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World Poetry Day – Poems from the Edge of Extinction

Poems from the Edge of Extinction
Poems from the Edge of Extinction: An Anthology of Poetry in Endangered Languages.

This week on the ELAR Blog we want to celebrate World Poetry Day by sharing recordings of some of the beautiful poems from our collections with you. The selected poems were published in ‘Poems from the Edge of Extinction: An Anthology of Poetry in Endangered Languages‘ last year. The volume was edited by National Poetry Librarian Chris McCabe, and introduced by Mandana Seyfeddinipur and Martin Orwin.

UNESCO’s World Poetry Day on 21 March, celebrates one of humanity’s most treasured forms of cultural and linguistic expression and identity. World Poetry Day was first proclaimed by UNESCO during its 30th General Conference in Paris in 1999, with the aim of supporting linguistic diversity through poetic expression and increasing the opportunity for endangered languages to be heard. Poetry is found throughout history, cultures and continents, so it is unsurprising that many of ELAR’s collections contain poetry.

ELAR Depositor Andrew Harvey tells us about Koonkír Hhando – a song that can be found in Andrew’s deposit The Gorwaa Noun Phrase: Toward a Description of the Gorwaa Language.

This song Koonkír Hhando is a common song in the heeloo genre, a special type of song usually sung while groups of farmers work a field. One or two singers will sing back and forth in call-and-response fashion, while the farmers will respond with an unchanging verse. The beat is prominent, and helps the workers coordinate the movement of their hoes. Communal farming and other types of labour were very important to the Gorwaa people, and brought communities together to do work that would otherwise be very difficult for an individual or family to do on their own. At the end of the work, the farmers would return to the house of the owner of the field and would be rewarded with food and sorghum beer.

The first time I heard Koonkír Hhando was at a beer party: following around 2 weeks of visiting an old couple as they prepared a barrel of sorghum beer, I was invited to attend as friends and neighbours visited to enjoy the finished product. The atmosphere was festive, and inside the hut where the beer was being served out in a woven strainer, people were singing songs. I asked if I could record, and Koonkír Hhando was the first song that was sung after I turned my recorder on.

Koonkír Hhando performed at a beer party.

Almost 3 months later, I was once again sung this song by Aakó Bu’ú Saqwaré (this time, he sang it on his own, slowed down, and in a quieter environment so I could better hear the words). Aakó Bu’ú is a consummate singer, and knows hundreds of Gorwaa songs, many of which we have recorded together. The words of his version are a bit different from those sung to me at the beer party, but the overall story is still the same: a young man singing to his beau, a young woman named Koonki, the daughter of Hhandó.

The consummate singer Aakó Bu’ú Saqwaré performs Koonkír Hhando

I played this version to one of my chief consultants, Ayír Raheli Lawi early the following year, and she gave me some comments on what was being sung.

Ayír Raheli Lawi comments on Koonkír Hhando

Finally, one of my local Gorwaa researchers (and son of Aakó Bu’ú) Paschal Bu’ú, transcribed and translated his father’s song into Swahili using ELAN. I then took the result and translated it into English.

The original poem, its English translation and a commentary can be found on pages 42-51 of ‘Poems from the Edge of Extinction’.

Another Poem featured in ‘Poems from the Edge of Extinction’ is from Marieke Meelen’s deposit An audio-visual archive and searchable corpus of Kaike, an endangered Tibeto-Burman language of Dolpa, Nepal.

Marieke worked with Jag Bahadur Budha who writes poems inspired by his anthropological insights. He has been living in Kathmandu for over a decade, writing stories, articles and poems in the Kaike variety Tichurongba.

In order to access all the materials in Marieke’s deposit you need to register with ELAR. However, she has kindly made the following video available for this blog post: Jag Bahadur Budha recites his poem Chhaigo Lapsol.

Jag Bahadur Budha’s poem, its English translation and commentary can be found on pages 130-135 of ‘Poems from the Edge of Extinction’.

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