Saturday, April 4, 2009

what is project u-e-peker?

Project U-e-peker is a team of people from a variety of nations and professions who are working to make Ainu folktales available in English. The Ainu are the indigenous people of Hokkaido, the northernmost island of Japan.

With the expansion of the Japanese state into Ainu lands, the Ainu people were displaced, their rights ignored, their language, culture, and dignity diminished in the forcible attempt to assimilate them into mainstream Japanese society. It is a tragic history shared by many native peoples throughout the colonized world.

Japanese schools offer little or no education in the history and culture of the Ainu people. They are virtually ignored in the officially sanctioned curriculum. As ESL (English as a second language) teachers and translators, we felt that we were in a position to do something about this negligence.

Ainu culture and values have been preserved in a rich oral tradition. This includes Yukar (epics), Upaskuma (local history stories), and U-e-peker (folktales told in conversational style). Our goals are (1) to translate Ainu folktales into English and (2) to introduce these translations to the English speaking world and into the ESL syllabus of schools in Japan and its neighboring countries. By doing this, we hope to stimulate interest in Ainu culture, not only abroad, but also among Japanese school children now occupying the land once known in the Ainu language as Ainu Mosir (the land where humans live).

In future blogs I plan to explain what the team has already accomplished toward those goals, and what new challenges lie ahead of us.