“Our native tongue, the Arawak language, is nearly dead,” says the chief. He wears a button-up shirt with navy blue pants and his voice is soft and kind. “There is an old man who still knows the language, but when he dies, the spoken language will die with him.”
I shift my feet uncomfortably in the sand. It seems somber and heavy to hear a man discuss the death of his language; the demise of his culture. The sacred Kamaka Tree stretches above us – it’s impressive, gnarled limbs creating an umbrella across the afternoon sky.
The Arawak Amerindians of Guyana believe this tree to be the Mother of Life. It can never be cut down or damaged, they say, because as the tree grows and her roots spread, the balance of all other life will continue to flourish. The irony is glaring and ugly – a living tree and a dying language and a chief with a button-up shirt.
I try to imagine words that no longer exist – words on a page with no one who can pronounce them. Then I think about the sacred tree that grows as the surrounding culture dies. Humans are like that though, aren’t we? Protecting tangibles and letting intangibles sink beneath the surface of our consciousness, like pebbles in the water – gently, slowly, until they’re gone forever. We pass down houses and jewelry and yellowed photo albums, while faith gradually stops at one generation.
Faith ceases altogether because it can’t be held; because it can’t be seen. The Word, the Living Word, the One who became flesh and dwelt among us isn’t passed down; His Word isn’t inscribed upon the hearts of our children. We stop reading, meditating, living, and practicing. We hold on to and protect crooked trees and forget about the tree upon which He died. We are just one generation away from losing the Word. So speak it and read it and bathe your children in its goodness and beauty and post it all over your walls so that The Word may continue to live within your people.
And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart. And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes. And thou shalt write them upon the posts of thy house and on thy gates.