Hay Festival is a major literary event held every year in the village of Hay-on-Wye in Wales.
In January 2008, for a third year running, it was successfully exported to the tropical destination of Cartagena de Indias on Colombia’s northern coast, where the spell of Gabriel García Márquez’s homeland brought charm and passion to the meeting of minds of authors from around the world.
The stories they told pointed to the extraordinary power words have to empower or enslave us.
When words form beliefs and these are not questioned, they can quickly ossify into dogma and stereotyping; and fixed ideas in the hands of the people with power and influence can belie and gloss over a shameful reality suffered by those without a voice in society. Aminatta Forna speaks for the unheard, starting out with her own land, Sierra Leone, challenging received ideas about Africa.
Reality can also be created by the magic of fiction and presented in a new format by translation. Claudia Amengual came from Uruguay to talk about the curious alchemy linking writer, reader and the written work. The translator, like the pianist, interprets and presents the original in a new way. A wealth of languages means a wealth of distinct identities and perspectives; by carrying out their reciprocal interpretation, translators offer an invitation to open our minds to a larger freedom.
Languages have a life of their own. They can also die out, along with their people. The significance of language for identity leads British linguistics expert David Crystal to campaign on behalf of their endangered species.
When armed conflict defeats reason, words are used to divide and rule. In the heat of the battle, reflection, dialogue, reasonableness is lost and hate is fueled by the language of belligerence and cynicism. Those, like Lebanese writer Huda Barakat, who want no part of a war, may only have words to salvage some value from the wreckage of their homes and their souls. She and English historian Antony Beevor also talk about words at war.
The oral tradition of the majority of the world’s population is where education starts for them. Baaba Maal uses music to reach his native Senegalese and audiences the world over. His message is echoed by two of the event's hosts in Colombia, educationalist Jesús Martín-Barbero, and film director Felipe Aljure.
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All material © Guy Simpson 2008