The area of Bundibugyo is home to the Bwisi and Amba peoples, as well as a smattering of other tribes like the Konjo, Basua Pygmies, Tooro, and other groups coming over from Congo. Back in the 1990s, SIL members Waller & Mary Tabb started the Bwisi translation project. A couple of nights ago we had the privilege of driving even further into the jungle, so to speak, to see where the Tabbs used to live and where the translation project continues to this day.
But in fact the main reason we drove so far was to spend time with Connie Kutsch-Lojenga, a Dutch member of SIL who is a linguist specializing in developing good writing systems. Connie is going to supervise Terrill as he writes a grammatical description of Ik, so we wanted to get to know her a bit better. We also wanted to give Kate a chance to see another facet of the kind of work SIL does in Africa.
Connie was asked to help, not the Bwisi, but the new Kwamba (Amba) translation project to figure out some phonological problems with their writing system. Connie has a unique and increasingly popular way of getting groups of people to participate in the linguistic research process. It's called, appropriately enough, the 'participatory method'.
From Congo, Connie had come with a man named Papa Avuta to help her run the workshop. Papa Avuta is from the Ngiti tribe whose language, Ndruna, Connie has worked on for many years. We really enjoyed getting to know Avuta over the three days. He and his people have suffered greatly during the Congolese civil wars, and yet he is so full of life and love.
All this week and all next week, over twenty Kwamba speakers are voluntarily participating in this workshop. They are working to make some improvements in their alphabet, increase the words in their dictionary, and practice writing Kwamba as much as possible. Amber and Kate sat in for a few of the sessions, doing a little knitting to help cope with all the French, Swahili, and Kwamba flying around the room.