In pictures: Kenya’s forgotten Yaaku are reclaiming their language

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And then there were two.

UNESCO declared the Yaakunte language extinct in 2020, although Juliana Lorisho and her grandfather are fluent in the Kenyan language. The problem is that they are the only ones.

Why we wrote this

In a globalized world, many minority languages ​​are on the verge of collapse. But native speakers still seek their revival – not out of practicality, but rather out of dignity.

Undeterred by the odds hanging over her, Ms. Lorisho works to build a school to revive the language. There are around 4,000 people of the Yaaku ethnic group in Kenya, although the language took a hit a century ago when they were forced to integrate with the Maasai.

While formal education in Yaaku is still a long way off, Ms. Lorisho leads the “Revival of Yaaku Language” group chat on the WhatsApp messaging platform. Revolving around 33 participants, the group uses text and voice messages to learn new words. “It’s a way for us to practice our culture and differentiate ourselves from other communities we have assimilated to, she says.

In the meantime, she will continue to wander through Mukogodo, Kenya’s only indigenous-owned forest and a place integral to Yaaku identity. This is where Mrs. Lorisho transcribes her grandfather’s stories, nibbles diiche fruit, and admires the landscape of a land she quickly calls “paradise”.

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Mukogodo Forest, Kenya

Enter the diiche, a prickly cactus bulb, far from my novice hands, Juliana Lorisho skillfully uses a leafy branch to remove the thorns before splitting the fruit with her fingers. Surprisingly bright juice shoots out, staining the fuchsia-white fabric. It tastes sharp and fresh. the diiche is just one of the many edible fruits found in Mukogodo, Kenya’s only indigenous-owned forest.

“It’s heaven, isn’t it,” Mrs. Lorisho said, scanning the goldenrod-lined path. neeyna flowers.

This place is an integral part of Ms. Lorisho’s cultural identity. Just like the words she uses to describe him. They are remnants of the Yaaku community, a small population of around 4,000 people in Kenya who were forced to assimilate into the Maasai ethnic group a century ago.

Why we wrote this

In a globalized world, many minority languages ​​are on the verge of collapse. But native speakers still seek their revival – not out of practicality, but rather out of dignity.

Ms. Lorisho and her grandfather are the last two Yaakunte speakers. In a last-ditch effort to save the language of her ancestors, Ms. Lorisho left a stable accounting position in the town of Nanyuki and returned to the edge of the Mukogodo forest with a dream of founding a school.

“I have a big mission to revive Yaakunte because a lot of Yaaku are interested in speaking the language,” she says.

Juliana Lorisho drags Yaakunte into the 21st century with a WhatsApp group that teaches the language to other Yaaku members.

She was still seeking funds when UNESCO declared Yaakunte extinct in August 2020. With renewed urgency, she sought a temporary solution. She started a “Revival of Yaaku Language” group on the encrypted messaging app WhatsApp.

Revolving around 33 participants, the group uses text and voice messages to learn new words. “It’s a way for us to practice our culture and differentiate ourselves from other communities we have assimilated to,” she says.

Mukogodo Forest in Kenya is part of an elephant migration corridor.

Mzee Stephen Leriman Leitiko is the last Yaakunte speaker of his generation. He taught the language to his granddaughter Juliana Lorisho, and she began transcribing the oral tales he tells.

Juliana Lorisho’s dream of a “Yaaku Center of Hope” is beginning to take shape.

Lpeesen Lentula, a beekeeper in Dol Dol, Kenya, harvests one of his many hives. Beekeeping is an important cultural livelihood for the Yaaku.

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