ELL: Re: Rapanui: seeking support for book writing

gemma.burford at TALK21.COM gemma.burford at TALK21.COM
Tue Mar 20 08:55:41 UTC 2001

Dear Dr Ostler and others,

I am writing in response to your message on the Rapanui language.  Although
I am unable to help with the books themselves, I thought you might find the
following introduction to our `Song Schoolsí project interesting in the
context of establishing a written literature for endangered languages.  It
might be a model that can be adapted to the needs of the Rapanui and other
indigenous peoples.

I am one of the founders of Aang Serian - a registered Tanzanian cultural
association aiming to promote sustainable development based on indigenous
knowledge and traditional skills in northern Tanzania.  Aang Serian (`House
of Peaceí in Maasai language) was founded in March 1999 by a group of
indigenous youth in Arusha, Tanzania, and a recent graduate from Oxford
University.  Our work focuses on the Maasai tribe, as a majority of our
members are themselves Maasai.

We are currently looking for funds to launch a new project, `Song Schoolsí,
in two rural Maasai communities in the Arusha Region of Tanzania.  This has
been developed through close consultation with women, youth and community
leaders in the target area and with professional Maasai teachers in Arusha
town.  In the first stage of the project, a small group of adults will
attend workshops at our community education centre (`Peace Villageí),
facilitated by a professional teacher of Maasai language and culture.
Traditional songs, stories and proverbs will be used as a basis for
discussion of contemporary issues such as AIDS prevention, the threats of
urbanisation and environmental damage, integration of traditional and
Western medicine, and the changing role of women in Maasai society.

In a second stage, these trainees will return to their villages to discuss
the same issues with children and youth, using the oral traditions as a
medium.  Much of this education will be semi-formal, delivered around the
fire in the evenings alongside the normal singing and storytelling.
Thirdly, a further training programme at the Peace Village ñ for those who
have completed Stages 1 and 2 ñ will aim to develop mother-tongue literacy.
Reading materials will be based on the same familiar themes mentioned in
the oral traditions, and discussed in the Stage 1 workshops ñ medicinal
plants, forest and savannah ecology, the pastoralist lifestyle, etc.

In this way, we hope to empower our trainees ñ over two to three years - to
establish Maasai-medium primary schools in their villages, in which
children are taught to read and write in their mother tongue before being
expected to do so in a foreign language.  The curriculum, and the timing of
lessons, will be adapted to the needs of contemporary pastoralist
communities rather than to colonial convention.  Such a project could be
easily spread to other Maasai communities throughout Kenya and Tanzania by
dissemination of CDs and/or audio cassettes ñ which would also prove to be
a valuable teaching resource for mainstream schools in Maa-speaking areas.
The model could potentially be adapted to any indigenous society with a
thriving oral tradition and a competent facilitator, who is both literate
and well informed of the tradition.

We have prepared a full proposal, which includes an analysis of the
educational needs and challenges in Monduli District, the background to the
project, detailed methodology and an estimated budget.  This was submitted
to UNESCO in 2000 in response to a call for greater collaboration with NGOs
working in the field of indigenous knowledge, but unfortunately they lack
the resources to fund it.  If any listserve member has a suggestion as to
other potential sources of funding, I would be very grateful to hear from
you.  Please donít hesitate to contact me if you have any questions.

Yours sincerely,

Gemma Burford
Aang Serian UK Co-ordinator

Ms Gemma Burford
Administrator and Research Assistant
Global Initiative for Traditional Systems (GIFTS) of Health

55 Southmoor Road, Oxford OX2 6RF
Tel. 07759-889305 or +44-(0)1865-454242

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