Last year, a sold-out crowd gathered at the BeeKay Theater in Downtown Tehachapi to hear Luther Girado, the last fluent male Kawaiisu speaker of the Nuwä language, tell traditional stories.
On May 19, Luther will again be sharing some stories in his ancient language, this time joined by his sister, Lucille Girado Hicks. The two of them were raised in the mountains of eastern Kern County, living in remote cabins with their parents and not learning to speak English until they started school.
For many centuries, Nuwä Indian people of the Tehachapi Mountains told stories about the world around them and the various animals with whom they shared it. These storytelling sessions were a favored and cherished activity.
You can experience this yourself when Luther and Lucille perform a the storytelling event on Sunday from 3 to 5 p.m. on May 19 at the BeeKay Theater.
Luther and Lucille will be telling assorted stories in their language, with English translation by his daughter, Julie Girado Turner, myself and possibly others language learners.
These two Nuwä elders will also be telling about their Indian childhood, growing up in Walker Basin and the Caliente Creek area not far from Tehachapi. They and their family lived in remote houses without running water, and still harvested some traditional Nuwä foods.
So how unusual is this opportunity to hear Kawaiisu stories told in the language? Well, here’s the stark reality: In a world with more than 7 billion people, Luther Girado is the last male fluent speaker on Earth of this highly endangered language. His sister, Lucille Girado Hicks, is the last female fluent speaker. That’s it. There’s only them.
There is an ongoing effort to document and preserve this language, and I am proud to be part of that project. We have made lots of progress in the past 16 years, and we now know more about the language than ever before. Several of us have become quite adept at the language and more are learning.
However, the Girados are the last people who will ever be raised in an Indian household were Nuwä is the only language spoken. Their parents, Raphael and Gladys Girado, made a conscious decision to raise their children only speaking Indian.
There were still dozens of Native speakers when the Girado children were growing up, and their knowledge of the language came not just from their parents but also from their grandparents, aunts and uncles and other members of the Indian community.
Luther and his sisters kept their fluency and have gone through life with one foot in the Indian world of their ancestors, and one foot in the contemporary English-speaking world that surrounds them.
This unique cultural event is being sponsored by the Tehachapi Heritage League and the Kawaiisu Language and Cultural Center. Proceeds will be used to help operate the Tehachapi Museum. The cost is $10 for adults and $5 for children 12 and under.
Tickets can be purchased at the Museum on Friday through Sunday from 12 to 4 p.m., by calling Charles White at 972-0958, or by calling the Museum at 822-8152 and leaving a message. Seating is limited so you’re encouraged to get your tickets before they sell out.
The stories that Luther will tell were handed down for untold generations in an unwritten language, part of the cultural inheritance of the First People who lived in these mountains. We are pleased to offer this opportunity to area residents and grateful to Luther and Lucille for sharing their language and their heritage.
Have a good week.