Friday, November 23, 2007

Chile high school student preserves Patagonia indigenous languages in HidroAysen threatened area

(Nov. 19, 2007) Sixteen-year-old Santiago high school student Joubert Yantén has a mission: to preserve Patagonia’s indigenous languages and worldviews through music.

Yantén became fascinated with Patagonia’s indigenous cultures at the age of 8. It was only later that his mother revealed his ancestral connection to the groups he had begun to research: His great-great-grandfather had been a Selk’nam, member of a Patagonian indigenous people more commonly known as Onas.

The Onas and other Patagonian indigenous groups were largely eliminated after Western colonists arrived to the southern tip of South America, a region that would be exploited for gold mining, fishing, pelt-gathering and sheep grazing. Many indigenous people were killed, while others succumbed to disease after being taken to Christian missions. Today, very few native Patagonians remain.

Intrigued by Patagonian cultures such as the Selk’nams, Yaganes and Kawéskars, Yantén taught himself some of their languages by studying dictionaries and grammar and phonology texts. In some cases, he was able to make use of audio recordings that captured the words of some of these tongues’ last remaining native speakers. By the age of 14, he had become proficient enough in Yagán to travel to Patagonia and speak with Navarino Island resident Cristina Calderón, considered the last surviving Yagán. He said that Calderón, whose children and grandchildren had not learned Yagán, was surprised to discover that he spoke her language.
Here is the full article.