Post 73 / The Next Language
January 18, 2022
The Hippie Era Lives On
When I began my career with GR back in the 1960s I got used to travelling with my backpack in out of the way places along with many longhaired hippies that were living the same lifestyle but for very different motives.
I thought those days were just memories until our recording team pulled into Huautla, Oaxaca, to base for a few weeks in order to contact a number of unrecorded languages in this area. Just a week or two before, we had purchased an old VW kombi van to get us around. This particular vehicle was iconic in the town of Huautla because it was a favorite vehicle of the hippies drawn to Huautla for the famous hallucinogenic mushrooms grown in this tropical alpine environment.
You can see our kombi parked under tree-sized ferns alongside the road. We have had numerous friendly comments about our vehicle and at least one offer to show us mushrooms. Efren, our Mazateco guide (standing by the driver’s door), was taking us to a language helper who happened to be living on top of the mountain of Huautla in the neighborhood of a famous shaman, Maria Sabena. Reportedly she was a friend of the Beatles, who are also loved in this town of 35,000 persons. Anyway, while we were waiting for Efren to find a language helper, this old lady came up boldly and asked if we were looking for mushrooms!
Glad to say we haven’t seen a single mushroom but have enjoyed living in a bustling community that is still immersed in the language. I was in an Internet café when I heard my first whistling conversation. Mazateco is a very tonal language and people can communicate completely by whistling. SIL translator George Cowan was one of the first to document this in the 1940s. I was listening to Mazatecos converse about bank papers and official documents when a guy came in the door whistling. The owner of the store whistled back. They were exchanging mundane pleasantries in a very entertaining way.
So, in four days this week we have lined up recordings in five languages. Looks like it is going to be a busy month. We are so thankful for Efren, who we found after our first night here. Life went from feeling like strangers in a place whose spiritual heat and tourist/drug reputation were tangible to being welcomed to camp in a church. There we are being hosted by Efren, whose voice is on the old GRN recordings and who knows exactly what we are aiming to do. He has accompanied us to several villages this week to introduce us to Mazateco-variant speakers. Only one village has failed to yield a willing, believing language helper.
Pray for the remainder of this month that we will record productive and fruitful materials in these languages. Pray also for our visa applications that are now before the Australian government for entry into Australia on the 27th of January.
Larry DeVilbiss | Executive Director
Global Recordings Network USA
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