traces of being

and then there will come the days when you’re gone and your children read your letters and notes and diaries and wonder what you were thinking, and even though they see those letters for the first time, there are such uncanny similarities with their own lives that they cannot explain and that seem so strange. as if we were unintended replication machines since the start, producing ourselves over and over again, even when we try to get a different result… we can only teach what we are. and however much we sometimes criticize our parents, we can only become what they were, and no different. there will always be recognisable traces.

or are those traces visible to us because we’re looking for similarities with the ones we miss?

travelling like a thought

Perhaps on a day when it’s possible to travel with just hands in my pockets, without packing, preparing, nerve-wrecking planning and worrying about how, where, when, how to be on time, etc, i would actually enjoy travelling. Right now i enjoy it only in theory… lol.

I wonder where those fairytales come from where the third son just walks out of the door into the wide world and comes back with luck, love and happiness. Oh wow. I guess for all that I, too, need a horse who eats embers. Anybody know where i can find a horse that eats embers? Glowing embers. Yum! Crunch crunch.

The horse ate a trough of glowing ambers and asked the prince: how fast do you want to travel? Like the wind or like the thought? Oh yes – that’s what i need – that the fabric of the world were written in fairy tales… and it’s perhaps because i spent too many hours with all the world’s fairy tales and ember-eating horses as a child that i find it really, really difficult to adapt to the everyday ‘reality’ needs of taking a bus to get to the subway to reach the train station to reach another city to wait for a bus… ugh. How slow and complicated! One can go mad like that!!!

Humanitarian

“She prowled the city on moonlit nights, and OK, there was the occasional chicken, but she always remembered where she’d been and went round the next day to shove some money under the door. It was hard to be a vegetarian who had to pick bits of meat out of her teeth in the morning. She was definitely on top of it, though. It was easy to be a vegetarian by day. It was preventing yourself from becoming a humanitarian at night that took the real effort.”
— Terry Pratchett, Men at Arms

wolf spell

Canis lupus. Photo by Bernard Landgraf, Wikimedia CommonsAccording to the wolf researcher Ilmar Rootsi, our ancestors considered the wolf (Canis lupus) to be the most important animal of the forests. Despite being a constant, persistent threat to the cattle-breeding culture, one cannot find hostility or outward violence towards wolves in our lore. Ancestors tried to “tell off” the wolf with spells and keep it away from cattle herds with magical acts, but they recognised the wolf’s inherent right to live, and even believed that if a wolf killed off an animal in a herd, it would bring fertility.

What a culture. Looking into my own history and folklore is like an endless quest – I know so few, and there is so much more to learn that sometimes, my mind cannot even comprehend. This is nature reverence for you, when comparing this to some Western European cultures where they hung wolves, or Russia where they skinned and burned them alive. I suppose the Little Red Riding Hood tale conveys some of that attitude as well. — In W-Europe, the collective violence outbursts drove wolves nearly to extinction. To Estonians, the philosophy seemed to be – do what you have to, to protect yours, but not more than scarcely necessary; respect, let others live.

Honestly I cannot right now imagine any other culture who would try to fight wild predators with… words. Words, of all things! Seems to be something we’re good at.

Too romantical and credulous? Maybe. Certainly there’s more historical, geographical and environmental background info to look into, in order to understand the reasons behind other cultures’ different attitudes. But the question still remains: why is one culture acting so very differently than another? Why is one culture trying to destory something alive with a lot of persistence and no consideration; and why is another not doing the same?* It wasn’t like my ancestors were so ‘well off’ that they did not feel the need to secure their cattles at any cost. They were enslaved and ruled over; food was scarce anywhere. Culture. It’s not genetics; they say it’s not so much linguistics, either. But then what is it?

Here’s the spell for you, translation following.

Metsa sikku, metsa sokku,
metsa kuldane kuningas,
metsa halli harvalõuga,
metsa peni pikkalõuga!
Ära salva salajalta,
ära näksa nägemata,
ära puutu minu pulli,
ära katsu minu karja!
Mine sohu sobistama,
mine laande luusimaie,
pikki puida murdemaie,
kivi külga kiskumaie!

[Billygoat of the forest, goat of the forest, golden king of the forest, grey scarce-hair chin of the forest, long-jaw hound of the forest! Do not inject poison stealthily, do not bite unseen, do not touch my ox, do not touch my herd! Go waddle in bogs, go rove in forests, slay along trees, tear at stones.]
(Vigala parish, 1894)
— The names and chants do not rely only on the dictionary meanings of the words, but their rhythm, sounds, in particular allitterations, and associations. A translation only conveys a small part of the power and charge of these strings of words.
From “The wolf – best-known animal in Estonian folklore.” Read the entire article in English »

* In the original research article by Rootsi (“Hunt kultusloomana Eesti rahvatraditsioonis,” PDF) it is shown that slavic and germanic traditions and lore also knew reverence towards the wolf. Is this simply the difference of prevalent practices within a culture, or what changed?

two worlds, two dimensions

appreciate what you have before it becomes what you had

Had this conversation today with someone – let’s call them S.

Me [talking about indigenous peoples and their rights and Canada and #idlenomore and all kinds of such things]
S [finding it all very interesting, then asking suddenly, in the end]: Have you ever been to Canada?
Me: No, I haven’t. Have you?
S: Yes! I’ve been to Nova Scotia, Halifax [starts explaining where it is and what it looks like on the map]
Me: I happen to know very well where Nova Scotia is. I’m kind of learning the language of Nova Scotia, and around.
S: Really? Oh wow. Yes, they speak a bit differently [starts imitating a strange English accent to illustrate]
Me: No, I’m learning the indigenous language of Nova Scotia.
S: ??? There’s an indigenous language in Nova Scotia?

Two worlds. Two semiospheres. Two completely different background systems.

A year ago, I didn’t know where Nova Scotia was. I did know where the Mi’kmaw people were located on the map, though – more or less. By now I seem to be more familiar with the Mi’kmaw names for places than the other ones. It was a natural choice for me – to learn from the people of the land.

Sometimes I come across a similar semiospheric confusion while talking with people who live in the world of French-speaking geography that I am not very familiar with. The confusions are easily solved by giving the English equivalent of the place name, and I learn, quickly.

In any area with indigenous peoples there’s a yet different reality layer, though – consisting of place names that often make sense, a language, a culture, a relationship with the environment around. It is all so very interesting, unique, rare, and often endangered.

The general public tends to know the layer of the prevalent culture(s), and very often they are not even aware that an alternative exists. Yet it does, and it’s in most cases not dead, decayed, deteriorated and forgotten, but alive, thriving, surviving, and carried by real people in the real world – as real as anybody else.

But the average occidental regards this as a dream world, long gone, dead, buried, and fairytale-ish. It’s so very romantical! To wear feathers on Halloween and remember the lovely natives with a good word on Thanksgiving, but living your whole life not knowing where your neighbours actually come from, or even that they exist, to say nothing of… knowing and understanding what they feel and think, or trying to learn some of their language in return of their having learnt yours. There are so many little things, being “the least” we could do! I suppose it hasn’t been made easy over the history, but it doesn’t excuse the ignorance.

It’s the diversity we all share and should attempt to keep and hold on to, until we still have it, in the present tense.

Indigenous – overprivileged or underprivileged?

Reading this controversial article that flames a heated discussion on whether the governmental support to indigenous peoples is justified or not, I felt some things should be said.

Having been stripped of their natural strengths, they have been forced to survive in a strange culture and society – that, in their own land, having no choice to go somewhere else. They have had to cope, and they’re doing it as much as they can; only that up to 50 years ago they were pretty much treated like animals, and I’m quite certain that it is this attitude that has destroyed life and opportunities for many of them.

I can emotionally understand the feelings of the newcomers, Irish and of whatever descent, that they feel betrayed about the fact that there is no “special treatment” for them. But they have come to their conditions by choice – of their own or their ancestors.

There were many Estonians who emigrated during the WWII, and even before. Just like anyone else, they went to search for luck and happiness in a new land – Australia, Canada, USA and elsewhere. They probably didn’t receive any special treatment either, but just used their hands and wits to advance in the society and make themselves a living and a home.

Many of them were definitely blessed with skills for survival in an occidental society – it’s something that most Estonians did not yet possess in the beginning of the 19th century, for example, when they had been, for centuries, treated the same as the indigenous anywhere else in the world – as slaves and animals.
However, through occidental education (and that, by the way, in our own – Estonian – language) they acquired the skills necessary to manage in this different type of society, and even the skills necessary to cope in another country that doesn’t speak your language (which cannot really be said about the Irish or any anglosaxons in Australia or Canada).

But when they went out to other countries – those that had built their successful societies on the misery and exploitation of the not-so-technologically-advantaged local peoples, the Estonians eventually joined the exploiting culture – with its attitudes and fear towards the ‘natives’ – and of this I am ashamed. I know they probably didn’t have a choice, and couldn’t have possibly changed the attitudes of a foreign country as immigrants, but I am still ashamed.

“Don’t complain, put the past behind you and get on with your life like anyone else” is undoubtedly a good suggestion to any individual who wants to cope, but it has nothing to do with being fair and just. Getting slaughtered and discriminated in your own land without any options of escape is not fair. Getting deported to the other side of the globe is not fair, either. But what the occidental mindset still cannot own up to is the fact that it has destroyed and helped destroy hundreds of previously well-functioning societies, and instead of making an attempt to understand what there is to learn from the others, it has arrogantly decided that it knows the best what’s good for the humankind and has executed this knowledge in full force. And it just cannot stop and ask itself: what if we were wrong all along the way?

We could debate over who and what is responsible for the environmental conditions of the Earth today, for example, and probably still not get anywhere, because there’s just THAT MANY people saying “but I don’t want to go back to living in a cave”. Not wanting to imply anything specific here, but what if one day you just don’t have a choice any more? Because you know what, the vast majority of the inhabitants of this planet are on this day living in conditions where a cave would be an upgrade, and that’s partly because of your lifestyle choices. Things cost way more than you think they do, and it cannot be counted in money.

Of course, we are all bricoleurs, and when given an opportunity, it’s not certain any of us would be any wiser to make a good decision for the benefit of all. — That’s what the occidentals like to say. It’s certainly comfortable to say that, and it’s also convenient to think everyone is equal and anyone’s perceived inequality is the problem of their own minds only.

Well, if you think like that, too, why don’t you watch Tim Wise speaking on “The Pathology of White Privilege” and see if your conviction of absolute equality still stands after that:

I don’t know too much about racism, but I’ve met cultural intolerance; and Kerryn Pholi seems a bit confused in using the terms ‘race’ and ‘culture’ as synonyms. She might have the ancestry, but I don’t see her speaking of being part of any Aboriginal culture, truly. It’s ‘them’ for her and she’s not sure whether she’s proud of it or not. She has a different kind of weight on her shoulders – the weight of globalisation and creolisation, the burden of not having a place to belong, perhaps. I cannot imagine what it’s like because I will always only belong to one little people and their land, even if I travel around or change location, my roots will only ever have been in one place on the globe and it makes me want to be rooted, in the end, and I understand others who wish the same. But after centuries of colonisation and deportation we now have a mass of people with no roots, or roots everywhere in the world, and with a culture that is a bit universal and a lot of an exploiting kind. I understand that they feel a bit lost, but I don’t really know how to help them, and I am truly sorry for that.

But should this be the reason to take any opportunities or support away from the rest, those who still more or less know where they belong, and need help in supporting their languages and cultures to survive? I don’t think so.