Reviving a Dying Language

Reviving a Dying Language

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SFX: Voices of Yaaku elders singing traditional hunting song, fade under then out smoothly.

This song the Yaaku people used to sing when going to hunt is just a shred of the once rich culture of hunters and gatherers who would later get assimilated to the neighbouring superior nomadic pastoralist Maasai culture. Doldol town is in the semi arid land of the Yaaku people on the west of Mount Kenya and North of Nairobi in Laikipia North district. Maasai is dominantly spoken here besides Gikuyu, Meru and Somali, but never mention Yaaku. By the year 1983, there were only about fifteen speakers of original Yaaku dialect. Only three seniors are left now. Johanna Saroney Ole Matunge is eighty four years old; Stephen Leitiko is aged Seventy eight and Leteiyo Ole Leitigo is seventy five.

INSERT 1: Elders on death of Yaaku speakers.

(Na iko yebanoi, na iko mama ngine inaitwa Ngong Narok, hata yeye ameaga dunia, iko moja tena Koriia aliaga, amekuwa kwa manyatta iko hapa chini, ameenda, iko wengi… wameenda)

(Yebanoi is dead… Ngong Naroku is dead… Koriia died, her Manyatta was down here…many elderly Yaakus are dead now)

It is feared when these elders will die, the Yaaku language will also die with them. How are these people whose culture and language are on the brinks of extinction living?

SFX: Sounds of birds under voices of the elderly men conversing.

I met the Yaaku elders at Johanna Saroney Ole Matunge’s home in Kurikuri village.

SFX: Voices of Yaaku elders singing traditional song…fade out smoothly.

INSERT 2: Elders on extinction of Yaaku culture.

Leitiko: Wamaasai kwa wengi wao ndio walikuja kufifia hii lugha ya Yaaku.

(The maasai were many and they eroded our culture)

Saroney: Tunaogopa hata kusema tunasema wakusema ndorobo hii nyama(laughter).

(We feared them. They always ridiculed us).

Arnold: Ndorobo… what does it mean?

Leitiku: Yaani wawindaji. Ni watu hawana mifugo, ngombe mbuzi hana ni watu ya kunywa asali na kuwinda nyama. Msituni.

(It was abusive. People without livestock who lived on honey and hunting wildlife).

Hao walikuwa wengi tena hawa wako na mali nyingi ambayo si ya kuwinda kama wanyama msituni wako na ngombe,kondoo na mbuzi na tena iko kwa nyumba. Kitu alichukua mila kabisa ni sababu ya kuowana wasichana… kubadilishana wasichana hawa sasa wanachukua wasichana ya kwetu, ya Yaaku.

(Maasais were many. They had livestock and lived in houses too. We were just hunters and gatherers living in the forest. They started marrying our girls.)

Saroney: Walikuwa wanapenda wasichana wetu sana.

(They loved our daughters very much.)

Leitiko: Sasa halafu sisi tunapatiwa mali waliona tabia yao ni wasichana ambaye wanaweza kuwa ni watu wazuri wanapokuwa wanaishi na bwana yao.

(Our daughters made good wives for them. They loved them. They could give us livestock in return.)

Saroney: Na tena tulikuwa tu nawabadilishana na asali.

(We used to give them honey.)

Joahana lives in a traditional Maasai hut made of rafters smeared with cow dung in a special homestead called Manyatta. His ancestors lived in caves in Mukogodo forest. His home is not very far from the forest. He owned livestock but the on-going drought killed them all.

SFX: Sounds of footsteps and wind blowing. Fade under then introduce conversation in forest then fade out smoothly.

The elders still depend on the forest for food and traditional medicine.

INSERT 3: A tour and conversation in the forest.

SFX: Sounds of leaves as we pick fruits and wind blowing.

The weather is very windy here in Mukogodo forest.

Elder Leitiku: Hii hii hapana mbaya.

(This one is good)

SFX: Sounds of leaves as we pick fruits.

Euro… euro…

Arnold: That’s how you call them?

SFX: Sounds of leaves as we pick fruits.

The Kenyan government gazetted the forest as a state reserve twenty years ago. Members of the community are not happy. Mr. Manasseh Ole Matunge, son to Johana Saroney is the chairman of Yaaku cultural council. An organization formed by members of this minority group about four years

INSERT 4: Manasseh on repossession of forest.

We are seeing the danger of our forest also disappearing because of being associated with government land so we are also claiming this forest the government should hand it over purely to the yaaku people so that the ownership goes back to the people of Yaaku. If the government still claims that it’s a government forest then it becomes a no man’s land.

The forest is an important site to Yaaku’s heritage. According to elder Leitiku.

INSERT 5:m Leitiku on the importance of Mukogodo forest.

Tunataka hii musitu ilindwe na wenyewe madawa tuko ya kila ugonjwa katika hii musituni hata chakula enyewe kwa sababu tukipata asali tukipata matunda ile yake ya zamani ni msaada yetu kabisa kwa kila njia.

(We want the forest to be taken care of by us the owners. We get medicine, wild fruits and honey. It supports our lives.)

They want to be recognized through representation. Elder Leitiku again.

INSERT 6: Leitiku on representation.

Tangu Kenya ijinyakulie uhuru tumesahauliwa hatu kuwa na mwakilishi ya kutoka hapa yaaku. Tunahitaji tuwakilishwe katika serikali yetu tukufu.

(Since Kenya’s independence, we the Yaaku have been forgotten. We now want to be represented in government.)

Encheere is Yaaku for God. But they consistently use Nkai in prayers, which is Maasai for God.

SFX: Voices of elders praying. Fade under then out.

Over the last four years, the Yaaku Cultural Council has made major strides by teaching roots and culture of Yaaku people to the younger kins. Kurikuri primary school is the center for Yaaku language lessons.

SFX: Sound of bell ringing and voices of children singing after a Yaaku elder.

I am in a classroom which has been built by the French embassy here in Kenya and this class will be facilitating yaaku lessons which will be offered by yaaku elders to the children of this community and members who will be willing to learn the Yaaku language.

SFX: Voices of children singing after the elder.

This is the only community elementary education center here. No form of Yaaku literature is in writing except one language manual written in Maasai and translated to Yaaku.

SFX: Voice of children being taught a song. Fadeout then introduce children clapping hands.

Moffat Matunge is one of the beneficiary pupils.

INSERT 7: Interaction with pupil.

What can you say about the lessons which the elders are giving you?

Moffat: They help us in a good way.

How will the lessons help you?

Moffat: They teach us good news in our traditional society.

Mr. Mwangi Migwi is the head teacher.

INSERT 8: Head teacher on recommendations.

If we can start it from the nursery school and kindergarten probably and have a teacher who is also probably trained and also the ministry of education to intervene and probably have more materials on the new language.

There is also a Yaaku cultural museum.

SFX: Birds. People conversing under. Then fade out smoothly.

Traditional Yaaku relics like snuff containers, spears they used to hunt wild animals, arrows and bows, headrests and beehives are stored in the cultural store. Mr. James Ntule is the chairman of the facility.

Arnold: And what are these?

SFX: Sounds of guards and artifacts crumbling.

James: This is Richongoro. It’s used to store honey. Also it’s used to store fat…

James: From goats, sheep…this is wooden. (Knocks the guard with knuckles)It’s curved from a certain tree known as lushimi. This lid is made of a skin. It is leather …enhee. This is honey bag; it’s used during the harvest of honey for carrying it. It is made of leather.

Both: Laughter.

Arnold: How is it called?

James: Njambuke.
Arnold: (plays njambuke – a traditional guitar) this is njambuke? Enhee.

SFX: Sound of Njambuke playing under.

Is the state of Kenya committed to assist in reviving perishing cultures and languages? Professor Kithaka wa Mberiah is a linguist at the University of Nairobi.

INSERT 8: Prof. Mberiah on non commitment.

“Reviving a language that is faced with death requires expertise, finances, determination and we don’t see any of those forthcoming. Am not aware of any institutional structures that are put in place to ensure that yaaku is revived, there is nothing in Kenya either in the ministry of culture or ministry of education that has put in place measures to ensure that the Elmoro doesn’t disappear, the Okiek doesn’t disappear…losing a language, any language is like burning a huge library.”

The Kenya cultural center has done little to the Yaaku community: just Documenting a few of the artifacts currently in the museum. The work was paid for by Yaaku people. According to an official who wished not to be quoted, lack of funds for scientific research on important cultural information is a major problem.

But professor Mberiah has a clue on what should be done in reviving dying languages like Yaaku.

INSERT 9: Prof. Mberiah on recommendation.

If we take an indigenous Kenyan language and you have theatre in that language and you have poetry in that language and you have political discourse in that language and you have economic discussion in that language, then that makes it more vital than if the only time you talked about that language was the only time when there is some small ceremony in the village.

SFX: Yaaku men praying, under then out.

The sun is slowly setting for these elders. They hope before they die, they will have left behind strong Yaaku roots for their kin and keath. That’s their prayer.

SFX: Yaaku men praying. Out.

This is Arnold Ageta for Radio Kisima.

Born and raised in Western Kenya, Arnold studied Journalism and Public Relations. He has worked in both radio and TV and is a CBA-One World Media 2011 award winner for the best program produced in a developing country. Arnold has excellent audio visual production skills; he worked for Hope Channel TV and now works for Radio Kisima FM as Head of Programs. He also owns a TV production house, Argertta Communications. Arnold seeks to write and produce youth-related stories on various issues for Vijana FM. Radio/TV features are his specialization.

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