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89-year-old decides to 'speak up' and prevent his native language from being forgotten

He moves through the whole world to ensure that his native language remains even after he passes away.

89-year-old decides to 'speak up' and prevent his native language from being forgotten
Cover Image Source: YouTube | UNESCO en español

Colonization left many long-lasting effects such as disease, destruction of indigenous social, political and repression and loss of culture of native lands. A lot of these effects were brought on by psychological warfare. To make their culture seem superior, the colonizers demeaned and degraded the traditions and practices of their occupied countries. The suppression was so overwhelming and intense that by the time the colonizers left those captured places, the popularity enjoyed by those cultural practices had dwindled considerably. Chaná language suffered the same fate and to preserve it, Mr. Blas Jaime has been traveling far and wide to teach it, per Good News Network.

Representative Image Source: Pexels | Gabriela Custódio da Silva
Representative Image Source: Pexels | Gabriela Custódio da Silva

Natalie Alcoba, in her piece for The New York Times, explained that the indigenous people of Argentina and Uruguay, who lived close to the Paraná River, South America, spoke this language. The group was very in tune with the natural elements and "considered birds their guardians and sang their babies lullabies: Utalá tapey-’é, uá utalá dioi—sleep little one, the sun has gone to sleep." The group's life was filled with havoc when Spanish colonizers entered their turf. They aimed to evangelize them forcefully and adopted every means possible to achieve this aim. "Native names were banned," explains Jaime in a documentary, "Lantéc Chaná" by Argentinean director Marina Zeising. "And they would cut off the tip of the tongues of girls who spoke Chaná." They performed this horrific practice on girls because the indigenous group was a matriarchy and the guard was usually passed down to women. By leaving them unable to speak, they ensured that the language met its end.



 

Amid such cruelty, individuals like Jaime's mother, Ederlinda Miguelina Yelón, protected their culture with all their might. She passed the knowledge of Chaná and all the folklore attached to their group to her son after all her daughters died. Considering the danger around them, she asked him to protect his language and extended culture. After that, Jaime went on with his life, not publicizing his knowledge and became a Mormon preacher, per Culture. After turning 71 and taking retirement, he decided to fulfill the promise he made to his mother and seek other people to converse in his native language. To his surprise, there was no one else. He soon came to a bitter realization that he might be the only known speaker left of this extinct language.

Researcher Pedro Viegas Barros was surprised to encounter Jaime as he believed Chanás to have been erased from the world. But there he was, speaking the language matching the written testimony created by Dámaso Larrañaga. It is the only written recreation of the language that Larrañaga managed to formulate with the help of tribe elders. The language is unique as it is oral, primarily using throaty sounds and the back of the mouth. Such features are not usually attached to any other language and if it gets wiped out, the world would surely be less richer than before. Hence, Jaime took it on his shoulders to spread the language and teach it to others.



 

Since then, Jaime has collaborated with a linguist to create a dictionary, given a TED Talk, done voiceovers for coffee brands and attended fairs. He has done absolutely everything to ensure that Chaná survives. "Language is what gives you identity," Jaime said. "If someone doesn't have their language, they're not a people." He now has passed on his knowledge to his daughter Evangelina, who helps him with spreading the word. However, initially, she was not open to the idea. "She told me she didn't want to be an Indian," said Jaime, "and that people were going to abuse and insult her." This sentiment has gained root in Native Indians due to the psychological warfare used on them for generations, forcing them to stay silent. But as time passed by, Evangelina just like her father, understood that being silent is not an option anymore. For their identities and history, they have to speak up.

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