Kaqchikel and Other Guatemalan Languages Gain Momentum Online Thanks to Digital Activism

Digital activism meeting for the Kaqchikel language. Photo by Pueblo Click and used with permission.

Guatemala or Quauhtlemallan, which means “land of many trees” in the Nahuatl language, is a country of great ethnic, cultural, and linguistic diversity. According to official data from the 2002 National Census XI of population and VI of habitation, 41 percent of the population is identified as indigenous, making Guatemala a country composed of Mayan, Garifuna, Xinkas, and Ladino or mestizo peoples.

Twenty-five languages are spoken in Guatemala, 22 of which are Mayan languages with their own structure and evolution. The differences between these languages are seen in their different grammatical tendencies, phonological uses, and growing vocabulary, but they have a common core: the Mayan mother language known as Protomaya.

Mayan languages are also valuable because they sustain the culture of the peoples who speak them. It’s thanks to them that they acquire and transmit knowledge and community values. In the same way, through oral tradition, younger generations inherit the moral principles of Mayan thought and a philosophy with a legacy of scientific and cosmic knowledge is reaffirmed.

“Digital activism in indigenous languages”: actions in favor of the Mayan languages

Within the framework of the project “Digital Activism in Indigenous Languages” promoted by Rising Voices and in partnership with Pueblo CLICK, a Digital Activism Meeting for Indigenous Languages, specifically the Kaqchikel language, was held on April 11 and 12 at the Pavarotti Educational Center in San Lucas Tolimán, Sololá, which managed to summon more than 30 activists from different Guatemalan regions.

Image publicizing the event. Used with permission.

In Guatemala, the Kaqchikel language is one of the four languages with the most speakers. It is spoken in 54 municipalities of seven departments: in one municipality of Baja Verapaz, in 16 municipalities of Chimaltenango, in one municipality of Escuintla, in 7 municipalities of the department of Guatemala City, in 14 municipalities of Sacatepéquez, in 11 municipalities of Sololá, and in 4 municipalities of Suchitepéquez.

Days to promote goal-building

The meeting was established taking into account the Gregorian and Mayan calendars. Meaning, it was held on April 11 and 12, the days corresponding to Oxi'E and Kaji'Aj, which symbolize the path leading to an objective and precise point: that these languages prevail in favor of a multilingual and multicultural society. Thus, the event was seen, symbolically, as a grain of corn planted in fertile soil waiting for the cornfield to sprout. It is expected to grow, to produce corncobs, to become corn and to feed generations.

Theme of the meeting

The main purpose of the meeting was to bring together people with cultural relevance and influence in the world of education, politics, technology, communications and art. The exchanges took place through conversations that revealed the importance of unifying efforts for the preservation and diffusion of mother tongues through information and communication technologies (ICTs). The goal is to empower the new generations and make knowledge accessible. Some participants mentioned the importance of “fostering pride, respect and using indigenous languages” as the “key to eliminating all forms of discrimination.” According to the participants, indigenous languages must take over the Internet and become visible: “No one can love and value what he does not know.”

Let's get to work!

During the meeting, Walter Cuc's efforts to propel the Guatemalan Federation of Radio Schools as an alternative, multilingual, sustainable radio network with national coverage and prominence were showcased. All in alliance with associated local and international entities that would effectively contribute to holistic human development, citizen participation, and the democratization of society.

Walter Cuc, Director of the Guatemalan Federation of Radio. Photo by Pueblo Click and used with permission.

Israel Quic from Mundo Posible presented the RACHEL project, a hub for education and learning in rural areas, with software designed for communities that lack a stable internet signal or do not have high-speed internet.

Another project discussed in the meeting was Mozilla Firefox in Kaqchikel, presented by Juan Esteban Ajsivinac Sián and available for PC and Android. The project focuses on the great challenge of translating the 5,000 strings that make up the localization in the browser into Kaqchikel.

Projects under development

Jorge López-Bachiller Fernández, a Spanish sociologist who has been in Patzún, Chimaltenango, for more than 10 years, has taken actions to reduce the existing digital divide. His objective is to seek the development of Guatemala’s indigenous communities through knowledge and strategies that make their cultural greatness more visible.

Participants at the digital activism meeting for the Kaqchickel language. Photo by Pueblo Click and used with permission.

One of these strategies is the Kaqchikel Wikipetya Project, which was initiated by a group of people from different countries with educational and professional experiences that strive for a common good: the conservation and dissemination of Kaqchikel as a Mayan language using technology.

To reach the goal, it was decided to incorporate the Kaqchikel language into Wikipedia, the free and multilingual encyclopedia of the Wikimedia Foundation, with more than 17 million articles in 278 languages and languages that have been drafted jointly by volunteers from around the world.

In order to personalize the project, all of the different options for naming it were discussed to be sure that it was recognizable and distinctive, while also taking into account Kaqchikel's identity and the name of the Wikimedia Foundation. After weighing all of the options, it was decided that the project would be called “Kaqchikel Wikipetya.” According to Jorge, some progress in this project includes elaborate tutorials, business cards, and editing policies.

The challenges are many, including motivating people to volunteer, but Jorge is optimistic and says the project will be a great contribution to humanity.

A potential alliance with Maya Kaqchikel University offers many opportunities, especially with Wikimedia, thanks to its Kaqchikel-speaking student body, who are interested in technology.

In short, the meeting in San Lucas Tolimán constituted a first strong step toward opening possibilities on the Internet to revitalize the Kaqchikel language and to learn from the experiences of other communities around the country. During those days, we witnessed new emerging networks that will continue to strengthen and collaborate on the Internet, and that hope to meet again thanks to the support of the Qatzij project.

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