Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Old Way (Part 3)

Bush pigs! The young boys who had gone into the gorge to flush out game scrambled to get out of the way. Twice the pigs tried to run out of the high grass, but seeing hunters ready for them, turned back into cover. Then, a huge hog burst out of the grass right in front of me. The Ik to my left threw his spear, missing, and I did the same. The boar veered sharply back down into the gorge. About that time, a smaller pig took off up the hill on the opposite side. One hunter launched his spear and missed. A second hunter found his mark; the spear pierced the pig high and toward its hindquarters, coming out the other side. It kept running but then tumbled down another steep embankment out of my sight.

Once the small pig was ‘in the bag’, or as the Ik say, had ƙaa akak ‘gone into the mouth’, the other hunters shifted their attention to the two pigs that got away. Before I knew it, I was nearly the last man on the ridge. I took off after the others, huffing and puffing in the mountain air. As I crested the next ridge, the hunters had already begun surrounding a stretch of riverbed in a wide gorge. Apparently, the big boar had tried to hide himself in the overgrown riverbed. It took no more than five minutes for the dogs to find him.

By the time I reached the scene, the dogs had cornered the boar against the steep riverbank. Ik dogs are small, about the size of a beagle, so are not capable of bringing down a pig of this size. But they are brave! (When an Ik dog makes its first and second successful kill, it gets the tip of an ear sliced off as a badge of honor (see photo)).

In the midst of shouting, barking, squealing, yelping, and snorting, I tried to position myself to video the climax of the hunt. The old boar managed to flip a young dog on its back and was trying hard to disembowel it with its four-inch tusks. The dog was yelping bloody-murder, for good reason. A quick hunter threw his spear at such close range it never really left his hand. The spearhead punctured the skin just behind the shoulder, in the vitals. This weakened the ol’ hog but didn’t finish him. It took another spear, an arrow, and about ten whacks with the dull side of a machete for him to give up his ghost!

In all the drama and chaos, no one was quite sure which boar this was of the three we jumped, nor who was the first and second killer (the killers get the lion’s share of the meat, so it’s an important determination). What ensued was a five minute argument that was finally settle by someone up on the hill who had seen everything.

In the blink of an eye, the whole valley was vacated as most of the hunters took off after the ‘one that got away’. I was left with four Ik who immediately set about to butchering and quartering the boar.

An older Ik instructed the younger ones on how to properly divide the cuts among the killers, the elders (who always get the choicest parts), and the rest of us. Another Ik went to get bark from the milk-leaf tree to string up the meat cuts for the journey home (see photo).

We waited for over an hour as the larger group searched in vain for the third pig. They even left the first killed pig undressed for us. The four Ik with me made short work of it, without any complaints (see photo).

Exhausted, I lay down on the charred-grass ground. Somewhere in the distance, a turaco let out its eerie cry that sounds first like a human, then like an ape. Finally, after getting rained on, we heard many voices echoing through the hills as the hunting party approached. They hadn’t found the pig, but they did get a warthog (see photo).

On the way back we stopped at a rather stagnant waterhole, where dogs and men drank side by side (see photo). I bowed out of this opportunity, but the Ik have been getting water from places like this for centuries.

Tired and worried for my wife, who had expected me home five hours ago, I asked a hunter if we were going home. He said ‘no’. First we have to ɟues ‘roast’. Well, at least that will satisfy my hunger! About a half-an-hour’s walk from home, we plopped down our loads in a flat place between two boulders and began collecting firewood. Two bonfires were kindled, and meat of all shapes and sizes was thrown onto them (see photo).

After quite an amount of meat was consumed in a rather unofficial manner, the official procedure began. All the hunters divided themselves into four groups, according to their age-sets: young boys, young men, middle-aged men, older men, and, that guy that didn’t fit any category because of being a foreigner. By the same token, I was offered honored morsels reserved for elderly men only. Most of what I ate was good, though a bit of salt would have really improved it: liver, spleen, heart, skin with fat on it, ribs, etc. The last piece, a bit of undercooked liver with a very strange taste, nearly made me retch. After chewing and spitting out a thick, pinkish-purplish stream of liquified underdone liver, I decided to call it a day.

By then most of the others were satisfied, we packed up one last time and made the hike up the hill to our ridgetop manyattas. As we rounded the last bend in the trail, I asked the hunters to file past me so I could film their triumphant procession. They happily obliged. I too was happy. Happy because I had witnessed what few people witness today: The Old Way. The way humankind eked out their survival before they had knowledge of domesticating plants and animals, before being a carnivor became unfashionable. As far as I can tell, the Ik are excellent hunters: quick, unified, effective. They create solidarity among the men and provide protein for their families at home. But as the modern world encroaches more and more on this land, the Ik will need to adapt to changing times. The advent of the gun has nearly wiped out the once teeming wildlife of this area. It used to be that the Ik could hunt and trap to their hearts’ content without any appreciable impact on the wildlife. But today, this is less true. Eventually laws will need to be put in place to protect the dwindling animals from extinction. And then, a very old way of life will be over.

Blood and blade, tooth and nail...this is The Old Way.

Don’t forget. Animals still die so we can eat meat.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Old Way (Part 2)

Last Thursday morning I was outside talking to someone when I noticed men and boys coming from all directions carrying spears, machetes, bows & arrows. Their dogs were trailing eagerly behind them. Since I didn’t have any concrete plans for the morning, I thought I should join these guys on a hunt! I ran home to get Amber’s approval (which she gave, if a bit reluctantly), my hat, some water and a snack, a camera, my spear and machete. Then we were off scurrying down mountain paths toward the valley below. Excitement was in the air.

About thirty hunters in all, the Ik moved into formation once they reached the forested flatland below our ridgetop homes. They split into a V or U-formation with the open end forward and the closed end behind. This way they moved up and down dry riverbeds, looking to flush prey out into the open. Not ten minutes into this march, a small antelope called a duiker rushed out ahead of us at lightning speed. The dogs took off after it but to no avail. It easily escaped. Hunters reprimanded each other for letting one get away. Soon thereafter, a second duiker escaped, this time to the rear. However, also somewhere in the rear, a bit farther back, some teenage boys caught and killed a large rodent called a cane rat (see photo).

Not long after this first, rather meager kill, we heard commotion way back in the rear. I ran toward the sound hoping to catch a bit of action on video. By the time I reached the scene the animal, a reedbuck, had been dispatched. It had been caught in a snare and was finished off when the hunters discovered it. Right then and there, at 10:00 am, they butchered, quartered, and roasted the reedbuck over an open fire, keeping the bulk of the meat for the owner of the snare and enjoying the rest as a meaty brunch. I partook of liver, heart, and some other unrecognizable parts (see photo).

Others enjoyed sucking raw marrow and drinking hot blood right out of the opened chest cavity! (see photos)

Just when we were getting ready to head off again, I spotted a bushbuck bounded by our camp no more than fifty feet away. I yelled “bushbuck!”, but the hunters, still licking their fingers, responded too slowly, and the animal escaped. A bit annoyed that a third antelope had escaped, the group packed up and took off again in a loose, somewhat lopsided formation. Five mintues into it, a third duiker eluded their speartips. By now it was reaching midday and getting hot. We trudged along for an hour or two through the burnt grasslands without seeing anything.

Then, before I really knew what was happening, we reach a rivergorge full of thick brush. The Ik surrounded it, shouting out order to each other. An Ik man and I were covering a small patch of ground on the north end of the gorge. The usual procedure is for the dogs and young boys to enter the brush and flush game out. For reasons unknown to me at the time, neither the dogs nor the boys wanted to go in. Minutes passed. Men shouted at the boys, and finally two of them moved slowly into the underbrush from opposite ends of the gorge. After a couple minutes of suspence, the brush erupted in commotion! Three animals scattered, only visible by the way they pushed up the grass in tunnels as they ran. Spears held ready over shoulders, arrows pulled back on taut strings, shouts!, barking!...

To be continued in the Old Way (Part 3)...

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Old Way (Part 1)

Elizabeth Marshall Thomas wrote a book called The Old Way about the Ju/wasi people of the Nyae Nyae region that straddles the modern day border between Namibia and Botswana. She called the book The Old Way because the Ju/wasi are supposed to have been living at the time (1950s) the way humans had lived long before both agriculture and pastoralism. That is, they hunted and gathered. That was the Old Way.

In the sparse literature about the Ik, opinion is divided over whether the Ik are hunter-gatherers or, well, something else. Some sources say the Ik used to be nomadic hunter-gatherers who circulated over a large land area, following seasonal game, fruits, nuts, roots, and water sources. Then they came to lose this lifestyle when their best hunting ground, Kidepo Valley, was made a national park. That is perhaps the most romantic view. Other sources say the Ik have always been farmers as well, and even kept livestock before the Karamojong and Turkana tribes made that activity nearly suicidal.

Today it is a fact that the Ik are both farmers and hunter-gatherers. Much of the year is occupied with digging, planting, weeding, scare-crowing, harvesting, and processing a wide variety of crops. The Ik have a rich and old (i.e. not borrowed from Karamojong) vocabulary dealing with farming topics. They also collect wild honey and white ants to supplement their diet. These two foods figure prominently in their cultural identity. (They also have old vocabulary dealing with livestock, but they still keep nothing larger than a chicken; this is for self-preservation. We follow their example!)

Nevertheless, the Ik also hunt and gather. They have a rich knowledge of the plants that grow in their environment and use them for medicine (with greater or lesser degrees of success), building materials, and, of course, food. Just this past week we were driving through the bushland when an Ik man got excited because a certain kind of large thorntree was putting out new green leaves. He said they boil and eat those leaves in dry season. He said he would mobilize the womenfolk to come there on a gathering foray.

What I’m really getting at, though, is that the Ik hunt. I mean, they hunt hunt. They are hunters, with spears, snares, traps, bows & arrows. I had the amazing privilege of joining a group of thirty Ik men and boys last week for a nine-hour hunt. In The Old Way (Part 2), I will tell the story. Stay tuned!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

What it takes to get a bride

Terrill mentioned in a post on Facebook last night that we were listening to negotiations for a bride price at our neighbor's village. We got quite a few interested responses to this and a friend asked us to blog about it so I'll try to expand on the story a bit.

The brother of our close neighbor & friend is negotiating for a wife. This brother found the girl he wants at a village a couple of hours walk to the west. Well, one custom of the men here is to 'steal' a woman from her village. It's actually a Karamojong custom that the Ik are starting to pick up and practice. So a few days ago, a group of men went to this village to 'steal' away this girl. Supposedly, her brothers came after her (her parents weren't home at the time) and when they got close to Timu (where our neighbor lives and the girl was taken), one of the brother's family members called the army to go after those men. The brothers were beaten and not happy about the situation.

Side note: we have an army garrison stationed in Timu and a few soldiers are usually around to keep the peace. More than once, an Ik has called upon the soldiers for help by falsely accusing other people and getting others in trouble until the truth comes out.

So the girl has been staying in Timu and waiting for her family to come for negotiations. Her name is Rose and she's very sweet.

Rose's family arrived yesterday afternoon. They went straight to our neighbor's village and the negotiations started. There was yelling, threats, sticks being waved around, drinking & speeches. The family was not happy because they said negotiations weren't traditionally carried out this way. A man was supposed to start talking to a woman's family years in advance. He would let them know of his intention and would start negotiating a price and saving up. I honestly don't know what all went on between the two families in advance or what understanding they had. I did hear someone speculate that they think the Ik men stole the girl away because another man was also negotiating for her hand in marriage. Taking her would give them the upper hand. After blowing off a lot of steam, the girl's family named a price of 600,000 Ugandan shillings (currently about $261). Then they 'fined' the family another 200,000 shillings ($87) because the brothers had been beaten by the soldiers for no reason. At the end of the night, peace was made and Lojore was responsible for feeding & housing the girl's family.

We heard the discussion peeking from behind some boulders. We didn't want to make much of a scene because white skin equals money here and because we're our neighbor's 'adopted' clan members, the girl's family might have placed an expectation upon us as well.

What's next? I'm not sure, but stay tuned in to the Ik Love Connection.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

How I became a linguist

Of course there is a sense in which my previous post explains how I became a linguist as well as why. But in this post I just want to outline the more technical training I received over the last ten years, in case some of you are thinking about studying linguistics as well. I got most of my training 2000-2007 at the various SIL schools around the US: SIL at the University of North Dakota, Oregon SIL in Eugene, Oregon, and the Graduate Institute of Applied Linguistics in Dallas, Texas.

Here below I’ll list the courses I took as a way of familiarizing you with some of what ‘linguistics’ includes:

Articulatory Phonetics (the study of how sounds are physically made and perceived, and how they are written in a special alphabet called the International Phonetic Alphabet)

Morphology & Syntax (the study of how words and sentences, respectively, are formed)

Second Language & Culture Acquisition (as they name implies, a course teaching methods and strategies for learning a foreign language and culture more quickly)

Sociolinguistics (the sociological study of language, i.e. how languages are used in society)

Anthropological Linguistics (the study of language from an anthropological perspective, i.e. the study of language as part of what it means to be human, rather than just language as a system)

Phonology (the study of the psychological or mental side of how speakers produce and perceive the sounds of their language, and how to analyze the system)

Cultural Anthropology (the study of worldviews, cultures, and methods for investigating them)

Historical-Comparative Linguistics (the study of how languages change over time and how languages are ‘genetically’ related)

Language Survey Methods (the study of how to conduct sociolinguistic research to determine what languages and dialects are spoken in a region, and what language development needs they may have)

Field Methods (a course that teaches how to conduct practical field research in linguistics)

Orality & Storytelling (a course teaching about orality, as opposed to literacy, and how oral cultures use stories to communicate)

Discourse Analysis (the study of how words, phrases, and sentences get put together to form larger chunks of language, like paragraphs and whole texts)

Advanced Phonology (a course looking at difficult phonological questions from a theoretical point of view)

Culture, Language & Mind (a course in ‘cognitive anthropology’, i.e. the study of the role of the mind and brain in producing language and culture)

Advanced Grammar (a course in how to analyze syntax (word order/sentence formation) from a certain theoretical perspective)

Semantics & Pragmatics (the study of meaning in language, which includes instruction on how to make a dictionary with good definitions)

Translation (a course introducing Bible translation philosophy and methods)

So much for how I became a linguist. How I became a ‘Bible translator’ further involved courses in Greek, Hebrew, exegesis, and Biblical background studies.

If anybody would like to know more about where to take these kinds of courses, don’t hesitate to contact me. A world of fascinating intellectual adventures awaits you, a world where ‘colorless green ideas sleep furiously’ and where ‘verbing weirds languages’!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Why I became a linguist

Someone asked on the blog recently if I could comment on why and how I became a linguist. Since one rarely gets an invitation to talk about oneself, I thought I wouldn’t miss this opportunity! You’re a captive audience only if you choose to be! So, here goes the ‘why’ answer:

I became a linguist because a nearly life-long exposure to more than one language gave me an interest in All Things Linguistic. My maternal grandparents spoke Pennsylvania Dutch as their mother tongue, and I remember in early childhood being taught phrases like kansht du deitch shvetsa ‘can you speak Dutch’ and nay, ich kann net ‘no, I cannot’. When I was seven years old, my parents moved us to northwestern Tanzania where my father taught at a college. At first I was shy about going outside in big, scary Africa, but with a little encouragement I went. I remember stepping out on our back porch to play with a group of boys speaking Swahili. And then, I remember being able to speak Swahili. Among the intertribal student population at that college, I also learned basic greetings in the Jita and Dholuo languages.

Fast forward eight years, and our family was back in Tanzania, this time among a predominantly Kiroba community. Now a teenager, it took about three months for my Swahili to ‘come back’. Most of my friends spoke Kiroba as their first language, so by the end of two years I could understand quite a bit of simple conversation in that language. During those two years, my interest in languages fairly exploded. While studying French as part of my home-school curriculum, I also dove into German and Greek for fun. At daily ‘chai time’ mid-morning, I used to haul a massive Hebrew Bible to the table and gaze hungrily over the commentary written in Latin, French, and German. By the end of those years in Tanzania, which was nearly the end of my high-school education, I was starting to think I wanted a career that involved languages and cultures.

Oddly enough, my first two years of college involved no special training in languages, apart from the normal requirements of English writing and literature. Because I wasn’t sure what major to pursue in college, and because I was itching to travel again, I took a year off to participate in a Christian young-adult program that included spiritual training and a trip to a foreign country. Our team of four young folks was assigned to Kazakhstan. Our mission: share the love of Jesus Christ in the context of friendships, language learning (Kazakh and Russian), and language teaching (English). In Aktau, a city located on the shores of the Caspian Sea in western Kazakhstan and whose name means ‘white mountain’ (funny, since there were no mountains, let alone white mountains, anywhere to be seen), I lived with a Muslim Kazakh family. For five months I did my best to learn Kazakh mostly and a bit of Russian on the side. We had to leave the country earlier than planned, so to complete our time, we stayed in northern France for a month. These experiences with kind and fascinating people left me burning with a desire to learn more Russian and French. As a result, I went back to the university, majored in French, and minored in Russian (and no, there’s not a lot of Russian or French spoken in northeast Uganda...).

The summer before I went to Kazakhstan, I attended a six-week course in linguistics hosted by SIL at the University of North Dakota. Those four years in Africa had prepared me well for those courses in that I had examples of what they were teaching in my head from real-life experience. The time there was actually quite exhilarating for me, and I believe I walked away from there reasonably sure that I wanted a career with SIL.

That was in the summer of 2000 and is in some ways only half the story, but it does point out why I became a linguist. If you read between the lines, you may discern a few themes. One, I became a linguist because people I loved spoke languages I couldn’t understand. To love them better, I wanted to know those languages. Two, I became a linguist because each of the roughly 7000 languages in the world is a unique way to speak of and understand the world we live in. When I hear a foreign language spoken, its mystery and beauty beckon me to it so that I too can see the world in its light and speak with those who share that light. Three, I became a linguist because I just love the different sounds and systems of other languages; each language has a unique nature that somehow fits the people who speak it and the environment it’s spoken in. Finally, I became a linguist because I wanted a vocation that combined what I enjoy (language) with what God is doing somewhere in the world (spirit development, which is occasionally helped along by language development).

Thanks for asking!