I’ve recently discovered a beautiful passage of writing from Simon Ortiz, a writer and poet of the Acoma Pueblo tribe. From the collection of essays “Song, Poetry and Language: Expression and Perception,” Ortiz reflects on the power and meaning of song and language.
He writes, “The song as expression is an opening from inside of yourself to outside and outside of yourself to inside, but not in the sense that there are separate states of yourself. Instead, it is a joining and an opening together. Song is the experience of that opening…A song, a poem, becomes real in that manner. You learn its completeness…You learn a song in the way that you are supposed to learn a language, as expression and as experience.” I love how Ortiz describes the simple yet profound act of language as a living and breathing entity.
This expression is also explored in our new film Recording Kawaiisu by Adam Loften. In this film, we meet two of the last fluent speakers of Kawaiisu, Julie Girado and her father Luther Girado. The Yaatiip Valley, at the southern end of the Sierra Nevada in California, has been home to the Nuwä—or Kawaiisu—for up to fifteen hundred years. Though still unrecognized by the federal government, the Kawaiisu culture originated among the Tehachapi Mountains. Nuwä abigip—the Kawaiisu language—is a Southern Numic language of the Uto-Aztecan language family.
Julie, who has recorded thousands of hours of conversations, is documenting the language that lives within her father and aunt so that it may be learned by others and passed on to future generations.