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One World, Many Voices: Endangered Languages and Cultural Heritage

Endangered Languages and Cultural Heritage
  • Yaro Richo watches a Koro song recording with children in Kajõ village, East Kameng District, Arunachal Pradesh, India. Photo by K. David Harrison
  • Virtuoso Kalmyk musicians Dmitriy Sharayev and Viktor Batyrovich Okchayev are among the many young people who are leading a revival of the Kalmyk language and culture in the Republic of Kalmykia in the Russian Federation. Photo by Chris Rainier, courtesy of National Geographic Enduring Voices Project
  • Wayuu dancers from a village in La Guajira Province, Colombia, perform a courtship dance. Photo by Daniel Sheehy
  • A Garifuna woman in Belize sifts cassava flour with a sieve. People in Garifuna diaspora communities throughout the United States are working to preserve and revitalize their language and cultural traditions for future generations. Photo by Michele Goldwasser
  • The wanaragua dance narrates the history of Garifuna resistance to colonial forces through performance. On Christmas and New Year's Day in Los Angeles, Garifuna performers continue this tradition by traveling house to house dancing wanaragua. Photo by Michele Goldwasser

One World, Many Voices

Endangered Languages and Cultural Heritage

Of the more than 7,000 languages spoken in the world today—many of them unrecorded—up to half may disappear in this century. As languages vanish, communities lose a wealth of knowledge about history, culture, the natural environment, and the human mind.

The One World, Many Voices: Endangered Languages and Cultural Heritage Festival program highlighted language diversity as a vital part of our human heritage. Cultural experts from communities around the world joined us to demonstrate how their ancestral tongues embody cultural knowledge, identity, values, technologies, and arts.

Through performances, craft demonstrations, interactive discussion sessions, community celebrations, and hands-on educational activities, highly skilled musicians, storytellers, singers, dancers, craftspeople, language educators, and other cultural practitioners came together on the National Mall to share their artistry, knowledge, and traditions; to discuss the meaning and value of their languages to their cultural heritage and ways of life; and to address the challenges they face in maintaining the vitality of their languages in today’s world.

Festival visitors interacted with Kalmyk epic singers and Tuvan stone carvers from Russia, Koro rice farmers from India, Passamaquoddy basketmakers from Maine, Kallawaya medicinal healers and textile artists from Bolivia, Garifuna drummers and dancers from Los Angeles and New York, and many others.

When a language disappears, unique ways of knowing, understanding, and experiencing the world are lost forever. The expert culture bearers who participated in the One World, Many Voices program richly illustrated these different ways of knowing and showed how cultural and language diversity enrich the world.

The One World, Many Voices program was produced by the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage in collaboration with UNESCO, the National Geographic Society's Enduring Voices Project, and the Smithsonian’s Recovering Voices Initiative.

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