සිවුමංසල කොලූගැටයා #37: අලි-මිනිස් සංහිදියාවේ අළුත් පිටුවක්

This is my latest Sinhala column published in Ravaya newspaper on 23 October 2011, which is about human-elephant interactions in Sri Lanka, which has the highest density of Asian elephants in the world. I have covered much of the same ground in English in another recent essay, Chandani: Riding a Jumbo Where No Woman Has Gone Before…


ඔක්තෝබර් මුල සතියේ කොළඹින් ඇරඹුණු, ගාල්ල මහනුවර හා යාපනය නගරවලට ද යන්නට නියමිත යුරෝපීය චිත්‍රපට උළෙලේ ප්‍රදර්ශනය කළ එක් චිත්‍රපටයකට මගේ විශේෂ අවධානය යොමු වුණා. ජර්මන් චිත්‍රපට කණ්ඩායමක් ලංකාවේ රූපගත කොට 2010දී නිර්මාණය කළ එය, Chandani: The Daughter of the Elephant Whisperer නම් වාර්තා චිත්‍රපටයක්. සිංහලෙන් ‘චාන්දනී – ඇත්ගොව්වාගේ දියණිය’ සේ අරුත් දිය හැකියි. අපේ රටේ ඈත අතීතයට දිව යන අලි – මිනිස් සබදතාවන්ගේ අළුත් පැතිකඩක්, කථාවක ස්වරූපයෙන් කියන නිර්මාණයක් හැටියට මේ චිත්‍රපටය මා දකිනවා.

අලි ඇතුන් ගැන චිත්‍රපට නිපදවන්නට සිනමාවේ මෙන් ම ටෙලිවිෂන් කර්මාන්තයේත් බොහෝ දෙනා කැමතියි. ගොඩබිම වෙසෙන විශාල ම ජීවීන් හැටියටත්, සමාජශීලි හා බුද්ධිමත් සත්ත්ව විශේෂයක් හැටියටත්, අලි ඇතුන්ගේ සුවිශේෂ බවක් තිඛෙනවා. බටහිර චිත්‍රපට කණ්ඩායම් වැඩි අවධානයක් යොමු කරන්නේ අප්‍රිකානු අලියාටයි. ආසියානු අලි ඇතුන් ගැන චිත්‍රපට රූපගත කරන්නට වුවත් ඔවුන් තෝරා ගන්නේ ලංකාවට වඩා ඉන්දියාව, තායිලන්තය වැනි රටවල්. මා මීට පෙර වතාවක (2011 මාර්තු 13) පෙන්වා දුන් පරිදි සොබාදහම ගැන චිත්‍රපට නිපදවන විදේශීය කණ්ඩායම් මෙරටට ඇද ගන්නට අප තවමත් එතරම් උත්සාහයක් ගන්නේ නැහැ. ඉදහිට හෝ මෙහි එන විදෙස් චිත්‍රපට නිෂ්පාදකයන්ට හසු කර ගන්නට හැකි විසිතුරු සැබෑ කථා විශාල ප්‍රමාණයක් අප සතුව තිඛෙනවා. චාන්දනී චිත්‍රපටය එයට තවත් උදාහරණයක්.

මේ චිත්‍රපටය වනජීවීන් හෝ පරිසරය හෝ ගැන කථාවක් නොවෙයි. එය අවධානය යොමු කරන්නේ හීලෑ අලි ඇතුන් හා මිනිසුන් අතර සබදතාවයටයි. වාර්තා චිත්‍රපටයකට වඩා නාට්‍යමය හා රියැලිටි ස්වරූපයෙන් නිර්මිත මෙහි මිනිස් ‘චරිත’ තුනක් හමුවනවා.

කථා නායිකාව 16 හැවිරිදි චාන්දනී රේණුකා රත්නායක. ඇය පින්නවෙල අලි අනාථාගාරයේ ප්‍රධාන ඇත්ගොව්වා වන සුමනබණ්ඩාගේ දෙටු දියුණිය. සිට පිය පරම්පරාවේ සාම්ප්‍රදායිකව කර ගෙන ආ අලි ඇතුන් හීලෑ කර රැක බලා ගැනීමේ කාරියට අත තබන්නට ඇයට ලොකු ඕනෑකමක් තිඛෙනවා. පවුලේ පිරිමි දරුවකු නැති පසුබිම තුළ සුමනබණ්ඩා එයට එක`ග වී පරම්පරාගත දැනුම හා ශිල්පක්‍රම ටිකෙන් ටික චාන්දනීට උගන් වනවා. මේ සදහා කණ්ඩුල නම් අලි පැටවකු සොයා ගෙන එන ඔහු කණ්ඩුලගේ වගකීම් සමුදාය ක්‍රම ක්‍රමයෙන් චාන්දනීට පවරනවා.

ලංකාවේ අලි ඇතුන් පිළිබදව 1995දී පොතක් ලියූ ජයන්ත ජයවර්ධන කියන හැටියට අලින් හීලෑ කිරීමේ වසර තුන් දහසකට වඩා පැරණි සම්ප්‍රදායක් අපට තිඛෙනවා. වනගත අලින් අල්ලා, මෙල්ල කොට පුහුණු කළ හැකි වූවත් බල්ලන්, පූසන් වැනි ගෘහස්ත සතුන්ගේ මට්ටමට අලින් හීලෑ නොවන බවත් ඔහු කියනවා.

“ර්‍ගොඩබිම වෙසෙන දැවැන්ත ම සත්ත්වයා වන අලියාට විශාල ශරීර ශක්තියක් තිඛෙන නිසා ඔවුන් හැසිරවීම ප්‍රවේශමෙන්, සීරුවෙන් කළ යුක්තක්. අලි පුහුණුවට ආවේනික වූ වචන දුසිමක් පමණ යොදාගෙන මේ දැවැන්තයන්ට අණ දීමේ කලාවක් අපේ ඇත්ගොව්වන්ට තිඛෙනවා. එහිදී ඇත්ගොව්වා සහ අලියා අතර ඇතිවන සබදතාවය ඉතා වැදගත්.”

එම සම්ප්‍රදාය පිළිබද ඉගි කිහිපයක් අප චාන්දනී චිත්‍රපටයේ දකිනවා. අලි හසුරු වන බස් වහර, අලියාගේ සිරුරේ මර්මස්ථාන හා අලින්ගේ ලෙඩට දුකට ප්‍රතිකාර කිරීමට කැප වූ දේශීය සත්ත්ව වෙදකම් ආදීය එයට ඇතුළත්. අලි පුහුණු කිරීම හා මෙහෙයවීම ක්‍රමවේදයන් ගණනාවක සංකලනයක්. එයට දැනුම, ශික‍ෂණය, කැපවීම යන සියල්ල අවශ්‍යයි. චාන්දනීට මේ අභියෝග ජය ගත හැකිද යන්න පිරිමි ඇත්ගොව්වන්ට මෙන් ම ඇගේ අසල්වාසීන්ට ද ප්‍රශ්නයක්. කථාව දිග හැරෙන්නේ එයට චාන්දනී හා ඇගේ පියා ඉවසිලිවන්තව හා අධිෂ්ඨානයෙන් මුහුණ දෙන ආකාරය ගැනයි.

මෙහි දී චාන්දනීගේ මග පෙන්වීමට වනජීවී ෙක‍ෂත්‍ර නිලධාරියකු වන මොහමඩ් රහීම් ඉදිරිපත් වනවා. මොහොමඩ් සමග උඩවලවේ ජාතික වනෝද්‍යානය හා ඒ අවට ගම්මානවල සංචාරය කරන චාන්දනී, වනගත අලි ඇතුන් මුහුණ දෙන ඉඩකඩ, ආහාර හා ජලය පිළිබද දැවෙන ප්‍රශ්න දැක ගන්නවා.

තදබද වූ මේ දූපතේ, සීමිත බිම් ප්‍රමාණයක් සදහා මිනිසුන් හා අලින් අතර පවතින නිරතුරු අරගලයෙන් වසරක් පාසා අලි 150ක් පමණත්, මිනිසුන් 50 දෙනකු පමණත් මිය යනවා. මේ අලි-මිනිස් ගැටුමට ඓතිහාසික, සාමාජයීය හා ආර්ථීක සාධක ගණනාවක් ඇතත් ඒවා විග්‍රහ කිරීමට මේ චිත්‍රපටය උත්සාහ කරන්නේ නැහැ. එබදු දැඩි අර්බුදයක් පසුබිමේ ඇති බව ප්‍රේක‍ෂකයාට සිහිපත් කළත් එයට සරල පැලැස්තර විසදුම් ඉදිරිපත් කරන්නේත් නැහැ.

මේ චිත්‍රපටයේ මා දකින එක් ගුණයක් නම් මිනිසුන්ට වඩා අලි ඇතුන්ගේ ජීවිත වටිනා බව තර්ක කරන අන්තවාදී පරිසරවේදීන්ට එහි කිසිදු තැනක් නොදීමයි. ඒ වෙනුවට මිනිස් සමාජයට පිවිස යම් තරමකට හීලෑ බවක් ලැබූ අලි ඇතුන් සමග සානුකම්පිකව ගනුදෙනු කරන මානවයන් ද ලක් සමාජයේ සිටින බව මේ චිත්‍රපටය හීන්සීරුවේ ලෝකයට කියනවා. අවිහිංසාවාදය හා සාංස්කෘතික සාරධර්ම ගැන දේශනා කිරීමකින් තොරව එය ප්‍රායෝගිකව මේ දූපතේ සිදු වන හැටි රූපානුසාරයෙන් හා කථානුසාරයෙන් පෙන්වා දෙනවා.

අලින් හා මිනිසුන් අතර මිතුදම වෘතාන්ත චිත්‍රපට ගණනාවක ම තේමාව ලෙස මින් පෙරත් යොදා ගෙන තිඛෙනවා. සිනමාවේ මුල් යුගයේ උදාහරණයක් නම් 1937දී නිර්මාණය වූ Elephant Boy රුඩ්යාඩ් කිප්ලිංගේ ඔදදප්ස කථාව පදනම් කරගෙන තැනූ ඒ චිත්‍රපටයෙන් කියවුණේ කැලයේ අලින් සමග මිතුරු වන දරුවකු ගැනයි. හීලෑ කළ අලි ඇතුන් හා දරුවන් ගැනත් සිනමා සිත්තම් බිහි වී තිඛෙනවා. ජපන් ජාතික චිත්‍රපට අධ්‍යක‍ෂක ෂුන්සාකු කවාකේ 2005දී නිර්මාණය කළ Hoshi ni natta shonen (Shining Boy and Little Randy) චිත්‍රපටයෙන් කියැවුණේ ඇත්ගොව්වකු වීමේ ආශාවෙන් තායිලන්තයට ගිය ජපන් දරුවකුගේ සැබෑ කථාවයි.

බොහෝ විට මෙබදු චිත්‍රපටවල ප්‍රධාන මිනිස් චරිතය වන්නේ පිරිමි ළමයෙක්. චාන්දනී වැනි දැරියක් මෙබදු කාරියකට ඉදිරිපත් වීම සැබෑ ලෝකයේ කොතැනක වූවත් අසාමාන්‍ය වීම මෙයට හේතුව විය හැකියි. ඉතිහාසය පුරා ම පිරිමින් පමණක් සිදු කළ වගකීමක් කාන්තාවකට පැවරීම හරහා සුමනබණ්ඩා සියුම් සමාජ විප්ලවයකටත් දායක වනවා. එහෙත් චාන්දනී චිත්‍රපටයේ අරමුණ එබදු මහා පණිවුඩ සන්නිවේදනය නොවෙයි. එය දැරියක හා අලි පැටවකු අතර ඇතිවන මිතුරුකම වටා ගෙතුණු විසිතුරු කථාන්තරයක්.

ලංකාවේ අලි ඇතුන් කණ්ඩායම් දෙකකට ඛෙදිය හැකියි. වනගත (වල්) අලි හා හීලෑ කළ අලි හැටියට. 2011 අගෝස්තුවේ පැවැත්වූ මුල් ම අලි ඇත් සංගණනයෙන් සොයා ගත්තේ වනගත අලි ඇතුන් 7,339ක් මෙරට සිටින බවයි. (රක‍ෂිත ප්‍රදේශවල හෝ ඒවා ආසන්නයේ 5,879කුත් අනෙකුත් ප්‍රදේශවල තවත් 1,500කුත් වශයෙන්.) ඇතැම් පරිසරවේදීන් මේ සංගණනයේ ක්‍රමවේදය විවේචනය කළා. එහෙත් පරිපූර්ණ දත්තවලට වඩා කුමන හෝ දත්ත සමුදායක් ලබාගැනීම හරහා අලි සංරක‍ෂණයට රුකුලක් ලැඛෙන බව සිතිය හැකියි.

අපේ රටේ හීලෑ අලි ඇතුන් සිය ගණනක් ද සිටිනවා. එමෙන්ම මේ දෙකොටසට අතරමැදි සංක්‍රමනීය තත්ත්වයේ අලි ඇතුන් ද සිටිනවා. ස්වාභාවික පරිසරයේ විවිධ හේතු නිසා මවු සෙනෙහස අහිමි වූ ලාබාල අලි පැටවුන්ට රැකවරණය දෙමින් ඔවුන් ලොකු මහත් කිරීමට පින්නවෙල අලි අනාථාගාරය ඇරඹුවේ 1975දී. මේ වන විට සියයකට ආසන්න අලි ඇතුන් සංඛ්‍යාවක් එහි නේවාසිකව සිටිනවා. දෙස් විදෙස් සංචාරකයන් අතර ජනප්‍රිය ආකර්ශනයක් බවට පත්ව ඇති මේ අනාථාගාරයේ, පශ= වෛද්‍යවරුන් හා සත්ත්ව විද්‍යාඥයන්ගේ අනුදැනුම ඇතිව අලි ඇතුන් බෝ කිරීමේ වැඩපිළිවෙලක් ද 1982 සිට ක්‍රියාත්මක වනවා. මීට අමතරව උඩවලවේ වනෝද්‍යානයට බද්ධිතව ඇත් අතුරු සෙවන නම් තවත් තැනක් ද පිහිටුවා තිඛෙනවා.

ලංකාවේ වෘතාන්ත චිත්‍රපටයක් නිපදවීමට සාමාන්‍යයෙන් යොද වන තරමේ මුදල් හා තාක‍ෂණික ආයෝජනයක් මේ වාර්තා චිත්‍රපටයට වැය කරන්නට ඇතැයි අනුමාන කළ හැකියි. එහෙත් මේ ආයෝජනයේ උපරිම ඵල නෙළා ගන්නට එහි සංස්කරණය (editing) මීට වඩා කල්පනාකාරී හා නිර්දය ලෙස සිදු කළා නම් හැකි වන බව චිත්‍රපට මාධ්‍යයේ ශිල්පීය ක්‍රම දත් මගේ ඇතැම් මිතුරන්ගේ අදහසයි.

ආසියානු අලි ඇතුන් වනගතව හමුවන රටවල් අතරින් වැඩි ම අලි ඝනත්වය (highest Asian elephant density) ඇත්තේ ලංකාවේයි. මේ දූපතේ බිම් හා සොබා සම්පත්, මිලියන් 20කට වැඩි ජන සංඛ්‍යාවක් හා හත් දහසකට අධික අලි ඇතුන් ගණනක් අතර තුලනය කර ගන්නේ කෙසේද යන්න අප මුහුණ දෙන ප්‍රබල සංරක‍ෂණ අභියෝගයක්. අලි ඇතුන් ගැන කථා කරන විට පරිසරවේදීන් බහුතරයක් ආවේගශීලී වනු දැකිය හැකියි. මෙරට ඉතිරිව ඇති වනාන්තර, තණබිම් හා විල්ලූ ප්‍රදේශවලට ස්වාභාවිකව දරා ගත හැකි අලි ඇතුන් සංඛ්‍යාව කොපමණ ද? ඒ සංඛ්‍යාව ඉක්මවා අලි ගහණයක් ඇති බව විද්‍යාත්මකව සොයා ගතහොත් අතිරික්තය ගැන කුමක් කළ හැකි ද – කළ යුතු ද? වනගත අලින්ට සමාන්තරව හීලෑ අලින් මනා සේ රැක බලා ගැනීම ඔස්සේ අලින් වද වී යාමේ තර්ජනය පාලනය කළ හැකි ද? මේ සියල්ල සංකීර්ණ ප්‍රශ්නයි.

ඒවාට පිළිතුරු සොයන්නට විද්‍යාත්මක ක්‍රමවේදයන් මෙන් ම අපේ සාරධර්ම ද යොදා ගත හැකියි. විසදුම් සොයා යන අතර අලි – මිනිස් සබදතාවයේ පැතිකඩ ගැන නිවැරදි, නිරවුල් සන්නිවේදනයක් දේශීයව මෙන් ම ජාත්‍යන්තරව ද කළ යුතුයි. ‘මිනී මරන අලි’ හා ‘අලි මරන මිනිසුන්’ ගැන සරල ත්‍රාසජනක වාර්තාවලින් ඔබ්බට යන තුලනාත්මක කථාබහකට අප යොමු විය යුතුයි. එමෙන් ම අලි – දිවි – වලසුන්ට සීමා නොවූ අතිශයින් විවිධ හා විචිත්‍ර ජීවි විශේෂ රාශියක් මේ දූපතේ අපත් සමග වෙසෙන බවත් අමතක නොකරන්න!

සිවුමංසල කොලූගැටයා #21: ප‍්‍රතිනිර්මාණය වූ සියැටල් නායක කථාව/මිථ්‍යාව

In this Ravaya column, in Sinhala and printed in the Ravaya newspaper of 3 July 2011,
I point out that a certain speech said to be uttered by a native American chief is, in fact, a latter day script by a filmmaker.

The same ground was covered in English in my April 2009 blog post: ‘Chief Seattle speech’: Global environmental legend, or pervasive myth?

අද්භූත හෝ අහඹු සිදුවීම් පාදක කර ගත් කථාන්තරවලට අපි මිථ්‍යා (myths) යයි කියනවා. දේව විශ්වාස, ඇදහිලි ආදියත් ඇතැම් අය මේ ගණයට ම එකතු කරනවා. ඒවායේ ඇත්ත නැත්ත කෙසේ වෙතත් මිථ්‍යාවන්ට දැඩි ඇල්මක් එදා මෙන් ම අදත් මිනිස් සමාජයේ තිබෙනවා. 21 වන සියවසට පිවිසියත් අප ඇතැම් දෙනකු තවමත් නූතන මිථ්‍යාවන් වැළඳගන්නේ ඒ නිසයි. එබදු මිථ්‍යාවන්, උගත් හා වෘත්තිකයන් සේ පුහුණව ලැබූ අය අතරත් හමුවනවා. ‘සියැටල් නායකයාගේ මහා දාර්ශනික පාරිසරික පණිවුඩය’ එයින් එකක්.

මේ කථාවේ කතුවරයා ලෙස බොහෝ දෙනා සළකන්නේ Chief Seattle නමින් ප‍්‍රකට, 1780-1866 කාලයේ වාසය කළ අමෙරිකාවේ ආදිවාසී ජන නායකයෙක්. (ඉතිහාසයේ වැරදි නම් කිරීමක් නිසා කලක් මේ ජනයාට ‘රතු ඉන්දියනුවන්’ යයි කීවත් අද ඒ නම භාවිතයේ නැහැ.) ඒ ආදිවාසීන්ගේ නිජබිම්වල 16 හා 17 වන සියවස්වල පැමිණ පදිංචි වූ යුරෝපීය සුදු ජාතිකයන් සමග සාමකාමීව සහජීවනය වෙත යොමු වූ නායකයකු ලෙස සියැටල් ඉතිහාසගත වී තිබෙනවා. ඔහුගේ නම විවිධාකාරයෙන් ලියනවා. Sealth, Seathl හා See-ahth වශයෙන්. එහෙත් වඩාත් ම ප‍්‍රකට සියැටල් නායකයා හැටියටයි. මිනිසාගේ පාරිසරික වගකීම් ගැනත්, මිහිතලය හා අප කරන ගනුදෙනුව ගැනත් උදාර අදහස් පළ කළ කෙනකු ලෙස අප ඔහු ගැන අසා තිබෙනවා.

The man was real; the speech wasn't his

The man was real; the speech wasn't his

1854 වසරේ මුල් කාර්තුවේ දවසක බටහිර ඇමෙරිකාවේ සියැටල් නගරයේ එලිමහන් රැස්වීමකදී සියැටල් නායකයා හැගීම්බර කථාවක් කළ බවට යම් සාක්‍ෂි තිබෙනවා. එයට ආසන්න ම හේතුව වූයේ පාරම්පරිකව ආදිවාසීන් ජීවත් වූ ඉඩම් සුදු ජාතිකයන්ට විකුණන ලෙස රජයෙන් කළ ඉල්ලීමයි. ‘ඉඩම් අයිතිය’ පිළිබඳ සංකල්පයක් නොතිබූ ආදිවාසීන් මෙයින් වික්‍ෂිප්ත වුණා. ඒ වන විට සිදුවෙමින් තිබූ පාරිසරික හා සාමාජයීය අකටයුතුකම් ගැන ද නායකයාගේ සිතේ ලොකු කලකිරීමක් තිබෙන්නට ඇති. නමුත් ඔහු තමන්ගේ බසින් එදා කළ කථාවේ වාර්තාවක් නැහැ.

ඊට වසර කිහිපයකට පසු සුදු ජාතික වෛද්‍යවරයකු හා ලේඛකයකු වූ හෙන්රි ස්මිත් මුල් වරට ඒ කථාවේ ඉංග‍්‍රීසි අනුවාදයක් සකස් කළා. ඒ සඳහා ඔහු කිහිප වතාවක් සියැටල් නායකයා මුණ ගැසී කථා බහ කළත් ඔහුගේ අනුවාදයට වැල්වටාරම් හා මනරම් අදහස් එකතු කළ බව ඇන්ඩි කාර් (Andy Carr) නම් අමෙරිකානු පරිසරවේදියා හා පර්යේෂකයා විශ්වාස කරනවා.

1887දී මේ ඉංග‍්‍රීසි අනුවාදය මුල් වරට Seattle Sunday Star පුවත්පතේ පළ වුණා. එයින් පසු විවිධ දාර්ශනික, ආගමික හා පාරිසරික ප‍්‍රකාශනවල එය නැවත නැවතත් පළ කරනු ලැබුවා. 1969 දී අමෙරිකාවේ ටෙක්සස් විශ්ව විද්‍යාලයේ සම්භාව්‍ය සාහිත්‍යය පිළිබඳ මහාචාර්ය විලියම් ඇරෝස්මිත් (Prof William Arrowsmith) නැවත වරක් එය කාලානුරූපිත ලෙස සංස්කරණය කළා.

1970 අපේ‍්‍රල් 22 දා අමෙරිකාවෙන් ඇරඹුණු මිහිතල දිනය (Earth Day) සඳහා පරිසරවේදීන් මිලියන් 20ක් දෙනා යොදා ගත්තේ ඒ සංශෝධිත කථාවයි. ඒ වන විට වාත දුෂණය, ජල දුෂණය හා රසායනික ද්‍රව්‍ය අධික ලෙස ආහාරපානවලට මිශ‍්‍රවිම ආදී කරුණු ගැන අමෙරිකානු ජනතාව දැනුවත් වෙමින්, කලබල වෙමින් සිටියා. මේ කාලීන සිතුම් පැතුම් මහාචාර්යවරයාගේ සංශෝධනයට ඔහු ඇතුළත් කළා.

Chief Seattle (left) and actual speech writer Ted Perry

Chief Seattle (left) and actual speech writer Ted Perry


මේ සංශෝධිත කථාව මුල් මිහිතල දිනයේදී ඇසු අය අතර ටෙඞ් පෙරී (Ted Perry) නම් චිත‍්‍රපට තිර රචකයකු ද සිටියා. ඊට ටික දිනකට පසුව එරට කි‍්‍රස්තියානි ටෙලිවිෂන් සමාගමක් (Southern Baptist Television Commission) ඔහුට ඇරයුම් කළා ඒ වන විට සිදුවෙමින් තිබූ පරිසර විපත් පිළිබඳව කිතු දහම පදනම් කරගෙන සාමයිකව විග‍්‍රහ කරන වාර්තා චිත‍්‍රපටයක් රචනා කරන්නට.

සියැටල් නායකයා 1970 දී සිටියා නම්, එවකට මතු වී තිබූ පාරිසරික ප‍්‍රශ්න හා සංවර්ධන පිළිබඳ සංකල්පමය අර්බුද ගැන ඔහු කුමක් කියනු ඇත්දැයි ටෙඞ් පෙරී කල්පනා කළා. මේ අනුව යමින් සියැටල් නායකයාගේ කථාවේ අළුත්ම ප‍්‍රතිනිර්මාණයක් ඔහු ලයාන්විත හා කාව්‍යමය බසින් තිර රචනයකට නැගුවා. මුල් කථාවේ නොතිබුණු දෙවියන් පිළිබඳ ක‍්‍රිස්තියානි සංකල්පත් ඔහු මේ තිර රචනයට එකතු කළා. 1973දී මේ වාර්තා චිත‍්‍රපටය එළි දැක්කේ Home නමින්. චිත‍්‍රපටයට වඩා විශාල ජනප‍්‍රියතාවයක් ලැබුණේ එහි යොදා ගත් සියැටල් නායකයා කළා යැයි කියන දාර්ශනික කථාවටයි.

පසුගිය වසර 40කට අසන්න කාලයක් තිස්සේ ලොව පුරා ප‍්‍රචලිත වී, විවිධ භාෂාවලට පෙරැළී ඇත්තේ මෙසේ හෙන්රි ස්මිත්ගේ මුල් අනුවාදය, විලියම් ඇරෝස්මිත් විසින් කාලානුරූපීව සංශෝධනය කර ටෙඞ් පෙරී විසින් ප‍්‍රතිනිර්මාණය කරන ලද කථාවයි! එඞ්වින් ආරියදාස හා ධර්මසිරි ගමගේ යන ලේඛකයන් මෙහි අගනා සිංහල අනුවාදයන් කර තිබෙනවා.

1980 දශකය අගවන විට ලොව පුරා පාරිසරික ශුද්ධ ලියවිල්ලක මට්ටමට පිළිගැනීමක් ලැබුණු මේ කථාවේ ඓතිහාසික විශ්වාසනීයත්වය ගැන ටික දෙනකු ප‍්‍රශ්න කරන්නට පටන් ගත්තා. සියවසකට වැඩි කාලයක් පුරා සියැටල් නායක කථාවේ පරිනාමය ගැන ජෝන් ස්කල් (John Scull) නම් පර්යේෂකයා විස්තරාත්මකව අධ්‍යයනය කළා. ආදිවාසී නායකයකුගෙන් පටන්ගෙන ක‍්‍රිස්තියානි වාර්තා චිත‍්‍රපටයකින් හමාර වූ ඒ ගමනේදී, මුල් අදහස් විශාල වශයෙන් වෙනස් වී ඇති සැටි ඔහු සාක්‍ෂි සහිතව පෙන්වා දුන්නා. (සාමයික කලා කෘතීන් ගැන මට ප‍්‍රශ්නයක් නැහැ. මෙහිදී අප කථා කරන්නේ පසු කාලීනව සාමයික මුහුණුවරක් දීමෙන් මුල් කෘතිය විකෘති වීම ගැනයි. එහෙත් ‘මුල් කෘතිය’ කුමක්දැයි කිසිවකු හරිහැටි නොදන්නා නිසා සිදු වී ඇති වෙනස්කම් සිතාගන්නටත් අමාරුයි!)

1992 වන විට මේ සැබෑ තත්ත්වය හෙළි කරන ගවේශණාත්මක වාර්තා New York Times හා Newsweek ප‍්‍රකාශනවල පළ වුණා. එහෙත් ඒ වන විට සියැටල් නායක කථාව ලෝක ව්‍යාප්ත මිථ්‍යාවක් බවට පත් වී හමාරයි. ‘සියැටල් නායකයා මෙබදු අදහස් සැබැවින් ම කීවත්, නොකීවත් ඔහු වැනි ශ්‍රේෂ්ඨ පරිසරවේදියකුගේ මුවට මෙබදු අදහස් ආරෝපණය කිරීමේ වරදක් නැතැයි’ පරිසරවේදීන් තර්ක කළා.

එය ප‍්‍රශ්න කරන අයට පරිසරවේදීන්ගෙන් දැඩි විවේචන එල්ල වුණා. ‘සම්ප‍්‍රදායික දැනුම හෙළා දකින්නට උත්සාහ කරන සුදු ජාතික කුමන්ත‍්‍රණයක කොටස්කරුවන්’ හැටියට හදුන්වා දෙනු ලැබුවා. (2009 අපේ‍්‍රල් 22 වනදා මගේ බ්ලොග් අඩවියේ මේ ගැන විග‍්‍රහයක් මා ලියා පළ කළා. එයට ලැබුණු පාඨක ප‍්‍රතිචාර බහුතරයක් ද මේ ආකාරයේ එවායි. ආදිවාසී දැනුම හෙලා දකින බටහිර ඒජන්තයෙකු ලෙස ඇතැම් පාඨකයන් මට අවලාද නැගුවා. (http://tiny.cc/Seattle බලන්න).

ජෝන් ස්කල් මීට වසර කිහිපයකට පෙර මුලින් මතු කළ, මා මතවාදීව එකග වෙන තර්කය මෙයයි. පරිසරය රැකගන්නට අධ්‍යාත්මික හා චින්තනමය වෙනසක් ද අවශ්‍ය බව ඇත්ත. එහෙත් කාව්‍යමය බසින් විසිතුරු වුණු, තාර්කික බවින් හීන වූ මෙබදු ලියැවිල්ලක් කරන්නේ මානව පරිනාමය ගැන අප තුළ මහා කලකිරීමක් හා ඉච්ඡභංගත්වයක් ඇති කිරීමයි. ගොඩ ගන්නට බැරි තරම් අසාධ්‍ය වුණු රෝගියකුගේ මට්ටමට මිහිතලය පත්ව ඇතැයි අදහසක් ද එයින් ජනිත වෙනවා. පරිසරය හා මිනිසා අතර යම් තුලනයක් හා සංහිදියාවක් ඇති කිරීමට අවශ්‍ය මානසික රාමුව මෙය යයි මා සිතන්නේ නැහැ.

1990දී ආචාර්ය ආනන්ද ඩබ්ලිව් පී ගුරුගේ මහාවංශයේ සඳහන් වන ප‍්‍රධාන ඓතිහාසික අවස්ථා පාදක කර ගෙන නිර්මාණාත්මක කෘතියක් ලිව්වා. ‘Voices of Ancient Sri Lanka’ නම් එහි අඩංගු වූයේ මෙරට ඉතිහාසයේ වැදගත් සංධිස්ථානවලදී එවකට විසූ රජවරුන් හා අනෙකුත් ප‍්‍රභූන් පවත්වන්නට ඇතැයි අනුමාන කළ හැකි මහජන කථා පෙළක්. එය පසුව ‘ශ්‍රී ලංකා ප‍්‍රතිරාවය’ නමින් සිංහලෙන් ද පළවුණා.

ඒ පොතේ ලියැවී ඇති වදන්මාලා ගුරුගේ සූරීන්ගේ පරිකල්පනයෙන් මතු වූ, ඔහුගේ කෘතහස්ත ශෛලියෙන් ඔප් වැටුණු ඒවායි. සැබැවින් ම ඒ පුද්ගලයන් එම අදහස් කී බවට තිරසාර සාක්‍ෂි නැහැ. එහෙත් එසේ වූ පමණට එම කතා රසවීදීමට අපට බාධාවක් ද නැහැ. සියැටල් නායකයාගේ කථාවත් මෙයට සමාන තත්ත්වයක්.

සියැටල් නායකයා හරබර කථාවක් කරන්නට ඇති. එය ඔහුට ම ආවේණික උපමා, රූපක ආදියෙන් පිරී තිබෙන්නටත් ඇති. එහෙත් අද ලෝකයේ සංසරනය වන විචිත‍්‍ර කථාව සියැටල්ගේ නොව තිර රචක ටෙඞ් පෙරීගේ බව සිහි තබා ගැනීම වැදගත්. චිත‍්‍රපටය පරිකල්පනාවේ නිදහස ඇති කලාවක්. අප සැබෑ ලෝකය හා පරිකල්පනා ලෝකය අතර වෙනස හදුනාගත යුතුයි.

This 1991 book built on the Chief Seattle fable

This 1991 book built on the Chief Seattle fable

නොකපන ලද දියමන්තියක් සියැටල් බිහි කළා නම් එය ටෙඞ් පෙරීගේ අතින් හැඩ වැඩ වී ඔටුන්නක සවි වුණා යයි කිව හැකියි. මුල් දියමන්තියේ කාන්තිය වඩාත් ප‍්‍රබල කිරීමේ ගෞරවය තිර රචකයාට හිමි විය යුතුයි. සියැටල් ඇත්තට ම කී දේ කුමක්ද තිර රචකයා එයට එකතු කළේ මොනවාද යන්න මේ වන විට පැහැදිළි නැහැ. ආදීවාසී නායකයෙකු මහා ප‍්‍රාඥයකු හැටියට හුවා දක්වන්නට පරිසරවේදීන් මෙන් ම අධ්‍යාපනවේදීන් ද කැමතියි. එහි ලොකු වරදක් නැති වූවත් මිථ්‍යාවක් මත ගොඩ නගන දර්ශනයට කල් පැවතිය නොහැකි බව අප සිහි තබා ගත යුතුයි.

සියැටල් නායකයා මහ පොළවේ පය ගසා ගෙන එහි හද ගැස්ම හදුනාගත් අය බවට විවාදයක් නැහැ. තමන් මිහිතලය සමග නිරන්තර ගනුදෙනුවක් කරමින් සිටින බවත්, එහිදී ඕනෑවට වඩා උකහා ගත්තොත් එහි අහිතකර විපාක විදින්නට සිදුවන බවත් ආදිවාසීන් හොදාකාර දන්නවා. අද ලෝකයේ සංවර්ධන අර්බුදයේ ලොකු ම අභියෝගයත් එයයි. අපේ (සහ අන් ජීවීන්ගේ) පැවැත්මට අවශ්‍ය පාරිසරික ප‍්‍රවාහයන් විනාශ නොකොට අපේ භෞතික අවශ්‍යතා සපුරා ගන්නේ කෙසේ ද?

ප‍්‍රාග්-නූතන යුගයේ හෝ ගල් යුගයේ ජීවන රටාවකට ආපසු යන්නට හැකියාවක් නැහැ. අල්පේච්ඡ දිවි පෙවෙතක් ගැන කථා කරන පරිසරවේදීන් පවා එබන්දකට සූදානම් නැහැ. මේ නිසා ප‍්‍රායෝගිකව කළ හැකි තුලනයන් මොනවා ද යන්න හදුනාගෙන ඒ සඳහා අපේ කාලය, ශ‍්‍රමය හා නිර්මානශීලී හැකියාව යොමු කිරීමයි අවශ්‍ය වන්නේ. එසේ නැතිව යටගිය දවසකින් නොතිබුණු රොමෑන්ටික් සිහිනයකට හෝ චිත‍්‍රපට තිරනාටක රචකයෙකුගේ වදන් සිත්තමකට හෝ අපේ ලෝකයේ මහා ප‍්‍රශ්න විසඳන්නට හැකියාවක් නැහැ.

පරිසරවේදීනි, දැන්වත් අවදිවන්න!

WED 2010: Saving the Planet, one human mind at a time…

Race to save the Planetary Ark: How are we doing?

Today was World Environment Day (WED), and this year’s theme was biodiversity. The slogan read: Many Species, One Planet, One Future.

Different people observed the day in many and varied ways. Each one is valid, useful and purposeful.

I don’t believe in tokenistic tree planting. In fact, I’ve never planted more than a tree or two all my life – and honesty, I don’t know what happened to those hapless saplings after I deposited them gently and eagerly into a little hole in the ground…

Instead, I’m committed to a longer term effort: raising a single child as a single parent, trying to make her more caring for the planet, its limited natural resources and its people. I’m hoping that this would prove to be a lot more planet-friendly and worthwhile than a whole lot of trees planted and then abandoned…

As David Suzuki, the Canadian environmentalist and my favourite broadcaster, has said: “Our personal consumer choices have ecological, social, and spiritual consequences. It is time to re-examine some of our deeply held notions that underlie our lifestyles.”

This is precisely the premise of Saving the Planet, the six-part, pan-Asian TV series we at TVE Asia Pacific produced and released in late 2009. It was among the compilation of environmental films that we screened at the British Council Colombo today to mark WED.

Filmed in six countries in South and Southeast Asia, Saving the Planet profiles groups working quietly and relentlessly to spread knowledge, understanding and attitudes that inspire action that will help humans to live in harmony with the planet.

Here are two stories that have a particular focus on biodiversity – all others have also been featured on this blog over the past few months (just run a search for ‘Saving the Planet’).

Cambodia: Floating the Future

The people of Prek Toal have always known how closely their lives and jobs are linked to the ebb and flow of the Tonlé Sap lake, the largest in Cambodia and linked to the Mekong River. Now, the conservation group Osmose is showing how they can benefit from the lake’s fish and other natural resources without killing off the very ecosystem that sustains them. One strategy that works: to reach out to grown-ups through their children.

Thailand: Smile Again!

Tourists are astounded by the richness and diversity of Thailand’s natural heritage. But many Thai children and youth are not connected with Nature – they are not familiar with plants and animals even in their own backyard. Concerned, the Thai Education Foundation launched a programme that links schools with their local community to learn about Nature through exposure and experience. We travel to Phang Nga province in southern Thailand to find out this works.

Green activism at crossroads in Sri Lanka? Assessing Piyal Parakrama’s role in conservation movement

Price of Development, as seen by Cartoonist W R Wijesoma, 1993

Environmental activist and communicator Piyal Parakrama’s sudden death last week, of a heart attack, jolted Sri Lanka’s closely-knit green community. The activist community may bicker and argue endlessly among themselves, but there is also strong kinship among its cacophonous members. Many of them are still trying to come to terms with the loss.

As indeed am I – even if I’m not quite a certified member of the activist community, I consider myself a fellow traveler. I turn to words – either reflective prose or verse – when I want to make sense of something, and over the last weekend I wrote a new essay. It runs into 1,800 words and, as with all my tributes to public figures, this one is also social commentary laced in anecdotal reminiscence. It expands on initial thoughts that first appeared on this blog .

The full essay has just been published by Groundviews, and is titled: Death of a Green Activist: Tribute to Piyal Parakrama (1960 – 2010).

Here’s an excerpt where I talk about challenges faced by Sri Lanka’s environmental activists:

Piyal Parakrama on Sri Lanka 2048 TV show

During the past three decades, Piyal and fellow activists have taken up the formidable challenges of conserving Sri Lanka’s biodiversity, long under multiple pressures such as growing human numbers, rising human aspirations, and gaps in law enforcement. Adding to the sense of urgency was the 1999 designation of Sri Lanka as one of the world’s biodiversity hotspots, where high levels of endemic species (found nowhere else in the wild) were threatened with extinction. Public and media attention is disproportionately focused on a few charismatic mega-fauna like elephants and leopards; in reality, dozens of other animal and plant species are being edged out.

In search of viable solutions for entrenched conservation problems, Piyal collaborated with scientists, educators, journalists and grassroots activists. Some industrialists and investors hated his guts, but he was much sought after by schools, universities and community groups across the country. Concerned researchers and government officials sometimes gave him sensitive information which he could make public in ways they couldn’t.

Some eco-protests grew into sustained campaigns. Among them were the call to save the Buona-Vista reef at Rumassala and struggles against large scale sugarcane plantations in Bibile. A current campaign focuses on the Iran-funded Uma Oya multipurpose project, which involves damming a river for irrigation and power generation purposes.

While environmentalists ultimately haven’t block development projects, their agitations helped increase environmental and public health safeguards. Occasionally, projects were moved to less damaging locations – as happened in mid 2008, when Sri Lanka’s second international airport was moved away from Weerawila, next to the Bundala National Park.

The hard truth, however, is that our green activists have lost more struggles than they have won since the economy was liberalized in 1977. They have not been able to stand up to the all-powerful executive presidency, ruling the country since 1978 — most of that time under Emergency regulations. In that period, we have had ‘green’ and ‘blue’ parties in office, sometimes in coalitions with the ‘reds’. But their environmental record is, at best, patchy. In many cases, local or foreign investors — acting with the backing of local politicians and officials — have bulldozed their way on promises of more jobs and incomes. Environmentalists have sometimes been maligned as anti-development or anti-people. In contemporary Sri Lanka, that’s just one step away from being labeled anti-national or anti-government.

At the end of the essay, I try to sum up the multiple challenges faced by ALL activists in Sri Lanka today:

“Activism is not an easy path anywhere, anytime, and especially so in modern day Sri Lanka. All activists – whether working on democracy, governance, social justice or environment – are struggling to reorient themselves in the post-conflict, middle-income country they suddenly find themselves in. Their old rhetoric and strategies no longer seem to motivate the people or influence either the polity or policy. Many of them haven’t yet crossed the Other Digital Divide, and risk being left behind by the march of technology.”

I had earlier touched on these concerns in a January 2009 blog post titled Vigil for Lasantha: Challenges of keeping the flame alive. If I was harsh in that commentary, I have tried to be more considerate in the latest essay.

After all, I want our activists to be effective and successful as society’s conscience. My suggested author intro for this latest essay, somehow now included in the published version, read: “Science writer Nalaka Gunawardene dreams of becoming an activist one day, but for now, he remains a ‘critical cheer-leader’ of those who are more courageous.”

Read the full essay on Groundviews: Death of a Green Activist: Tribute to Piyal Parakrama (1960 – 2010).

Is this how it all ends? Green activism - a cynical view by Wijesoma

Pierre Fitter from NEWS-X wins TVEAP Environment Journalist Award 2009

Vatavaran 2009 banner

All shades of green and brown...

Pierre Fitter from Indian news channel NEWSX was given the TVEAP Environment Journalist Award (Electronic) at the inauguration of the CMS VATAVARAN, India’s premier Environment and Wildlife Film festival, which started on 27 October 2009.

This award is sponsored by TVE Asia Pacific (TVEAP) and is given to “an individual for excellence in environmental reporting that contributes to public awareness and understanding of environmental issues”.

Pierre was selected “for his insightful, analytical and fact finding stories focusing on diverse issues related to environment and climate change”.

I literally dashed from the Indira Gandhi International Airport to the India Habitat Centre in New Delhi to be part of the inaugural ceremony. Despite the best efforts by Delhi’s notorious traffic, I made it just in time to join Dr Farooq Abdullah, Union Minister of New and Renewable Energy, to present the TVEAP award to Pierre Fitter.

Pierre Fitter

Pierre Fitter: TVEAP Environmental Journalist of the Year

Aarti Dhar of The Hindu newspaper was adjudged as the Best Environment Journalist Award (Print), while my good friend Krishnendu Bose received the prestigious CMS-UNEP Prithvi Ratna Award “for his sustained and concerted efforts towards enhancing people’s understanding and spreading awareness on diverse environmental issues through films and documentaries”. This is the highest honour for wildlife and environmental film making in India.

Pierre Fitter lives in Delhi where he reports on the environment and foreign affairs. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in Socio-Legal Sciences and is studying for a Masters in Political Sciences. Pierre spent a year and a half in China and Russia, where he worked for AIESEC, an international youth leadership development organisation. While with AIESEC, he developed a deep interest in sustainable development and international relations and continues to report on these issues to this day. He has a special interest in Environment and climate change in particular.

Watch Pierre Fitter interviewing Shyam Saran, the Indian Prime Minister’s special envoy on climate change on the current state of climate change in India in early October 2009:

Selection of award winners was based on regular monitoring of Indian news and current affairs TV channels and newspapers by the CMS MediaLab.

CMS VATAVARAN is India’s premier biennial competitive and traveling Environment and Wildlife Film Festival. It was initiated in 2002 towards raising awareness about environmental issues. The CMS Environment Forum and CMS VATAVARAN have ushered in a fresh green global consciousness on an extraordinary scale using environment forums and films. CMS VATAVARAN is an initiative of Centre for Media Studies.

‘Chief Seattle speech’: Global environmental legend, or pervasive myth?

Our thought for Earth Day 2009

Our thought for Earth Day 2009

“All things are connected. Whatever befalls the earth befalls the sons of the earth. Man does not weave the web of life; he is merely a strand of it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself.

“What is man without the beasts? If all the beasts were gone, man would die from a great loneliness of the spirit. For whatever happens to the beasts, soon happens to man. All things are connected.”

These words resonate very well in the environmental community, and are in fact considered to be something like a gospel of the greens. They are part of a moving speech that native American Chief Seattle is said to have given in January 1854. Read the full text here.

So these would be just the right sentiments to invoke on another Earth Day, right? Yes — except that Chief Seattle never uttered those words. They were, in fact, written by a screen writer in 1971 for a film about pollution and the plight of the Earth, called Home.

Tell that to thousands of die-hard greens who swear by Chief Seattle. By now, a couple of generations of people have been moved by the “speech.” Chief Seattle societies have formed in Europe. The supposed remarks have been reprinted widely and authoritatively cited in serious books on environmental issues, and quoted in high level speeches. Hundreds of teachers use extracts in environmental courses.

The man was real; the speech wasn't his

The man was real; the speech wasn't his

There’s absolutely no doubt that the words pack a great deal of traditional wisdom, poetic expression and what researchers like to call ‘indigenous knowledge’. This is how it ends: “Continue to contaminate your bed and you will one night suffocate in your own waste. When the buffalo are all slaughtered, the wild horses all tamed, the secret corners of the forest heavy with the scent of many men, and the view of the ripe hills blotted by talking wires. Where is the thicket? Gone. Where is the eagle? Gone. And what is to say good-bye to the swift and the hunt; the end of living and the beginning of survival.

The value, modern-day relevance and power of the speech are not in doubt. But the problem is in its attribution: the wrong man is being credited worldwide for coming up with these oh-so-quotable words. And the misconception originated with a film script, where creative liberties are allowed and often exercised!

Conservationist, writer and analyst Andy Carr has traced the evolution of a modern myth in his column:

“Yes, Chief Seattle (more correctly Seathl) did give a speech in 1854 to Isaac Stevens, Pacific Northwest Commissioner of Indian Affairs. Dr. Henry Smith translated the speech from the original Lushotseed. Smith knew it to be special and that much was lost in his first oral translation. He supposedly visited the Chief many times in the following decades to get the words right in English. He published his translation in 1887 in the Seattle Sunday Star. According to Smith, the Chief spoke of his sadness about the grave injustice being visited upon the Indians by the European invaders and the absurdity, in the Chief’s view, of claiming land as one’s own and of not respecting ancestral ground.

“It was in the Victorian oratorical style of the time, and was soon forgotten. Professor William Arrowsmith, who taught classic literature at the University of Texas, came across the Smith version and modernized it in Arion in 1969. He changed it to reflect the protest-style of the 1960s. On the first Earth Day in 1970, Arrowsmith read his modified text before a large crowd.

Chief Seattle (left) and actual speech writer Ted Perry

Chief Seattle (left) and actual speech writer Ted Perry

“In that crowd was Ted Perry, a professor of film, who had been retained by the Southern Baptist Television Commission to draft a script for a film about pollution and the plight of the Earth, called Home. In a third execution of literary license, Smith turned it into a speech about poisoning the planet and human indifference to it. Perry’s concept was to transport Chief Seattle into the modern world and imagine what he would say.”

The documentary film on ecology, scripted by Ted Perry, was produced by the Southern Baptist Radio and Television Commission, and later ran on network television. But not before the original script was edited for being more Christian, and some references to God were added.

John Scull, specialising in eco-psychology, has traced the evolution of the Seattle myth in an interesting essay. He notes: “The Perry speech, in spite of its Christian editing and its many historical inaccuracies, anachronisms and inconsistencies, was widely distributed and was seen as authentic by many…The text’s lack of authenticity was finally described in 1987, and documented in articles in both Omni and Newsweek in 1992.”

In April 1991, the New York Times ran a front-page expose of the Chief Seattle myth, saying: “A number of historians say Chief Seattle never said most of what he is supposed to have said.”

NYT quoted historian David Buerge as saying: “Chief Seattle is probably our greatest manufactured prophet,” and described him as ‘one of the scholars frustrated that their work has failed to stop the myth from spreading around the world.’

In his analysis, John Scull poses the query: Why are environmentalists so eager to continue to attribute these words to Chief Seattle instead of to their author, Ted Perry?

Perry, now a professor of film studies at Middlebury University, has tried repeatedly to set the record straight. Moreover, he thinks that the myth is pernicious. “Why are we so willing to accept a text like this if it’s attributed to a Native American?” he asks. “It’s another case of placing Native Americans up on a pedestal and not taking responsibility for our own actions.”

This 1991 book built on the Chief Seattle fable

This 1991 book built on the Chief Seattle fable

The myth of Seattle’s speech has been so pervasive that the Washington State Library issued a pamphlet in 1993 stating the facts. “The most important fact to note is that there is NO VERBATIM TRANSCRIPT IN EXISTENCE. All known texts are second-hand,” Nancy Zussy, State Librarian, said in that note.

That note listed four different versions of the speech. The most widely known of all, it said, was written by Texas professor Ted Perry as part of a film script. “The makers of the film took a little literary license, further changing the speech and making it into a letter to President Franklin Pierce, which has been frequently reprinted. No such letter was ever written by or for Chief Seattle.”

So is there anything authentic left of poor Chief Seattle? There’s no doubt the man cared deeply for his people and the environment, even if he was nowhere near as eloquent as modern-day environmentalists want us to believe. Sadly, we don’t even know what the old boy really looked like.

According to a story by Malcolm Jones Jr. and Ray Sawhill, appearing in Newsweek of 4 May 1992: “Even the one known photograph of him has been doctored repeatedly. In the original, his eyes were closed. Subsequent version were retouched so that his eyes looked open. In some versions, he carries a cane, but not always. And in the most revisionist makeover, his head has been grafted onto the body of another man.”

So is it just historical accuracy at stake here, in our setting the record straight about Seattle as scripted by Perry? Does it really matter whether or not the Indian chief actually said it as long as his alleged words continue to inspire environmental commitment?

I share Dr John Scull’s views when he says: “The world is in an environmental crisis and needs help, but a mythical Indian chief from the last century is not going to ride over the hill and save it from the industrial cavalry in some reversal of the Hollywood western — all of us are going to have to work together to save it ourselves. Recognizing that at least some of the answers lie within mainstream contemporary culture might be a good place to start.”

Read The Little Green Lie, by Mary Murray, Reader’s Digest, May 1994

Judging the ‘Green Oscars’: Memories of Wildscreen 2000 Festival

Shooting wildlife...in moving images

Shooting wildlife...in moving images

What happens when a small and culturally diverse group is flown in from different parts of the world, put up in a comfortable hotel, fed well — and mandated to watch two or three dozen excellent films and asked to come up with a selection of ‘the best of the best’?

That pretty much sums up the experience of the final jury process of international film festivals that have a competitive element. The festival secretariat lines up the logistics but entrusts all the rankings and selections of entries to an independent jury – which typically serves without pay, and works long and hard.

Hosting the Wildscreen Film Festival in Colombo, Sri Lanka, which ended last evening, brought back memories from eight years ago, when I served on the global jury of Wildscreen festival in Bristol in October 2000. It wasn’t just the turn of the millennium that made the festival especially remarkable that year. In some ways, Wildscreen 2000 marked a significant change in how wildlife and natural history films are assessed and honoured.

wildscreen-festivalI’ve done this a few times before and since 2000 — among them Earth Vision (Tokyo) in 1993 and Japan Wildlife Festival (Toyama) in 2003. But being on Wildscreen jury was special, for it’s considered to be the world’s largest and most prestigious wildlife and environmental film festival — the ‘green’ equivalent of the Oscars.

Serving on film festival juries can be both tedious and highly rewarding. On the plus side, I get to watch the best of contemporary factual film making on these subjects from all over the world, and then discuss their relative merits with some of the best professionals in the industry. The downside is that no jury can ever satisfy all film makers who enter their work, nor come up with a selection that is universally accepted: after every festival, there are those who feel their creations didn’t receive the recognition they deserved.

While all the film juries I have served on managed to reach consensus decisions, it often wasn’t easy. Much depends on the jury chair’s ability to find common ground among jury members who hold diverse – sometimes even opposite – views. Wildscreen 2000 jury was very ably chaired by Peter Goodchild, who came from a background of science film making, and was once editor of BBC’s Horizon science series (He was called in on short notice when the chair designate Christopher Parsons, co-founder of Wildscreen, fell ill.)

Endless golden sunsets...

Endless golden sunsets...

Among my fellow jurors were conservationist Dr Lee Durrell and Canadian film-maker and co-inventor of Imax Roman Kroitor. Jane Krish, then Executive Director of Wildscreen, kept us going and made sure there wasn’t too much blood on the expensively carpeted floors of the Bristol Marriot hotel where we were holed up.

Details of what happened during that week is now buried too deep beneath sediments of memory. I remember watching and discussing some great films in great company and racing against time to reach our decisions for the awards night. Parallel to this, the festival’s multiple events were taking place in nearby venues but we couldn’t join them – except some social events in the evenings.

I’m only sorry that I haven’t got a single photograph of that occasion in my personal collection – it was a year or two later that I started the routine of taking my camera on all my travels. But I’ve just located, from the digital archives two laptops ago, the opening remarks that Peter Goodchild made at the awards ceremony, which he’d typed out on my machine. That neatly sums up our extraordinary experience:

“In the past week my jury and I have, in effect, left the human race. During our four days’ viewing we have seen no less than 54 films. And in that time we have tramped over billions of tons of sand, swum in every ocean of the world with trillions of fish, experienced 80 full moons, watched the production of 30 tons of elephant droppings, around 120 copulations (not ourselves), 15 rapes (not ourselves), 210 killings including 30 infanticides, several thousand insect bites, and we have done all this in temperatures of 50 degrees Fahrenheit below and temperatures of 50 degrees Centigrade above.

“In those aforementioned copulations we were privy to the sight of a pair of 1 ton testicles accompanied by what looked like 3 meters of stout garden hose, but was referred, very tastefully, by the narrator as a ‘flexible friend’.

“And so it goes on, 73 assorted prehistoric animals, 18 symphony orchestras, around half a dozen heavenly choirs and — we have refrained from killing each other and we learned that Nature is prolific, but merciless, that humankind has screwed things up quite a bit, and still is, but we are beginning to try to remedy our ignorance and mistakes. And now we return to you here with the results of our deliberations amongst what is, with one or two exceptions, an embarrassment of riches…

Panda Award, a.k.a. 'Green Oscar'

Panda Award, a.k.a. 'Green Oscar'

From then on, each member of the jury took turns in announcing winners in various categories, some technical and others more editorial. Each winner received the coveted Panda Award, affectionately (and unofficially) known as the ‘Green Oscar’. Wildlife film-makers from Australia, Britain, France, India, the Netherlands, Norway, South Africa and the United States shared the honours that evening.

Each Panda award was introduced with a brief citation. I presented two: the Conservation/Environment Award and the award for the best film entry from a country that did not have a long tradition of making natural history films.

When presenting the latter, I noted: “It is tempting to draw parallels between the natural world and the world of natural history film making. There are enormous inequalities and disparities in both. Film makers everywhere find it increasingly difficult to raise adequate budgets, but this has always been a stark fact of life for film makers in those parts of the world that lack a long tradition of producing natural history films. In these harsh conditions, the resourcefulness and ingenuity of film makers are tested on many fronts.

“This festival received relatively few entries from such parts of the world and from such film makers, but we understand that it is better than last time. This indicates the presence of talented professionals working against many odds, and trying to exploit the medium to raise public understanding of the environment. The finalists we saw bear testimony to the resolve and commitment of their film makers — who clearly know the art of story telling on television in ways that best engage their audiences. And we need to remember that some of them reach out to hundreds of millions of viewers. These people can make a difference for the planet.”

The award went to Indian film maker Mike Pandey, for his film Shores of Silence: Whale Sharks in India. The 25-minute film, made in early 2000, was the first ever revelation of the killing of whale sharks on the Indian coastline. It so stirred the collective conscience of the authorities, that the government banned the hunting of these endangered marine creatures seven months later.

Every jury’s selection sends out signals, and this is especially so when it concerns the natural history film industry’s most coveted awards. Beyond selecting the winners, our jury also recommended the expansion of the festival’s scope in two ways.

Firstly, we pointed out that simply documenting animal and plant behaviour and their habitats was no longer adequate in a world facing a multitude of environmental crises. There was an urgent need, we said, to mainstream films that looked at the nexus between the natural environment and human society – both conflict and harmony between the two.

Secondly, we recognised the rapid changes taking place in the worlds of broadcasting and web, which challenges film makers to try out new formats or genres, including some that used much shorter durations than those used in wildlife and natural history films until recently. Reviewing eligible film formats was necessary, we said, in an industry that was embracing multimedia to retain or attract eyeballs.

As Peter Goodchild noted in his remarks: “There’s little doubt that there will be increasing demands for personality led programmes, for cheaper format programmes and, because a valuable award – a panda on the mantelpiece – is one potent way of moderating any feared slides into banality, it seemed to us that the Festival needed to create an award rooted in entertainment, where good work in this kind of programming would be recognised.”

It’s heartening to note that Wildscreen festival took note of these recommendations, as evidenced by changes in subsequent editions of the festival. But Peter’s words still hold true: “What is needed, in our view, is to keep testing alternative forms and approaches, expanding the range of programming and avoiding the dangers of a rut based on a past successes.”

Romulus Whitaker: Mixing films and conservation in India

A young volunteer gets to know a snake at Agumbe research station - photo courtesy Rolex Awards

Romulus Whitaker introduces a young volunteer to a snake at Agumbe research station, Tamil Nadu, India – photo courtesy Rolex Awards

“I haven’t had to do a nine-to-five job ever in my life, and that is a very envious situation to be in if you like the wild. Life has been much like a river in that it picks you up and carries you along. I have got into things as they come towards me.”

That’s how Romulus Whitaker, reptile and amphibian specialist, conservationist and filmmaker sums up his long, eventful and illustrious career. At 65, he is full of zest for life, ready to take on new challenges in protecting India’s forests and wildlife.

His current ambition, for which he has just been selected as an Associate Laureate in the 2008 Rolex Awards for Enterprise, is to create a network of rainforest research stations throughout India.

I caught up with this American-born, naturalised Indian citizen a few days ago when he and fellow Indian Moji Riba were presented with their Rolex awards at a ceremony in New Delhi.

Of course, I’d heard about Romulus (Rom) Whitaker for years and seen some of his natural history films. In some ways, his style was a bit like that of ‘The Crocodile Hunter’ Steve Irwin — putting himself in the picture, sometimes in daring encounters with potentially dangerous animals…all in the name of bringing nature a bit closer to us in our living rooms.

But such similarities go only so far. Rom takes a less dramatic and more philosophical approach to humans’ relationship with Nature. For him, television is only a means to an end. As Rolex award profile put it, “the combination of a foreign name, mildly Viking looks inherited from his Swedish mother, an unexpected fluency in local Indian dialects and a thoroughly irreverent attitude” makes him “a highly unconventional yet effective conservationist in a country far from his birthplace”.

To catch a glimpse of this remarkable man, watch this ‘Incredible India’ PSA featuring Romulus Whitaker:

Rom was the founder director of the Snake Park in Chennai. The park was established in 1972 ‘to preserve the endangered reptile species in the sub continent’.

Rom’s career in film making was a byproduct of his life-long desire to bring people and Nature closer. He chronicled his venture into the world of television and film in a chapter he wrote for a book published by India’s Centre for Environment Education and TVE Asia Pacific in 2002. In that book, titled Wild Dreams, Green Screens, eight leading Indian film-makers shared insights about their careers, including how and when they decided to get involved in this field. They also talked about some of the exciting — and frustrating — experiences they have had while filming nature and wildlife.

From dreams to screen...

From dreams to screen…

In the early 1970s, Rom worked with a Russian film crew who turned up to do a sequence on snakes for a film based on the famous Kipling story, Rikki Tikki Tavi. “It was fun for me to help them figure out how to film a snake stealing an egg from a bird’s nest – and it took a whole week to do it. I was impressed by their patience and persistence,” Rom recalled in the book.

After that, every few months, some film crew would show up to do either a short news story on the Snake Park, or a short film on Indian snakes for foreign audiences. India’s stereotyped reputation as a land of snakes and snake-charmers partly fueled this interest.

Rom continues: “By the 1980s, I started thinking I knew something about making wildlife films – even though I didn’t have a TV, and there weren’t really very many such documentaries screened anywhere in India. I was aware that films could show and teach people about my beloved reptiles like nothing else. Surely the Snake Park with nearly a million visitors a year could make good use of such films, and I knew the visitors would go away with a new awareness of how beautiful, graceful and interesting reptiles are. A single broadcast on a TV channel and 20 million people would be able to see it all at once!”

Determined to do his own films, Rom teamed up with two school friends John and Louise Riber, and Shekar Dattatri, to make a film on India’s snakebite problem. They had a tiny budget (Indian Rupees 50,000, which is approximately US$ 1,000 today), an old Arri camera and ‘a lot of enthusiasm’.

One thing led to another. “‘Snakebite’ turned out to be a good little half-hour film which was translated into several Indian languages… Amazingly, this little film won a first prize at a festival in the United States, and was awarded the Golden Eagle by the American Movie and Television Federation. Lo and behold, I was a filmmaker!”

‘Snakebite’ (1985), made on 16 mm film, also launched the career of Shekar Dattatri, a multi-award winning Indian filmmaker who worked as an assistant director on this production. Coincidentally, Shekar was an Associate Laureate of the Rolex Award in 2004 for his ‘Wild India Project – Changing Hearts and Minds through Moving Images’.

Vikram Akula (left) presents Rolex Awards certificate to Romulus Whitaker in Delhi, 22 January 2009

Vikram Akula (left) presents Rolex Awards certificate to Romulus Whitaker in Delhi, 22 January 2009

We missed Shekar at the Delhi event – he couldn’t make it due to scheduling difficulties. But as Rom has written, the Whitaker-Dattatri partnership continued for several years while they struggled with ‘very crude equipment’ and tiny budgets. Films like ‘Seeds of Hope’ (on tree planting) and ‘A Cooperative for Snake Catchers’ followed.

Rom further writes in his chapter: “We worked hard on these films, learning as we went along month after month, working with really good people like the tree planters of Auroville and the Palni Hills Conservation Council, and, of course, the fantastic Irula tribals. We did have a few narrow escapes with snakes, but we always felt we were in much more danger driving down National Highway 45, than from any of our venomous subjects!”

Rom’s film making in the past two decades has taken him not only to the far corners of India, but to other biodiversity hotspots of the world – such as Indonesia. As the years passed, his enhanced reputation attracted big names in wildlife films, such as National Geographic, Discovery/Animal Planet and BBC Natural History. Combining his conservation knowledge with public education skills, Rom has also been presenter of several films.

The King (Cobra) and I

The King (Cobra) and I

These multiple involvements have earned him a string of awards – his documentary King Cobra made for National Geographic won him an Emmy award, considered the television equivalent of the Oscars.

Despite the rigorous demands of film making (and the occasional lure of television medium), Rom has remained active in conservation circles both within India and at global level. While many conservationists in India focus their attention on charismatic megafauna like tigers and elephants, Rom has stayed faithful to his chosen field of reptiles and amphibians. Years ago he realized that his beloved species cannot survive unless their natural habitats do. So, like many others, he evolved from naturalist to conservationist.

“A lot of us get wrapped up in our own little special animal and then we wake up and start thinking it has got to be habitat and it has to be eco-development that involves people and, now, in my case, it has crystallized into the whole idea of water resources,” he says.

Read his detailed CV for details on his conservation, publishing and film making accomplishments.

Rom’s colourful career has itself become a subject for other filmmakers. In 2007, he was featured in a critically-acclaimed documentary produced by PBS, under their “Nature” banner, on “super-sized” crocodiles and alligators, which was filmed in India, East Africa and Australia.

And in January 2009, Whitaker returned to the small screen in another “Nature” documentary on real-life reptiles such as Komodo dragons and Dracos that inspired tales of dragons.

Extract from The Dragon Chronicles, which premiered on PBS in January 2009:

Read the PBS/Dragon Chronicles interview with Rom Whitaker

The man who turned to moving images in the 1980s to move people’s minds towards conservation is still engaged in that business. He is a conservationist who puts a premium on public engagement, and especially on working with children and young people.

He says: “We are doing a lot of work with young people, bringing them to the forest and showing them what happens here and why it matters. It can be very difficult to change adult attitudes, but with the young, it is easier to get across the knowledge that what we are doing to the forests we are doing to ourselves.”

In Romulus Whitaker's hands, snakes become educational tools for children and icons of nature conservation. Photo courtesy Rolex Awards

In Romulus Whitaker\’s hands, snakes become educational tools for children and icons of nature conservation. Photo courtesy Rolex Awards

Pay-back time for film-makers: Go back to your locations!

“These days it’s simply not good enough to use the old response… “If people know about it they’ll care for it and do something”. Wrong. They’ll just go on being conned that it’s all perfect out there, with endless jungles, immaculate Masai Maras, and untouched oceans. What planet are they on about?”

These words come from Richard Brock, one of the world’s leading and most senior natural history film makers.

If you haven’t heard his name, chances are that you know at least some of his many creations: he worked in the BBC Natural History Unit producing, among others, the highly successful Life on Earth and Living Planet series presented by David Attenborough.

Image courtesy The Brock Initiative Image courtesy Brock Initiative

The BBC Natural History Unit (NHU) is a department of the BBC dedicated to making TV and radio programmes with a natural history or wildlife theme, especially nature documentaries. It celebrates 50 years in 2007.

Richard Brock worked with them for 35 of those 50 years. He left them a few years ago, according to his own website, ”concerned by the lack of willingness to address the real current state of the environment”.

He then started his own independent production company, Living Planet Productions, which has made over 100 films on a wide range of environmental topics, shown all over the world. As his archive of films and footage mounted up, Richard felt that there was something more, better, that could be done with this resource.

“We’ve been celebrating nature by bringing its wonders to the TV screen all over the world. Now that world is changing, faster and faster, and nature needs help. Films can do that, at a local level, be it with decision-makers in the government or in the village,” he says.

He adds: “When you consider the miles of footage and thousands of programs sitting in vaults out there unused, it seems tragic that the very wonders they celebrate are dwindling, often because no one tells the locals and tries to help. That is why I believe its Payback Time for the wildlife television.”

Thus the Brock Initiative was born. To quote from their website:
“He decided to set up the Brock Initiative, to use his archive of footage, and to ask others to do the same, to create new programs, not made for a general TV audience, but made for those who are really connected to the situation in hand: local communities, decision makers, even that one fisherman who uses dynamite fishing over that one coral reef. Its about reaching those who have a direct impact; reaching those who can make the difference.”

As he emphatically says: “Showing the truth on some minority channel is not the answer. Showing it where it counts, is.”

Image courtesy The Brock Initiative

I hope those development donors and corporate sponsors, who try to outdo each other in supporting programming going out on BBC World (an elite minority channel in most markets) hear people like Richard Brock — long-time BBC insiders who know what they are talking about.

Those who make documentaries on wildlife, natural history or environment (and wild-life of humans) are trapped in their industry’s many contradictions. They go on location filming to the far corners of the planet, capturing ecosystems, species and natural phenomena. Yet for a long time, many have avoided talking about or featuring the one species that has the biggest impact on Nature: Homo sapiens (that’s us!).

Whole series of wildlife documentaries have been made, by leading broadcasters and production houses of the east and west, without once showing a human being or human activity in them. Almost as if humans would ‘contaminate’ pristine Nature!

In recent years, more film-makers have broken ranks and started acknowledging the human footprint on the planet and its environment. But a good many documentaries are still made with ‘pure’ wildlife content, with not a thought spared on the wild-life of our species.

Richard Brock is one who has refused to follow the flock. And he has also punctured the highly inflated claims — promoted by BBC Worlds of this planet — that broadcast television can fix the world’s problems.

As we have found out here in Asia, it’s a judicious combination of broadcast and narrowcast that can work – and we still need the participation of teachers, activists and trainers to get people to think and act differently.

At their best, broadcasts can only flag an issue or concern to a large number of people. For attitudes and behaviour to change, that needs to be followed up by narrowcast engagement at small group levels.

Taking films to the grassroots need not be expensive, says Brock. In fact it can be done inexpensively.

These are not programmes for broadcast to western audiences demanding BIG productions – you are often showing films to people who have never even seen TV. The effort comes in showing the right thing, to the right people, in the right way, and not about expensive effects, top quality cameras or cutting edge effects.”

Using donated archive footage cuts costs dramatically. New footage, important for putting a film in a local context, can be taken on small miniDV cameras and editing can be done on any home computer. In this way, it becomes feasible to put together a film even for a very small, but crucial audience.

The Brock Initiative, started and funded by donations from its founder, has projects in Kenya, Madagascar, Tanzania, the UK and Indonesia.

Read more about the Indonesia project

They also offer wildlife and nature footage free to those who want to use moving images to make a difference.

Read Richard Brock’s formula for making films that make a difference!

As our species’ wild-life pushes our living planet closer to peril, we need many more Richard Brocks to try and reverse disturbing trends at the edges of survival — almost all of them in the global South.

It’s pay-back time, film-makers!

Related blog posts:
End this callous waste – open up broadcast archives for combating poverty and ignorance

Lawyers who locked up the butterfly tree

Anita Roddick, Angkor Wat and the Development Pill

Contact The Brock Initiative

The lawyers who locked up the Butterfly Tree

nalaka-with-neil-and-brenda-curry-at-jwf-2005-awards-night-aug-2005.jpg
This photo was taken in August 2005 in Toyama, Japan, which is some 200km east of Tokyo. The occasion was during the Japan Wildlife Film Festival, held in Toyama every other summer since 1993.

I am seen with Brenda and Neil Curry, my film-maker friends from South Africa. That was a memorable night for Neil, whose remarkable film, The Elephant, the Emperor and the Butterfly Tree, won the festival’s highest award.

The 50-min film captures the delicate relationship between the elephant, the Emperor Moth and the Mopane Tree (scientific name: Colophospermum mopane). It was produced by Oxford Scientific Films for BBC Natural World, bringing together the creative talents of Neil Curry, Alastair and Mark MacEwen, and Sean Morris.

Here’s the full official synopsis of the film:
Mopane woodland has been symbolic of African bush for centuries but its ecology is often misunderstood. Its importance to the fragile ecosystem is paramount. In this programme we show the delicate relationship between the elephant, the emperor moth and the incredible mopane tree. We also show the vital impact this ecosystem has on a local family who depend upon the delicious harvest of mopane worms to supplement their diet, and the precious resources the mopane tree provides in order to survive in the mopane woodland of Botswana.

Foreign delegates, staff and volunteers of JWF2005 Neil Curry accepting the Best of JWF2005 award on behalf of his team

I was in Toyama as a guest speaker, talking about TVE Asia Pacific‘s Children of Tsunami media project, which was then in progress.

Brenda and Neil, originally from the UK, now live in wine country off Cape Town. Neil is the quintessential natural history film-maker: meticulous in his approach to a story, passionate in what he covers, and with tons of patience.

Most natural history film-makers go for animal subjects. It’s much harder to do an interesting film about a plant or tree that stays in one place and does not have an annual breeding cycle like animals.

That’s just one of many reasons why The Elephant, the Emperor and the Butterfly Tree is outstanding. It tells a complex story of an ecosystem that is inter-dependent and in balance.

The film, made in 2004, also won the top award at WildScreen (Bristol, UK), considered to be the oscar awards in wildlife and natural history film-making.

A stand of Mopane laden with seed pods - image courtesy Africa Hunter Image courtesy Tourism Botswana

Now here’s the rest of the story, which is not as upbeat. Neil spent many months in Botswana filming this story, and wanted to take the finished film back to the communities where it was shot. The wildlife parks and schools in the area, he knew, could make good use of the film to educate the local kids, adults and visitors.

What would be simpler than that? Get a VHS or DVD copy and pass it on to them, right?

Wrong. When I met Neil in the summer of 2005, it was more than 18 months since the film was made. For much of that time, he had been trying to obtain permission from the BBC to share a non-broadcast copy of his film with the people in Botswana. His request was passed from person to person, and from division to division, with no clear decision made, and no permission granted.

The BBC had invested funds in making the film, and had a legal right to decide how and where it was to be used. Focused on ‘revenue optimisation’ and ‘returns on investment’, its bean-counters could not care less whether the film-maker wished to share his creation with the local people whose reality he had captured.

This is not an isolated incident. In fact, it is alarmingly wide-spread: every year, excellent environmental documentaries and development films are produced, most of them using public funds (who pays the BBC license fee? The British public!). Yet these films are locked up in complex copyrights that prevent them from being used by anyone outside broadcast circles.

As I said in my recent speech to Asia Media Summit 2007:
Even where the film-makers or producers themselves are keen for their creations to be used beyond broadcasts, the copyright policies stand in the way. In large broadcast organisations, it is lawyers and accountants –- not journalists or producers -– who now seem to decide on what kind of content is produced, and how it is distributed under what restrictions.

I don’t know if Neil Curry ever cleared the rights to screen the film to small groups of people in Botswana or elsewhere in Africa. But I think of this every time BBC World cries its heart out for the poor and suffering in Africa.

This is one global broadcaster that does not put its money where its mouth is.

In fact, the BBC’s accountants must be laughing all the way to their bank.

Read my related posts: End this callous waste: Open up broadcast archives for combating poverty and ignorance!

Public funds, private rights: Big mismatch in development film-making

27 July 2007 – Neil Curry responds to my views on optimum duration of natural history documentaries