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Speaking out: the indigenous tongue that has finally become official

Ashéninka People signing an official letter during the workshop Ashéninka People signing an official letter during the workshop
30 May
2019
Peruvian community gains official language recognition

A professor at the University of Sussex has been credited for his pivotal contribution towards helping Ashéninka, an indigenous Peruvian language, gain official recognition by the country’s government. Dr Evan Killick, a senior lecturer in anthropology and international development, held a five-day workshop in the heart of the Peruvian rainforest during 2017. He highlighted the negative educational impacts caused by the failure to recognise the Ashéninka language and creating awareness about how the Ashéninka people could lobby the Ministry for Culture and Education to push for change.

There are approximately 100,00 people in the Gran Pajonal region of Peru, classified as Asháninka, of which 11,000 speak Ashéninka. Ashéninka is not to be confused with Asháninka despite the similarity in spelling as the two languages are significantly different, with notable variations in alphabet, words and pronunciation.

A section of the NOPOKI campusDr Killick’s workshop in Peru

Dr Killick, whose research mainly focuses on the Amazonian region, including its people, culture and future development, commented: ‘This official recognition of Ashéninka is extremely important for the 11,000 individuals who currently speak it in the region. There was a real danger that this language would be lost as it was not supported in local schools or recognised in official documents and meetings. This acceptance will support Ashéninka people as they seek to conserve their language and make sure that their culture and way of life is kept alive for future generations.’ Killick collaborated with his Peruvian partners: the Intercultural Association of Atalaya, SHARE-Amazonica and the indigenous university UCSS-NOPOKI, to organise an Intercultural Workshop on Collaborative Research.

Students at the 2017 workshopStudents at the 2017 workshop

In 2019, two years after the professor’s workshop, the Peruvian state officially recognised Ashéninka as the country’s 48th national language. As a result, Ashéninka children will now be able to access educational materials in their own language, rather than having to translate a neighbouring linguistic variant.

Indigenous community leader, Amalia Casique Coronado, who was thankful for the professor’s help, said: ‘Until the anthropologists met, we were really lost, we were pushing at all the wrong doors.’ Dr Killick wants to continue to work with the communities of the region, focusing on the conservation of Peruvian Amazon’s cultural and biological diversity.

PERU MAP

The official statement released by the Peruvian government legally recognising the native language, reads: ‘General Law of Education establishes as the Principle of Education, interculturality, which assumes the cultural, ethnic and linguistic diversity of the country as rich, and finds recognition and respect for differences, as well as mutual knowledge and learning attitude of the other sustenance, for harmonious coexistence and exchange between the different cultures of the world.’

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