Folklife Friday is a weekly digest of arts and culture articles, podcasts, and videos from across the web. Read on for a selection of the week’s best cultural heritage pieces, and don’t forget to check back next Friday for a new set of weekly picks.
In New Zealand, a Translated “Moana” Bolsters an Indigenous Language
“Parents entering the theater said they relished the chance for their children to see themselves and their language reflected on the big screen,” Charlotte Graham reports on a screening of the Disney film Moana translated into the Maori language in Auckland, New Zealand. She explores how films featuring Polynesian characters and language can inspire youth to take pride in their cultures. “To retain your language is an emblem of survival through history,” says Maori language promoter Haami Piripi. “If you’ve still got your language now, you have the key to your culture.”
For more on the cultural heritage embedded in endangered languages, see the 2013 Smithsonian Folklife Festival program One World, Many Voices.
A History of My Mexico City Home, In Earthquakes
“I used to tell myself that I wasn’t afraid of earthquakes. Then, on April 21, 2013, at about eight-thirty in the evening, I was at my desk when everything began to move,” Francisco Goldman writes. Reflecting on the Mexico City quakes of 1985, 2013, and 2017, Goldman paints a portrait of despair and devotion. “The earthquake provoked a sense of communion, a haunted experience of terror and loss that we all shared.”
Complement this with Folklife curator Olivia Cadaval’s reflection on fieldwork in U.S. Virgin Islands after Hurricane Hugo.
Readers of the World Unite
“The era of world literature is at hand, and everyone must contribute to accelerating it,” Wolfgang von Goethe declared in 1827. In this essay, author Martin Puchner unpacks “world literature,” both as a concept and as a broader worldview—one running counter to colonialism and nationalism. Puchner examines Germany’s role in world literature’s rise, Marx and Engels’s framing of the mercurial concept, and the urgency of maintaining its longstanding momentum. “World literature is a market that must be sustained—and everyone must contribute to accelerating its growth.”
From Pidgins to Creoles
How are new languages born? It’s a question John McWhorter, linguistics professor at Columbia University, explores in this episode of the podcast Lexicon Valley. In an examination of, among other examples, the disappearance of the Andaman Islands’ Bo language and the rise of Nicaraguan sign language, McWhorter makes the case not for “old” and “new” dialects but for forms of communication that are consistently in motion. “Language is not born anew…it is always changing…moving like a lava lamp.”
The Eternal Seductive Beauty of Feathers
“Feathers are about seduction. They are meant to attract,” fashion designer Eric Charles-Donatien explains in this piece. Writer Burkhard Bilger traces the history of plumage in clothing, revisiting the work of Aztecs in Mesoamerica and the rich garments of South Africa. “Featherwork is a collaborative art,” he writes. “It belongs to the circle of ancient guilds whose craft gave rise to the fashion house.” He concludes that these garments are undeniably steeped in meaning. “Like a bird of paradise preening on a branch, weighed down by its luxurious tail, fashion can never truly justify its costs. Yet it brightens the world.”
Special thanks to editor Elisa Hough and to Michael Atwood Mason and Betty Belanus for their contributions to this week’s digest.