To celebrate International Women’s Day 2019, we asked our depositors to share stories of amazing women they have worked with in communities around the world. Many of these contributions are collected here – scroll through and learn more about women around the world who are supporting and leading language documentation and revitalisation projects.
Anu Jebisow (contributed by Vijay D’Souza, Documentation and Description of Hrusso Aka Language of Arunachal Pradesh)
Anu is a major driving force behind women’s empowerment initiatives in and around her village, including women’s cooperatives. She considers her language an indispensable ally in her determined and courageous fight for women’s rights. “We can be fully ourselves only when we speak in our language. Every woman in the village feels included and free to express herself when we speak in Hrusso. Speaking in a different language to one another is alienating. Our language is our identity, heritage and our voice. It needs to be preserved and passed on,” she explains.
Auxiliadora (Dora) Figueiredo was just twelve when the Khumuno Wʉ’ʉ Kotiria School was founded and began its efforts to strengthen and document the language and culture of this indigenous people of the northwest Amazon. Dora quickly became one of the most fluent writers using the newly developed orthography. Dora was a member of the Kotiria Language Documentation team and because of her outstanding work, was invited to be the leader of the indigenous research team currently involved in further documentation of Kotiria. She is a shining example of dedication to the preservation of her language and cultural heritage.
Daria I. Nadeina (contributed by Brigitte Pakendorf and Natalia Aralova, Documentation of Negidal, a nearly extinct Northern Tungusic language of the Lower Amur)
Daria I. Nadeina, the last fluent Negidal speaker, is extraordinary in many respects. She trained as a primary school teacher and became the head of the village administration, a position she held for 15 years. In the 1990s she became one of the first Negidal activists: she teaches the language and culture to children and adults, has participated in producing various pedagogical materials, and organizes workshops on traditional handicrafts. Daria I. Nadeina was made an honorary citizen of Poliny Osipenko district, Russia: the only woman among 11 such honorary citizens!
Doña Juana Hernández (contributed by Claudine Chamoreau, A Cross-Varietal Documentation and Description of Pech, a Chibchan language of Honduras)
Doña Juana Hernández is a native Pesh speaker born near Culmi in Honduras. She has a good knowledge of plants and their traditional use for culinary and medicinal purposes. She is working preparing and selling plants for curing people.
Doña Juana Hernández is the first and the sole woman who was chief of the Tribal Council of Moradel and Silin, she is a very clever woman. She is a very persuasive and dynamic woman who is a leader in her community. She also has represented Pesh people in National meetings (see the documentary on Youtube: “What went out from us has come back written. Documentation Project in the Pesh language”.
Philomena Agnes Singho & Sara Frederica Santa Maria (contributed by Stefanie Pillai, Malacca Portuguese Creole: A Portuguese-based Creole)
Philomena is a force to be reckoned with when it comes to keeping Malacca Portuguese or Papiá Cristang alive. She has embraced the use of social media by posting a word a day on the Linggu de Mai (‘Mother Language’) Facebook page from her home in the Portuguese Settlement in Malacca. Philomena has also contributed to the production of materials on Malacca Portuguese. She is co-author of Beng Prende Portugues Malaka (‘Come Learn Malacca Portuguese’), and is part of a team that has developed a soon-to-be-available mobile app, BibePortMal (‘Live Malaca Portuguese’). Philo is full of passion for the Malacca Portuguese language and culture and has turned her passion into concrete actions through her popular Facebook page, and her contributions in the book and language app, which are just some of the initiatives she has been involved in.
Sara shares traditional Malacca Portuguese or Cristang cuisine and this feisty mother of four boys also teachers young children traditional Malacca Portuguese songs and dances. Her dance troupe Tropa de Santa Maria has performed in Singapore and Kuala Lumpur. Sara also teaches Malacca Portuguese at her home in the Portuguese Settlement, and was part of the team that produced a CD of prayers in Malacca Portuguese, a book (Beng Prende Portugues Malaka), and a mobile app of a dictionary of Malacca Portuguese. Sara’s philosophy is to share as much about Malacca Portuguese language and culture as possible with the younger generation.
!Un|nobe Morethlwa (contributed by Megan Biesele, Ju|’hoan Audio & Video Material 1970 to Present: A Work in Progress)
!Un|nobe Morethlwa was in her 60s in Western Ngamiland, Botswana, during the 1970s. She was a gifted storyteller, bead artist, social analyst, and musician. Her influence led to the Ju|’hoan-language collection at ELAR; the beadwork collection now at !Khwa ttu Cultural and Heritage Center in South Africa; the founding of the Kalahari Peoples Fund (KPF: supporting educational, cultural, and human rights projects in southern Africa for more than 40 years); and the collection of Ju|’hoan and other San music distributed by Smithsonian Folklife Records and now KPF.
Dora Manchado (contributed by Javier Domingo, Developing a collaborative research project with the last speaker of Aonekko ‘a’ien from Patagonia)
Despite history, the Tehuelche language from Patagonia was still remembered by Dora Manchado, who passed away only a few days ago. She was regarded as the “last speaker” of this language as well as the spirit of the Tehuelche ethnic recognition and revival.
Dora taught me that language is not something that can be written down, stored, or “saved”. She knew perfectly well that language not only means interaction, but also trust, complicity, naughtiness, and intimacy. She proved to me that language means sharing and company. Thanks to the recordings she made, the rest of the community members now have, if they want, the possibility of affirming their past and reconstructing their identity.
Nakl, Dora, pai ‘eneguem. Thanks for your help.
Krenpy (contributed by Bernat Bardagil, A Digital Documentation of Panará)
In the Panará village of Nãnsêpotiti, Krenpy of the Krerõantêra clan is what comes closest to a female political leader, a role typically restricted to men. She embodies the Panará ideal of a proactive hard-working woman, and is respected as a storyteller and a custodian of traditional knowledge. Krenpy also acts as a caretaker for the village in her role as a shaman, healing those who suffer various afflictions.
Natalya Tutaeva (contributed by Arzhaana Syuryun, Documentation and revitalization of Tofa: fieldwork with the last speakers)
Natalya Tutaeva is one of the most active people in Tofa settlements, Russia. Living life in a remote place and therefore getting delayed help from the authorities, Natalya Tutaeva tries to solve the problems of locals in all the possible ways: if there is a problem, many locals come or call her and ask for her help with any unsolved problems. Natalya Tutaeva does not know the Tofa language well but does not let this interfere with her desire to study it with her grandchildren and she delivers the message of how necessary it is to know the mother tongue to her fellow community members.
Tshering Sgrolma (contributed by by Henriëtte Daudey, Documentation of Northern Prinmi oral art, with a special focus on ritual speech)
Tshering Sgrolma is gifted with an amazing memory and a beautiful soft voice. As a small girl she would hear old people sing the traditional songs and she would be able to repeat them instantly. Now that the older people have gone, she is the only one in her area who can still sing the old songs.
The Mhpang Gumgai, Găja Kaw Ja Awn (contributed by Stephen Morey, Singpho Language of North East India (including Turung))
“I would like to honour a lady who’s now known as the Mhpang Gumgai (meaning she is the widow of a man who was called Gumgai) and whose photo leads the Singpho Language page.”
The Mhpang Gumgai of Nhtem village, whose personal name is Găja Kaw Ja Awn, was born in about 1935 in the Singpho community in Upper Assam, India. She has preserved many of the Singpho traditions that are otherwise being lost. She is an expert herbalist, a practitioner of traditional healing, and a singer of the Singpho songs and teller of stories.
Warkusha Angucha (contributed by Simon Overall, Documentation of Kandozi and Chapra (Candoshi-Shapra) in Loreto, Peru)
Chapra women in north Peru maintain a rich tradition of composing and performing songs on bittersweet themes of nostalgia and loss. Within this tradition, the elder Warkusha Angucha stands out, commanding great respect as an accomplished performer in spite of her physical frailty, and moving the audience to tears with her acutely poignant lyrics.
Lhamo Yangzom and Tsutri Wangmo (contributed by Agnes Conrad, Grammar of Minyag, a minority language of Western Sichuan)
Lhamo and Tsutri, from Xinlong (Nyagrong) County, China, are native speakers of Minyag. They are brave and brilliant young women who spent their winter vacation studying language documentation, jumping headfirst into figuring out how to manage metadat, and even facing fears of heights when visiting elderly speakers in remote locations. Lhamo is currently planning a community film project with a friend, and Tsutri is preparing a thesis on her native language.
Deborah Munmbo and Rebecca Ndigbil (contributed by Bukunmi Ogunsola, Documentation of Len-Mambila)
Deborah and Rebecca stand out among Bang people. Both are custodian of the almost lost art of basket weaving they learnt as teenagers. Both women are grandmothers and combine laborious farming and distant trekking with the rigors of weaving.
Valentina Dedyk (contributed by Alexander King, Koryak Ethnopoetics: Stories from Herders and Maritime Villagers)
Valentina is an indigenous Siberian woman. Her higher education provides her with a career and she is the main wage earner in her household. In addition to raising her own children, she is also the guardian of two nieces who have lost their mothers to domestic violence or TB.
In addition to all this, she is one of the youngest fully fluent speakers of Koryak and works each week on transcribing and translating some of the hundreds of hours of recordings she has made of elders telling stories. This material is often incorporated as material for language revitalization curricula she is developing for Koryak in Kamchatkan schools.
Rosa Gavião (contributed by Dennis Moore, Language documentation with a focus on traditional culture among the Gavião and Suruí of Rondônia)
Rosa Gavião is a woman in her seventies who is working to transmit traditional language and culture to the younger generation. She has appeared in videos explaining how to make hammocks, how to make pottery, and how to use a traditional mouth harp, aside from explaining traditional cooking (with certain dishes consumed in the village and others eaten when moving through the forest) and traditional ideas about conception, pregnancy and birth.
The recordings give the young a vivid feeling for how life was in her youth, when she was awakened in the early morning, took a cold bath in the river, and began working hours before the sun came up.
Kadagoi Rawad Forepiso (contributed by Danielle Barth, Matukar Panau corpus building for the study of language use in context)
Kadagoi Rawad Forepiso’s was stopped from going to school after she averted an attack on herself as an adolescent and sent her would-be assaulter to jail. His brothers and he wrote a song about her while in prison called Kadagoi ong hum haiyan ‘Kadagoi, your behaviour is no good’. Hardly. But even though she missed out on school, she is a savvy and respected woman, holding much traditional knowledge. Unlike many women in Matukar village in Papua New Guinea, she participates in cava ceremonies and doles out advice. She is strong and has raised strong daughters, granddaughters and now great-granddaughters.
Asnakech Ayssa (contributed by Azeb Amha, Documentation of house construction and terrace farming in Zargulla, an endangered Omotic language)
Asnakech Ayssa served as a chair-person of Women’s Association in Zargulla, Southwest Ethiopia. She enabled two of her daughters to obtain university education, one in ICT and the other in education. In primary school, Asnakech herself was recognized as exceptionally bright. However, her father died when she was in grade four and her mother could not afford to keep her at school.
Asnakech quit school but the seven teachers in her school brought her back to class, covering all of her costs themselves. She could not continue to high school because it required that she move away from home and people convinced Asnakech’s mother that further education is not beneficial for girls.
For years, the family of four women worked hard in farming and trade. Asnakech is now highly regarded in Zargulla. She regards being able to pay for the education of her seven children as her biggest achievement and mission in her life.
Janet Nial (contributed by Miriam Meyerhoff, Documentation of N’kep (north Vanuatu))
Janet was five years old in 1980 when secessionist rebels mounted a machine gun attack on her village, Hog Harbour, in Vanuatu. Her decision to share her memories of that day, including the flight to safety in caves by the ocean and the miserable night that followed with no food or sleep, started a project that ended up involving the whole village in a DVD that re-enacted and memorialised the events and those who lived through it.
Wu Decai is one of the last fluent speakers of the Duoxu language. She has an amazing memory for her age (she is 82!) and can recall minute details of things that happened in her youth. She is a gifted storyteller with an amazing knowledge of traiditonal Duoxu customs and culture. She works actively on the promotion of Duoxu, hoping to pass it on to her grand- and grad-grandchildren.
Rosa Mías Murayari (contributed by Rosa Vallejos, The Kokama-Kokamilla Documentation Project)
Rosa (Kukama, Amazon of Peru) is an amazing storyteller, teacher, draftswoman, basket weaver, and an expert in flora and fauna. She is committed to the revitalization of her ancestral language, and has produced several resources including a bilingual dictionary, reading books, instructional videos, among others.
Yvonne Sailé (contributed by Jean Rohleder, Documentation and description of Vamale, an endangered language of New Caledonia)
Yvonne is a mother of four, wife to a chief, tribeswoman, and cultural treasure. She tells traditional stories and composes texts, fables and songs in several languages to teach coming generations what it means to be Kanak. Perhaps most importantly, she makes hmat, Kanak money. Made from aloe fibres, fruitbat bones, shells and various other materials, these anthropomorphic strings represent ancestors wrapped in funerary cloth and are exchanged during ceremonies. Yvonne is one of the few who still make them and almost the only woman. People, some of high rank, come from far away (300km!) to consult her and order hmat. Her immense knowledge and craftsmanship are an important vine that holds the Kanak house together.
Ena Mark (contributed by Tihomir Rangelov, Documenting Ahamb, a Small Island Language of Vanuatu)
Ena Mark is a very dedicated mother of five and a most loved kindergarten teacher on the small Ahamb Island in Vanuatu. She is an avid promoter of the Ahamb language. She firmly believes in the importance of vernacular education and advocates for literacy materials in the vernacular. Ena has come up with various interesting ideas for posters, children’s books and picture dictionaries, which will be useful in teaching the youngest members of the Ahamb community the language of their ancestors, which is also the vehicle for their unique culture.
Elena Maximo Tolentino (contributed by Alex Garcia, Documentation of the Northern Alta language, an endangered Negrito language of the Philippines)
Elena was the oldest lady of the Alta community of Diteki (Philippines). Back in the day, she was recognised as the best hunter in the community. She was so tough that her nickname was Elena the ‘Bulldozer’. One day, at the age of 92, she was pushed into the water by a relative while having a picnic by the river. Elena simply laughed and started to enjoy having a swim.
Dorothy Paul (contributed by Joseph Brooks, Expanding the documentation of Chini language and culture)
Dorothy Paul (Avayim) is an Awakngi woman of Andamang village on the Sogeram river in northeastern Papua New Guinea. She is the bedrock of her family and is always out fishing in the marshes or tending to one of the multiple gardens she always has going. More than anyone else in the village, she makes a point of calling her children by their clan-based Chini names instead of their ‘modern’ or Christian ones. When asked why she does so, she replied, “So they remember where they came from”.