Santiago Durante is an ELDP grantee researching Ayoreo (ISO639-3:ayo), an endangered language spoken in Paraguay and Bolivia. For our first A Day in the Field post, Santiago has graciously allowed us a peek into his daily routine while he’s on fieldwork.
Please tell us a bit about where you are doing your fieldwork.
I am doing my fieldwork in Campo Loro, Boquerón Department, Republic of Paraguay. It is the largest Ayoreo community of the country. The contact between the Ayoreos and non-aboriginal society is very recent. The village was founded in 1979 so the elders have lived half of their life uncontacted. In fact, there still are some uncontacted Ayoreos in the northern region of the country.
The language is vital but rapidly retracting. With this in mind, I am developing reading materials written in Ayoreo and Spanish for the younger generations. I published a book within the frame of this project that gathered stories from the aforementioned elders. In this visit I presented the book to the community and they are very happy with it. Unfortunately, between the gathering of the stories and the present day, two of the authors died. This is sad but stresses the importance of the project to continue to keep the Ayoreo cultural and its linguistic legacy alive.
When did you arrive and when will you be leaving?
I arrived on July 22nd and I will be leaving August 30th.
Can you describe a typical day in the field is like for you?
Ingomejei, the leader of the community, allowed me to stay in the Reunion Room in the village. It is great because it has a big table and lots of chairs. It also has a wall that separates another part where I put my sleeping bag.
I wake up at 6 A.M. I have breakfast and start to plan the activities of the day. Roughly at 9 A.M. I make some films (this obviously depends on the schedule of the people involved). At 10 A.M. I start working with my main consultants for 2-3 hours. We elicit different corpora or transcribe some of the videos that I previously recorded. At mid-day I have some lunch and have a break. Usually the temperature is very high at that time. At 2 p.m. we have another 2-3 hour working session with my main consultants. At 5 P.M. I try to record some other video material. At dusk we also have reunions with community council members. If possible, I take a short walk to clear my head. Then at 7-8 P.M. I have dinner and call it a day!
Is there anything that hasn’t gone quite to plan? Can you tell us about it?
In 2014, when I was returning to Buenos Aires –my hometown– my backpack was stolen. I lost a hard-disk and my notebooks. I was very upset because I lost my personal notes, diagrams and drawings. Luckily I had triple backed-up of all the data. I cannot stress this enough: ALWAYS DO A TRIPLE BACK-UP! I also started taking pictures of my notebooks with my camera and also doing back-ups of the notes.
Is there anyone in the community who’d like to share their perspective regarding your project? If so, please share.
Benito, my main consultant and co-editor of the story book, told me that he is very happy with the book and the project in general because he finds, for instance, that his son doesn’t use the Ayoreo word catibe (spoon) and instead he uses the Spanish word cuchara. He thinks that this shows that they are losing vocabulary and the documentation is a good way to preserve the language.
What will you miss most after completing your fieldwork?
Definitely what I will miss the most are the people. They were very kind to me and have shown me a new and wonderful perspective on life. Luckily, I think that once you start doing fieldwork you never stop so I am sure it will not be a ‘good bye’ but a ‘see you soon’.
Thank you so much, Santiago! To learn more about Santiago’s research and the Ayoreo language, visit: https://elar.soas.ac.uk/Collection/MPI192274