“Miss Nora” was a naturally talented linguist, and therefore an extraordinary linguistic informant. She was blessed with an acute linguistic sensibility, and understood the workings of linguistic analysis as few speakers of any language do. She deeply loved her Rama language, yet at the same time, she was able to objectively distance herself from it to study it with a critical eye.
As much as she appreciated the spoken language, she also felt an urgent need to see the language fully written. At sixty years of age she realized that it was indeed possible to treat her Rama as any other language, such as Miskitu, could be treated, and have printed texts. She was able to confirm what she had always hoped, that Rama was not in some way “bad,” as she had feared, and she was delighted at seeing the “legitimacy” of the written language in print. This triumph gave Miss Nora not only great satisfaction, but also great relief to know that the language would not vanish without a trace. This was a wise woman, one who was aware of her limits, and who took great pains to see that other Rama speakers also participated in the linguistic work to formally document and describe the language. She shared her knowledge of the language because she wanted her grandchildren to learn it as well as appreciate it as their heritage and part of their identity.
So it is to Miss Nora, to her imagination and tenacity, that we owe the revitalization of the language. The young Ramas and Kriols of today are the beneficiaries of her dedication and success, and because of her they have materials with the grammar and with the vocabulary for fish, trees, other plants……the legacy of Miss Nora.
Miss Nora, this “tiger woman,” grew up with linguistic diversity. She was born on Rama Cay (@1923); her mother was from Rama Cay, and spoke Kriol with her, but her father, Salvador Rigby (Salva) was from Wiring Cay, and only spoke Rama. After her mother died when Miss Nora was eight, she left school, and went to live with her father. It was with him that she learned to speak Rama, and how to live in the jungle.
When Miss Nora was sixteen, her father married her to Willie MaCrea in Punta Gorda, and she went to live with him in Cane Creek. She had five children, but a bad marriage. So, she left her husband and returned to Rama Cay with her children. She died from cancer in 2001. She is survived by her children Pedro, Reynaldo, Nelly, and Jimmy, and by Mister Jose Alvarez, her long-time companion and widower. She is buried in the cemetery in Bluefields, in the southern section where other Ramas have also been laid to rest. Her grave is surrounded by the same oyster and cockle shells which bolster the land and walkways on Rama Cay.
In 1985 Miss Nora launched the revitalization of the Rama language, carrying out activities on Rama Cay to inspire the people. She brought other speakers together and encouraged them to participate in the project to document and study the language. She also decided on her own to teach Rama to the pre-school children on Rama Cay. For ten years she taught in the school, and every year she requested from the Rama Language Project new documentation, drawings, booklets, and songs to use. As an apprentice, she also knew how to study, learn, and transmit her knowledge:
“Determination, sense of control, and creativity were qualities identifiable in the young Miss Nora……She was never ashamed of speaking the language. An indigenous woman who fits the profile of a linguistic agent, an older woman with a vision who has been a social actor consciously writing a piece of the history of her community…..This indigenous woman knows the importance of the work she has been doing in the last years and has a sense of history in the making, and history being recorded; it is her wish that her name be used, and that she be known to future generations as the person who helped save the Rama language. She does not want the anonymity…..” (C. Grinevald Craig Locating Power, 1992)
This apt description of Miss Nora is that of “Miss Colette,” the linguist who worked with her for more than fifteen years. For the above reasons, Miss Nora continues to inspire us, and will continue to inspire new generations of Rama language speakers. Miss Nora is a monumental woman, the desire, the love, the power, and the driving force behind the revitalization of the languages and cultures of the Caribbean Coast of Nicaragua.