The ICT authority hopes to make the language accessible on an online repository, for posterity’s sake
Harriet James @harriet86jim
It’s 1 pm and the sun is scorching in the sleepy Kurikuri village, which is about 250km from Nairobi. We are at Manasseh Matunge’s home for an interview and from his fenced homestead, one can see the magnificent view of the surrounding hills of Mukogodo in the vast Laikipia plains.
He is joined by Leteiyo Leituko, an 80-year-old man and Lesi Kinyanyi, one of the few people in the village who can fluently speak the group’s native tribe, Yaaku.
“I want the language to continue and also for generations after me to still speak it fluently like myself,” says Leituko.
So far, there are only seven people who can fluently speak the Yaaku language and all are over 70 years. In 2010, a report was released by United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) indicating some of the languages in the world that are in danger of extinction. The Yaaku is one of them. Others are Sogoo, Elmolo, Kinare, Kore as well as Lorkoti.
The Yaaku language is closely related to Rendille, which is spoken by the Rendille people who reside in the northern part of Kenya. In the last one century, they have been assimilated into the Maasai culture and lifestyle to the extent that the language is slowly disappearing.
Leituko tells us that he received the language from his forefathers and is afraid that the language is slowly dwindling with their intermarriage with the Maasai community.
A few members of the community have made efforts to preserve the language. They have formed a cultural group with an aim of using the few Yaaku speakers to teach the young people how to speak the language.
So far, they have published a dictionary of Yaaku words translated into Kiswahili and the Maa language.
Professionals in Kuri Kuri village are ensuring that the language is taught in schools and that the young children learn the language by recording, curating and storing the language and teachers will be able to teach their students with ease and clarity.
However, despite this effort, little has been achieved. It is in this regard that Joe Mucheru, the Cabinet Secretary, Ministry of ICT has continually called for the use of ICT to preserve and propagate Kenya’s rich culture.
“As a nation, we need to appreciate what is unique to us. There is a way in which some of our genres cannot be explained in another language. There is a need to create a melting pot, a repository of those things unique to us and then see how they can be grown,” he says.
So far, only three African languages have been translated and the question is if we don’t do anything, will Kenya’s languages and culture stand a chance to be known by the world?
On its part ICT Authority is considering to develop an application that will support other efforts to preserve the Yaaku language and save it from extinction.
It is hoped that the application and website repository will not only document and preserve the language, but make it accessible for the young generation who are enthused about technology.
It is hoped that the youth can then use it to learn the language. The ICT Authority’s effort is informed by their efforts to promote the use of ICT in the country positively and documenting language is one such positive use of technology.