DOBES-archive for the languages of the People of the Center, North West Amazon: An Introduction

(pasar a versión española)

Frank Seifart, Doris Fagua, Jürg Gasché†, and Juan Alvaro Echeverri

July 2009, last updated April 2024

Welcome to the DoBeS archive of the languages Bora, Huitoto (Witoto), Nonuya, Ocaina, and Resígaro, which belong to a group of people known as People of the Center (or Children of the Tobacco, Coca and Sweet Manioc). This archive contains about 2,000 audio and video recordings, many of them transcribed and translated, as well as additional linguistic and ethnographic descriptions. The present document is a guide for anyone interested in consulting this archive. It contains important information about how the archive is structured and how the data and descriptive documents can be accessed.

The DoBeS People of the Center Documentation project

The People of the Center are a multilingual group living in the northwest Amazon, in the border region between southern Colombia and northern Peru. Seven mutually unintelligible languages belong to the People of the Center: Andoke, Bora, Huitoto, Muinane, Nonuya, Ocaina, and Resígaro. The People of the Center are characterized by some unique cultural practices, including elaborate ritual discourses, festivals at which repertoires of thousands of songs are performed, and systems of drum communication that build on the structures of the individual languages. The traditional cultural practices as well as the daily use of the languages are nowadays rapidly declining in a process of transculturalization towards mainstream society and language shift towards Spanish. From 2004 to 2009 the Volkswagen Foundation supported the project “Documenting the languages of the People of the Center”, which was housed from 2004-2007 at the Ruhr-Universität Bochum and from 2007-2009 at the Universität Regensburg. The partner organization in Peru was the Instituto de Investigaciones de la Amazonia Peruana (IIAP). The project focuses on Bora, Huitoto, Nonuya, Ocaina, and Resígaro, documenting the use of each of these languages in different contexts, ranging from memorized ritual discourses to traditional festivals, hunting and fishing trips, to sport events and everyday conversation. The aim of this documentation project was to provide a lasting record of the cultural and linguistic practices of People of the Center as they can be observed at the beginning of the 21st century. In order to ensure that members of the People of the Center themselves can access and make use of the archive, all translations, descriptions, and metadata are written in Spanish.

How to find the data and descriptions in the archive

The archive is divided into three main components: A corpus of primary data, a commentary, and a set of community materials.

In the corpus of primary data, the audio and video recordings are stored together with “annotations”, i.e. transcriptions and translations, and in some cases also morphological segmentation and glossing. Each “bundle” consisting of a recording and an annotation is called a “session”. There are basically two ways to find a particular session in the corpus. First, you can explore the corpus by clicking on the folders. Sessions are organized according to languages, and sub-folders correspond to broad categories such as “Songs”, “Conversation”, etc. When reaching a session node, information about the corresponding recordings and annotations (the “metadata”) will be displayed, such as the date and location of the recording and a short description of its contents. A second way to find particular sessions is by searching the metadata using the “search” field on the top left.

The commentary contains a set of descriptive and introductory documents, such as grammar sketches, introductory text to the history, social organization, etc. of the People of the Center, explanations of the orthographies used, and a glossary of local Spanish terms used in the translations.

The community materials contain versions of relevant primary data that were prepared for use by Bora and Resígaro speakers, with a folder for each speaker that contributed to the documentation project. These include video files with bilingual subtitles, audio files, and pdfs with transcriptions and translations.

Access rights, quoting conventions

Most data can by accssed by simply registering as a user. But access to some of the data is restricted, i.e. you may have to ask for permission to view or download them (see below). The main reasons for this are privacy rights of the speaker communities and the need to maintain some kind of control over the use of the data (see also http://dobes.mpi.nl/ethical_legal_aspects/DOBES-coc-v2.pdf). If you are interested in viewing or downloading a recording or annotation with restricted access, please do not hesitate to request access to it, through the archive’s contact form. Every request to access data will be considered by us and no request has been denied so far.

When referring to the data collection as a whole, please use the following reference:

Seifart, Frank, Doris Fagua, Jürg Gasché, and Juan Alvaro Echeverri (eds.). 2009. A multimedia documentation of the languages of the People of the Center. Online publication of transcribed and translated Bora, Ocaina, Nonuya, Resígaro, and Witoto audio and video recordings with linguistic and ethnographic annotations and descriptions. Nijmegen: The Language Archive. https://hdl.handle.net/1839/00-0000-0000-001C-7D64-2@view.

When referring to data from one language, you may refer to the sub-corpus and the person responsible for compiling it (see next section), for example:

Fagua, Doris (ed.). 2009. Ocaina Documentation. In Seifart, Frank, Doris Fagua, Jürg Gasché, and Juan Alvaro Echeverri (eds.). A multimedia documentation of the languages of the People of the Center. Online publication of transcribed and translated Bora, Ocaina, Nonuya, Resígaro, and Witoto audio and video recordings with linguistic and ethnographic annotations and descriptions. Nijmegen: The Language Archive. https://hdl.handle.net/1839/00-0000-0000-0008-38EF-A.

To quote individual folders or individual sessions of the corpus, please refer to the name of the folder or session and make sure to include the permanent identifier handle in the references. When referring to an individual session, please include the name of the speaker as well as the name of the compiler in the reference, e.g.

Echeverri, Juan Alvaro (ed.). 2009. Nonuya cantos [data set]. Nijmegen: The Language Archive. https://hdl.handle.net/1839/00-0000-0000-000D-706B-E.

Rojas, Leopoldo, and Jürg Gasché. 2009. Ïfonako somarafue [Huitoto bue ritual incantation]. Nijmegen: The Language Archive. https://hdl.handle.net/1839/00-0000-0000-000D-5C9C-1.

When quoting from or referring to the descriptive and analytical documents stored here, please refer to the author(s) and the title of the document and make use of the reference date given at the beginning of each document, for example:

Gasché, Jürg. 2009. Esbozo gramatical de la lengua huitoto. In Seifart, Frank, Doris Fagua, Jürg Gasché, and Juan Alvaro Echeverri (eds.). A multimedia documentation of the languages of the People of the Center. Online publication of transcribed and translated Bora, Ocaina, Nonuya, Resígaro, and Witoto audio and video recordings with linguistic and ethnographic annotations and descriptions. Nijmegen: The Language Archive. https://hdl.handle.net/1839/00-0000-0000-000D-6B9A-E.

Authorship, editorship, acknowledgements

The authors of the primary data deposited in this archive are the speakers of the language of the People of the Center, as specified for each session in the accompanying metadata. The sub-corpora on individual languages have been compiled under the responsibility of the project members specializing on these languages. These are: Bora: Frank Seifart; Witoto (Huitoto): Jürg Gasché; Nonuya: Juan Alvaro Echeverri; Ocaina: Doris Fagua; Resígaro: Frank Seifart.

The speakers of the languages of the People of the Center not only agreed to deposit their linguistic and cultural heritage in this archive, they also supported this project in many other ways, including transcription and translation and logistic support. We are grateful to them as well as to the regional indigenous organization FECONA for their institutional support.

We would like to thank Nikolaus P. Himmelmann for initially applying for this project with us, for housing it at his department at the Ruhr Universität Bochum, and for invaluable academic as well as administrative support. We are also grateful for support of various kinds from the following people in Bochum: Martin Hölter, Jan Strunk, Victoria Rodriguez, Judith Köhne, Rahel Beyer, and Iva Renic.

We would like to also thank the student assistants at the Universität Regensburg: Katharina Höhendinger, Melissa Houser, Dominik Messer, Susanne Naimer, Katharina Knuffmann, Nicole Goltz, Vanessa Messer, Florian Greiner, and Michael Fischbach.

In Iquitos, project work was supported by Ernesto Tello, Zacarias Mibeco, Nandier Meza, and Joilé Villanueva, and in Bogotá by Edilamar Bustos. En el IIAP, agradezemos por la fructífera cooperación al presidente Dr. Luis Campos Baca, al responsable de la cooperación técnica Econ. Hernán Tello y al responsable del servicio informático, Ing. Victor Miyakawa.

Suggestions where to start

The following are some examples of interesting sessions that are accessible without restrictions, and that you may consult to get a first impression about the People of the Center:


The story of the daughter of the creator: Piivyeebe_ajyu ; Fishing with poison: wakyu_cant_1


Songs and conversation among men at night in the “coca square”: Lluaky1


Making a mousetrap: Jopahtya1 and Jopahtya11 ; A presentation of songs and dance at a festival for a new house: Juhtoxohxo2


A story told by one of the last mother-tongue speakers of Resígaro: storyalicia

Related documentations and data sets

Since the completion of the DOBES language documentation project, three additional dataset have been added to this archive: (1) A collection of Murui Huitoto songs recorded by K.T. Preuss in 1914 on wax cylinders (see Colección K. T. Preuss); (2) A modern collection of Murui Huitoto by Katarzyna Wojtylak (see Colección K. Wojtylak); and (3) a modern collection on Andoke by J. Menschel and M. Martiny (see Colección J. Menschel & M. Martiny). Additional data from Andoke collected by Jon Landaburu in the 1970s are archived in the Archive of the Indigenous language of the Americas (AILLA) (see Landaburu Andoke collection). Data from Miraña, a close linguistic variant of Bora, spoken by the Miraña people in Colombia, are deposited here: https://hdl.handle.net/1839/00-0000-0000-0000-82D5-A and https://hdl.handle.net/1839/00-0000-0000-000D-5E49-7. Parts of the DOBES Bora and Resígaro data have been further processed in the DoReCo project (see Bora DoReCo data set and Resígaro DoReCo data set).


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