In celebration of the 2019 International Year of Indigenous Languages Canberra will host its first Language Party.

26 November 2019

The 1 December event will feature a story in Ngunnawal by traditional custodian Glen Freeman.

Glen and other senior members of Canberra's Ngunnawal community have for eight years worked to revive spoken and written Ngunnawal with the help of Canberra linguists and historians.

‘When I first started getting things right [in Ngunnawal], it gave me the shivers,’ Glen said.

‘It was like it gave me an inner vision of who I actually was. All these visions were connected to the language – a phrase, a word, putting it all together...I felt a recognition of being, of connection.’

Glen will tell the story of Wanagan the sulphur-crested cockatoo and it will be the first time he has shared a story spoken entirely in his Aboriginal tongue.

In all, five storytellers will share tales in rare and endangered languages. The four other speakers are:

  • Abhi Tripura will speak in Kokborok, a Bangladeshi hill tribe language with no written form and just 18 speakers in Australia
  • South African Thandazwa Katase will speak Xhosa, a language involving clicking sounds
  • Alison Walker will speak Welsh
  • Afghani refugee, poet, and artist Hangama Obaidullah will speak Dari.

The event will be emceed by passionate language advocate Kingsley Omosigho, whose mother tongue is a language from Benin.

Canberra's Language Party is the last event of 2019 for the Aikuma Project, a Darwin-based organisation that uses live storytelling to celebrate, champion and preserve Indigenous and minority languages. So far this year, parties have been held in various locations around the country – mostly in remote and regional Australia.

‘It is fitting to end the year in the place that represents our national identity,’ Aikuma Project's Director Steven Bird said. ‘What is our identity apart from our stories? Building the recognition and appreciation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages will contribute to the national pride of all Australians.’

For Glen Freeman, sharing and learning language has more immediate benefits.

‘Language can save a child from going down the wrong path, by connecting him or her with language and culture – and who they are. That’s saving a life,’ Glen says. ‘That’s giving someone the opportunity to see the bigger picture, and to cast off the things that have been making them ill for such a long time. Language has a place in that. This is what connects you to your culture. This is what connects you to the bigger picture and to intangible places.’

Prominent traditional Ngunnawal custodian Wally Bell, will deliver a ‘fireside chat’ after the storytelling component of Language Party Canberra, where he will share an intimate account of the city’s first peoples, their culture and their lives.

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