Gyani Maiya is a documentary film in the Kusunda language that was produced by Subhashish Panigrahi with a funding support from National Geographic Society under the ambit of the OpenSpeaks initiative at the O Foundation.
Gyani Maiya Sen-Kusunda died on January 25, 2020 in Kulmor village of Dang district in western Nepal, a year and half before this documentary was filmed. (Chaudhary) From leaving behind the life of a nomad to getting married to a non-nomad to raising a family that could not speak her language, Sen-Kusunda wished that the Kusunda language is taught to the newer generation. In her own words, “now none of the Mihaqs (Kusunda people) speak the language. The girls have got married and have left for the villages. Boys are getting married in villages. We left our language and started speaking other languages. It should be taught to others.” The plot of this film follows the story of the Kusunda people – narrated by Sen-Kusunda – who were once a nomadic community and are currently settled in villages. Over the years almost all the Kusundas have left speaking their language. (Panigrahi)
This documentary arguably contains the most detailed video interviews of Sen-Kusunda. Her younger sister Kamala Sen Khatri is the sole fluent speaker of the Kusunda language at the moment. Uday Raj Aaley, who plays a key role in this film has researched about the Kusunda language over the years and has published a trilingual Kusunda-Nepali dictionary.
|Name in Nepali||ज्ञानी मैया|
|Name in International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA)||d͡ʒɲɑːn̪iː məɪjɑː|
|Screenwriter(s)||Subhashish Panigrahi, Uday Raj Aaley, Sanjib Chaudhary|
|Cast||Gyani Maiya Sen Kusunda (self), Uday Raj Aaley (self), Sanjib Chaudhary (self)|
|Country of production||India|
|Country of Origin||Nepal|
|Filming location(s)||Kulmor, Dang district, Nepal|
|Year of Production||2019|
|Release Dates||10 Dec 2019 (Nepal)|
|Duration||25 minutes (appx.)|
|Distribution company||O Foundation (OFDN)|
|Production company||O Foundation (OFDN)|
|Digitization sponsorer||National Geographic Society|
|Music director||Subhashish Panigrahi|
|Keywords||kusunda, Gi Mihaq, Mihaq, Nepal, indigenous, language, endangered, Dang, Lamahi, Kulmor|
|Permanent media archive||Film (https://archive.org/details/gyani-maiya), Collection (https://archive.org/details/gyani-maiya-collection)|
|Entertainment Identifier Registry (EIDR)||EIDR: 10.5240/52AE-86BB-F84D-03B2-D938-U|
|Summary||No community can express the pain of losing an elder, especially when she was the last fluent speaker of their language.|
Gyani Maiya Sen-Kusunda (IPA: d͡ʒɲaːni mɔijaː sen kusuɳɖaː) was born around 1937 in the Dang district of Western Nepal. She was from a nomadic indigenous group called Kusunda/Mihaq that spoke the “Kusunda” or “Gi Mihaq” (IPA: d͡ʒi mihaːk, meaning: the king’s language) language. Through a long process of inter-marriages, settling in villages and cultural assimilation, the Kusunda people started losing their language over the time. Sen-Kusunda and her younger sister Kamala Sen Khatri remained the only two fluent speakers of the Kusunda language which is currently a critically endangered language. (Watters) After the critical state of her language was known thanks to wider publications, many researchers and documentary linguists have attempted to document the language. Uday Raj Aaley, an independent and local researcher who authored a comprehensive Kusunda-Nepali-English dictionary has studied the language in detail through documenting oral history while having conversations with Sen-Kusunda. (Aaley and Bodt) He continues to teach local children the Kusunda language since 2018, even after the death of Sen-Kusunda.
Bio: Uday Raj Aaley
Uday Raj Aaley is a Nepalese researcher, translator and a native speaker of the endangered Magar language. Through working closely with Gyani Maiya Sen Kusunda, he collected over the years more than 1,000 Kusunda-language words, and published a dictionary titled “Kusunda Jaati ra Sabdakosh”. (K.C.) He was involved in this film in assisting with research and translation during and after filming. Aaley’s personal interest in studying endangered languages of Nepal spans over years. He has studied several indigenous languages such as Kusunda, (Western) Tharu and Magar and has published his research widely. Apart from the Kusunda dictionary, he is also the author of the book “Tharu, A Revelation, Saga of Struggle and Survival” and editor and compiler of a forthcoming Tharu dictionary. (Khatri) Aaley and Timotheus A. Bodt of SOAS University of London made 20 hours of audiovisual recordings interviewing Gyani Maiya Sen Kusunda and Kamala Sen Khatri, then the two fluent native speakers, and published the observations under open access. (Aaley and Bodt)
|Film type||Documentary Feature|
|Spoken Languages||Kusunda; Nepali|
|Frame Rate||24 fps|
|Captions||English (Closed Caption), English (Open Caption)|
|Field research and translation||Uday Raj Aaley|
|Additional translation||Sanjib Chaudhary and Ananda K.C.|
|Advisor||Eddie Avila (Rising Voices)|
|Additional music||From Freesound: Pig Oink Cerdo Sound Effect, FX Sounds (CC-BY-SA 3.0). Andy_Gardner (CC0 1.0); Goat, LukeIRL (CC-BY 3.0); Walking barefoot on wooden deck.MP3. SoundsForHim (CCO 1.0); Stream, Water, C.wav, Inspector. (CC-BY 3.0); Mokroluskyt_padla.WAV. 13FPanska_Mokrolusky_Tomas (CC0 1.0); Bleating goats. Seenms. CC-BY 3.0.
Additional Foley sounds recorded by Subhashish Panigrahi, CC-BY-SA 4.0.
You can watch the film online on the Internet Archive or download to watch offline for free of cost. You are most welcome to contact the producer if you would like to conduct a discussion post screening.
Bureau, Himal Khabar. “कुसुन्डा भाषामा बनेको डकुमेन्ट्री ‘ज्ञानीमैया’ को ट्रेलर सार्वजनिक” (Transl. Trailer of the Kusunda language documentary ‘Gyanimaiya’ released). Himalkhabar.Com, 2020, https://web.archive.org/web/*/https://www.himalkhabar.com/news/116158/. Accessed 18 July 2020.
A detailed dossier containing the datasheet, synopsis and other important details can be downloaded from here.
Chaudhary, Sanjib. “Hope for Dying Nepali Language Wanes as One of the Last Fluent Speakers Passes Away at 85.” Global Voices, Global Voices, 31 Jan. 2020, globalvoices.org/2020/01/31/hope-for-dying-nepali-language-wanes-as-one-of-the-last-fluent-speakers-passes-away-at-85/. Accessed 5 May 2021.
K.C., Durgalal. “Book That Traces Kusunda Tribe’s History Hits Shelves.” Kathmandupost.com, The Kathmandu Post, 1 Aug. 2017, kathmandupost.com/art-entertainment/2017/08/01/book-that-traces-kusunda-tribes-history-hits-shelves. Accessed 5 May 2021.
Kshatri, Shaurya. “Western Tharu Language Dictionary to Be Published.” Risingnepaldaily.com, The Rising Nepal, 19 Mar. 2021, risingnepaldaily.com/main-news/western-tharu-language-dictionary-to-be-published. Accessed 5 May 2021.
- The story that inspired to make this film (post on Global Voices by Sanjib Chaudhary, also see a conversation with Mrs. Sen right after the filming, and an obituary after her death)
- Linguistic details (SIL • Glottolog • Endangered Languages Project • Wikipedia)
- Reinhard, Johan and Toba, Tim. 1970. A Preliminary Linguistic Analysis and Vocabulary of the Kusunda Language. Tribhuvan, Nepal: Summer Institute of Linguistics and Tribhuvan University, Nepal.
Last updated: 2021-05-11