Foundation for Endangered Languages

Home | Manifesto | Membership details | Proceedings | Grant Applications | Newsletter | Links | Bibliography


3. Appeals and News from Endangered Communities

Preserving the Akha Language

Date: Tue, 27 May 1997 23:41:42 +0700 From: Matthew McDaniel akha(at)

Dear Friends:

I have resided in Northern Thailand at Maesai for the last six years. My primary objective is the preservation of the Akha people, their culture and their way of life. I am attempting to do this by focusing on the preservation of their language. (I am not a part of a mission organization)

I saw real problems with the access to the written language and desired to establish a wide based literacy program. Although I am not a linguist by training, I have worked extensively with the Akha to design a new script that would allow for ease of writing and concise choice of sounds.

Over six years we have progressed to the point where we think we have 98% of all the sounds, though there are variations between Burma and Thailand. We have not yet addressed the issue of the dialects in Laos and Vietnam. The sounds of the Akha in China along the Burmese border are similar to those in Keng Tung if you don't count the Hani.

At any rate, our goal to make the written language widely accessable to the young people and not solely restricted to published religious texts has met with a lot of assistance and acceptance on the part of many of the Akha although those of particular religious affiliation have not necessarily been happy about what it represents.

We are in need of more funding for payment of Akha informants and tranlsators who can assist on our progressing dictionary and grammar project.

We have finished an Akha Children's Workbook which is in use and are finishing our final editing on an Akha Children's Phrase Book. Although many Akha are desiring to learn English we find that reinforcement of the Akha language helps all around no matter what else they wish to learn.

There is an incredible opportunity at this time to make a very large collection of Akha knowledge through recorded interviews and the writings of Akha's who enjoy that skill, but action must be taken quickly if this is to be accomplished as the building of the Thailand-Burma-China highway is rapidly changing the face of this whole region and we feel sad about what we see happening to the Akha as a result of these fast moving events. We are hoping that our foundation work and literacy program can take hold before more of the Akha Community and way of life is destroyed beyond repair.

We invite the comments of any and would very much like to hear from those who would wish to keep in touch with our progress. As well, being less than expert at aquiring funds we would enjoy hearing any possible suggestions in that regard.

Please visit our web site as we build it, modify and temper it to become more and more effective.


Matthew McDaniel

The Akha Heritage Foundation Akha University - Maesai 397/1 Sailom Joi Rd. Maesai, Chiangrai, Thailand 57130

Ph: 66-53-640-588 Fax: 66-53-733-332 Try the other line in case one is down temporarily ph or fax

E-mail: akha(at)
Web Site:
Cultural Library Rescue, Belize

From: Preston Hardison (pdh(at), 25 June 1997
The Central American Institute of Prehistoric and Traditional Cultures at Belize urgently needs your assistance. The Institute focuses its interests on the ethnobotany of sacred and medicinal plants, shamanism, states of consciousness, and ancient traditions. The Institute has the largest research and educational library in Belize, consisting of irreplaceable books, photographs, artifacts, field notes, and other archival materials. The recent rain storms and hurricanes have damaged the library and archival storage. Algae, worms, and the dense tropical moisture have penetrated our building and are rapidly destroying the collection.



We estimate that in one month, one-third of the collection will be damaged; in two months, three-quarters may be beyond repair. In three months, there may be nothing left to salvage. This is a loss that the people of Belize cannot afford. Several of our staff members have returned to the United States to appeal for help in rescuing this irreplaceable resource. We have initiated a Rescue Operation to raise emergency funds, and urgently need your support.

The Central American Institute was established under a registry charter in 1991, and granted full recognition by the Ministry of Education of the Government of Belize, in accordance with the Education Act of 1991, Section 38. The Institute is a non-profit research and educational institution, established for the purposes of promoting the preservation of ancient and traditional worldviews and materials, and to act as a center for the dissemination of knowledge and interest in the study of such cultures. The Institute aims at preserving indigenous cultures through the preservation of traditional knowledge. Now, this traditional knowledge is about to be destroyed.

The Instituteps library and archives contain documentation of indigenous groups that have already disappeared. If these field notes, slides, photographs, and artifacts are destroyed, there will be no way to replace them. The collection also consists of plant specimens and ethnobotanical fieldwork, documenting and exploring the medicinal value of rain forest flora. The destruction of this collection would be a great loss to all who value our planetps biodiversity and seek new medical solutions to todayps health problems. Further, the Instituteps collection consists of rare and out-of-print books, providing an extremely valuable resource to ethnologists, botanists, scientists, and students alike. The Instituteps collection contains priceless research and documentation about the Maya, Creole, and Garifuna populations of Belize and the neighboring regions. The collection, however, is not limited to Central America, but contains information from around the world: from South America, to the Middle East, to Siberia. Once this material is lost, this cultural and educational resource will be gone forever.

Time is of the essence. We need $60,000 now (Phase I). We are appealing to foundations, corporations, research societies, institutes, individuals, and television and radio announcements to raise these funds. We urge you to help us cope with this emergency situation by contributing whatever you can. Your contribution will be acknowledged on our homepage. Also, please, help us spread this message to friends and colleagues who may be interested in supporting this Rescue Operation.

We can provide documentation of our non-profit and educational status, and a detailed break-down of the allocation of funds. Further information about the Institute can be obtained on our Website at The Institute is also listed in Issue 3 of the People and Plants Handbook, published by World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), UNESCO, and Royal Botanic Gardens-Kew.

In these times of modernization, Westernization, and technology, traditional life is being displaced and destroyed irrevocably. It is imperative that we preserve cultural and natural resources, traditional epistemologies, and biodiversity. We appeal to you to support the Central American Institute in its drive to preserve these resources for the benefit of the developing country of Belize, as well as the global community. Please, make checks payable to: Central American Institute.

We all thank you for your support.

Dr. Michael Naxon

Emergency Fund, Central American Institute
8033 Sunset Blvd., Suite 2040
Los Angeles, CA 90046, USA
+1-818-344-8516 (Emergency Fund line)