Foundation for Endangered Languages
1. Editorial: DÚCHAS - Táá Kóó Diné: a trilingual poetry collection in Navajo, Irish and English
This work is as far as I know unique. It is by origin a volume of Navajo and English verse by Rex Lee Jim. But the communing of sentiment does not stop there, in the usual way, between a minority language and the lingua franca provided by its local metropolis. Instead, it has been picked up by a poet in another language, this time Irish, and tried out again.
The Irish translator remarks (in Irish and English) that he understands above all the dispossession , of language, of land, of freedom. “The use of Irish, therefore, in this collection is as native to the themes as Navajo is to the particulars of the culture and people depicted herein.”
This may be so at a very high level. But the sad fact is that, to share the sentiment, whether of complaint for the past, vitality, humour or of confidence for the future, the two poets have had to work through English. Ó Breasláin has no Navajo, and where the structure of Navajo diverges from the English, his Irish always follows the English.
I say “follows”, but on the pages, the Irish always leads the procession, followed by English and then, usually, a Navajo original. Strange, perhaps, but the answer lies on the back of the title page: this is an Irish book, published in Belfast with the support of the Northern Ireland Arts Council.
The need for desperate collaboration to get beyond the English-language milieu is well expressed for me in one poem called “The Bridge Made of Rainbow”, placed on the front of this Ogmios.
We are stuck in a high-up place, getting up courage (apparently Dutch courage) to make the crossing back to the place we were before; our only hope to get there is to hang together, but the bridge is swinging, and the waters beneath rush swiftly. Drawing us on though is the drumming of a giant’s heart…
This passage back is not a safe or a comfortable undertaking, even when we have the support of friends.
That support can on occasion bring mortal peril to those who offer it, a bitter truth shown in March this year when three US Americans from different communities (Menominee, Hawai’ian, Anglo) were brutally murdered as they began their journey home having made the attempt to pass on some of their own cultural tactics to friends among the U’wa people of central Colombia (see section 4).
But when support comes from serious military force, as it does to the Kosovar Albanians at the moment, it is almost totally insensitive to the real cause it has adopted (see section 3 “Ironies of Politics”).
We can only pray that strength and understanding will more and more in future hang together.