What would people do if their language disappeared into oblivion? What would happen to a culture when its language is extinct? These questions might pop up in one's mind when s/he learned that Achik, the oral language of the Garos, is on the verge of extinction.
This indigenous group, who live in Madhupur Garh, Mymensingh, Netrokona and Sylhet, has a long drawn history and culture. Achik is amongst the half of the world's 7,000 languages that are expected to disappear over the next hundred years. Should this extinction ring alarm bells amongst the world civilisation or is it just a way of natural elimination?
The Garo language does not have traditionally written manuscripts, but they believe that the customs, traditions, and beliefs are handed down from generation to generation orally. However, legend says they did have a written manuscript ages ago. Garos believe that when a famine hit the Garo tribe in Tibet several years back, their leader Jappa Jalimpa and the elders of the tribe sat under a tree to decide the future course for the people. It was decided by them that the tribe would leave the place in search for a more habitable land to survive. Thus a long pilgrimage began which ended after they crossed long drawn valleys and rivers to settle at the valley of the Brahmaputra River.
Before the journey, Jappa Jalimpa handed over the written manuscript, etched on goat skins, to a man to bring them to safety. However, during the journey the man starved and was forced to eat the skins to survive the ordeal. He kept his crime a secret from the tribe. And that's what wiped out their written language, believe the Garo people. Gradually, in the midst of re-establishing new life and social order, the Garos forgot their written language.
Interestingly, the National Education Policy 2010 states that indigenous children should be taught their oral language up to class three in school. However, the implementation of the policy is still to see the light of the day. Education and Cultural secretary of Tribal Welfare Association of Madhupur Garh says, “We are trying to save our language. In our homes we speak in Achik but I don't think it is helping us to save our language on a larger scale. The government should take steps to implement the education policy. I believe only that can save our oral language and history.”
The extinction of a language forces people to lose their view of their collective past as Jhumur says, “When a people lose their language, they lose an ancient view of how the human race and the world came into being and your birth into a specific culture.”
When a language dies, a community loses an enormous cultural heritage, the framework of families and most importantly, the connections and associations that define a culture. Annihilation of an oral language gives birth to a new complexity of identity.