Community Oral Histories

We don’t know what we don’t know…

Part 3

This is the third and final post in a series of guest posts by Robyn Perry, a recent graduate from U.C. Berkeley’s School of Information, about the Aikuma Project – a project to protect and strengthen the world’s existing cultural and linguistic heritage.

Aikuma Project

We are interested in gathering community members together to tell stories and record them. Our project is based on the belief that culture and language can be preserved and protected. We also believe that the crowding out of many world languages comes at enormous cost to us all, even to those who only speak “major” world languages.

For example, what lessons are contained in these languages that can help us see the world with fresh perspectives? What knowledge will be lost about climate, agriculture, indigenous medicine, conflict resolution, philosophy, or morality that is particular to these small communities? As we embark on an era of environmental uncertainty, led by the dominant economies in the world, we may be well served to tap into the know-how of populations that have been able to live sustainably in one place for hundreds of years.

Fundamentally, we don’t know what we don’t know, and we’re in the process of losing enormous cultural wealth as we marginalize and ignore indigenous elders and their heritage languages.

We are looking for people from these language communities who would like to be interviewed about language usage and cultural identity. Some of our questions include the following:

  • Do community members think the language is being lost?
  • What wisdom and stories do elders have to share?
  • What are young people’s attitudes about the heritage language? Are they speaking the language?
  • If it is being used less, why?
  • What are community members doing to share their language and culture with their children? Can we help with this?
  • Can some of the knowledge and unique perspectives on the world be protected by recording stories in the heritage language?

We will continue working on this project through December. We will be looking for more sources of financial support so we can amplify our work, support more communities, and carry the project forward in the longer term.

We hope to support existing language and cultural preservation efforts in these communities by offering support and training to record stories in the original language and translate them into English. This will create a permanent record of precious community resources that can be used for any community purpose, including language learning. We are convinced that creating translations in English will set the stage for enabling any and all content created to be translated into any other language in the world. The Aikuma Project will play a key role in facilitating understanding between diverse communities while creating a lasting record of our global linguistic heritage for language learning and study.

We would like to extend a call to anyone interested in being interviewed, sharing stories, recording their elders’ stories, or translating recordings into English.

Please help spread the word by sharing this post with friends and family members. To be interviewed, please contact Robyn Perry at or 831-332-4208.

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