In short, this is exciting. It’s big news. If you’re reading this, you should be sharing it. It’s a momentous occasion worthy of conversation and action. Go ahead, get the book, and contribute to the preservation of an endangered, ancient language.
The Ostrich and the Tortoise was published in April 2021 by New Africa Books, with an official launch taking place on 24 May.
Award winning author and translator, and Managing Editor at Puku Children’s Literature Foundation, Lorato Trok chatted to us before the launch about the the making of the book. She has been a champion of this project from the get go, getting behind the idea after encouraging Ouma Katrina to attend a My Language, My Heritage writing workshop hosted in the Northern Cape a few years ago, and then getting to know her on a personal level.
Before this children’s book came into existence, work had already started on documenting the language and creating an orthography, including alphabet charts and language posters, that Ouma Katrina could use when teaching her N/uu classes, and to create a legacy of information. This was done primarily by Sheena Shah and Matthias Brenzinger, while working at the Centre for African Language Diversity (CALDi) at the University of Cape Town, in conjunction with Ouma Katrina, Claudia Snyman and David van Wyk, a member of the Royal Khoisan Heritage Council. You can read more about this extensive project here on Shah’s blog, and in this Sunday Time’s article, ‘The last hope for N/uu, a language on the brink of extinction’.
Having designed the orthography, Shah and Brenzinger played an integral part in the publishing of the children’s book, acting as editors for Snyman’s N/uu text, as there is literally no one else on earth who could do this.
Trok’s enthusiasm for the book is contagious, but there is also a sense of urgency to it. She explains why you should get the book:
‘You will enjoy the traditional San story, and you should have this book as a keepsake. This is a rare language, can you imagine, having a book in your collection in a language that's only spoken by two people in the whole world, and in a language that is believed to be the oldest in the world, more than 2,500 years old. If you have that in your book collection, you've got a treasure in your hand. So I would say to people, run and get this book, so that if Ouma Katrina is no more, you will be part of history.’
According to Trok, the book is not openly licenced, it’s only available commercially at this stage, with sales from the books going towards funding Ouma Katrina’s ongoing work, and a second print run featuring other South African languages and N/uu. The initial print run was small, with the National Library purchasing 300 books to distribute in libraries in the Northern Cape. The rest of the books are available for purchase online at Book Circle Capital.