Monday, June 2, 2008

The last uncontacted tribes - in danger of extinction

There are about one hundred uncontacted tribes left in our world, i.e. groups of people who have never experienced any kind of connection with our modern civilization. From these, more than a half live in Brazil or Peru. They are in danger to be driven off their land by deforestation and soil resource exploitation. A web site to help the tribal people survive was set by Survival International.
Besides the direct threat of being attacked (especially the loggers often shot them) and evicted by force from their ancestral land, the tribal people are also very vulnerable to the diseases brought by the modern humans. For example in 2003, over 65 percent of Columbia's Nukaak Maku tribe died of disease after contact was made by explorers.

On May 29th, a group from Survival International did several flights over an area between Peru and Brazil in order to prove that tribal people exist there, because Peruvian officials and energy interests have publicly expressed doubt that uncontacted tribes exist in the Amazon (of course they did, so they could simply exploit all the resources in the area).

'We did the overflight to show their houses, to show they are there, to show they exist,' said Brazilian uncontacted tribes expert José Carlos dos Reis Meirelles Junior. 'This is very important because there are some who doubt their existence.'
When anthropologists first overflew the area, they saw women and children in the open and no one appeared to be painted.

It was only when the plane returned a few hours later that they saw these individuals covered head-to-toe in red. 'Tribes in the Amazon paint themselves for all kinds of different reasons - one of which includes when they feel threatened or are aggressive,' Ms Ross says.
Apparently the tribe had the heads partly shaved and also had some plant gardens around their settlement. What they eat, what kind of language they speak, what are their beliefs and customs, nobody knows, and, in order to protect them, maybe it's better for the things to stay this way.
More information about this topic can be found here and here. The source of the photos was Survival International. Please click on the photos in order to enlarge them.

The website of the National Geographic also shows an older photo of an uncontacted tribe taken from an airplane in October 2007. A group of natives near palm huts on the banks of the Las Piedras River in Peru's southeastern Amazon can be seen. The natives are said to be among the 15 uncontacted tribes thought to be living in the Peruvian rain forest.
In this contact between "civilized" and "primitive" people, I really wonder where the real civilization is. Sometimes I think that we, modern people, are the primitives.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Closer to eternal youth and immortality - Baguazhang

Baguazhang (translated as "The palm of the eight trigrams) is one of the most important internal martial arts from China. It was created in the early 19th century by Dong Haichuan and is based on the ancient Chinese concept of eight trigrams and an ancient form of Tibetan circular walking meditation.
The movements of Baguazhang are characterized by circular steps and the fighting is done by using palm strikes and kicks (never punches). The style was especially designed for fighting with several opponents at once and was most suitable for bodyguards.
After 1870 Baguazhang became so famous because of its fighting efficiency that all the personal bodyguards of the Chinese emperor had to be Baguazhang masters.
In our times, most people practise this art mainly for health benefits, although lately its fighting side has been emerging again.

Sun Zhijun is one of the most famous Baguazhang (Cheng style) masters of our times. Although he is over 70 in the clip, the video shows the movements of a young man with amazing physical and technical skills, beyond the abilities of most of the young people. Apparently, old age is more a state of mind than a real biological process!
Another impressive demonstration, by Lu Zijian (age 93 in the clip, now he is 115 and still alive) can be seen here.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Taijiquan and the empty mind

Taijiquan (traditional Chinese: 太極拳; simplified Chinese: 太极拳; pinyin: tàijíquán; Wade-Giles: t'ai4 chi2 ch'üan2) is, together with Liuhebafa, Xingyiquan, Baguazhang, Yiquan, Taikiken, Aikido and many others, an internal martial art.
The daoist master Zhang Sanfeng is credited as the creator of Taijiquan in the 13th century and the famous Five Dragon Temple from Wudang Mountains was the first place where the style became a daily routine for the daoist monks.
The Mandarin term "taijiquan" literally translates as "supreme ultimate fist", "boundless fist," or "great extremes boxing" and comes from the daoist philosophy.
Although the style used to be one of the most impressive and effective combat martial arts, Taijiquan is typically practised today mainly for health and longevity. Unfortunately, even in this aspect, the exercise that became very popular in the West and is called by most of the people "Tai Chi" is a very watered down version of what the art used to be in the past, with low benefits for both health and self-defence compared with the original. The long traditional forms have been replaced by shorter, "modern" forms which barely resemble the original movements. The people in the West, who want to learn a form in a few days, are also guilty for this situation. To learn the movements of a traditional form would take between 2-6 months and after that another 2-3 years for a decent execution, but the benefits for health and self-defence are worth the effort.
Although some people in the West, like Master Erle Montaigue have been working hard for many years to promote the original aspects of Taijiquan, most of the general public is not aware yet of the real effectiveness for health and especially self-defence of this art. As these two faces are interconnected, one cannot learn one without mastering the other. So, as a consequence, there cannot be such a thing as "Tai Chi for Health" without the fighting aspect.
With its long forms executed in slow motion, Taijiquan acts as a powerful moving meditation, circulating the qi energy through all the body channels during the practise. The mind empties and connects to the fundamental levels of the Universe with the body moving (at an advanced stage) only by the power of the thought. The practitioner feels invigorated and full of energy after finishing the set of movements.

At the Five Dragon Temple from Wudang Mountains, Taijiquan is still practised and taught today in the traditional manner (the students try to imitate the instructor practising the form until they master it). The video presents a typical class and a demonstration by one of the masters, the priest Yuen.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Sonam Wangmo - an amazing Tibetan voice

Sonam Wangmo comes from a little village in northern Tibet and sings mainly traditional Tibetan music. Mixing her native talent with long years of study and training, her voice is a real wonder, with an incredible flexibility, making the young Tibetan one of the most impressive singers in the world. And, like most of the contemporary singers, she is also very beautiful.

The song in the clip is called "Golden Country" (Sok-shen Lung-pa in Tibetan) and brought her a well deserved fame in Tibet and China. One can remark the traditional elements of Tibetan culture on the scene with the Potala Palace image on the background and the traditional clothes she is wearing. This unusual way of singing (mixing of harmony and falset - technically very demanding) is specific mainly to the Kham area of Eastern Tibet, but can be met, at some extent, in most of the traditional mountain cultures from around the world. A typical example of the kham-lu can be also heard here, in a concert given by Sonam Wangmo at Payul Monastery (Payul Gompa) in Tibet.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Chongshol Dolma - Out of the Himalaya

Chongshol Dolma, originally from North-Eastern Tibet (Amdo area), is a new voice in the contemporary Tibetan music. Her single "Out of the Himalaya" became quickly famous not only in Tibet and China, but also internationally. Although this song is in Mandarin and not in Tibetan, one can see a lot of traditional Tibetan elements in the clip: the khata, the prayer wheel, prayer flags, chortens (stupas), traditional clothing and important Tibetan pilgrimage places.
An interesting detail: the image of the Potala Palace shown in the clip is from the 1940's, before the Chinese occupation.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

The Distribution Area of the Ainu People

This is a map with the modern geographical distribution of the Ainu people (in the Ainu language, "ainu" means "human"). Historically, Ainu may have lived in the whole northern area of the Honshu island during the Middle Ages and even more to the South in Antiquity. A more detailed map bellow (dating from 1999) shows the detailed "official" distribution of the Ainu on the Hokkaido island.

Because of the sometimes negative connotation of the Ainu term among the Japanese people, many individuals of Ainu ancestry actually preferred not to declare themselves Ainu, so the real percentage of Ainu ancestry must be higher than shown. In 1945, after the Russian occupation of Sakhalin and Kuriles Islands, the Ainu population from these areas fled to japan, so that after 1945 no more Ainu were officially registered in Russia. Please click on the maps to see them in full detail.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Vajra Sky Over Tibet - Part 9

The last part of the documentary focuses on the Thanka Festival and the revival of the Buddhism in Tibet and China. An emotional portrait of the Tibetans' spirituality.

Vajra Sky Over Tibet - Part 8

A visit to Tashilung Monastery and a description of the sufferings of the 11th Panchen Lama under the Chinese communist administration. Scenes from the monastic life are shown plus images of the Brahmaputra River.

Vajra Sky Over Tibet - Part 7

From Gyantse, to the Nomads' land - interesting elements from their life. Shalu monastery is the home of some of the greatest Buddhist paintings. Next city visited, more to the West, is Shigatse, the second largest city in Tibet. The Monastery Tashilung used to be the living residence of the second highest religious authority in Tibet - the Panchen Lama.

Vajra Sky Over Tibet - Part 6

From Norbu Lingkar near Lhasa, the trip continues West, to Gyantse, the thirs biggest city in Tibet. The most impressive monument in the area is Kumbun, A 3-dimensional Mandala. It was spared by damage during the Cultural Revolution.