Media Release

Newsroom Releases 2015 November Film to document a disappearing language

Film to document a disappearing language


A group of Murui children jumping into the Cara-Paran√° riverafter a day in the jungle gardens harvesting yucca, a traditional vegetable inSouth America. Taking a bath is an essential activity for everyone in thevillage. Murui elders say that the strength of one’s body requires bathing inthe river in the early hours of the day when the water is still very cold.


Kasia Wojtylak working with Sandriela translating a text.

Moderncinematic techniques and the age old art of passing stories down will be usedby James Cook University students to help document a language on the brink ofextinction in the jungles of the Amazon.

KasiaWojtylak, a Doctor of Philosophy student in Anthropological Linguistics at TheCairns Institute, and Kristian Lupinski, a Bachelor of Arts student in JCU’sCreative Industries program, have a Firebird Grant to make a documentary on theMurui language and culture.

Ms Wojtylakhas been studying the language since 2009 and spent six months in the Amazon in2013.

On thisfive-month trip she will work on the grammar component to create a comprehensiveMurui database for her PhD thesis.

The couple,who are married, leave on November 19 for Tercera India, a village of 40 peoplefrom three families, in the Colombian parts of the Amazonian rainforest.

Findingpeople who spoke Murui fluently was a challenge for Ms Wojtylak on her firsttrip.

“I lookedfor locations where Murui people were supposed to be, but kept finding peoplefrom different language groups,” she said.

“I becamefriendly with Sandriela, who at 25 was about my age. She invited me to theirhome and we walked 80km for three nights to reach their village as it was notaccessible by boat.

“The peoplethere eventually adopted me as part of their family. I refer to Sandriela as mysister and she has named her children after Kristian and I.

“The Muruiare concerned their children will not learn their culture and language andwanted it recorded as a story.

“They toldme their culture was to sit and listen to stories from elders, that they learntby doing and listening, not reading.

“They askedif I could bring my husband to record things such as how to make a canoe andbuild a house so their children could learn from it.”

Mr Lupinskisaid he would buy video cameras and recorders and teach the community how touse them so they could continue to document their culture long after theproject is completed in 2017.

“My rolewill be as curator and technical advisor, with the community as the director ofthis film to ensure it is exactly the way the Murui people envisage it,” hesaid.

“Nothingwill be staged. It will be about the day-to-day life of the Murui people.

“Ceremoniesare an important part of the Murui culture so I will capture them on film.”

Ms Wojtylaksaid her husband would be allowed to participate in some of the male ritualswhich would broaden the scope of the project.

“They havebig communal round houses called malocas which large families used tolive in, but today are used as a meeting place,” she said.

“It ismainly the men who use them to talk about their issues such as hunting and thisis when they speak in Murui rather than Spanish which has taken over theirlanguage.

“Thesemeetings are invaluable for piecing together the language as it retains manywords specific to Murui culture such as jaigabi, a traditional Muruidrink.”

In MuruiWords will besubmitted to various film festivals such as the Telluride Film Festival, TheAmerican Documentary Film Festival and The Sundance Film Festival.


Kasia Wojtylak