Revitalizing the Yekuana Language With an Academic Perspective

Saúl López, author of a senior thesis about the relation between orality, information, and communication technologies. Photo used with permission.

Saúl López, author of a senior thesis about the relation between orality, information, and communication technologies. Photo used with permission.

Saúl López, or Kuyujani (his indigenous name), is a young Yekuana man who has dedicated most of his life to studying the realities of his ethnic group. In conversations with the community's elder and leaders, he became aware that one of the group's main problems is that the Yekuana language is endangered. Faced with this situation, he decided to apply his particular interest in media and technology to a thesis project about the Yekuana language.

The Yekuanas are an indignenous people from the Cariban family, also known as Maquiritares or Makiritares, who mostly reside in the Upper Caura, Erebato, and Nichare rivers, and the Upper Ventuari, Parú, and Cuminá rivers in Venezuela. Their current population is estimated to be between 5,000 and 10,000 people.

For the last five years, Saúl has been a student at the National Experimental Indigenous University of Tauca (UNEIT) in Venezuela, which was established by an indigenous rights organization in cooperation with Jesuit priests. Since he entered this institution, he's had a special interest in social media outlets and information and communications technology. He's seen frequently around the university's campus—a camera in hand—documenting lectures, student meetings, and cultural events, conducting interviews, and even carrying out simulated transmissions of indigenous students’ Sunday football games.

Doing this, he's collected a wealth of footage (producing short documentaries, short films, community activities, UNEIT news bulletins, and video clips) that he's used in work that's now inspired him to pursue a degree in bilingual education with a specialization in Indigenous Communication.

Mapa político del Estado Bolívar, donde se realiza el trabajo de investigación.

Map of Venezuelan Bolívar State, place of investigation work.

His thesis, titled “Influence of the Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) in Ye´kwana Orality. Case Jüwütünña del Alto Erebato community—Bolivar State,” studies the relationship between new technologies and the phenomenon of communication in Yekuana culture (especially from the perspective of the community's youth). The thesis is now in its final stage of revisions, and isn't yet published.

The research is an important contribution to the revitalization of Yekuana orality, as it offers an important collection of reflections and opinions about the value language has for this indigenous community, which stretches from along Caura river to the Ventuari river basin. The work contains conversations and interviews with elders and senior representatives of the Yekuana universe, as well as dialogues with specialists about communication, education, and technologies, giving the research an important intercultural and multidisciplinary perspective.

Saúl shared with Global Voices what his research means to him:

Ha sido un trabajo particularmente interesante. He podido sentarme a conversar por largas horas con los ancianos de mi comunidad y conocer parte de la historia de mi pueblo, cosas que no sabía y que ahora quedan registradas en mi tesis.

It has been a particularly interesting work. I've been able to chat for long hours with the elders from my community and to know part of my community history—things I wasn't aware of that are now registered in my thesis.

About the importance of the Yekuana language, he says:

Nuestra cultura es principalmente oral, todo lo que somos es gracias a nuestra lengua, es en esencia nuestra cultura. Es importante entender que las tecnologías y los medios de comunicación social pueden estar al servicio de nuestros pueblos y cosmovisiones, revitalizando y resguardando nuestra oralidad mediante el registro y documentación de nuestras historias, mitos, tradiciones etc. y claro, desde la educación a los más jóvenes.

Our culture is mainly oral. All we are now, we owe to our language, which is in essence our culture. It's important to understand that technologies and mass media can be made to serve our communities and cosmovision, revitalizing and protecting our orality by recording and documenting our stories, myths, and traditions—of course as education for younger generations.

Saúl presented his research on October 13 to elders and wise men from different ethnic groups, as part of the celebrations of the 2015 indígenous Resitance Week, held every year at the campus of the National Experimental Indigenous University of Tauca. The thesis was unanimously approved.

Saúl will now be part of the faculty at UNEIT and is already organizing training workshops in some indigenous communities in Southern Venezuela. He says:

La idea es multiplicar e informar entre las demás etnias, la importancia de nuestras lenguas aborígenes y buscar los mecanismos que nos permitan defenderlas y mantenerlas vivas.

The aim is to multiply [this study] and inform other ethnic groups about the importance of our aboriginal languages and to look for mechanisms that will allow us to defend them and keep them alive.

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