Tuesday, 31 December 2019

Anuta - the smallest Polynesian community in the world

Reposted from Broad Oak Magazine:

Anuta tempts the philosopher and moralist. Its 300 Polynesian people live on the smallest inhabited island in the South Pacific and sustain themselves by carefully harvesting their natural resources. Fragile, precious, beautiful life in utter isolation - a metaphor for planet Earth in a universe where we may still turn out to be alone.

The BBC sent ex-Royal Marine Bruce Parry there in 2007; he said afterwards, "If I had to pick one tribe to go back and live with permanently — and I hate doing this, it’s not a contest — it would be the people of Anuta [...] It’s got white beaches, blue seas, good food and gentle, friendly people who have a wonderful philosophy of sharing." The communal ethic is calleed "aropa" in their language.

In 2009 the BBC returned to include the story in their stunningly-shot series "South Pacific", contrasting Anuta with Easter Island, where the tribes' competition and reckless exploitation of their ecology led to catastrophe. (The Easter Islanders are the starting point for Belgrano whistleblower Clive Ponting's 1991 book, "A Green History of the World: The Environment and the Collapse of Great Civilizations", reissued in 2007.)

BBC reporter Huw Cordey was part of the 2009 visit and made a radio programme for the Nature series, called "Anuta - An Island Governed By Love". He found that even in Anuta there are discontents, like anywhere else.

Yet we're still haunted by the myth of the happy land. As the poet Elizabeth Jennings says, "Sickness for Eden was so strong."

Thursday, 7 November 2019

Walking protohumans started in Europe?

According to research published in Nature, the first bipedal ancestor of modern humans may have come from southern Europe. Dubbed Danuvius Guggenmosi, the remains were found in Bavaria and date from c. 11.5 million years ago.

Only a few weeks before this discovery, another research team speculated that a 10-million-year-old pelvis belonging to another species called Rudapithecus Hungaricus may have enabled it to walk upright, too.


Before now, says the Daily Mail's report, the earliest evidence of two-legged hominids came from Kenya - the 6 million-year-old remains of Orrorin Tugenensis -  and some fossilised footprints on the island of Crete.

"The discovery of Danuvius may shatter the prevailing notion of how bipedalism evolved: that perhaps 6 million years ago in East Africa a chimpanzee-like ancestor started to walk on two legs after environmental changes created open landscapes and savannahs where forests once dominated."


So rather than coming from Africa, it's possible that some of humanity's ancestors may have gone there before re-migrating northwards.

Sunday, 20 October 2019

Walkabout to Wave Hill

Our ramble begins with an internet writer's reference to an Australian comedy book from the Seventies, The Outcasts Of Foolgarah. Surfing the reviews, I came across a Depression-era larrikin Oz classic, Here's Luck, by journo and rake Lennie Lower, which is now making us laugh.

But Outcasts, by Frank Hardy, was far from the author's most significant work. His most notorious was one that got him in court for criminal libel - the last case of its kind in Victoria; but that's not where this journey leads us. The experiences of the Depression that gave Lower his comic material had radicalised Hardy, as they did so many others, prompting him to join the Communist Party and use his talents to fight the Establishment.

We have since learned what Communism did; but the instincts that it exploited - compassion for the poor, and vicarious indignation - are valid. In our secular age, they inform ecological panic and adolescent self-loathing, an opportunity for ostentatious do-gooders to secure bossy, well-upholstered sinecures for themselves.

In Australia, they take us to the aboriginals.

Twenty thousand years before Neanderthals recolonised an unpeopled Ice Age Britain, forty thousand before modern man supplanted them in Europe, even longer before humans saw the Americas, the first Australians came to their island continent. Early agriculture? The cities of China and Mesopotamia, Egypt and Mohenjo Daro, the stones of Wiltshire and Giza? Last week's news.

For them, time had no meaning, as is so with all of us, our past always fading into dream, driving us to build, write, record images; futile attempts to preserve our intangible selves in something that endures forever, though nothing will.

Where are their monuments? In their minds, and in their tongues. In their myths of creation and arrival, in the songman's store of rhymes that give life-saving directions for nomads in a pitiless land; an inconceivably long heirloom of songs, some maybe stretching back to the birth of language itself. Old to young, old to young, the chain continued, handing on words and skills that gave them their law and culture; the policeman and warrior, the getter of food and drink, the builder of shelters contained in their skins and carried within their hands and brains wherever they went.

Until the last link broke.

Dispossession, displacement, disrespect; opium via the Oriental trading in Port Darwin; alcohol everywhere, ruining the young as it did their counterparts in America, where sometimes crazy-drunk First Nation kids hang out of cars as they tear around settlement lands which they cannot sell or mortgage.

Instead of the remorseless pressure of daily survival, jobs: money, enough to get by and for some, to dream the modern dreams of easy intoxication. And since the young stopped listening to the old, the elders (some, at least) shut their lips. One by one, the guiding stars of the aboriginal are winking out of existence, taking their knowledge with them.

Materially, a little is done to compensate material wrongs, some in response to action by the victims themselves. Following a walkout in 1966 by mistreated Gurindji aboriginal workers at the vast Wave Hill cattle station, a small portion of their traditional lands were eventually restored to them, and the law has begun to address past injustices. Frank Hardy helped to publicise the issues in his book The Unlucky Australians, and a TV documentary followed.


What can make up for the vast, invisible vandalism of an ancient way of life? Like all humanity, the original Australians have always known war and crime, but what they carried in them was no less precious and far older than the historical relics over which we wonder and grieve in museums.

Still, many times older is the history of humanoids written into all our genes, itself dwarfed by the general relay of life that began billions of years ago. It is fleeting life that endures.

Tuesday, 30 July 2019

Thursday, 25 July 2019

Easter Island / Rapa Nui: Polynesians did NOT ruin the island

A counter to the greenstory about humans triggering ecological collapse on Rapa Nui is here:


For example:

"Easter Islanders never cut their palm trees at all! According to their cultural legends, when the Polynesians’ canoes reached Easter about 1000 AD, the island was covered in grasses. There were only a few palms. Modern pollen studies confirm this, showing that the island did have palm trees in the ancient past – but most died in the cold droughts of the Dark Ages (600–950 AD). The few surviving palms died during the Little Ice Age after the Polynesians colonized the island. The last palm died about 1650."

Thursday, 8 November 2018

Borneo cave art redated from 10k years ago to 40k: now world's oldest?

"A group of cave paintings in East Kalimantan, in the Indonesian part of the island of Borneo, depicting a group of local cattle, has been dated to at least 40,000 years ago by researchers who believe the paintings are the oldest figurative art in the world. The limestone caves’ ancient images include painted outlines of human hands, a human figure, and what appear to be renderings of wild cattle, including an animal similar to the banteng, a large bovine mammal still found in the region."


Original article in Nature: