November 30, 2009

Sidewalk plaques in Ohlone language

Reviving the language of a vanished tribe

By Carl NolteOn the south side of King Street, between the Caltrain station and AT&T Park, are 104 small brass plaques embedded in the sidewalk. On them are engraved all of the known words of a language called Rammaytush, the language of the people who lived for more than 1,000 years in what is now called Mission Bay.

There are words for numbers, words for relatives--brother, sister, my husband, my wife. Verbs: to drink (owahto), to eat (ahmush), to give (sume), to sing (harwec), to dance (irshah), to see (atemhimah), to run (othemhimah), to kill (meme). They are all that is left of a language, an explanatory plaque says, "the authentic voice of a vanished people."
And:But nothing is quite as simple as it seems. The people of Mission Creek have not vanished. Their descendants are around still--and they are attempting to revitalize the Rammaytush language and get their tribe--the Muwekma Ohlone--recognized by the government.

"There are thousands of us," said Andrew Galvan, who is a descendant of a Bay Miwok man named Liberato and an Ohlone woman called Obulinda who were married in Mission Dolores in 1802. Galvan is the curator of Mission Dolores and is not extinct.