On February 2 and March 7, 2021, the last native speakers of Juma and the Aleutian dialect Bering died. The Juma language was spoken by one of the tribes living in the Amazon, and the Aleutian language Bering was spoken by the Aleuts living in Kamchatka and Alaska.
According to data from SIL International, one fifth of the world’s more than seven thousand languages will die at the end of the century. Aruka Juma was the last speaker of the Juma language, the name of which is the same as the name of the Amazonian tribe he came from. After the 1964 massacre, only six members of the Juma tribe, including Aruka, remained alive. After the death of his brother-in-law in the 1990s, Aruka remained the last member of his tribe in the world.
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In 1998, Aruka and her family were driven from their land and taken to Porto Velho, the capital of the Brazilian state of Rondonia. Aruka believed that this was to take the land from his family. For 14 years there was a process in which he sought her return. In 2012, Aruka and the children who had created families with members of another tribe returned to their former land.
Aruka could not communicate with his grandchildren
Aruka’s grandsons speak only Portuguese. Aruka was frustrated not being able to communicate with his grandchildren or teach them the traditions of the Juma tribe.
“ I’ve been feeling lonely lately and thinking a lot about times when there were more of us, ” he told photographer Gabriel Uchida, who spent time with the Jum family in 2016. “There were many of us before the gum-harvesters came and killed Jum’s men. Previously, the Juma were happy. Now only me is left, he recalled. Aruka died at a hospital in Porto Velho, northern Brazil, due to a coronavirus infection. He was about 90 years old. With his death, both the language and many of the traditions and rituals he was conveyed were lost.
Tymoshenko was an expert in the Aleutian field
A month after Aruka, Viera Tymoshenko, the last speaker of the Aleutian dialect of Bering, died in Kamchatka, which belongs to Russia. She was 93 years old.
Tymoshenko was an expert on the Aleutian language, history and culture that he described. For 30 years she worked in the state archives of the Aleutian language. She translated novels and poems into her native language. She also tried to teach Aleutsk to her own children and other young people. Recently, Tymoshenko has acted as an advisor to foreign and Russian linguists. – At the time when I was a student, no one expected that the language we heard in every home could disappear – she said three years ago.
Several speakers of the Aleutian language still live on the island of Atka, which belongs to the American state of Alaska, but in Russia – as far as we know – there is no one who speaks it – reminded the head of the Institute of Language Research at the Russian Academy of Sciences, Yevgeny Golovko. The dialect spoken on the American side is very different from the Bering dialect – said Golowko in an interview with Radio Free Europe.
The Aleutian language was once widespread among the indigenous peoples of the Aleutian Islands, the Pribyl Islands, the Commander Islands, and Alaska. According to experts’ estimates, there are between 100 and 150 active speakers of the language in the world.
The Potawatomi Indians of North America said when their tongue dies, “the world will perish.” It is an expression of the view, often remembered by linguists, that the disappearance of any language is a huge loss for culture, because with it the way of thinking specific to a given community disappears. Although the last native Potawatomi user died in 2011, work is underway to reconstruct this mode of communication.
Main photo source: Benedykt Dybowski (PD Old)