New Internationalist

Deemed dispensible

A few days ago I received an email alert from the Guardian telling me that the last female rhino had been killed in Krugersdorp Park in South Africa. After hacking its horn, the female was left to bleed to death – cruelly and coldly. I feel unforgiving towards those that did this horrible thing. Last year 129 rhinos were killed and in the first six months of 2010 another 136 have already been killed – all for their horns. 

rhino killed South Africa, photo from the Guardian

This particular rhino, who I have decided to call ‘Skylady’ is survived by her ‘distraught’ calf who is now living with two other orphans of mothers killed in this way. 

I am trying to think of how I can connect this death, borne of greed and a desire by men to experience some mythical sexual pleasure, to other acts of violence against women, children and men. Both animals and humans have been displaced for the same reasons by transnational corporations, corrupt governments and wars over national resources.

Everything is expendable – people, animals, language, customs, livelihoods – when these get in the way of a development for profit. There are hundreds of endangered mammals, birds, fish and reptiles; probably the most worrying are the disappearing bees, without which we and every other living creature may also disappear sooner than later. Bees are seriously important:

‘...they are an essential agent of pollination for a vast range of plants, many of which are important human foodstuffs. Without the presence of bees, much of agriculture would be impossible, and this is a sobering thought right now, as feeding the world is suddenly becoming more difficult because of rising demand and the transfer of much crop production into biofuels, especially in the US.’

With all the technological progress being made over the past 100 years, it’s depressing to realize that the food we eat now is of a lower quality than before – at least in the West, where everything is processed, sugared and ‘hormoned’. I have been living in the US for the past couple of months and it is near impossible to find any food that does not contain sugar, fructose, monosodium glutamate or corn starch. Already the chicken, cow and pig of a hundred years ago has been transformed into hormone-filled, short-lived, over-fed cheap fodder for over-fed people. Some friends of mine tried for a while to live a ‘raw food’ diet – they could not sustain it because of the cost. Healthy eating is not for the low income and poor of this world; it is much easier to eat cheap chicken. Real food is becoming extinct, like bees, animals and languages. The other day I joined a gym and the nutritionists (who probably knew a lot less about food than I do) tried to sell me a high protein diet – which is OK in itself,  but this one was in the powdered form of smoothies flavoured with biscuits (cookies in American English), butterscotch, blueberries, chocolate and pills.  

Languages are also endangered – 473 are only spoken by a few people. The majority of these are in Australia, Brazil and the United States. In February this year two deaths occurred. The death of Boa Senior and the death of the language Bo spoken in the Andaman Islands.  

It is estimated that a language dies every two weeks and by 2100 90 per cent of the languages of the world will be gone forever. It’s called Linguicide, death of language. There are between 3,000 and 10,000 languages – which seems a huge variable. The top 8 languages are spoken by 2.4 billion people (Mandarin, Spanish, English, Bengali, Hindi, Portuguese, Russian and Japanese). At the other end of the scale, 96 per cent of the world’s languages are spoken by 4 per cent of the population. A quarter of the world’s languages are spoken by fewer than 1,000 people and over half by fewer than 10,000 people. The chances of survival for many of these languages is therefore very slim, given the number of speakers and the domination of the eight major languages.

There is no great mystery here – ‘language imperialism’ or the ‘invasion of English’ has meant that everyone ‘needs’ to speak English in order to communicate with as many people as possible.

Is there a connection between the death of SkyLady and that of Boa Sr? Yes, in the sense that both animals and languages are deemed dispensable. I suppose some will say well, this is life and since time began creatures, languages and cultures have become extinct and life goes on. But listening to Boa Sr sing there is something missing from this depressing inevitability – it doesn't really have to be so.

Boa Sr sings ‘the earth is shaking as the tree falls with a great thud’ – a metaphor for the death of a language and death of a people. Bo sounded like a beautiful language – I feel sad they have both gone.

Boa Snr and Professor Abbi, photo from BBC website

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