Our Own Shipibo-Konibo Dictionary


NonJói.org is a non-profit project to revise, decolonize, and improve the Shipibo-Konibo dictionary and promote the living language, led by The Shipibo-Konibo Language Empowerment Committee – Non Jói Kóshi Ákaibo. In 2014, members began a proposal to update the Diccionario Shipibo-Castellano that was compiled by the Summer Institute of Linguistics–SIL and originally published in 1993 with our official alphabet.

That proposal created an oportunity to revise and decolonize the original content of the SIL dictionary. Improvements to the proposal led to this ongoing project to create a new multilingual and interactive Shipibo-Konibo encyclopedic dictionary with the prime directive to promote the practice of the living Shipibo-Konibo language (Non Jói-‘Our Language’), culture (Non Axebo-‘Our Customs’), and epistemologies (Noa Jan Koshiábo-‘That which makes us strong’).

This practice has initiated a healing process that aligns itself with our truths about health, healing, and overall well-being, which are evident through our world view of the Jakón Néte [hɐ.’kũ ‘nɘ̃.tɘ] -the ‘Life-Giving-Good World.’

The Role of a Dictionary

“Dictionaries are typically viewed as being value-neutral. But they are just as steeped in culture and prejudice as the rest of the world—and they have the power to shape what we see as ‘normal’.” (Shulist, S., Murali Proctor, L. & Oman-Reagan, M. P. 2016)

Upon closer examination, dictionaries are not simply a book of words, definitions, and grammatical detail. They are a recorded history and cultural resource for the community of people whose language is describes and defines. For some, especially those who come from endangered, moribund (near death), even dormant (commonly described as extinct by popular culture) language communities, a dictionary is one of the most valuable language resources and can be viewed as the official validation of the language they speak or have spoken.

For others, whose peoples have been uprooted, separated, and disconnected from their homelands and cultures, a dictionary can play an integral role in cultural revitalization by serving as an archeological record that provides a means to retrace the steps of their ancestors and reconnect to their land and culture. For this, the action of creating, revising, or regenerating a dictionary has the potential of doing much more than creating a word reference guide.

The lexicographical activities and results can guide an individual or a community along the path of their own decolonization process, which could be enhanced by using decolonization as a theoretical framework for the revision and creation of new dictionaries. In doing so, communities can initiate, support, and invigorate their own processes of decolonization.

A New Directive for a Shipibo-Konibo Dictionary

The aim of this decolonization process is to have each entry of their dictionary fall in line with this essential truth. To do so, for every entry, it is consciously asked, “Does this fit into our knowledge of what is life-giving-good, is this true to life and our culture?” This view plays an integral role in this project as the prime directive of a decolonizing framework and filter.

Doing so then has the potential to positively influence the ongoing decolonization processes of the Shipibo-Konibo. This method of recognizing colonial residues within the archaeo-linguistic record, and one’s own living lexicon has proven to be a powerful tool.

So far, this dictionary project has formed an integral part of our decolonization process as we explore and discover ways to maintain and revitalize our language and culture, and foster sovereignty for our families and land. These experiences have demonstrated how Indigenous linguistics (the study of language) and lexicography (the compiling of dictionaries) can promote and support events and processes of decolonization.

In Alliance with All Indigenous Nations

Our dictionary and its path to creation are examples of how the actions of revising, decolonizing, and regenerating an Indigenous language dictionary, as well as the final product, can promote and assist a process to mitigate and reverse the harmful effects of colonization. Our actions are part of our Indigenous decolonization process.

Using decolonization as a framework or filter has the potential to be useful to other language and educational tools and materials, and all other areas of our lives.

We, the Shipibo-Konibo Nation, have initiated this process, and our methods and results will be shared in detail so other Indigenous natios may also apply it themselves and their own languages. We hope our example can be of service to Indigenous decolonization for everyone, everywhere.