ló’ gàjmíí anjgián’ ló’
khamí xuge’ nángua rá,
náa màro’ó gà’khó rìge rá,
tsá jàyá ìdxúu xuajíín ro’,
naa krùse màxtrigùùn ñò’ón tsí nudii a’ó rá,
naa júbà màxkhámaa nàkuáa’
xùge rí nanbra’á mìnaa ngàmí xùbía’
khamí nàgajáa iñúu tsìá’ ló’ rá.
Mi voz se hizo nido
El día que te agarraron,
¿Qué no saben que todo lo que te hagan me lo hacen a mí?,
aullé el relámpago en tu boca,
donde anduvimos con los nuestros
y ahora, ya no,
¿Dónde amarraré este dolor que enciende la esperanza?
¿Quién traerá la cabeza del pueblo?
¿En qué cruces colgaré aves que sepultan mi lengua?
¿En qué tierra he de encontrar tus pasos,
ahora, que tu cuerpo se acobija en el miedo
y crece la espiga de nuestra rabia?
Fragmento de Piel de tierra, de Hubert Matiúwàa,
escrito en mè´phàà, lengua indígena hablada en México.
Indigenous peoples are not pages of a distant past. According to United Nations data, there are currently more than five thousand groups (about 370 million people) that claim to be indigenous peoples and try to live based on a millennial vision inherited from their ancestors. They represent 15% of the poorest people in the world and many of the seven thousand languages they speak are endangered.
According to a 2017 study of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, every two weeks an indigenous language becomes extinct. The linguistic reservoir of a community is not only made up of words. Languages entail traditional knowledge and represent an invaluable intangible cultural heritage. Their extinction implies the loss of cultural practices and unique forms of interaction between people, societies and nature. They are the most visible expression of cultural diversity and the essence of their identity, so a real threat to its extinction hinders their chances of survival.
370 million people claim to be part of indigenous peoples.
The preservation of this intangible cultural heritage is a right. In 2007, by resolution of the General Assembly, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was adopted. It establishes that indigenous peoples have the right to educate and have access to their cultures in their own language. In turn, it declares that the State has the obligation of ensuring this right.
There are different examples of public policies in this respect.
For example, in 2003, Mexico’s National Indigenous Language Institute (also known as INALI) was created, aimed at promoting, strengthening, preserving and developing indigenous languages throughout the country, and to provide counseling to all government areas in order to develop public policies on the matter. Among some of the institute’s activities, in cooperation with universities and public bodies, there is the Prize for Indigenous Literatures of America (PLIA), an initiative that seeks to recognize and encourage the literary creations of writers of indigenous languages. In the 2017 edition, poet Hubert Matiúwàa was awarded the prize for his book “Las sombrereras de Tsítsídiin” written in mè´phàà, his mother tongue.
Every two weeks, an indigenous language becomes extinct.
Another related practice is the one conducted by the Bolivian Plurinational Electoral Body, which along with the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, translated the State’s Political Constitution into three indigenous languages: aimara, quechua and guaraní. It was the first time that the constitution was translated into native languages, spoken by 80% of the population.
There are initiatives and projects without the participation of the States that contribute to the preservation of indigenous languages. In Argentina, the band Tonolec has been working for 20 years with this and has recently released a new album called “Mitai”, a repertoire of native children’s songs in different indigenous languages. Tonolec is a duet from the north of the country formed by Charo Bogarín and Diego Pérez. From the beginning, the band stood out because it offered a fusion of ethnic and electronic genres and a selection of songs performed in native languages like guaraní or qom.
Precisely, the name of their latest album, Mitai, is a word that means child in guaraní and that is still used in the northern Argentine shoreline and in other countries in the region. The album offers a journey through ancient stories and legends that make up the guaraní idiosyncrasy and influence.
Tonolec’s work becomes more important if we consider the Argentine data on indigenous languages. Although the last national census conducted in 2010 confirmed that almost 1 million people (2.8% of the population) are part of or descend from indigenous peoples, and that most of their languages are at risk. According to the UNESCO Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger, there are thirteen endangered languages: three in a vulnerable situation (pliagá, wichí and Bolivian guaraní); five endangered (mocobi, quechua of Santiago del Estero, toba, manjui and avá-guaraní); four seriously endangered (mapuche, mbya guaraní, chorote Iyojwa’ja and tapieté) and one in critical situation (chaná).
Not only are public policies important for the promotion of human rights, but it is also important that societies communicate and claim for the diversity of their languages.
Charo Bogarín, singer of the band, has an optimistic vision. “As artists, I think it is important to focus part of our work on those who will be our future. We all know that thought and identity are formed through artistic expressions and it is beautiful to think that our new generations may be singing in native languages naturally, thinking about diversity,” he explained in an interview with an Argentine media company.
For UNESCO, the preservation of languages is essential since “all languages reflect a unique vision of the world, with its own system of values, specific philosophy and specific cultural characteristics. (…) every time that a language becomes extinct, humanity loses diversity and cultural wealth. With each extinction, societies also loose part of their history and origins.” Consequences are not small. Diego Pérez from Tonolec states: “A person is like a tree. If the root is not strong, it cannot be a strong tree and the wind may take it down.”