Friday, April 2, 2010

The Nyang'ia People

A few weeks ago (yes, we're behind on this blog) Amber and I jumped into our truck with our Karamojong friend Nguran Mickey Pascali and headed to Lobalangit. Lobalangit (the "place of soda ash") is the home of the Nyang'i people. These people split off from the Ik at an unknown time in history and were then cut off completely by invading Karamojong. Their language changed from Ik as it came into contact with new neighboring peoples and eventually began losing ground to Karamojong. As long ago as 1932, a guy named Driberg said of the Nyang'ia that only the old people speak their language. Younger generations preferred to speak Karamojong.

Almost two years ago Amber and I made our first fieldtrip to document the Nyang'ia language. That time we collected about 150 words from an old man who we were told was one of two surviving speakers of the language. Since then I've been meaning to get back to continue the research, so a few weeks ago between coming back to Kaabong from furlough and moving up to Timu, we decided to make another trip. This time we stayed for two days and found five speakers of the language. All are very old, and when they pass, the language will be officially extinct. We managed to collect about a hundred more words and several hours of audio and video recordings.

The man below is named Ongor Tongome. He was the first speaker we talked to. When we asked him how old he was, he didn't know, but he said he was born during the 'world war'. Which one, I wonder? He said it was before 'motorcars' came to Uganda. Tongome was very welcoming and worked with us for a couple of hours but then got tired.

The next speaker was met with was Naira Chilla, the woman pictured below. She was seated in the dirt out in the hot, hot sun. My laptop and other electronic equipment didn't work so well in the heat. Neither did we, come to think of it. Naira was happy to share her knowledge of old Nyang'ia with us, but she grew confused quickly.

The two handsome gentlemen pictured below are named Lokwang Chilla and Komol Isaach. They were sharp and worked well together by prompting each other. We were on a great roll collecting Nyang'ia words but were interrupted by a rainstorm.

Everywhere you go in Uganda, children are wonderfully friendly. These Nyang'ia kids in Lobalangit were no exception. Here's Amber posing with a group.

This was the last data-gathering session we had, before the rainstorm. We needed to get back to the Catholic guesthouse in Karenga before the roads got impassable.

We wanted to get a record of the language before it dies out, not only for science and posterity, but because Nyang'ia is one of only two languages closely related to Ik. The third, Soo/Tepeth, spoken in three spots in southern Karamoja, is also on the brink of exctinction. Most likely, in the next 10-20 years, Ik will become the proverbial last of its kind. When Nyang'ia and Soo/Tepeth are lost, whole systems of knowledge and unique ways of seeing the world will be lost with them.
Happily, a linguist friend of ours is applying for a grant that would enable him to come this summer and spend 4-6 weeks trying to document and describe as much of the language as possible. With all we have going on travelling and among the Ik, I had decided, sadly, that I wouldn't pursue the Nyang'ia project further. But if someone else can come to help, that would be great!


The Reeds said...

This is wonderful! It seemed to disappear on me but I finally found it (the post itself that is).

Nakuam- I want that list of items to send!! You send to me!
Much love-g

Jennie said...

Beautiful pics - what a great side trip for you guys. LOVE reading your updates - miss you, will try to call soon!!!