Tag Archives: Endangered Language Alliance

What a Garifuna-Breton Party Has to Do with Jack Kerouac

15 Mar

James-Lovell

photo via ELA

After a short hiatus for renovations and new partnership, Bowery Poetry is back—dropping “Club” from its title—and they’re hosting a Garifuna-Breton party! I’ve posted before about endangered languages—both of which these are—but why I specifically want to mention this party is because Jack Kerouac claimed to have descended from a Breton nobleman.

Bretons are people from Brittany, a Celtic nation located in France. During Kerouac’s day and age there were more than one million Breton speakers. The Brythonic language (Welsh, also endangered, is another example of a Brythonic language) was originally well regarded and spoken among the upper classes, but as people began assimilating it became known as the language of the commoners. Today,  most Bretons today speak French, and only about 200,000 people—particularly in the western area—speak Breton. In the 1960s, the language was being forced out of schools—just like many Native American and Sami languages were. Today, schools are returning to bilingualism, particularly through the efforts of Diwan schools, which were founded in 1977 as an immersion program. Even so, UNESCO classifies Breton as a “severely endangered” language. For more on the history of the language visit Breton Language and visit the US Branch of the International Committee for the Defense of the Breton Language.

Kerouac’s family was French Canadian, and growing up in Lowell, Massachusetts, his first language was the working-class French-Canadian dialect joual. It’s interesting to note that both Breton and joual are associated with commoners; perhaps this is a key to understanding Kerouac and his literature. As far as my current research shows, he was not familiar with the Breton language. However, I recently saw Christopher Felver’s documentary Ferlinghetti: A Rebirth of Wonder, which told the story of how one day Kerouac was sitting on the beach in Big Sur with poet and City Lights founder Lawrence Ferlinghetti repeated the phrase “the fish in the sea speak Breton.” Kerouac perked up, hearing the connection to his roots, and asked Ferlinghetti about it and wrote it down in the little notebook he always carried with him. The phrase found its way into his novel Big Sur.

Satori in Paris, which came three years after Big Sur, recounts Kerouac’s travels to France and Brittany in search of his roots. For a fascinating look at Kerouac’s trip and ancestral lineage, check out Dave Moore’s article “The Breton Traveller” on Beatdom.

Here’s the press release for the Garifuna-Breton party:

BOWERY POETRY

IS BACK WITH

A GRAND GARIFUNA-BRETON PARTY!

Poetry! Music! Dance!

Sunday*, March 18 from 6pm-11pm

Admission $10

Bowery Poetry, 308 Bowery (at 1st Street)

Endangered Language groups unite in a call to action to focus attention on the fact that more than half the world’s languages will disappear this century  

Two cultures who met through the Endangered Language Alliance, will celebrate their differences (Breton being Celtic and Garifuna being Arawak), and their similarities (both on the Endangered Language spectrum), but mainly will just celebrate with live music, dance and poetry. This event is being produced by the Bowery Arts + Science Endangered Language Program, and will be one of the first events at the newly renovated Bowery Poetry space at 308 Bowery.

Breton

The strong Breton cultural movement, known as Fest-Noz,  has preserved the expression of a living and constantly renewed practice of inherited dance repertoires with several hundred variations, and thousands of tunes. About a thousand Festou-Noz take place every year with participants varying from a hundred to several thousand people, thousands of musicians and singers and tens of thousands of regular dancers.

Garifuna

Descendants of Arawak, Carib, and African warriors, the resilient Garifuna people of Central America and the Caribbean are known for their rich traditional folklore, including music, dance, food and language. James Lovell is a New York based Belizean Garifuna drummer, recording artist, performer, teacher, and Garifuna cultural activist who grew up with stories told by his elders about the bravery of the Garifuna people and their military leader, Chief Joseph Chatoyer, against efforts by the British colonialists to deny them their identity and the right to speak the Garifuna language.  

 

 

*I double-checked this, and according to the Endangered Language Alliance the event is on MONDAY the 18th.

The First TV Series to Focus on Endangered Languages

18 Jan

So excited to finally share with you the press release for the documentary on endangered languages I’ve been involved with:

The First TV Series to Focus on Endangered Languages

New York City: “Of the 6500 languages spoken in the world today, only half will make it to the next century,” says poet Bob Holman, one of the founders of the Endangered Language Alliance and host of a new travel series spotlighting the cultures of endangered languages, premiering February 1, 2012, on LINK TV.  “While endangered plants and animals are protected by law, who is looking out for the cultures and ways of life held in these words?  That is the heart and mission of this series.”  Encounter the distinct cultures and peoples of West Africa, Asia and the Middle East in the three-part documentary On the Road with Bob Holman and discover ancient languages on the brink of extinction.  Each of the half-hour shows, produced by Rattapallax in association with Bowery Arts and Science, will air on Link TV, which is available on local cable channels, DVD, online, and on DirectTV channel 375 and Dish Network channel 9410.

“The way Anthony Bourdain goes after the edible delights of far-flung cultures,” comments Bob Holman, “that is the way I reveal the extraordinary richness of languages that encircles the globe—the personalities who embody ways of life so different from, yet achingly familiar to, our own.”  Holman, who won three Emmys producing poetry shorts for WNYC-TV and founded the Bowery Poetry Club in New York City, discovers that the roots of spoken word go back thousands of years and span the globe.  He goes On the Road to track them down!  He throws himself into the life—sharing meals and participating in ceremonies, dances, and parties, as he trades stories, fun, recipes, insights, jokes, songs, and poems.  Along the way, he gets passionately immersed in the Endangered Language crisis and guides us to the bottom-line question of survival of these systems of consciousness with respect, joy, and dedication to diversity. In 2010, with linguists Daniel Kaufman and Juliette Blevins, he founded the Endangered Language Alliance in New York.

In the first two episodes, Holman visits West Africa to focus on the griots, keepers of the West African oral tradition and tribal genealogy through poetic songs. He travels up the Niger River and continues on to Timbuktu, where Beat poet Ted Joans lived in the 1960s.  He discovers the roots of hip-hop, rap, and blues that originated in Africa and witnesses a kora–guitar jam session between griot Karamo Susso and Ali Farka Toure’s son, Vieux.  Holman then visits the Timbuktu Library, which houses volumes from the 16th century when the city was the center of African learning.  We learn how to ride a camel before venturing into the Sahara, where we spend an afternoon listening to the hypnotic music of the Tuaregs, the nomadic “blue people,” so named because their indigo-dyed clothing rubs off on their skin.  Then it’s on to Dogon country, where we witness a breathtaking mask ceremony.  These two episodes air February 1 and February 8, 2012. The third episode focuses on the resurrection of Hebrew in Israel and the decline of Yiddish, Ladino, and other tongues.  When poet Ronny Someck, a “true Israeli poet from Iraq,” gives Bob a tour of Jaffa and suggests he visit the West Bank to hear Arabic, Holman takes the grueling journey through the endless checkpoints and the Separation Wall to reach Ramallah. Once across the Wall, he meets with some young Palestinian hip-hop poets who explain the complexities of living near the Separation Wall that dominates the landscape.  The experience leaves Holman pondering how a national language creates barriers between the many different voices and languages of the region and affects political thinking. This episode airs February 15, 2012.

Travel the road not taken, with Bob Holman, in On the Road with Bob Holman, beginning February 1, 2012, on LINK TV.

More to come soon!

Mapping Out Houses of Worship in NYC

24 Mar

Remember the other day when I mentioned that cute little restaurant Penelope?  Well, last Friday Penelope happened to be the opening setting of a New York Times article by Mark Oppenheimer, entitled “Mapping Religious Life in the Five Boroughs, With Shoe Leather and a Web Site.”  The article is about a Texas native named Tony Carnes, who moved to New York to go to The New School, where incidentally I’m enrolled in the MFA program, and who is, according to his website, “exploring the postsecular city.”

He’s mapping out every house of worship in the five boroughs of New York.  My immediate thought was: there are so many churches that make use of school auditoriums, bars, and ballrooms — how will he find those churches, if he’s driving around looking for church signs?  Well, apparently Carnes hears about those by word of mouth.

But he isn’t just mapping the city out.  He and his colleagues are telling stories.  Stories such as:

“The youth of Bethany Baptist Church put together a modestware fashion show in Jamaica, Queens called ‘A World of Difference.’ They follow a long tradition of fashion shows in African American churches.” —Fashion in Church, Jamaica, Queens

“Under the searing sun and stench of roadside garbage, a teenage Hispanic girl carrying a baby boy comes out of a door next to a church. Her tousled hair looked like she’d been up all night. The baby’s unwashed face was smeared with dirt; a diaper was the only thing covering his bare skin.” — Girl Power in Flatbush

“What church would get rid of its pews to make more room for feeding the poor? Surely, wouldn’t the pastor resign, the elders stomp out in exasperation, and the members hastily decamp for a properly pewed church? All that didn’t happen at a Lower East Side church ten years ago when it did just that…” —East Village church threw out its pews to make room for the poor

If you want to know about Greek Orthodox churches and Greek Pentecostal, there’s also an article posted on the census the nonprofit took in Astoria.

I love the way Carnes and his nonprofit organization are uniting houses of worship.  In a way, it’s kind of a blend of the way Burnside Writers Collective gives community and voice to people of varied Christian background (head’s up: check out my church hopping column tomorrow!) and Asphalt Eden illustrates various New York church’s unique personalities by listing events.

In another way, it reminds me of the exciting and noble work the Endangered Language Alliance, headed up by Dan Kaufman, Bob Holman, and Juliette Blevins, is doing, mapping out endangered languages in New York and working to preserve them.

For more on Carnes’ “Journey thru NYC religions” visit http://www.nycreligion.info.