Day 117: Wade Davis; Dreams from endangered cultures.

In his role at the National Geographic, Wade Davis shares the belief that stories can change the world. In this moving and beautiful talk, he takes us on a series of journeys through the ethnosphere, merging tales and imagery of some of the world’s most endangered cultures.

When we were born, there were 6000 languages spoken throughout the world. Today, probably about half of those are no longer taught or uttered to babies. With the death of a tribal elder somewhere in the world every two weeks, one wonders how many languages are becoming extinct. Language is an important marker of loss of cultural habits, serving as a vehicle through which the soul of its people becomes intertwined with the material world.

Many still view the loss of indigenous people’s behaviours as a positive change in the development of the world. Davis challenges this notion. Looking back we will view the twenty first century as a time when people sat idly by and watched as people disappeared off the earth. Genocide is universally condemned, yet ethnicide; the death of a group’s way of life, is ignored or even celebrated. Our way of living is just one model of reality of life.

Davis’ stories remind us that there’s something different out there. The stunning mountains of Tibet serve as a crude face over the history of political domination in a land where 6000 sacred monuments were torn apart and it’s people were imprisoned for daring to question the status quo. A young kid from the Andes may view a mountain as an Apu spirit, ready to direct his destiny, giving him a profoundly different viewpoint on it from a child in Montana who sees a mountain as a place to be mined. The Kogi people of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta in Northern Columbia are ruled by a ritual priesthood with an extraordinary training program; the acolytes are taken away from their families at the age of three or four and sequestered in completely dark stone huts at the base of a glacier for eighteen years. After this time, they witness their first sunrise rolling over the hills and everything they have learned in abstract is reaffirmed.

Davis’ talk is full of photographs and stories from other groups; the warriors in the Kaisut desert in Northern Kenya, the Penan in the forests of Borneo. He asks the question; do we want to live in a monochromatic, monotonous world? Or how about we look to these indigenous people, nurture their cultures, learn about them and embrace a world of polychromatic possibility.


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