Culture is the cornerstone and the essential building block of all human societies. The wealth and health of a culture are in its communication, and language is the basic currency. This is nowhere more apparent than with Indigenous Peoples whose cultures, knowledge, and languages developed within and are intimately connected to place, to nature, and to an origin story in that place. Therefore, when the language of such a community or society disappears, a huge piece of their culture and knowledge is lost. The future dims, and the culture is lost.
After a century of enslavement and manipulation by commercial, political, and religious interests, about 25 years ago the Yawanawa culture was on the verge of extinction. The new young Chief at that time, Tashka Yawanawa, was determined to change this and restore the tribe to health and vibrancy. It was hard and is still ongoing. They began to reclaim their land, create pride, build their sovereignty and regain agency. Their language is central to their survival. This week, after months of planning, the Yawanawa recognizes and celebrates the revival of their culture with a “language workshop” taking place in their central village. Many experts and leaders have gathered with tribal members in the main village in the midst of their intact, Amazonian rainforest homeland, to help codify and spiritually bless their language to help assure its survival across generations, and to share stories that will be documented and saved. To facilitate this, an official “office” will also be created to keep this momentum going.
It is a momentous week for many reasons. We also welcome Luna Yawanawa, the daughter of Tashka and Laura Yawanawa, to the United States. This young lady is in the US for the first time and will study English at the same school her father also attended 25 years ago when he decided to build the future of his people. This will prepare her for university. The future of the Yawanawa tribe is strengthening.