Your language is your identity

International Mother Language Day is celebrated worldwide on the 21st of February to emphasize the importance of mother languages. ‘Your language is your identity,’ said former school principal Greta Pané in her speech during the celebration in Galibi, a Kari’na (or Carib) community in Suriname. ‘Try to keep your language.’

In Galibi the indigenous inhabitants of the village gathered for the celebration at the St. Anthony School. Teachers from this school had transformed the school into a small museum with a focus on Carib traditions and the history of Galibi. In the classrooms were photographs, indigenous artefacts and souvenirs on display. Visitors were invited to take a picture of themselves in traditional clothing.

Pupils who start in the first grade, have only spoken Kar’ina at home. At school, they are in the first instance also addressed in this language. The standard language at school is gradually converted to Dutch. According to village leader, Mr. Pané, the role of the mother tongue is a major challenge for the current curriculum in Suriname.

The speeches during the day reflected the multilingualism in the indigenous villages and broader society. Virtually every language spoken in Suriname was used during the speeches. A good example was the poem “My language” in which a student spoke in two languages about her mother tongue Kar’ina. There was also a storyteller who entertained the audience in this native language.

Between the speeches, there was time for dancing and singing and three boys demonstrated the traditional Devils Game. The player of this game has to wiggle wooden cubes which are strung on a rope, as quickly as possible through a knot in the middle. The day was thus not only a celebration of indigenous language but there was also attention for their culture.


Text: Matthijs Bood. Photos: Anna-Carolina Alder.