Preserving N|uu: A Granddaughter’s Pledge to Her Grandmother’s Tongue

In South Africa’s Northern Cape, the echoes of a fading language, N|uu, are carried on the weathered lips of a resilient woman, Katrina Esau. At 90 years old, Katrina recalls a time when the playful words of N|uu danced freely on the wind, spoken by the laughter of children. However, the legacy of colonialism cast a shadow over the language, branding it as “ugly” and smothering its song with shame and oppression.

Despite the weight of history, a defiant spark ignited within Katrina. In 2005, she established a school dedicated to the revival of N|uu. Her granddaughter, Claudia, an ardent supporter of the cause, joined hands with her, envisioning a resurgence of the language that once resonated through their ancestors’ stories.

Ouma Katrina Esau, the last known fluent mother-tongue speaker of the indigenous N|uu language

The pandemic’s arrival and subsequent hardships halted the school’s efforts, leaving the dream deferred and the building vandalized. Yet, Katrina’s spirit remains unwavering. She holds onto hope, her eyes reflecting a determination that refuses to let her heritage fade.

Claudia echoes her grandmother’s urgency, acknowledging the immense responsibility: “If Ouma dies, then everything dies.” She aspires to carry the torch, harboring dreams of establishing a school that will revive N|uu from the ashes of neglect.

However, Katrina yearns for more than mere preservation. She longs for the warmth of conversation, the comfort of speaking her soul’s language. “I miss speaking to someone,” she confides, highlighting the deep human connection embedded in language.

N|uu’s story symbolizes the loss of silenced voices, urging us to cherish the rich diversity of human expression. It’s a tale of resilience, of a grandmother’s unwavering love that fights to prevent a language from fading into obscurity. Through Katrina’s struggle, we witness the echoes of countless silenced tongues, reminding us that every language holds an intricate tapestry of stories waiting to be revived.

Let us heed this call not just with our ears but with our hearts. Joining Ouma Katrina and Claudia means embracing their mission to keep N|uu alive — not just as a string of words, but as a vibrant mosaic of culture, history, and the essence of our humanity. By preserving N|uu, we safeguard a part of ourselves, honoring the belief that even the faintest whisper carries the weight of an entire world.

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