Imagine what would happen if everyone on the planet quit speaking English, and no dictionary or record of the language existed anywhere. You might feel pretty sad about it, especially if you were the only English speaker left! But that’s exactly what’s happening to many Native American languages. They are in danger of being lost because few of the younger generation are learning them, and many languages have never been recorded.
Fortunately, through the efforts of the Kawaiisu Language and Cultural Center, the remaining Kawaiisu (Nuwa) fluent speakers are recording their conversations and stories in order to preserve the sound and correct usage of this beautiful language. Classes are offered to anyone interested so that there may be new speakers of the language, and language learning materials are offered on the center’s web site.
Also, in 2003, Kawaiisu: A Grammar and Dictionary with Texts by Maurice L. Zigmond, Curtis G. Booth and Pamela Munro was newly edited and released again by Dr. Munro. Here you will find words that provide clues about what was, and still is, important to this group of Native Americans.
One such word is “tutukuski’i.” According to the Kawaiisu dictionary, this means “To shoot with a bow and arrow in competition; to practice shooting.” This word tells us that the Nuwa enjoyed competing against one another to see who was the most skilled with the bow, and also that this skill was important. Why? For survival. Before they had rifles, Nuwa hunted with bows and arrows to provide meat for their families, and they were successful because they practiced frequently – tutukuski’i!
If you would like to learn more about efforts to revitalize the Kawaiisu language and culture, or would like to get involved yourself, please visit the Kawaiisu Language and Cultural Center website at www.kawaiisu.org. And when you read The Butterfly Basket, you’ll be able to learn a few Kawaiisu words right along with Sara and Joey. Have fun!
Garfinkel, Alan P. and Williams Harold. 2011. Handbook of the Kawaiisu. Wa-hi Sina’avi Publications.
Kawaiisu Practical Grammar, a language learning reference for regular folks.Free download, www.kawaiisu.org. See the Media page for many recorded lessons.
Zigmond, Maurice L., Curtis G. Booth, and Pamela Munro. 2003. Kawaiisu: A Grammar and Dictionary with Texts, Revised Edition. University of California Press.