Farmers by profession, the Nahali people rear domestic animals like goats and cows. They aren’t landowners, so labour for wages or share in the seasonal produce of the landlord’s fields. The women wear the traditional Sari and the men wear the dhoti-kurta and turban. They love wearing colourful clothing. Adherents to the Hindu faith, their favourite festivals are Holi, Mahashrivatri and the Bhongrya bazaar, where all-night revelry and performances in dance mark the celebrations at festival times. The dancers dress up as characters from the Hindu Scriptures. The people are extremely superstitious. In the remote, mountainous regions they live in constant fear of death and influences of evil spirits. Very traditional and a close-knit community, they are resistant to outside influences and things have remained unchanged for centuries. They refuse to use any language but their own.
The Nahali language was only spoken until recently. In 2016, a team of consultants worked with Nahali speakers, providing them with training in linguistic-related areas. They subsequently developed the Nahali orthography which is based on the Marathi Script. For the Nahali people, having their own alphabet has been a tremendous boost to their self-esteem. As people who feel pride in their own language, this is transformational and enables them to be in the driver’s seat of their development. During a follow-up workshop, literacy materials were developed by the speakers themselves. The materials produced, following a pre-designed layout and methodology, include: a pre-reader, books systematically teaching the alphabet with an accompanying story book, a basic mathematics book as well as teacher’s guides, a spelling guide and alphabet chart, all in the Nahali language.
As of January 2020
The Nahali recognise their need for literacy in their mother tongue and have asked for help in starting a literacy project. It is essential for a community to recognise their ‘felt need’ for mother tongue literacy and for them to ‘own’ the work. This ensures sustainability and greater success in the endeavour. Outsiders can continue to provide expertise, raise funds and give on-going input as required, but if they are the ones pushing a project, they will always have to do so. Nahali community members were recently orientated in the next steps of initiating a mother tongue literacy project themselves. With a literacy committee in place, comprising members of the community, they will receive training in how to perform their job of implementing and overseeing a successful project. They will also be trained in how to recruit and train mother tongue teachers to teach using emerging best practices.