World Book Day: ‘We need our own stories’

On World Book Day, Naga writers and others underline the need to learn mother languages, write   local stories, and digitise indigenous languages. (Morung Photo)

On World Book Day, Naga writers and others underline the need to learn mother languages, write local stories, and digitise indigenous languages. (Morung Photo)

Vishü Rita Krocha
Kohima | April 22

“We need our own stories. There has always been a huge void in our lives because we didn’t grow up reading our stories,” Abokali Jimomi, an author and a mom, who is keenly interested in documenting and telling stories of her own indigenous culture, emphasised on the eve of World Book and Copyright Day that falls on April 23.

For the coming generation however, she underlined the need to ensure that there are enough local stories for them to relate to even while observing: “We want everything to be in English whether it is names of people, food or home appliances.”

There has also been a significant growth of writers in the State in the last decade, she noted, but expressed her strong feeling that “our stories should be original and we must have our local stories written using our own local heroes, names and characters and we should be proud of it.”

This year, for World Book and Copyright Day, UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) is also focusing on the message of “Indigenous Languages” even as the UN prioritises to uphold and promote linguistic diversity and multilingualism while acknowledging various forms of literature including oral traditions. 

While there are about 7000 existing languages around the world, many of these languages are on the verge of extinction.

A major challenge
In the context of Nagaland, majority of today’s children are also getting accustomed to speaking, reading and writing in English, which is a major challenge faced by Naga parents.

While Jimomi has always been particular about preserving her language, when the time came for her children to learn, she confessed, “It is very difficult to make them learn. They watch English videos, are taught English in school and converse in English, because not all of their friends speak in Sümi.”

 “It started to hit me that this was going to be tough because we don’t have books to read in Sümi,” she shared. 

“What’s My Mother Tongue?” written by Jimomi and published by Pratham Books is an outcome of her own personal experience and highlighted the story of identity and disappearing languages.

“I think it is important for me to say that I cannot really undermine the importance of reading and also to remind ourselves how reading exercises our mind and we must try to start early,” she articulated on World Book Day.

More importantly, she reiterated that “we should stress on our own stories for our children, stories about ourselves and lived experiences and not just about the past.”

Mention may be made here that Jimomi is a MBA graduate from the University of Liverpool in the United Kingdom, and has also authored “Bobo and the Worms” while two other children’s books written are in the pipeline.

 Earlier, she co-produced a documentary film on the agricultural stories and songs of the Sümi Naga called Yenguyelie Qa: The Silent Field (2012), as part of Endangered Languages Documentation Project (ELDP).

‘Digitisation of indigenous languages’
While most children today converse in English either at home or in school, Rokovotso Meyase opined that digitisation can play a big role in preserving indigenous languages which are fast disappearing. 

Impressing upon that children's lives are increasingly being influenced by digital technologies, he noted that digitisation of Naga languages could be one of the best ways for the younger generation to stay in tune with their native language.

For Meyase, his mother tongue is the root of his identity even as he emphasised: “If we lose our language, we will lose our identity.” One of the co-authors of “Dzüleke Phese Mu Kelhoudze,” a book in Tenyidie, chronicling the foundation of Dzüleke village, he also viewed that writing in one’s own language can also help preserve mother tongue.

‘One’s socio-cultural essence’
Dr Kevizonuo Kuolie, Assistant Professor, Department of English, ICFAI University Nagaland, observed that there are two approaches towards one’s mother-tongue. 

“On one hand, there is this urgent need to master English to find a place in any competitive context. And this necessity is taking place at the cost of compromising one’s dialect,” she said. 

On the other hand, she highlighted that “there is another group with a growing concern that fluency in one’s dialect establishes their core identity.” In this context, she pointed out that, “Some people are fortunate to live in an environment which boosts their spoken and writing skills in their dialect.”

However, stating that the challenge is with those living in a heterogenous cultural context, she puts across that, “it will be a grim endeavour to balance all these” even while emphasising that, “no matter what, a well-grounded knowledge and praxis have to start at some point because one’s indigenous language is one’s socio-cultural essence.”