At each village, there are onlookers who are interested in what we're doing and wanting to listen to the histories. Many times they've tried to add input and we've had to shush them. The Ik like to talk; that's all there is to it. Once inside a village, we find a suitable and QUIET place to sit in order to get a clear recording. Our language helper, Philip, gets things started by asking permission to tape/record each elder. When they agree, we start the recorder and video camera and begin asking questions. What is their name? How old are they? Who were their parents? Where were they born? These are the easy questions...all except for the age question. Nobody knows their real age. The answer is either many years old or something like ten years old. That was the age when they stopped counting. Then Philip starts with questions about their lives: Tell us the story of how you met your wife and got married. What did the Ik wear when you were a child. What kind of foods did you eat 60 years ago? Do you remember when the gun was introduced into your area? What was your relationship like with your neighbors, the Karimojong and Turkana? Tell us your hunting stories. They each have something a little different to say. They each get excited about a particular aspect of life. One man went on and on about hunting elephants. It made him come alive. After we've done the interviews, which generally last about an hour, we pack up and go home. Once home, Philip starts the long process of translating what's been said into writing. One day we hope to put these stories into a book that can be given back to the community.
One of our favorite parts of the interview is when the old people start to sing. The men have something called a bull song, where they sing about the bull they were named after. It's a ritual that is done as a young man. The women also have their songs which the men sometimes know little about. The woman below is singing a special song that is sung after a woman gives birth.
So here we sit recording the details of a man's life. He tells us what he's been telling his children for years. We're going to try and save it for them in written and oral forms. It's been a privilege to be on the receiving end of these interesting stories. We receive the wisdom of old age...and what do we give them? They've been settling for knitted hats and other small gifts.
I think the whole process is also giving something back to the family though too. Below Elisabeth is listening to her grandmother tell her life story. She might learn something new, she might walk away with a better understanding of her loved one or she might just appreciate her grandmother a little more today than she did yesterday. To us, what matters is that we're saving a piece of the Iks' past for their future. May the Lord bless these efforts!