Andrew Harvey is an ELDP grantee documenting Gorwaa, (South-Cushitic, Afro-Asiatic), a previously undocumented language, spoken by approximately 15,000 individuals in Babati District, Manyara Region, Tanzania.
Please tell us a bit about where you are doing your fieldwork.
The area where my fieldwork is being carried out has traditionally been inhabited by the people of the Gorwaa ethnic group. Following an old regional convention, I often refer to this place as Gorwaaland. Gorwaaland is a relatively small geographic area, but is incredibly diverse. Located in the eastern branch of the Eastern Tanzanian Rift, Gorwaaland is a mix of dry scrubland, hilly miombo woodlands, wet riverine forest, and equatorial rainforest. The entire area has rather violent geological history, and is marked by features like volcanic blast craters and lakes with no known outlets. The area has probably been a crossroads for very different peoples since very deep time indeed. All major language phyla of the African continent are represented in and around the Eastern Tanzanian Rift.
When did you arrive and when will you be leaving?
This period of fieldwork began in early September of this year, and is going to be quite short: only about three months. The main goals this time are to check previously-collected material, to fill gaps relating to my thesis, and to delve deeper into the more complex grammatical patterns. Hopefully I’ll also have enough time for the fun stuff: collecting traditional stories and songs, spending time in the hills and forests talking about trees, and eating winged termites with my host family.
Can you describe what a typical day in the field is like for you?
The entire Gorwaa-speaking area is witness to rapid change: paved roads and electricity are slowly creeping up the hillsides and into the remote villages. Endabeg – the village where I live – is still quite rural. Every day begins at 5:30AM, when the animals start to wake up. Once the milk cow is fed and given water, the chickens are let out, and the other cows, goats, and sheep are out of the stable and being looked after in pasture, it’s a quick breakfast of tea and maybe a boiled egg or a kitumbua rice doughnut, and then off to meet one of my language consultants. Yesterday, for example, I spent the day with two sisters who brought me through hilltop forests of bracystegia trees to a special place where fine potting clay can be dug. Using a small video camera and a voice recorder, I recorded as they explained the process involved in digging the clay, as well as the associated ritual taboos. On the day you dig clay, you mustn’t apply oil to your body; when descending into the pit, you must be barefoot; when returning home, you mustn’t greet anyone you meet along the way. We ate together at their home in the afternoon, and I recorded as they ground the clay and began forming it into a small pot. There exists an extensive set of words used specifically for potting, and, with luck, many will have been represented in these recordings. Days end back in Endabeg, inputting the day’s recordings and creating metadata. Recording equipment is plugged into the solar battery to charge, and then it is time for bed.
What are you most looking forward to doing after returning from fieldwork? Conversely, what will you miss most after completing your fieldwork?
The people who I live and work with every day are an incredibly important part of my research, and also, part of my life. Watching consummate singer Aakó Bu’ú Saqwaré make bird snares from animal hair, hunting honey with bands of teenagers, long chats my Gorwaa mother Ayi Raheli – these are all the things that I miss the most when I leave. These very personal feelings are mixed with the general dread shared by many documentarians of endangered languages. With the passage of time, fewer and fewer people are speaking the Gorwaa language, and increasingly unable to comprehend the universe around which the language has evolved. The mystic dialogue between the diviner and his tla/ee stones, the exquisitely-crafted sinika riddles meant to brighten the home with laughter at night, the rowdiest of manda drinking songs – all of these forms of expression are impoverished with the passage of time. What I’m looking forward to the most once back in the UK will no doubt be the odd Gorwaa-language WhatsApp message, and the Skype call that begins in xáy! And perhaps a hot shower too.
Thank you so much, Andrew! To learn more about Andrew’s research and the Gorwaa language, visit: https://elar.soas.ac.uk/Collection/MPI1014224