The People’s Issue, Part I
Langscape Magazine Volume 4, Issue 1, Summer 2015
Twists and Turns, Flows and Bridges
by Luisa Maffi
Life is full of unexpected twists and turns. Only a few months ago, I didn’t foresee that I would be taking up the editorship of Langscape, Terralingua’s magazine. But as Ortixia Dilts, the previous editor (and graphic designer) moved on to other endeavors, I found myself stepping into her shoes. This issue of Langscape is the result of setting my own pace in those shoes.
Before talking about what’s in the following pages, I have a heartfelt duty: to pay tribute to what Ortixia did during her tenure. Langscape as you now know it was Ortixia’s brainchild. It was she who, eight years ago, dreamed of turning what was then a plain Terralingua newsletter into what is now a unique, appealing voice of and for biocultural diversity. Without her vision and the “great leap forward” that ensued, we wouldn’t be where we are today. Thank you, Ortixia, for daring to dream. I hope I can bring even half of your creativity and passion to this labor of love.
Onwards. With a new team (including, along with myself, our own Christine Arpita as Editorial Assistant, and Tina Kempling of Imagine That as Graphic Designer), we launch Volume 4 of Langscape. Taking a break from the themed, guest-edited issues we ran for the past few years, we decided to turn the tables and ask people to tell us what’s out there in the realm of biocultural ideas. The result is a wealth of fascinating contributions that we are including in a two-part “People’s Issue” series, the first of which is before your eyes.
Sifting through the submissions, it soon became apparent to me that they fell into a number of recognizable types: some philosophical; others self-reflective; others yet describing concrete on-the-ground situations; and finally some focusing on community or institutional action. Then there were contributions where text played second fiddle to images — photo essays, that is. From that observation emerged a new way of organizing Langscape content. The articles that follow are grouped into “Ideas,” “Reflections,” “Dispatches,” “Action,” and “Louder Than Words.” The latter is the name we chose for the photo essay category. “A photo speaks louder than a thousand words,” says Ray Lyngdoh, author of one of the photo essays you’ll find in here. We agree that is often true — so thanks for the inspiration, Ray!
At the same time, as I read on, a spontaneous overarching theme began to emerge in my mind: Flows and Bridges. Flows: the flow of life in nature and culture, in space and time; the flow of water; the flow of memory; the flow of communication and understanding across cultures; the flow of art, dance, and beauty. And Bridges: bridges across often troubled waters, linking traditional and scientific knowledge, traditional solutions and contemporary innovations, traditional informal education and western formal education, local situations and global awareness and action; bridges of solidarity among individuals and communities; bridges over our gaps in knowledge and understanding, opening new paths and new hopes for sustaining the biocultural diversity of life.
So let yourself be carried by the flows and transported across the bridges… In “The Course of Heaven and Earth,” Kierin Mackenzietakes us along on a meditation on the biocultural rhythms and cycles of time and space, to which for the longest time in history we humans have been finely attuned — and to which we must become attuned again, freeing ourselves of the homogenizing regularities and uniformities imposed by industrial civilization, if we are to return to planetary health.
In “Free-Flow,” David Groenfeldt complements that meditation by musing on the technological control we have established on the flow of rivers, straitjacketing them with dams, artificial banks, and diversions, and on the ecological and cultural damage we have caused by doing so. He points to the need to re-integrate people and rivers if we do wish to go beyond mere short-term “river repair,” and restore health to our watercourses for our benefit and that of all life.
Nowhere else on earth do you become more conscious of the value of water than in a desert region. That’s where Dawn Wink grew up, in southeastern Arizona, USA, and from an early age she was keenly aware that water is life — or death; and that, in the desert, language and culture are one with water and share the same traits with it, in both abundance and dearth. In “Wild Waters,” she offers an intense reflection on her intertwined experiences as a lover of the desert, a student of language, and a listener to the ever-changing, powerful voice of flowing water.
Walter Gabriel Estrada Ramírez and Juan Manuel Rosso Londoño also listen by the water: listen to each other, in this case — an Indigenous and a non-Indigenous person who came to meet on the metaphorical banks of a river in the Amazon forest of Colombia, and to see themselves and each other reflected in the “river-mirror.” Their moving dialogue “In the Land of the River-Mirrors” is an elegy to finding both their respective identities and their common humanity through a shared interest in “bee-cultural” diversity.
Deep in the remote rainforest of central New Guinea, William Thomas bonds with the Hewa people and discovers a bridge between their knowledge system and that of the conservationists who aim to “save” that forest. His provocative piece, “Culturally-mediated Disturbance,” dispels some of the naïve interpretations of “indigenous peoples living in balance with nature,” and shows how, by understanding the Hewa’s active role in shaping the landscape and by sustaining their traditional knowledge, one can begin to envision a “culture-friendly template” to conserve New Guinea’s forests.
“Traditional Treasure” is Marie Besses’ and Martina Luger’s account of their travels to a similarly isolated region of Nicaragua that is home to the Rama people, to learn how their traditional farming, fishing, and hunting life is being threatened by climate change and other anthropogenic pressures. Bridging traditional and scientific knowledge, they envision responses to help the Rama increase their resilience to these looming transformations.
In “Marine Biodiversity and Cultural Diversity in the Coastal Communities of Trivandrum,” Lisba Yesudas and Johnson Jament deliver an impassioned appeal for India and the world to recognize the ancestral wisdom of their forefathers in the fishing communities of Kerala’s southern coast, who for generations have safeguarded the marine environment (Mother Sea to them) on which their lives, well-being, and happiness depend. They propose that biocultural diversity should become a basic feature of India’s educational curriculum, with traditional knowledge at its core.
Inclusion of traditional knowledge in school curriculum is also the topic of Jennie Harvey’s article on Noonkodin, a unique high school in rural Tanzania, East Africa that offers intercultural education to its Maasai students. In “Unity in Diversity,” Jennie examines how hands-on activities focused on traditional veterinary medicine enhance students’ learning about and positive attitudes toward this invaluable cultural asset for their livestock-raising people.
In a similar mode, in “Place Names and Storytelling” Jon Corbett, Christine Schreyer, and Nicole Gordon explore the power of community mapping to foster language learning and cultural revitalization among the Taku River Tlingit in northwestern British Columbia, Canada. Their project records traditional place names and the related biocultural knowledge and stories and visualizes them on a community-controlled web-based map.
As the web of life in nature and culture is increasingly at risk around the globe, how can our communities and institutions change to be more supportive of our biological, cultural, and linguistic heritage? That is the underlying question in the next three articles. “Towards an Ecology of Diversity,” by Derik Joseph and Shannon Kelly, outlines a variety of initiatives taking place at the British Columbia Institute of Technology to implement the school’s Sustainability and Diversity mandates. That includes developing teaching materials that foster global environmental and social citizenship and creating a more inclusive, culturally appropriate, and supportive environment for Aboriginal students.
“Irony as Inspiration,” by Kelly Bannister and George Nicholas, tackles biocultural heritage issues on Salt Spring Island, British Columbia — the very place from which Langscape hails. In Salt Spring’s Ganges Harbor, Grace Islet — once poetically named ȾEMÁȻES “the sound of waves lapping barnacles on the shore” in one of the Coast Salish languages,* and known for its Coast Salish burial cairns as well as for remnants of a rare and endangered ecosystem — was being desecrated by a private home building project. The case prompted a coalition of First Nations, concerned community members, and regional government to come to the rescue and halt the project; and a group of academics to create and disseminate a Declaration meant to serve as an educational and political tool to help safeguard threatened Indigenous ancestral burial sites throughout British Columbia.
Finally, in “Buen Vivir” Katherine Zavala reports on how a US-based grant-making organization learns from Indigenous worldviews — such as the philosophy of Buen Vivir, or “right living,” in a respectful co-existence with Mother Earth and ancestral spirits — in order to assist communities in addressing interconnected challenges of food sovereignty, economic justice, and climate resiliency.
“A feast for biocultural eyes” is the only way to describe the two photo essays interspersed in the following pages. “In the Abode of the Clouds” is Ray Lyngdoh’s tribute to the biocultural diversity of his native state of Meghalaya, in northeastern India. A region of stunning natural beauty and vibrant, unique tribal cultures, it is remote and still poorly known — although perhaps for not much longer, as it was chosen to host Slow Food’s 2015 international Terra Madre festival!
“TEKS” is the joint effort of Vanuatu-based Delly Roy, Thomas Dick, and Sarah Doyle, and Italy-based Cristina Panicali. Together, through words and images, they describe the efforts of the TEKS project to revitalize the manifold artistic expressions and “wisdom practices” of the linguistically (and culturally) mega-diverse Pacific island nation of Vanuatu — including the unique and mesmerizing women’s “water music.” TEKS endeavors to bridge Vanuatu’s distinct cultural traditions, as well as to promote mutual understanding with foreign cultures, through the arts.
Ironically, while the Vanuatu photo essay was in the works last March, 250-km/hour winds from Tropical Cyclone Pam hit the country. One of the most devastating natural disasters in Vanuatu’s history, it cut off power and water supply throughout the islands, and is thought to have damaged up to 90 percent of the country’s buildings, including hospitals and schools — and the offices of the non-profit Further Arts, which houses TEKS. When you read and view the essay, I hope you’ll feel as inspired to provide support to Vanuatu (and to Further Arts and TEKS) as you may have felt inclined to do in the case of the subsequent, dramatic Nepal earthquake. Both countries host tremendous biocultural diversity in remote, hard-to-reach regions that will need reconstruction aid for the long haul. This kind of solidarity is what “Unity in Biocultural Diversity” is all about!
With warm regards,
Co-founder and Director, Terralingua
* Many thanks to Saanich Elder John Elliott for providing that linguistic gem!
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