A Language, A Canal

RamaKey1I was researching information about Nicaragua’s grand canal project last fall when I stumbled on a video about the people in Bangkukuk Taik, a small indigenous community on Nicaragua’s Caribbean coast. If the canal is built, these people will have to move, and their small village will become the canal’s Caribbean side deep water port.

One comment stood out: A man talking about how they had trouble communicating with the government officials because the government officials spoke Spanish. Some people in Bangkukuk Taik speak Spanish, but not everyone does. The older generation, in particular, does feel comfortable speaking Spanish.

I’m obviously interested in language, so I decided to investigate the linguistic tensions surrounding the canal. It turned out that the next time the government showed up to talk to the people in Bangkukuk Taik they brought interpreters, but it also turned out that Bangkukuk Taik is the only remaining cradle of Rama, the community’s indigenous language.

In an effort to understand more about this language, the community’s relationship to it and the 3-decade-long revitalization effort to save the language from oblivion, I traveled to Bluefields, Nicaragua, and then to Rama Cay, where I met two young men who had learned Rama as a second language. I stayed with the local minister’s family, and ate coconut rice cooked over an open fire. I drank black coffee brewed over the same open fire. At night, the wind was so fierce that I was afraid my things would blow away, even from inside the house.

These adventures culminated in a story for Schwa Fire about the Rama, the three-decade-long revitalization project and the Nicaragua canal. Read it here.