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Project Profile: Description, Revitalization and Documentation of Nam Trik

Today on the ELAR blog, Geny Gonzales Castaño writes on her work documenting Nam Trik, a Barbacoan language spoken in the Colombian Andes. Geny’s work has also included revitalization efforts, such as literary workshops and a workbook for the community.

On the language contexts:

Nam Trik, also known as Guambiano, is a Barbacoan language spoken in the Colombian Andes. Traditionally, Nam Trik’s speakers have lived in four resguardos (settlements recognized by Colombian State, with territorial autonomy and ruled by traditional authorities named Cabildo): Guambia, Ambaló, Quizgó and Totoró.

This project focuses on two communities where Nam Trik is critically endangered: Totoró and Ambaló. In Totoró, according to a 2013 census made by the community authorities, there are 76 native speakers (1% of a total population of 7023 people), who are all over 50 years old.

In Totoró, the use of Spanish has displaced Nam Trik in all daily interactions and there are now two generations of monolingual Spanish speakers. There is no intergenerational transmission of the language. Nam Trik is only spoken sometimes at home between grandparents. It is common that when a grandparent dies, the remaining spouse stops speaking the language altogether since there is no one else in the family to speak to.

On revitalization efforts:

From the 1970’s, indigenous people in the department of Cauca, where Nam Trik is spoken, have struggled to defend their history and the indigenous languages, training teachers to educate their children according to the situation of indigenous people and in their respective languages.

Since 1980’s, the authorities and school teachers in Totoró initiated linguistic revitalization projects including the development of alphabets and educational materials for teaching Nam Trik as a second language at school. For several reasons these efforts unfortunately didn’t yield the expected results and Nam Trik is still dying.

The school teachers, like the majority of the adults who live in these communities, are not Nam Trik speakers. This situation makes the teaching of Nam Trik very difficult and the task is made harder by the absence of appropriate resources. Furthermore, it is difficult to find the support and the funding from the Colombian government to provide continuity in these efforts and programs.

Nevertheless, the Nam Trik indigenous authorities, the speakers and the indigenous school teachers in Totoró are not giving up.

On Geny’s involvement and ELDP project:

I feel very proud and privileged to support them in these efforts since 2008, when as a member of the group of research GELPS (Group of Linguistics, Pedagogical and Socio-cultural Studies of Colombian South-western) I became engaged in the development of educational materials for teaching Nam Trik in this community.

In the last years many Nam Trik speakers had to stop participating in the Nam Trik programs, meetings and activities for reasons of age. Others have also passed away, like Mrs. Ismenia Sánchez, who passed away in 2013, and whose death has saddened us deeply because she was an enthusiastic and active participant in all the activities on teaching and transmitting Nam Trik in Totoró.

This situation highlighted the urgency to think about the possibility of starting a project of detailed documentation of the language as soon as possible. In 2014, as PhD student in linguistics at the DDL (Dynamique Du Langage) laboratory in the University of Lyon 2 (France), I obtained a grant for linguistic documentation from ELDP.

Before starting the documentation project I met with speakers and authorities in Totoró, where a difficult question emerged. What should be documented and why?

At this point we were facing two different paths and ideas about what should be documented. On the one hand, it was the objective to strengthen the Intercultural Bilingual Education in Totoró through teaching ancestral knowledge by responding to the requirements of the Ministry of National Education. On the other hand, it was the interest in documenting the uses of language in everyday situations which the potential learners can use in their own lives to restore the functions that the language has lost; which is crucial in the case of Nam Trik in Totoró. Finally, we have decided to do both.

On teaching traditional practices:

We decided to focus in two traditional practices, that are no longer recreated in everyday life, but which are part of the curriculum of the indigenous school, where the indigenous authorities and school teachers are also trying to revitalize them. First, the traditional process and techniques to build a mud-walled house, which is considered a male activity. Secondly, the elaboration of handloom woven of fabrics; chumbes and ruanas and jigras (traditional bags), which is considered a female activity.

In the case of the elaboration of chumbes, ruanas and jigras, we organized meeting with elders who explained the different parts of the loom and the weaving process, from the preparation of the wool after the ewes are sheared to the process to making each kind of textile.

In the case of the process and techniques used to build a mud-walled house, we interviewed two Nam Trik speakers, Don Aristides Sánchez y Don Marcos Ulcue, who were part of the team that built a traditional house in the high school of the resguardo in 2010, as part of a project to strengthen the Intercultural Bilingual Education in Totoró. This house also became a place for Nam Trik speaker meetings, where we carried out several of our recording sessions.

On creating a workbook for the community:

Most of the data for this project was recorded in meetings, where people simply got together to tell stories around the fire as they used to do after working in the fields. A group of seventeen elders participated in these meetings: María Gertrudis Benachí, Marco Antonio Ulcué, Erminia Conejo, Aristides Sánchez, Carmen Tulia Sánchez, Carolina Luligo, Micaela Luligo, Marcelina Conejo, Ismailina Sánchez, Encarnación Sánchez, Tránsito Sánchez, Barbara Conejo, Juanita Sánchez, Inocencio Ulcué, Nemesio Bolivar Conejo, Gerardina Sánchez and Jose María Sánchez.

We thought that all these wonderful stories, which are part of the oral tradition of Totoró people, must be accessible for other people from the community who were not attending the meetings and workshops of the project.

For this reason we decided to make a workbook with some stories narrated in Nam Trik during the working and recording sessions, which contain the transcriptions and the translations. We encouraged the participation of community children through workshops on children’s reading, where after reading the stories, we asked the children to draw illustrations on the stories’ topics.

Some of these illustrations were used in the workbook entitled “Namoi kilelɨpe as’an c’ipɨk kɨn” (this is the way of telling of our ancestors), which was printed with funding from COLCIENCIAS-Colombia (Administrative Department of Science, Technology and Innovation of Colombian government), and delivered to the community the 20 November 2016. This workbook includes a compact disk with accompanying audio and video for stories contained in the book.

With the aim of recording Nam Trik in its daily use, we recreated a grocery store in the traditional house of the high school, bringing different kinds of products from the community and the speakers performed the dialogues which normally are developed in a grocery store between customers and vendors. The speakers also performed different kinds of greetings and salutations, in different situations (how to greet your relatives when they go to your home to visit you, how to greet someone you cross on the path…).

On Nam Trik literacy:

Some linguists have become aware of the fact that linguistic documentation and description does not revitalize a language itself, especially if it does not make part of a larger engagement led by the speakers and community members. Now, as linguists involved in this kind of projects, we are starting to ask ourselves what else should we do and what can we do to support the communities in their process to maintain and revitalize their languages.

In Totoró Nam Trik speakers are not yet literate in Nam Trik or even in Spanish. This can be an obstacle to teaching Nam Trik in the school and involving the speakers in this process. Taking this concern into account, we decided to organize workshops on basic literacy in Nam Trik which were directed by Lucy Tunubalá and Alexander Chavaco Nam Trik, speaker of Ambaló, who is also a bachelor student in lenguas originarias at the Indigenous and Intercultural University of the indigenous organization CRIC (Indigenous Regional Council of Cauca).

These workshops, which at the beginning were mainly targeted to the Nam trik speakers, now include a diverse group of Nam Trik learners, including teachers, indigenous authorities and most importantly children and youths, and a space recognized by the local indigenous authorities and the community.

Despite the difficulties and challenges associated with this project, thanks to the close working relationships with Nam Trik speakers, Totoró community and authorities and their close support, especially from the coordinator of the indigenous educational program Mrs. Claudia Patricia Sánchez, we not only have achieved the goals proposed but also encouraged Totoró people and the Nam Trik speakers to be locally recognized and to continue with their own projects and ideas.

Thank you, Geny! To learn more about Nam Trik, visit Geny’s deposit on the ELAR catalogue.

Blog post by Geny Gonzales Castaño

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