“There is even a word for the smell of rain.”
Jones has written yet another wonderfully interesting and wise book, a book about the Haida Gwaii, “a First Nation people … who live on remote islands off the coasts of British Columbia and Alaska, on the eastern edge of the Pacific Ocean.”
In this account, we get a travelogue, an anthropological survey, an art history and a loving look at a people and culture almost extinct, desperately trying to preserve what’s left after the ravages by the governments of England and Canada. Travelling is also a hymn to poet Emily Carr and to preservation of our natural environment.
Jones points out that the health and culture of the Haida people were inextricably linked to the health of their environment. Destruction of their forests and pollution of their waters disrupted their life cycles. The introduction of European diseases and the abduction of their children, forced to attend “residential” schools, destroyed generations.
It is a poetic work, not a dry text:
‘Thunderbirds are calling out to one another’ — a reference to the mythological beings called Thunderbirds whose wing beats caused the thunder and whose flashing eyes produced lightning. An entire cultural history is embedded in a language.”
She offers us insights about the complex and descriptive nature of aboriginal languages and how they reflect the soul of their cultures. Pádraic Pearse offered us this: “Tír gan teanga, tír gan anam. A country without a language is a country without a soul.” Jones explains this concept in multiple ways. “Their stories of the sea rising and then falling also confirm geological events going back almost fourteen thousand years. Mythology can provide a window into the past and is more reliable than we imagine.”
She introduces us to Haida artist and sculptor Bill Reid, and many others now represented in museums, art galleries and public spaces in British Columbia, in a work complete with copious footnotes and an extensive bibliography.
She offers us the raven and the eagle – the forest and the sea, manifest in a remote culture still gasping for life. In addition to this book, we can also read poems inspired by her trip to the edge of the world in The Rainmaker’s Wife. I heartily recommend both books!