Guatemala is one of the countries with the highest percentage of indigenous population in Latin America. Because of that, there are 24 native languages, of which 22 are Mayan — in a country where Spanish is the official language. Unfortunately, according to the UN, about half of indigenous languages are at risk of being extinguished around the globe, and Guatemala is no exception.
Ancestral knowledge, and whole ways of understanding the world: that is what is lost every time an indigenous language disappears. In an effort to rescue and reinvigorate indigenous languages in the country, and thanks to a long tradition of social organising and articulation of different sectors, Guatemala is witnessing the emergence of several initiatives based on the use of online technologies. One example among many is the creation of the Kaqchikel Wikipetya’ (Wikipedia in Kaqchikel) which due to the small number of articles is still in incubation, not yet officially recognized. This and similar projects are expressions of the need to create content in indigenous languages and give them visibility through the Internet.
A Festival to Talk about Indigenous Languages
It was under this frame that the Latin American Festival of Indigenous Languages on the Internet (known by the Spanish acronym FLLII) took place last October in different departments of Guatemala: Cobán (August 23), Xela (September 27), Antigua Guatemala (October 22, 23 and 24), and Guatemala City (October 25, 26 and 27). The multiplicity of places comes from the need to decentralize the knowledge that is too-often concentrated in urban areas, and the aim of bringing spaces for analysis and discussion closer to indigenous communities.
Organized by the Latin American Festival of Indigenous Languages on the Internet Consortium, the FLLII was directed towards indigenous languages speakers, activists, technologists, teachers, students, Wikipedians and all people interested in indigenous languages. The agenda was organized under different formats (discussion panels, workshops, conferences, etc.). Some cross-cutting topics of discussion included digital content in indigenous languages, human rights on the Internet, indigenous languages activism, and the sharing of local experiences and initiatives.
In addition, scholarships were provided with the aim of supporting participation of indigenous people from different territories of the region. The result? A festival with important geographic, ethnic, and linguistic diversity, and outstanding participation of indigenous women.
Along similarly disruptive lines, the closing session of FLLII took place on the street. This was important, because taking back public spaces is a subversive and strategic act that breaks our information bubbles, and it is also crucial for building bridges between diverse territories.
Let’s Do Podcasts in Indigenous Languages
Whose Knowledge?’s Claudia Pozo had the pleasure of contributing to the FLLII with a workshop about making podcasts in indigenous languages, based on the experience of our Whose Voices? podcast. In the workshop we talked about the podcast as an affordable, accessible and ultimately strategic tool to bring our languages to the Internet. A podcast, when it centers the stories of communities and people, is a tool that creates online communities and strengthens the work that our organizations and communities do.
Why Indigenous Languages on the Internet?
Whose Knowledge? also recently organized a Decolonizing the Internet’s Languages gathering — co-located with MozFest in London —, which took place simultaneously to the FLLII. Decolonizing the Internet’s Languages was designed as a space to bring together a range of people thinking about languages online and lay the foundations for future research on the State of the Internet’s Languages, and had several things in common with the FLLII. One of these is to bring indigenous languages onto the Internet as not only a strategy of preservation, but also of resistance and decolonization.
FLLII participants brought essential and meaningful views to this discussion, framed on their realities and experiences. We share here some pieces of these reflections, which at Whose Knowledge? we find inspiring and deeply encouraging for continuing building paths towards Decolonizing the Internet’s Languages.
“We are resisting against a reality that is abnormal, which should not be, that is violating fundamental human rights, such as the access to information and to technologies. So, it is in this frame that this work is being done: in a context of exclusion and dispossession, we seek to position, to make visible, to promote indigenous languages, the languages of our people, on the Internet.”
“We're trying to create community and to support each other but we are not enough. We will need the support of the whole community, of the Maya-speakers, of those who speak native languages, also of people who do not speak these languages, but who have an interest in them, to help us, to share, to viralize what we do, which is something we need in order to make our languages known.”
“Language is one of the most important columns of our identity [...], the phenotype doesn't matter so much nowadays, because it has been taken away by so many mixtures, it doesn't matter if you use a traditional suit or not, it doesn't matter if you are mestizo or not, the important thing is self-identification, the subjective identification.”
“The internet is not going to guarantee that my language survives, but we can [use it to] leave a record, and we can motivate people so that they can keep the language alive. [...] Obviously writing is a very important strategy, but it is not enough, I think we have to keep sharing, we have to keep encouraging people, because we need to write, record, speak, and so on.”