Foundation for Endangered Languages

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1. An Honoured Guest

Our cover this quarter features Berito KubarUwa (also known in Spanish as Roberto Cobarķa), a roving ambassador for the U'wa people of eastern Colombia, currently locked in a life-and-death struggle with the Occidental Petroleum Company of Los Angeles. This is particularly poignant for them, since they believe oil, Ruirķa, to be sacred; extracting it from the Earth is sacrilegious, and will lead to widespread droughts.

As part of a tour of western Europe which he undertook in the middle of April, he was invited by the Foundation for Endangered Languages, along with the Earth Love Fund, to visit the UK. He was here over the few days 16-19 April, and while here he was interviewed by the BBC World Service (Latin America) and visited the Foreign and Commonwealth Office for talks with the Head of the Brazil/Andean Section.

He also attended a street protest outside a major shareholder in Occidental, Fidelity Investments (in Lovat Lane, London EC); addressed meetings of Colombian refugees near Vauxhall, and of NGOs and linguists at the Gaia Foundation in Hampstead (where this photo was taken); and still found time to record a song with the group Jezebel and a gospel group in Notting Hill, for a CD to be produced by the Earth Love Fund.

 

 

Some details of the U'wa case can be found in section 5 below. Their language (which is split into 4 or 5 dialects although it has fewer than 5,000 speakers in all) is endangered only in that the people who speak it face a severe threat to their continued existence. The language is still lively in this small community. It is the only close relative of the now extinct Chibcha language, which was once the speech of the dominant civilization in the northern Andes.

After a quick stop back in Colombia, Berito was then off to in Southern California, to make his presence felt at Occidental's latest general meeting of shareholders. He can be contacted through the Editor of Ogmios.

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