It is obviously painful when a language you pride yourself in, a language you treat as magnificently beautiful, is branded as extinct. This is the grim reality that the Yaaku tribe in Kenya is facing. Their language has basically faded into oblivion.
The Yaaku tribe of Kenya’s Rift Valley is encumbered with a hopeless situation for them. Their language, Yakunte, is disappearing from the face of the Earth. There are only seven people left who can still speak the groups native language. Njapaa, a 78 year old man who is one of the seven people still speaking Yakunte, spoke to Aljazeera expressing his distress over the death of their language. "It's disturbing to see that young people who are supposed to take over from us have decided to abandon this beautiful language," Njapaa said.
All the people who still speak the language are over 70. It highlights the extent of the brutal death that this language has suffered. It has been a painful, but somewhat inevitable erosion of the language. The problem manifested itself more than a century ago, with the advent of white colonialism in the East African nation.
The Yaaku people migrated from Ethiopia to the caves and hills of the Mukogodo forest in Kenya's Rift Valley more than a century ago. The name Yaaku means “the hunting people”. Upon having settled in the area, they began hunting and keeping bees. Honey is part of their staple food. But the arrival of white settlers offset a drastic shift in the demographics of that time. The Maasai had their land taken by the whites. Being a warrior tribe, and one of the largest pastoral communities, they began their search for new land.
The choice to settle in the Mukogodo Forest seemed a better one for them. And that meant surviving alongside the Yaaku people, and trading with them. It had seemed a cordial relation at first, but warriors are always warriors. The Yaaku had a small population and little wealth. The Maasai perceived them as inferior, calling them Ntorobo, meaning "poor people with no livestock". If there is a starting point in making something cherished become moribund, then this was it.
With no other choice left at their disposal, the Yaaku began assimilating into the Maasai community and subsequently adopted the Maa language spoken by the Maasai to ease communication. "That's when our language started dwindling slowly," Njapaa said. Today the Yaaku are considered as part of the Maasai by the government of Kenya. They number about 4000.
The doom that this language will have to go through seems quite imminent. If the remaining old people die, surely, this would be the end of Yakunte. At this point, Yakunte speakers have lost hope. It is not only Yakunte being affected. Many other languages on the continent are suffering the same fate.
UN world heritage group UNESCO says as much as 10 percent of the over 2,000 languages spoken in the African countries may disappear within the next 100 years. These are quite bleak and worrying figures.
Image Credits: Al Jazeera