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Kubeo sacred landscapes: a key to culture and language maintenance

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Title: Kubeo sacred landscapes: a key to culture and language maintenance
Authors: Chacon, Thiago
Issue Date: 02 Mar 2013
Description: This paper reports on an ongoing project among the Kubeo Indians in the Brazilian Northwest Amazon that demonstrates how the documentation of threatened domains of traditional culture can be used as a method and resource for enhancing language, culture, and formal education in a minority ethnic group. By engaging young speakers in language and cultural documentation through training and practice the project allows them to reassess and re-elaborate cosmological values, acquire traditional linguistic practices and develop educational resources that can enrich the school curriculum.

Sacred landscapes are central to the Kubeo's conception of the world. The Kubeo creation story views the present Kubeo groups as descendants of aquatic beings who underwent a long underwater journey. The sacred places noted in this mythology not only demarcate their conception of territory, but ultimately describe the phases through which the Kubeo people have undergone in order to emerge as Kubeo human beings (as opposed to fish or other humans). The sacred places are also foundational to their acquisition of fundamental cultural traits (e.g. shamanism, vital substances, and their sacred ornaments and musical instruments).

Under the scope of the Kubeo Documentation Project, we have created a program where senior high school students document the cultural knowledge around sacred places through research with community elders. Preparatory meetings were held to make this a community project, rather than a "school" or "individual's" project. Then, students were trained in language documentation and interviewing techniques (audio and video recording, transcription, translation, and annotation with relevant cultural information). They documented traditional narratives about the creation of humankind and with the elders investigated in depth the cosmological significance of each important sacred place. In a second phase, a fieldtrip took both the students and the elders to document the sacred places on site. Finally, we organized a workshop to wrap up the project and to produce its tangible outcomes: a textbook on native geography and a short movie documenting the research process.

This project is also related to the current momentum in Kubeo society where their cultural and linguistic heritage is being challenged by modern values and demands. Enhancing training of native speakers, improving access to technology, contextualizing traditional culture and language in the school curriculum are important in the present so that the Kubeos can bridge the past and the future of their society.
Rights: Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported
Appears in Collections:3rd International Conference on Language Documentation and Conservation (ICLDC)

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