Don Fletcher, the last fluent speaker of Mpakwithi, was recorded by linguist Terry Crowley fifty years ago.
Don Fletcher was the grandfather of today’s Mpakwithi Elders, Agnes Mark, Susan Kennedy and Vikki Kennedy.
When he was a boy, people were punished for speaking their languages. He learned Mpakwithi by sneaking away from the Mission to spend time with his Elders, who still lived free in the bush. He wrote songs in Mpakwithi and taught them to his grandchildren.
For decades Agnes, Susan and Vikki have continued to get together and sing his songs, without understanding the words they were singing.
The Mpakwithi Ancestral Language Team has recorded Don Fletcher’s granddaughters, Agnes, Susan and Victoria, singing his songs and, now, the meanings of most of the words in the songs have been found by comparison with the wordlist and sketch grammar of Mpakwithi written by Terry Crowley fifty years ago.
In November, the PLC brought together Elders of the Mpakwithi and Injinooo Ikya Language Nations and students of the NPA State College for the Intergenerational Transmission Choir Project.
Experienced music educator, Julie Mayhew, was employed by the PLC to conduct choir workshops with school students and the wider community. During the workshops, students and Elders sang Mpakwithi and Injinoo Ikya songs together, raising the prestige of these ancestral languages.
Through the Project, all children in the NPA will learn the songs of Injinoo Ikya and Mpakwithi, just as they presently learn songs in Creole, Meriam, English and Kala Lagaw Ya. This is a significant step towards revitalising these languages for current and future generations.
“It went really well, with Elders from the Injinoo Ikya and Mpakwithi working together with PLC to strengthen the revival of our languages.” —Sandra Sebassio, Angkamthui Elder
“We, the Mpakwithi families, are proud. We feel uplifted and we believe our ancestors are too.” —Agnes Mark, Mpakwithi Elder