It’s now up to a single 65-year-old man in the northern jungle of Peru to prevent a native Amazon language from disappearing forever.
Like so many plants and animals in the Amazon, native languages are an endangered species. Last month, 67-year-old Rosa Andrade Ocagane, one of two people known to still speak the language resígaro, was brutally murdered, according to newspaper El País (Spanish). That leaves her brother, Pablo, as the only resígaro speaker still alive. Andrade was also one of just 40 people who speak another threatened language, ocaina.
The languages in Amazon rainforest, which has undergone massive deforestation in recent decades, are particularly vulnerable to obsolescence. Amazon basin countries account for almost 20% of all endangered tongues in the world, UNESCO data show. The countries over which the rainforest stretches, including Peru, Brazil and Colombia, are in the process of losing more than 400 languages, according to data from UNESCO’s Atlas of World Languages in Danger. Nearly 30 languages that once existed in the region are now considered extinct.
The Peruvian government has been launching initiatives to rescue indigenous linguistic knowledge, and was about to start a project with the Andrade siblings to revise a resígaro grammar book and dictionary compiled by American missionaries in the 1950s. The project will go on with Pablo alone.
Pablo and Rosa Andrade Ocagane were raised by an ocaina father and resígaro mother. They spoke resígaro to one another to honor their mother, according to El País.