The old language

The spirits are stopping us, he says. They’re stopping us. They’re jealous.

And then he says: they hold us still…still in time.

Hold us still/still in time — the same words that Barnacle used — and I said to him: Cambio, listen. This man here, the headman with the boy on his shoulders, he told me, with the same words, about your return to the Beginning. Except…I don’t speak Mayoruna — do you understand? 

There was a silence. Maybe he spoke to you in the other language. The old language.

No. No. He didn’t speak to me. I think he spoke to me without words.

Yes. That is the old language. The old language of/

/Old language? What d’you mean? It comes from another time? I mean, how do you learn it? [undertone: I have so many questions…]

No. No, it’s not learned. It’s remembered. The old ones remember it over…

And he looks at me with a new-found respect that I  should communicate like this.

The story is Loren McIntyre’s, as told by Theatre de Complicité (The Encounter) from a book by Petru Popescu. McIntyre was a National Geographic photojournalist who strayed in the Amazon forest in 1969 and stumbled on a hamlet of Mayoruna people. The people are in bad shape when he turns up, in retreat from civilization’s onslaught. He has nothing to offer and shares no common tongue with them, but they tolerate him, which saves his life.

In his plight, Loren finds himself communicating wordlessly with the hamlet’s shaman. A language of observation and emotion, not of interrogation or instruction.

Some of us are friends

The spirits are holding us still

We go back to the Beginning

As he learns later, it’s a language the locals all know of, whether they use it or not.

Notwithstanding science’s inability to bottle what it calls ‘telepathy’ – I think we all retain some crumbs of old language.

And when I see how adeptly animals, the other animals, manage and coordinate their affairs without external signals — especially when hunting or hunted, or raising young, or building a home or seasonally migrating — I wonder if they’re using old language too.

(Image courtesy: iStock/edsongrandisoli)

3 Replies to “The old language”

  1. This is really the crux of it. Calling it “a language” is even a bit misleading but if one must use the new language to point to the old language then it is perhaps the best we can do.
    In the midst of our crises and tragedies does the old language matter? It cannot feed you or protect you, or feed and protect anyone else. It has no exchange value. It cannot be taught, really. And yet without it we live in a world of hungry ghosts, fighting and starving, and destroying what we need to live. Without it we are insane and self-harming and hurtful of others. We are made to disbelieve in the most essential thing, and are crippled all our lives long because of that missing piece. Or if we hang on to it somehow, it must be a kind of secret, something held in the interstices of language and discourse, that undermines our credibility when we dare to speak of it.
    We must use the shaman figure from Outer Mongolia and deepest Amazon to speak of it, because our culture has disappeared it so relentlessly, when it is right there in front of us, in the plants and animals outside the front door. Or even amongst ourselves, if we could only remember how to let it exist, how to sense it, how to cherish it – that old, wild music.

  2. Thanks for your comment, Michelle.

    Certain things happened, during the coronavirus hiatus, when people were finding to some surprise that they agreed, as if by instinct, what their role could be in turning towards a better world. Perhaps vestiges of old language at work! But we needed that silence, a pause in the machinations of this world, to properly hear each other.

    One of the unspoken messages I’d like to think we passed around during that time was that injustice and inequity are at the heart of the metastizing crises of our time, and have to be challenged now more than ever before.

  3. Yes, the role of instinct and the unspoken in the events of the past few months has been, well, uncanny. I think your post about the kabuki dramatic structure seems more and more insightful.

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