The critical role of preserving indigenous languages

Preserving the culture

03 August 2021 | Cultural

Wetumwene Shikage





Do you consider your indigenous languages to be precious enough to be preserved and kept for generations? Do you prefer speaking foreign languages rather than your own? Besides English, what indigenous language(s) can you speak?

Every response to this is the root and reason why indigenous languages may or may not survive. The prior influence passed on from early dwellers may have had an influence on the languages previously spoken and those spoken at present. The future, however, needs to be prepared for now. This is what we have control over as a generation in order to preserve and keep our roots alive.

European languages are mainly used for formal and specialised domains, while local languages are often considered to serve local purposes as they are only used to communicate with those of the same dialect. This juxtaposition proves that our indigenous languages are slowly being replaced.

Preservation in education

Besides English and Afrikaans, many schools across the country still have indigenous languages taught as part of their syllabi. These may be first or second languages for specific grades. The appetite of learners should be nurtured at home to help them understand the importance of learning their indigenous language even in schools. If this culture is not instilled, learners may tend to be more and more interested in speaking and learning foreign languages, which makes it easier for their cultures to be forgotten.

Senior lecturer in the Department of Communication at the Namibia University of Science and Technology (NUST), Niklaas Fredericks explained that it is well documented that most Namibians speak an indigenous language as a first language.

“It is through these languages that the thought process actually takes place. That is the start off point that we need to take into consideration. We use one of the indigenous languages as a first language with the thought process initiated by them. It is through our indigenous languages that we process our cultures. As Africans, if we do not have a language, we do not have culture,” he said.

Fredericks added that this causes a mismatch where people do not take language as seriously as they should.

Preservation in theatre and entertainment

The National Theatre of Namibia (NTN) presented a live webinar titled ‘The Critical Role of Indigenous Languages in Developing Namibian Theatre’ recently. The webinar was driven by these objectives: Enlightening listeners on how aspiring writers and cultural researchers or scholars may collaborate towards the development of newer stage or literature works in Namibian languages;

Enlightening listeners on how writers may collaborate with linguists to see the development of stage works with rich orthographies in Namibian languages;

Highlighting the role that local languages play in the public following and consumption of Namibian theatre.

Highlighting the important role theatre plays in transmitting intangible heritage through stage works written in local languages;

Deliberating on the various issues that contribute to the low production and publications of theatre scripts in local languages, and the implications thereof.

The talk was strongly motivated by the significant role of local languages in strengthening and enriching theatre practices in Namibia, with the engagements highlighting the serious lack of indigenous languages in the sector and stating that the application of local languages in literary products is integral in developing rich Namibian theatre.

The NTN further stated that through their mandate to develop, produce and promote a vibrant and sustainable performing arts sector in Namibia, the theatre finds the production of stage scripts in local languages critical in driving a sector that (1) is rich in local literature and cultural merit, (2) drives an increased consumption by the Namibian general public and (3) provides an alternative to highly globalised forms and themes.

One of the speakers of the webinar was the editorial and production manager at Unam Press, Naitsikile Iizyenda. She shared some of the Unam Press publications published in indigenous languages. These include Omiano vya Tjipangandjara, a book on proverbs and idioms in Otjiherero; Customary Law Ascertained volume 3 about the customary laws in the Nama, Ovaherero and San communities of Namibia in these languages as well; Otuzo twOvaherero in Otjiherero, Ozongombe mOmbazu ya Kaoko about cattle culture of the Kaoko Ovaherero and Ohungipeke Onakuziwa yetu mOshiitalelo in Oshindonga.

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