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The Journey of an Indigenous Man to Preserve His Tribe's Language and Heritage Will Inspire You

He gave Ted Talks, joined conventions, and participated in festivals to save his indigenous language, which almost went extinct.
Cover Image Source: YouTube/UNESCO en español
Cover Image Source: YouTube/UNESCO en español

Colonization that lasted for centuries almost wiped out indigenous civilizations and their cultures in the process of ensuring the loyalty of natives for the colonial powers. OSU describes how Evangelization was used as a tool to make natives faithful to the settlers and native tribes in America were manipulated, brainwashed, and tortured to let go of their beliefs, religion, and culture. Tribes were forced to take huge risks in order to pass on the knowledge of their tradition from one generation to another. Blas Jaime's mother poured all of her knowledge regarding Chaná into her son, as reported by the NY Times. During a time, when even speaking that language could lead to maiming, this move was fraught with danger.

Representative Image Source: Pexels |  Vincent Tan
Representative Image Source: Pexels | Vincent Tan

Ederlinda Miguelina Yelónm, Jaime's mother had immense pride in her heritage, coming from an indigenous tribe called the Chaná that lived in Argentina and Uruguay. Their lives were intertwined with the mighty Paraná River, the second longest in South America before they were attacked by Spanish colonizers, who wanted to wipe out their culture to establish authority. Any hint, that the tribes were speaking their native language or following their customs led to brutal repression. The group worshipped nature and revered silence, while their language was throaty by nature and involved little use of lips and the tongue. The tribe was matriarchal, which implied that knowledge must be passed on from a mother to her daughter. Since, Ederlinda did not have any daughters she taught all she knew about the tribe from their folktales to songs, to Jaime with one warning. The warning was to keep his knowledge a secret from colonizers. So, for decades Jaime kept mum about knowing the language of the Chaná. After retiring as a Mormon Preacher, Jaime went out to seek other people who spoke his native language, but couldn't find any.


The language had long been categorized as extinct by scholars, but in his 60s, Jaime set out to preserve all he knew about the Chaná tribe. In this pursuit, he received help from UNESCO. Referring to Mr. Jaime, Serena Heckler, a program specialist at the UNESCO regional office in Montevideo, Uruguay’s capital, said, “We are very aware of the importance of what he’s doing.” The man worked for months with a linguist to compile a dictionary of roughly 1,000 Chaná words. He has done everything from giving TED Talks to joining conventions and participating in festivals, just to put his tribe back on the map. His reason is simple, losing something as vital as language means putting an entire group's existence in danger. “Language is what gives you identity,” Mr. Jaime said. “If someone doesn’t have their language, they’re not a people.” Jaime has become a beacon of hope for the indigenous community in Argentina, seeking to preserve their identity after decades of torture.


Jaime has now passed his knowledge down to his daughter, Evangelina Jaime. “It’s generations and generations of silence,” said Ms. Jaime, 46. “But we won’t be silent anymore.” Evangelina like many other indigenous youth constantly battled the threat of becoming a social outcast. “It was passed down from generation to generation: Don’t cry. Don’t show yourself. Don’t laugh too loudly. Speak quietly. Don’t say anything to anyone,” she said. But, seeing her father strive so hard to preserve his tribe's identity has filled her with more respect than ever for her lineage. She now organizes workshops about the tribe and teaches her own kids the language, ensuring that it survives for generations.

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