2020-12-10: A Paradox of Hypocrisy

Jack must pass a mystic challenge as well as a physical.

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Following the Songlines post, I had a discussion with an Indigenous friend, who was interested in the worldview of the Wito meyunna as I have described it, as it’s quite different from the Native American worldviews they’re familiar with. A necessary disclaimer, I cannot speak for these Indigenous people, nor their descendants the Kaurna, but a number of Kaurna individuals have generously made what of their language and traditions can be shared with outsiders available to the public. Any information given or opinion expressed about their ways is solely my own interpretation and may not align with what they actually believe and do, but I’m working on that. So is Jack, lampshading my own efforts to understand the ancestral ways of an actual Indigenous people in order to write a historical fantasy involving them.

The person I was discussing this with paraphrased someone they knew, who had said, "People from outside an identity can simulate it, but never emulate it." There’s a balance between accuracy and precision, a trade-off between the two, a sort of Heisenberg effect of interpreting a culture. The more precise someone from outside the culture is in their discussion of it, the more likely they are to be inaccurate, and vice versa. I’ve had to accept a certain level of imprecision for Last Geomancer. There are going to be points where I gloss over the details of what’s happening, and just talk about the rites being performed in a very general or impressionistic way, avoiding delving into details some of which I cannot know because I am writing from outside of both the Cornish and Wito meyunna cultures. I cannot know these things both because the peoples involved do not share them with outsiders, and because I am an outsider and simply do not have the cultural referents to understand even if I were shown.

Rodney (the working English name of the Wito meyunna elder who teaches Jack what he can) has a talk with Jack at a critical point in the story.

“The reed beds for which we are named are still there. No one tends them now. The white men clear the brush from the dunes. Some day they will dig up the sand, put it in great wagons, and haul it away, just like they dig up and haul away everything else. The land suffers both from lack of Wito meyunna to care for it, and from too many white men who tear it apart for the bits they want and waste the rest. You are part of the problem, Jack, you do see that, don't you? You came here as a miner, intending to make your way in your culture by digging up the metals that you so prize, that make your tools work. You need to rethink your purpose here. How do you reconcile standing with us to reclaim our land while you spend your days clawing it apart? How do you live with the hypocrisy of the paradox?”

Jack must answer. Part of that answer lies in the tradition of mining in his ancestry. Folk were scraping the cave walls with seashells for gypsum before there were villages in the area. The Cornish have been mining, and working with the knockers and various other spirits as well as the earth itself, for more generations than they can count. This is where the roots of geomancy lie, in the relationship between the Cornish and the land, the understanding that they must dig, that they understand it's risky and that there will be a price paid each generation. The geomancer is to some extent the go between, the one who stands between the Cornish and the Earth, and can speak with both.

The Cornish have a very different relationship with the land and their Country than the Wito do (as far as I understand, given the research I’ve done thus far). The Cornish take their Country with them, their culture and religious beliefs not being as directly bound to the land as the Indigenous ways, which merge culture and religion and bind it to specific geography. The area between Wallaroo, Moonta, and Kadina is already becoming known in 1863 as Little Cornwall, or the Kernewek Triangle. The problem here is not in the mining, as that follows ancestral tradition, but in the Cornish being in the region in the first place.

The Wito have a very different relationship with the land than the Cornish do, and that difference feeds the conflict caused by the Cornish having come to the region under the auspices of British imperialism. Jack understands that the conflict here that he must resolve is not mystical in the sense that he’s used to thinking of it. The Wito have their Ways, and the Cornish have their Ways, and they do not map to each other. The problem, seen from a Cornish viewpoint, is social and economic. From a Wito viewpoint, these are tied together with spirituality in a sense that Europeans simply don’t have a concept of.

The Cornish should not have come to this land to begin with. Driven there by British colonial capitalism, which had already robbed them of much of their own culture and language and Ways, they've got to find some way to coexist with the Wito, who've been driven up to Moonta and out to two or three government relocation camps, having their own culture damaged so badly in the process that they must rely on the very people who are destroying it to also preserve it. (Among others, two monks named Christian and Clamor, no, I’m not making this part up). Jack cannot overcome British imperialism and colonialism by himself. He is here; he must build whatever relationships he can, with the land, with the people. They cannot roll back what has been done. They must learn to go forward all together, as equals, and work these things out so they can all live in a decent way according to their own rules.

This is not the answer Rodney was hoping for, but it is an answer that he can accept. Like all of the plotline, this is subject to change, and I expect it to as I write the story, do further research, and engage with people from both cultures. But this is where it stands right now, as I openly acknowledge the struggle to understand, to balance accuracy and precision, and work that struggle directly into the story as the main character must deal with the same challenge as the author.