I celebrated my 4th of July day off work by spending hours at the One World, Many Voices program at this year’s Smithsonian Folklife Festival. As you might imagine, I found the whole thing pretty exciting.
As the Independence Day parade wound down, the Mall was filled with tourists exploring exhibits and reading about the threat of language loss and the importance of preserving linguistic diversity.
At the large performance stage, I watched a hula dance demonstration and heard the troupe leader explain how she trains all of her students using the Hawaiian language. Even though some of the students don’t speak Hawaiian fluently, she insists that it is import to immerse them in the language as part of the dance.
I sat among a group of people in a discussion tent to hear Bud Lane and Joe Scott of the Siletz Dee-Ni tribe of Oregon talk about the traditions of harvesting materials for baskets, and about how the tribe is hoping to revive their language by developing “experiential curricula” for school-age children. Joe Scott hopes that his model for getting students out of the fluorescent lighting of the classroom and into the sunshine of the forests and shorelines on Siletz tribal lands can help young Siletz to more fully reconnect with their heritage.
As a bit of an aside, it was a little thrill for me to get to meet Bud Lane in person. I had read so much about him and his work on the Siletz talking dictionary (even the New York Times took notice!) and I really hope to get to speak more with him some day.
For the few short days of the Festival, the vast distances between small language communities disappeared. A group of Garifuna from Belize drummed furiously with a Kalmyk yurt in the background. I was blessed with fire and smoke by the Kallawaya of Bolivia and then with dancing and rice powder by the Koro of northern India, all in the span of half an hour. (How many people will ever get to say that?)
The highlight of my day was that I was asked by the Living Tongues Institute for Endangered Languages to write a guest post for their blog. They invited me to interview speakers of the Koro language, with whom they’ve done significant work over the past few years. After a day full of displays and dances and Q&As, it was so nice to get to sit down with one or two people and just have a conversation.
Sorsomi is the lady speaking to me in the above photo. Though she didn’t speak much English, she spent a long time talking to me about her community and her hopes for her language, and she even sang a song for me. When I asked her if there was a word in Koro that she really loved, this is what she said:
You can read more of what I learned in my interview, and hear the song Sorsomi shared, on my guest post for Living Tongues!
Copyright Allison Taylor-Adams. See About for details.