A Song by Kukama Children in Defense of their Native Language
This video features a beautiful song and rap by the children of Nauta, Loreto in the Peruvian Amazon about saving their native language, Kukama-Kukamiria. The children go around removing the tape that covers each other’s mouths – teaching one another not to be embarrassed about speaking their traditional language. The song in the chorus, “Kumbarikira”, tells the story of a vulture that everyone rejects, a metaphor for how village life and indigenous culture have been treated over the years. Each child in the video raps about the things they like and their dreams for the future, while highlighting their love for their language and their right to speak it.
Why is it important to save indigenous languages?
Language and culture are inextricably linked. When a language is lost, the cultural knowledge and history that is tied to that language is also lost. For centuries, indigenous people have been persecuted and oppressed, taught that their ways of being are backwards and shamed for trying to preserve what is uniquely theirs. But if we aspire for a socially just world where all people can participate equally, then our cultural and linguistic diversity must be recognized, valued, and encouraged. As Dr. Graham McKay explains in The Land Still Speaks;
Recognition of indigenous languages and support for indigenous language programs stand alongside land rights, health, justice, education, housing, employment and other services as part of the overall process of pursuing social justice and reconciliation… One might go so far as to say that without recognition of the indigenous people and their languages, many other programs will be less effective, because this lack of recognition will show that the underlying attitudes of the dominant society have not changed significantly.
The right to preserve languages is one of many important articles in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The Kukama video is a creative expression of this right and helps to raise awareness about the importance of language preservation.
Intercultural Bilingual Education
Throughout Latin America and in other parts of the world, an important aspect of reconciliation for the history of oppression of indigenous peoples is Intercultural Bilingual Education. This initiative encourages teaching children to value the language and culture of their ancestors along with those of wider society. I am honoured to be working with UNICEF Peru to strengthen Intercultural Bilingual Education here. In the end, my work has focused on the Andes region but the movement is equally important in the Amazon in communities like the one in the video.
The video was made possible by the NGO Create Your Voice in collaboration with a local radio station, Ucamara, and, of course, the people of Nauta. Articles about the video can be found in English here and in Spanish here.