For more than a decade, the school has run a revitalisation program for the traditional language of the Nunggubuyu people.
“I’m the role of the community here, I’m the one who speaks the language that works here,” Hilda Ngalmi tells Guardian Australia.
“It’s important for us because we have to follow our ancestors, they told us our stories about a long time ago and what has happened in the past. We have to keep the stories for our future generations so they know what the story is about.”
Ngalmi is a teacher linguist of Wubuy at the Numbulwar school on the remote Arnhem Land coast of the Gulf of Carpentaria. For more than a decade the school, with about 150 students from the small Indigenous community, has run something of a rescue program for the traditional language of the Nunggubuyu people.
On Thursday morning Ngalmi, a Nunggubuyu elder, Jangu Nundhirribala, and another teacher linguist, Helen Flanders, are leading a group of children in the hokey pokey.
The preschool staple is a familiar sight, but the words have been translated into Wubuy.
Ba-wan.ngang “hokey pokey”
Earlier in the class the kids had rolled around on the floor, singing as they pretended to be “muri”, or buffalo. On the walls around them were pictures and illustrated language sheets. A series of pictures for the next song were projected on to the whiteboard.
Teacher linguist Hilda Ngalmi, Nunggubuyu elder Jangu Nundhirribala, and teacher linguist Helen Flanders, lead a group of children in the hokey pokey dance. The group is singing in Wubuy as part of a language program run at the Numbulwar school on the remote Arnhem Land coast of the Gulf of Carpentaria
Wubuy is the traditional language of the people who live at Numbulwar, but most people speak the northern Australian creole language, Kriol. Numbulwar is a two-day drive from Darwin and is completely cut off during the wet season.
It’s estimated there were once about 250 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages in what is now Australia, but less than half remain in use. Most, including Wubuy, are considered endangered. An increasing number of programs and initiatives are under way to preserve and maintain languages, including a Noongar language Wikipedia, online databases and educational cooperatives.
Because of its tenuous existence, Wubuy has been taught in Numbulwar school for more than a decade as part of a “revitalisation” program.
“Wubuy is still strong,” says Ngalmi. “We still talk our language, but our children, they don’t speak it. They know it, and what we’re talking about, but they answer us back in Kriol. That’s the main problem with our children.”
Ngalmi spends most of the lesson speaking in Wubuy, except when she has to explain things to the students in Kriol. “It’s a big challenge for me to teach the children, to make them speak this language. They understand it’s important but it’s a difficult thing for them with the pronunciation.”
Bundurr Rami Nunggumajbarr, a teacher at Numbulwar, describes the start of the program back in 1990.
“There were four elders from the community, and they decided they wanted to teach Wubuy at the school,” Nunggumajbarr tells Guardian Australia.
“They decided to teach as volunteers with no pay, and we used to get every class coming in and the three elders used to teach Wubuy.”
Before it was established the people of Numbulwar held community meetings about how the language program would work and continued meetings oversaw its implementation and lesson planning. Non-Indigenous teachers acted as classroom assistants to the Wubuy speakers and assisted with the creation of learning materials.
“We made videos and film in Wubuy,” says Nunggumajbarr. “From starting small it became very big where today we have lots of resources here at Numbulwar.
“We had a lot of strong elders involved in the language program. A few passed away but we still have the elders that came from the community. We’ve got really strong people here at the school, that are teaching Wubuy.”
Flanders supports the teachers and creates educational resources such as videos, books and songs. Some books tell stories about the visits of the Macassans to the region long before Europeans arrived. Others describe flag songs and dances, and public parts of songlines.
Many of the songs and video clips have been put together by the children’s parents, former students and their childhood music teacher, Tony Gray, according to Flanders. “There’s a lot of music in the community, they’re really talented,” she says.
“Our resources are coming from the project funding and it provides employment, work skills, makes them work ready, and they’re getting money … And they know the language, they know the culture, they know the people.”
Getting children enthusiastic about learning is half the battle, and former Numbulwar teacher Selena Uibo, now the new territory parliamentarian for Arnhem, says the program runs through secondary school to make sure students have a good grasp on Wubuy by the time they appreciate the importance of it.
“We’re not a bilingual school,” says Uibo, whose mother was principal at the school before her. “It’s about reintroducing and making sure our language is strong here in the community.
“It’s what the community wants and the family wants, and the school supports it. We’re lucky the education department supports it, so the Labor government will support it too.”
- This article originally appears at:
- Article taken from the following publication:
- The Guardian
- Article submitted by:
- Helen Davidson