The way how today looks isn't the way how tomorrow looks," says Ade Kunle, my Yoruba language instructor. It's the beginning of a Yoruba proverb that goes on to explain why awos or diviners consult Ifa, the oracle of wisdom every day.

The Yoruba people inhabit Southwest Nigeria. In ancient times, they were renowned poets, philosophers and artists. I've learned many Yoruba proverbs and concepts during the past two years that I've been studying with Ade Kunle.

"Gbolohun meji," roughly translated, means a "brief talk." And "aditu oro," are words that carry deep meaning. Aditu oro are not words to be taken lightly. In fact, one ought to sit down for the aditu oro discourse.  So, welcome to the domain of "aditu oro."

I wish to begin by sharing what I've learned from the book Vanishing Voices. The authors of Vanishing Voices say 90 percent of the world's languages will "disappear in the next one hundred years." And at the current rate a language is dying every two weeks!

The authors also argue that the extinction of languages is part of the larger picture of the near-total collapse of the worldwide ecosystem.

The death of a language doesn't simply mean that we lose words, sounds and grammatical constructions. It means we lose priceless knowledge: historical, scientific, philosophical, medical, cultural, spiritual, botanical and ecological. This is so because the collective knowledge and wisdom of humanity is encoded in language, and most of the world's languages have not been adequately studied or documented.

Perhaps the best way to visualize language loss is like this: Imagine what would happen if universities, colleges, libraries and internet search engines started vanishing one by one? How might this affect you? How rich could your world possibly be? How will your children fare in a climate of intellectual evaporation?

And while you ponder the implications of language loss, consider this as well indigenous cultures around the world are dying at a rapid rate, too. It is a global crisis, and I fear my culture -- Virgin Islands culture might one day join the ranks of vanishing cultures, if we're not careful.

Signs of cultural erosion are everywhere. My mother told me she has a "vague" memory of the African game, Oware. But my generation has no memory of this game because we were never exposed to it.

And Cariso, isn't a musical tradition that my generation is intimately familiar with. We grew up on soul, calypso, soca, disco and reggae. And the Bamboula, for all intents and purposes, is dead.

Our knowledge base of traditional cuisine is shrinking as well. I learned to make a dish called kallaloo several years ago, but most people my age tell me they've never made this dish. This cannot be interpreted as a good sign. How bright can our culinary future be, if we can't even identify the leaves that our elders once used to make this soup?

An African dish, called mawfey, seems to have disappeared from our culinary landscape altogether. I've only heard elders make references to mawfey. I' ve never tasted it or seen itfew people of my generation have.

Of all the traditions I discussed in this site, the Mocko Jumbies, I think, might have the best chance of surviving. This is partly due to the pioneering efforts of practitioners like Willard John, whom have labored long and hard to keep this art before the public.

Children seem eager to learn the Mocko Jumbie tradition. And why not? It's an attention getter. It's hard to ignore the masterful antics of these colorfully clad, giant performers on stilts -- but it's easy to ignore the wispy voice of an ailing elder in a retirement home.

Many feel cultural erosion isn't such a bad thing. After all, they argue, cultures change all the time. There is truth, in this, of course. Culture is a dynamic phenomenon, and it tends to change as we change. Stagnation is seldom a good thing. All cultural practices are not wise, and all traditional beliefs are not worth keeping. But surely there are things in all cultures that are worth preserving.

Should the melodies of Leona Watson be transmitted to tomorrow's generation? Absolutely! Should humanity attempt to move forward without the far-reaching vision of the Mocko Jumbies? Absolutely not! The extinction of an entire culture, like the extinction of a species, is seldom a good thing.

Esmeralda Santiago, the acclaimed Puerto Rican writer has this to say: "The arts are what express the soul of who and what we are and that expresses our humanity. I feel very strongly that if you don't exist in the arts of a culture, you're invisible."

Melvin Claxton, a close friend of mine, and the first person from the Caribbean to win a Pulitzer Prize in investigative journalism, feels we all must leave a legacy
no matter how small. "People must know we were here," he often tells me. "The human mind must be constantly challenged."

I agree with both Santiago and Claxton.  But I also agree with an interesting statement that Cuban composer Omar Sosa often makes.  “The spirits, the ancestors, have the last word,” Sosa says.  “The living can say what they want, but they don’t decide.  The ancestors decide.”

The dead, do indeed, speak. During the creation of this website I was visited by many spirits who still wish to be seen and heard.  From the great beyond, they hope to inspire and strengthen us, in the hopes that we might become beacons, for those that have stumbled along the way.  It has been said that the ancestors need us as much as we need them.  We “share” the same voice –- our bodies move on their behalf.  And the work – their work, gets done. 

The ancestors are pressuring me to share more things with you.  And please be assured that I will.  What you’ve witnessed is only the beginning of an explosion of voices that are yet to come.


Audio Clip: (Vanishing Voices Intro page and this page) The legendary Leona Watson sings a hymn to the dead in which we are asking to be taken along with our departed ones.  Wyn Charles, Sacred chant to Esu – on e of the orishas, or divine spirits in Ifa, a religion/philosophy that was brought to the Caribbean by the Yoruba of Southwest, Nigeria. This was one of the many chants that Wyn Charles heard in the island of Trinidad when he was growing up.

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