December 2016 – First Intergenerational Transmission Choir workshop

Intergenerational Transmission Choir Project: First Nations of NPA join forces with Pama Language Centre and NPA State College

Torres News, Monday, December 12th, 2016

Last week Elders of the Mpakwithi and Injinoo Ikya language nations and students of the NPA colleges sang together for the future of the ancestral languages of the NPA.

The NPA is home to a myriad of cultures, but few of NPA’s ancestral languages are now spoken fluently by young parents, so the home is no longer a secure refuge for our threatened languages. UNESCO considers the transmission of language from one generation to the next to be a key marker of language health.

Song is a strong part of both the traditional and contemporary cultures of NPA. Singing is also a natural medium for the revival of intergenerational language transmission and the strengthening of bonds between generations.

Over the past year the Pama Language Centre (PLC) has joined forces with two of the First Nation language communities of the NPA: the Mpakwithi and the Injinoo Ikya. In January of this year these communities formed Ancestral Language Action Teams (ALATs) to revive, record and revitalize their languages.

Sisters Agnes Mark, Susan Kennedy and Victoria Kennedy, aided by Johnny Mark, formed a group to focus on the Mpakwithi language. The Injinoo Ikya Team represents the mutually intelligible languages of Angkamuthi, Atambaya and Yadhaykanu and is led by Sandra Sebasio, Meun Lifu, Cecilia Ropeyarn and Roy McDonnell.

From 7th to 11th of last month, music educator Julie Mayhew and visual arts teacher Susan Marsh met with the two teams to begin work on establishing a cross-cultural Intergenerational Transmission Choir to reboot the important process of intergenerational language transmission.

For the first time in more than 40 years, young children were heard singing in the language of the Mpakwithi, a clan originally from Tent Pole Creek, north of Weipa. Children from the 5 communities also had their first taste of singing in the dialects of Injinoo Ikya. A key idea in this programme is that every child of the NPA will have an opportunity to learn the songs of the Mpakwithi, Angkamuthi, Atamabaya and Yadhaykanu. Whilst not every child will gain fluency in these languages, there is safety in numbers and these important songs will be embedded in the collective memory of the children of NPA.

The week’s workshops were conducted at both the Injinoo and Bamaga Primary campuses of NPA State College. Elders and students sang all day. Choir Leader Julie Mayhew says there are a lot of great singers in the NPA. Julie thoroughly enjoyed the experience of joining the Mpakwithi and Injinoo Ikya ALATs on their mission to revive their languages, saying it was “an incredible opportunity. I felt privileged to work with the elders and school community. It was a humbling experience.”

The ALATs were also happy. Mpakwithi Elder Agnes Mark told Julie “the Mpakwithi families are very proud and uplifted. We believe our ancestors were too.”  

If community enthusiasm is anything to go by this first Intergenerational Transmission Choir workshop marks the beginning of an important and historic partnership between the Mpakwithi and Injinoo Ikya language communities, Pama Language Centre and NPA State College, toward the revitalisation and maintenance of the precious and unique ancestral languages of NPA.

One line of a beloved Mpakwithi hymn is now being spoken with new hope and meaning:

Bwi Kanhangana!

We are saved!