& occasionally about other things, too...

Saturday, October 10, 2009

The Wayfinders

It’s always nice to meet friends after a gap. Yesterday was no exception. Yoko Morgenstern and Nelson Alvarado Jourde are two individuals I met in January this year.

I admire and respect them.

Yesterday we met at the book launch event of 2009 CBC Massey Lectures.

Briefly, the Massey Lectures – started in 1961 and named after Vincent Massey, Canada’s Governor General – is an annual event.

A Canadian or an international scholar gives a series of lectures across Canada on a political, cultural or a philosophical subject. The lecture is based on a book.

Last year, Margaret Atwood surprised the world by her prescient Payback that anticipated the global economic recession.

The lecture series is a joint venture between CBC, House of Anansi Press and Massey College in the University of Toronto.

Wade Davis will be giving the Massey Lectures this year. Davis is an anthropologist, ethnobationst, filmmaker and photographer.

He looks like Bjorn Borg, the tennis ace of my era.

His book – The Wayfinders – analyses the extinction of human cultures. The back cover of the book says, “...anthropologists predict that fully 50 percent of the 7,000 languages spoken around the world today will disappear within our lifetimes. And languages are merely the canaries in the coal mine: what of the knowledge, stories, songs, and the way of seeing encoded in these voices?”

So far I’ve merely browsed through the first chapter of the book. But I'll read any book that begins with a quotation from the collected works of Mahatma Gandhi.

Illustrating the hijacking of anthropology by the apologists of the British Raj, Davis writes, “As naturalists throughout the nineteenth century attempted to classify creation even as they coped with the revelations of Darwin, anthropologists became servants of the Crown, agents dispatched to the far reaches of empire with the task of understanding strange tribal peoples and cultures that they might properly be administered and controlled...It followed with the certainty of Victorian rectitude that advanced societies had an obligation to assist the backward, to civilize the savage, a moral duty that again played well into the needs of empire. ‘We happen to be the best people in the world,’ Cecil Rhodes famously said, ‘and the more of the world we inhabit, the better it is for humanity.’ George Nathaniel Curzon, eleventh viceroy of India, agreed. ‘There has never been anything,’ he wrote, ‘so great in the world’s history as the British Empire, so great an instrument for the good of humanity. We must devote all of our energies and our lives to maintaining it.’ Asked why there was not a single Indian native employed in the Government of India, he replied, ‘Because among all 300 million people of the subcontinent, there was not a single man capable of the job.’"

Curzon, incidentally, is the viceroy who divided Bengal into West and East Bengal. The Indian nationalist coined the phrase ‘Divide and Rule’ that sort of epitomised British colonialism everywhere in the world.

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