KUSUNDA is a voice-driven virtual reality experience that explores what makes a language fall asleep and what it takes to awaken one. Kusunda shaman Lil Bahadur has forgotten his indigenous mother tongue. His granddaughter, Hima, wants to revive it.
Every two weeks a language falls asleep. Most languages at threat belong to indigenous communities such as Kusunda in Nepal. The Kusunda language has been categorised by linguists as a language isolate, meaning it’s unrelated to any other language family of the world. Due to their nomadic way of life, the Kusunda call themselves “Kings of the Forest.” Currently there are only about 150 people in Nepal who identify as Kusunda.
Narrated by two of its co-creators -- 86-year-old Kusunda shaman Lil Bahadur and his 15-year-old granddaughter Hima -- KUSUNDA contrasts two generations set apart by their lifestyles and brought together by the struggle for their indigenous identity.
Lil Bahadur, who led a traditional hunter gatherer lifestyle for 40 years, lost his mother tongue when he moved to settle in the village. “When my parents died I had no one left to speak my mother tongue with. Slowly the language started fading away. I started speaking another Nepali language with people in the village. That’s how it happened,” he says with a sense of resignation.
Lil’s granddaughter Hima, a bright teenager detached from her grandfather’s hunter-gatherer identity, represents a modern Kusunda identity and is taking on the challenge to revive her mother tongue. “I haven’t lived in the forests and I don’t want to! I’m studying hard to become a teacher. But I am proud of my heritage and culture. I’ll do whatever I can to preserve it and I’m confident of being successful.”