Whose Voices?

Ep 7 - Angela Cuc: Indigenous languages as a way of claiming ancestral knowledge

Interview Transcript (English translation)

Post also available in: Español

Warm regards to all listeners, it’s a pleasure to share with you this space where we can inform and, most of all, discuss from our experiences and perspectives what’s the situation of our indigenous languages ​​in our communities. I am Angela Cuc, I am a Maya Kaqchikel, originally from the Kaqchikel community in Sololá, Guatemala. I am a social communicator. I am currently working in the coordination of a network of indigenous communicators called “Jun Na’oj”, which is a network consisting of approximately 25 people from different linguistic communities. Together we produce a radio program called “Jun Na’oj”, a word in Kaqchikel Maya language which means “a thought”, because the program gathers the voices and thoughts of each one of us. This network is under the direction of the Guatemalan Federation of Radio Schools, which brings together 32 stations nationwide, all of them are community radios, autonomous, and with bilingual programs.

Whose Knowledge: We’re glad to have you with us today, tell us about the current state of the usage of the Kaqchikel language in your community and in Guatemala.

I want to start by saying that, unfortunately, we are suffering discrimination and other forms of racist violence in the communities. Because of this, for our grandfathers and our grandmothers learning Mayan language was seen as something that kept us “backward”, so they would prefer to teach us Spanish, English and any non-indigenous language instead. However, there are efforts carried out by different groups to promote indigenous languages, not only as something folklorized, but as a lived experience, and we’re in the midst of that process. Some of us now share posts in Mayan languages on Facebook. We try to write the language, because one thing is to speak it and another thing is to write it, to try to write it correctly, make a good use of the glottals, know where the different tones of voice go. So, in our communities we are making those little efforts to share, especially among the children so that, at the end, they are proud of their languages. From the moment they are aware that an indigenous language is not something that will keep them “backward”, but rather a way of claiming ancestral knowledge, children get involved in media platforms and they express their views in different ways: through culture, through all the expressions of art that exist… we even have a compañera, Sara Curruchich, who sings in Kaqchikel language, and that’s a very beautiful form to claim this knowledge, these languages ​​that our grandmothers and our grandparents have left us.

Whose Knowledge: Taking into account these new artistic expressions, what does content in your language look like online? What is there and what is missing?

Well, to be honest there is very little content because there is not much youth writing, and people who are really Kaqchikel speakers do not have access to these platforms. But [from “Jun Na’oj”] we worked on some materials like infographics, always along the lines of denouncing, also on some videos, and on some radio spots, because that is basically the most accessible things we have. Other reason is that all this is something that is done as an extra, and even though it’s not something that we have a lot of time to do, we contribute from our different spaces anyways. So we have done some infographics, not only in Kaqchikel, but in K’ichel, in Q’eqchil… so we are gradually trying to make people identify with their own languages, because sometimes there is some rejection for writing in the native languages.

I also want to underline that from the space where we are, we try that all our productions have the same importance that is given to Spanish language. Our compañeras and compañeros get together to create each new production, which then goes through a translation process. They do this collectively, focusing on what’s the meaning of the word, not only literally translating it — as is usually done with other languages, but they do an interpretation. So it’s in this way that we seek to rescue our languages ​​in some way. It has worked very well because we are a sort of reference for translations now, not only subtitling videos, but we have also done some infographics, as I said before. Our strength is the radio production in Mayan languages, that is something that has opened spaces for us, spaces where we can talk without our languages getting censored. Unfortunately, in Guatemala there is usually a line to follow as of how to say things, how to translate them, but in this radio group where we are now working, the people speak freely in their languages, there isn’t a direction to follow, they are free, and this allows that the people in the communities identify themselves with the voices they are listening to, they get familiarized with them, and thus it becomes more natural and normal to listen to content in Mayan languages ​​on the radio.

We need audiovisual material, because it is easier to reproduce. But we need it to be adapted to our context, we shouldn’t have to adapt to Spanish. Spanish should be adapted to our languages. Unfortunately, there have been some productions where — when it’s not possible to translate something from Kaqchikel to Spanish — there is a vague interpretation of what people understand, but there is no attempt to take our views and feelings into account. So I think it would be very nice, before producing any audiovisual material… I don’t know, whether for the radio, or even some infographics, maybe having conversations on how we can interpret this, how could we say it, focusing on giving it a lived meaning, not merely an interpretative sense of what we want to understand, but rescue what the compañeros and compañeras wanted to convey.

Whose Knowledge: Localization of web content is a big challenge indeed, what other challenges do you face for creating or sharing content in your language online?

First I want to emphasize that in Guatemala more than 60% of the population suffers extreme poverty and, you know, access to the internet in some communities is very limited, and when there is internet, we do not have a great capacity to create or upload content. On the internet there isn’t for example a dictionary that would be useful for checking how to write down some words. There are some books that are in printed form, but we need a space or someone to help us upload them to the internet, so, how to have those resources available? There are some good printed books but they are very expensive so we don’t buy them because of that, right? So there are a lot of problems when it comes to upload information to the internet, and there is a lack of technical support. Some people organize edit-a-thons in Mayan languages, in fact this year because of the International Year of Indigenous Languages, edit-a-thons were held, but these efforts, despite being many, do not cover everything we would like. For example, they [edit-a-thons] are focused on a single language, while we would like them to focus on the 24 languages ​​we have in Guatemala. Those are some of the barriers. Also, all of this is done as a hobby, to rescue the culture, that is a limitation because it is difficult to find the time to meet with our compañeras and compañeros, and also because you need to go through a process of self-awareness in which we are not ashamed of speaking our languages, we are not ashamed of writing it, and look for the right tools.

Whose Knowledge: Thank you so much for these reflections, any final remarks before closing?

I think it’s important that from our small spaces, from our small trenches, we bet on this ways of communication as a form of resistance: our ways of speaking and communicating what we want, not as something like a backlog, but something like a way to continue resisting under this system that at the end seeks to silence us, seeks to shut us down in different ways… but we can resist in different ways as well, and keep speaking in our languages, keep communicating, keep moving. I think it’s good to continue showing and reivindiating that we, original peoples, are here, and we continue to resist despite so much oppression and discrimination. We continue in the fight, for us and for our children who are yet to come, so that they have a world where they can be indigenous without having to hide it.