LOCAL DIALECT

Kalami: Development scientist finds passion in writing books

The father of five, has published four books written in Ateso and others in English, says young people can hardly speak in mother tongue

In Summary

•Unless efforts are made to strengthen the writing, reading and speaking of mother tongue, Africa, Kalami says may lose its identity. 

•He says being able to speak, read and write in a native language makes it easy for one to adapt to local environments more easily.

Kalami Asa Orimodi speaks to the Star on January 13 in Amagoro, Busia.
Kalami Asa Orimodi speaks to the Star on January 13 in Amagoro, Busia.
Image: EMOJONG OSERE

In a world where globalisation is taking centre stage in almost every aspect of life, it is easy to lose native practices.

Among indigenous identities currently facing extinction, even as the world moves to become one global village, are local languages.

People are veering off the path of learning their mother tongue as they embrace English, French, German, Chinese, and Portuguese among other foreign languages.

However, Kalami Asa Orimodi a development scientist has found passion in writing books in his mother tongue.

Speaking to the Star during an interview, Kalami says young people in Kenya and across Africa, can hardly speak in any of the original African languages.

Unless efforts are made to strengthen the writing, reading and speaking of mother tongue, Africa, Kalami says may lose its identity. 

The father of five–three girls and two boys says being able to speak, read and write in a native language makes it easy for one to adapt to local environments more easily.

Kalami who graduated with a degree in Development Studies at Uganda’s Kyambogo University in 2012, has written five books, focused on teaching the Ateso language.

He says Africans should be proud of who they are by speaking the African continent’s indigenous languages as natives pass the cultural mantle to the next generation.

“My major motivation in writing books in the Ateso language is driven by the decline in the number of people speaking Ateso. My recent research revealed, almost 80 per cent of children in Teso,  cannot speak fluent Ateso,” Kalami, a resident of Amagoro in Busia’s Teso North subcounty says.

“In some areas of Tororo which is across the border, we have adults who can’t pronounce a single Ateso word. When it comes to reading and writing of the language, approximately 90 per cent of adults in Teso can neither read nor write proper Ateso.”

“He says, as a writer, this statistic has motivated him to invest his energy in the revival and restoration of this language from its imminent extinction.”

Kalami says there are three keys to the restoration, development and preservation of any language – the promotion of its speaking, knowing to read the language and knowing to write it.

“I, therefore, encourage Kenyans and other ethnicities across Africa, to adopt the same approach to revive, promote and perpetuate our indigenous dialects which are facing extinction,” he says.

So far, Kalami has written four books in Ateso.

They include Awaragasia Kotoma Ateso (Ateso Proverbs) which was published in 2019 and Kesisiata Ateso (Let Us Learn Ateso) published last year.

Others are Aisisianakin Ateso (Ateso Lessons) which was published last year, Kajenutu Nuikamunitosi Iteso (Knowing the Iteso) published last year and the latest, Cornerstones for Preserving the Great Teso Heritage published in January.

In his latest publication, Kalami has pieced together findings of research he conducted for three years linking some names in Teso to specific names found in the Old Testament of the Bible.

The 63-page book details the three cornerstones which the writer believes are pivotal in the preservation of native culture.

“Through the use of names and the records in the Bible, I have been able to piece together what I see is a very close link between some Ateso words and some words found in some books in the Old Testament of the Bible,” the writer says.

Kalami, 49, is currently finalising on seven other different books written in Ateso, a project he says will boost the teaching and learning of the Ateso language in schools in Teso.

ENGLISH BLEND

The writer who is inspired by Kenyan literature icon Ngugi Wa Thiong’o, despite his fascination with writing in his mother tongue has written and published English books.

Among his English publications include You Won’t Achieve Till You Get Started, a book published in 2018, The Wisdom of the Little Man published in 2019, Hard People Outlast Hard Times published and The Professional Writer’s Manual published last year.

Others are Before Your Boss Pays You, published last year, The Leadership Theory at Printing Stage which he published copies in January, Securing a Future While Young and Why Should You Be Unemployed.

Kalami, who is currently pursuing a second degree in International Law at Cyprus University, says he targets to publish at least 50 books in his lifetime.

Some of his publications, he says will be a compilation of short stories for school-going children.

“Most of the collections are not yet published due to inadequate funding and Covid-19 disruption on economic activities,” he says

“But with the opening up of the economy, am sure the future of my newfound writing career stands a better chance. I will be able to travel widely in search of market, sponsorship and publishers for my writings.”

He says writing books in the local language and writing native cultural promotional material can stop the contemporary decline of the rich African culture.

Kalami says in his quest to promote local cultural practices, he will continuously call on writers to emulate his approach.

“That is the way to go given preserving our indigenous dialects which are among Africa’s great heritage. The continue with foreign languages have multiple negative effects on Africans across many fields,” he says.

“I have always challenged the rationale for teaching children in foreign languages at the expense of local ones.”

He says this is the reason most countries that were at the same development level as us 40 to 50 years ago have gone miles ahead of us on the socio-economic scale is the adoption of their local dialects.

“I contend that the continued engrossment with foreign languages is a big bottleneck to our Africa’s agenda. The way out of that quagmire is to reform and adopt our indigenous languages,” Kalami says.

He says one advantage people from the African continent will reap with the promotion of their mother tongue is that the act will help in the protection and preservation of local languages which are under threat of extinction.

Anything written, Kalami says has the potential to survive for many ages.

“If we are to protect and zealously perpetuate our African heritages, values, languages, customs and norms, we must write them down,” he says.

Promotion of native culture, he said is important because anything written in the indigenous language enables the respective communities to understand it from a much deeper perspective.

African languages, the writer said, tend to be richer in meaning than foreign languages.

He said natives of the African continent, with continued writing of African languages as well as documentation of African culture, can help minimise the spread of negative foreign influences and cultural erosion which is often imported alongside Western languages and cultures.

TRANSLATE CONSTITUTION

He said he harbours the intention of translating the Constitution into Ateso to increase its indigenisation among members of the Teso community who he says will eventually own it as the supreme law of the land.

“It is a requirement that the Constitution be translated into local dialects to deepen its understanding among all Kenyan communities,” he says.

Like any other undertaking, the writer his writing initiatives face numerous challenges.

“Foremost, is the problem of recognition, impression and fame. Most people may not pick your books on the shelf for the queer reason that renowned writers are the only ones who have great ideas,” Kalama says.

He says the act is disheartening, but a determined person must contend with and overcome.

“How can one become a renowned or famous writer, if they can’t have a starting point? Most of our people seem to think that only foreign or Western writers are the ones who author great books,” he says.

Having preference to Western literature at the expense of local writings, he says, is part of the ugly colonial legacy which a contemporary writer in Africa must also contend with.

Kalami says there is a poor reading culture among Africans in general and this means a small market for local writers.

Then to crown it is the difficulty associated with finding publishers who are ready to stand the financial struggles that new writers go through.

Edited by Kiilu Damaris

Some of the books written by Asa Kalami Orimodi.
Some of the books written by Asa Kalami Orimodi.
Image: EMOJONG OSERE
A guide to upcoming professional writers published by Kalami on January 13.
A guide to upcoming professional writers published by Kalami on January 13.
Image: EMOJONG OSERE