Keeping Arrernte language and culture strong

Indigenous Literacy Foundation

Slap bang in the middle of Mparntwe/Alice Springs is Akeyulerre Inc., a service developed by and for the Arrernte people who live in and around the Central Australian town. Many of these families come from small communities across the region, including Harts Range (Arteyerre), Santa Teresa (Ltyentye Apurte), Alcoota (Alkwerte) and Amoonguna (Imengkwerne).

“It’s all about Arrernte culture and language. The focus is on keeping language strong,” says Dan Murphy, the coordinator of the Ingkenterne/Bush Schools project at Akeyulerre, where elders teach kids about Country and culture on trips out to the Arrernte homelands.

Dan has been ordering from ILF’s Book Supply program since 2016. When he started working there, the books at Akeyulerre were “old and falling apart”. Then he heard about the work ILF does from Alice Springs-based book illustrator and artist, Pamela Lofts, who left a generous bequest to our Foundation.

“We deal mostly with bush mob, where there are often no books,” Dan explains.

The service runs out of a little old house that “feels like a home”, and the books from ILF are kept on a shelf in the lounge room. Many of the young mothers employed in the bush medicine social enterprise business established by the service read the picture and board books to their babies and toddlers.

“They practise their reading to children. The children see the adults reading and are drawn towards it.”

The older kids and young teens who often hang about at Akeyulerre tend to gravitate towards the non-fiction titles. As do the adults who regularly access the books.

“Older people will sit back and browse through the information books or sometimes read a biography … occasionally there will be a book on the shelf that is very relevant to a certain topic that may be being discussed at work and within the community. It’s great when someone remembers this and pulls it out to help facilitate discussion.”

The books from ILF also provide inspiration for ways the Arrernte can produce their own books in language or share culture and information.

“Sometimes the books are used as examples of stories that can be told in Arrernte. Structures are discussed, and also there’s a lot of talk about the spelling and meaning of Arrernte words. Some people are good at translating verbally and help with written translations, which increases the knowledge and abilities of all involved in the discussion.”

Dan says that the people who come to Akeyulerre love it when the new books from ILF arrive. And they love taking a few of the older books home with them too!

“We are really happy that we can get a new bunch [of books] every couple of years. We get rid of those that have been a bit worn, keep the faves and people get very excited about being able to take a broad selection of the books back to their homelands and outstations.”

  • Posted 29 September, 2020