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Feature: Kenyan indigenous community vows to preserve mother tongue
From:Xinhua  |  2019-08-09 20:35

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NAKURU, Aug. 9 (Xinhua) -- Joseph Chemaina, a member of the indigenous Ogiek community, has for the last 61 years lived at the foot of Kenya's largest water tower, the Mau Forest Complex.

When he was growing up, community elders would hold regular meetings with the youth to teach them Ogiek language and traditions. The meetings were held at a designated location in the forest.

"That arrangement ensured our language and way of life lived on through generations," Chemaina told Xinhua during a recent interview.

However, the removal of the community from their habitation in the early 1990s upset how they engaged in socio-cultural activities, said Chemaina.

"That our language would be extinct because of the eviction worries us. We cannot converge freely in the forest and talk about our heritage like we used to," he said.

Through these gatherings, there was passing of knowledge on protection of indigenous trees and animals such as collecting barks for making hives from specific trees and putting off the fire useful during hunting to avoid burning the forest, noted Chemaina.

He is one of the elders among the Ogiek and respected for being a custodian of the community's knowledge and information that his advice is sought by all and sundry.

Change of environment has forced the Ogiek community to adapt to a new way of life that little supports further passage of their ancient history to the younger generation.

"Now we have our children moving to the urban areas to seek for better opportunities. Are they available to learn about our language, our culture?" Chemaina posed.

The African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights classifies the Ogiek as indigenous people with a distinct culture but whose survival is threatened because of evictions from their ancestral homes.

This year on Aug. 9 the indigenous peoples across the world marked the International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples with the theme of focusing on the indigenous languages.

Sarah Osas, an Ogiek woman said that celebrating this day with reflections on dying away of the indigenous languages would awaken the government and international community to protect the rights of the indigenous peoples in Kenya so that their languages can remain intact.

"If the land and human rights of the indigenous communities like Ogiek are not protected then their languages will finally diminish. When people are landless, they will move away to other places to find shelter and the more the movement, the less the sharing of the language," said Osas.

The United Nations declared 2019 the international year of indigenous languages with a call for urgent action to promote, preserve and revitalize them.

Lucy Mulenkei, executive director of the Indigenous Information Network said the indigenous people have the right to maintain and protect their cultural heritage including their languages.

"Traditional knowledge cannot be delinked from the native languages of the indigenous peoples. And these traditional knowledge is key to sustainable management of the natural resources," said Mulenkei.

UN Environment Programme emphasizes the urgency of protecting the rights of indigenous peoples as endangering their existence diminishes the potential of achieving Sustainable Development Goals.