Fieldwork on Kango

Kujath with Michel Eza Mimolokwaye and Edmond Enguse, two primary Kango consultants, July 2023

Photo: Kujath with Michel Eza Mimolokwaye and Edmond Enguse, two primary Kango consultants, July 2023

This June and July I spent four weeks in the DRC doing fieldwork on Kango, a language spoken in a handful of towns along the Uélé River. Kango, one of two separate languages in the region with this name, is a member of the Bantu language family. The goal of this trip was to finish collecting Kango data for our comparison, but it was also an exciting chance for me to begin making contacts in the community so that I can return to work on Kango documentation for my dissertation.

Choosing to do fieldwork is a very strange process.  The hope is that you will develop close ties to a community, and be able to continue working with them for years to come. Especially when you’ve tied your entire phd to their language. However, the choice to study a language is often one that is made in isolation, before ever talking to members of the language community. This goes double for documentational work, where part of the purpose is to seek out languages that haven’t been studied before.

Often the communities who speak these undocumented languages live in hard to reach areas, and their languages have been relegated to home use, while any external communication is done in a lingua franca. To show up without any warning and ask to be let into something that has, however inadvertently, become an intimate practice is intimidating for both parties. For the researcher, there is a necessary amount of humility required to put yourself into a situation where you are a complete outsider. For the community receiving you, I can only imagine the patience and openness it takes to welcome someone into your home and daily practice while answering a thousand questions a day is akin to running a marathon without ever dropping your smile. I’m incredibly grateful that everyone I worked with in the Kango community was so welcoming to me and so willing to work with and teach me, and I am incredibly excited to continue working with the community in the future.

Photo: Kujath with Anyame Beke Mandele Paye and a group of Bakango fishermen who assisted with the cultural vocabulary collection, July 2023

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