Have you heard of the Honeyeaters? They are losing their songs…
When I read about them, my heart felt to the ground.
Here is a prayer I wrote for them.
I have heard about you. How beautiful birds you all are!
Far away from me, I also heard about your struggle
Your struggle to survive
Your home being desecrated
Your refugia being erased
Your species dwindling down
I heard you couldn’t find your own singing
You are so few
You can’t find your elders to teach you your own songs
For they are all almost gone
So the few young ones are trying to learn your very songs
So you can mate and prosper and continue living
But no, that is not happening
You existence and the existence of your generations depend on the songs passed on to each other
Your singing comes from learning with your own people
How wonderful is that!
You are literally the songs of your fathers, mothers, great fathers, great mothers, great grandmothers and great grandfathers.
But how tragic it is:
They are not there anymore and they cannot teach you the songs you so desperately need
Without your own songs, you go on mimicking the songs of other birds.
In different places we hear different songs but they are only songs of other birds who live near you.
You are trying to survive learning other bird’s songs but these are not your songs.
Without your songs, your “warbly noises,” you can’t court the females
They are not attracted to the unrecognizable songs you sing.
You sound metallic, too loud, or off your own tune.
You are there but at the same time you are not.
You exist yes, but for whom?
Your own people cannot come closer to you
For your songs are not recognizable
You are losing your own self because your own self is not your own!
You are not a lone ranger singer
Your self is collective, for your song is collective.
Your song belongs to generations, made by ways of learning and turning your song into a very distinct song.
But you are losing that.
Your song doesn’t fulfill you as much as you try
As much as you listen
As much as you are eager and perhaps even desperate to sing
You try to court the females and don’t understand why they can’t get closer,
be a part of you,
continue your species singing
For you sing is a foreign song
It is not yours,
Fully sang by the strength of your lungs
But not fully yours
You are singing for somebody else who can’t or don’t desire to hear you.
You don’t understand how after a whole day singing
You are becoming less complex!
And without your song you lose your strength! Through the daily battles, you easily lose your fights, especially against the “noisy miners,” other Honeyeaters who are more aggressive.
I remember Chiilaphuchiassaalesh, or Bull Goes into the Wind, renamed as Plenty Coups, great Chief of the Crow Nation (Apsaalooké). He once said to a white man these piercing words:
“I have not told you half of what happened when I was young,” [Plenty Coups] said, when urged to go on. “I can think back and tell you much more of war and horse-stealing. But when the buffalo went away the hearts of my people fell to the ground, and they could not lift them up again. After this nothing happened. There was little singing anywhere. Besides,” he added sorrowfully, “you know that part of my life as well as I do. You saw what happened to us when the buffalo went away.”
Like you, dear honeyeaters, Plenty Coups and his people lost their ways if being, feeling, living: when the buffalo went away the hearts of my people fell to the ground,
It is as if the erasure of your own refugia is like the buffalo going away.
the hearts of my people fell to the ground
As your heart keeps on trying not to fall yet as you sing and sing and sing somebody else’s songs.
Plenty Coups people’s hearts fell to the ground.
As yours will soon too.
There was little singing anywhere
As there is very little singing of the Honeyeaters.
Soon your species will go away.
And our hearts will once again, fall to the ground.
I have heard that Plenty Coups had a strategy to make connections to the white people so his people could survive. Such a great chief. And the Crows are alive! Not long ago some of their youth got a prestigious signing award! Supaman! Look at that! Chief Plenty Coups was right! They learned their own singing by the same and other ways. They re-existed once again. They are here!
As for you, there is little to say about your re-existence. I don’t know what will happen to the very few of you. What I know is that my heart falls to the ground and I haven’t been able to pick it up yet. With your loss I also die with you. I’ve been listening to your songs so I can keep it in my heart.
These are the histories of colonization and coloniality: destroy our languages, shut down our songs, do away with any form of diversity which is the only way life can happen.
I think it hit me so hard too because I am also trying to figure out my own singing. I am a foreign trying to sing somebody else’s song since I know myself. Did my great grandmother, an indigenous shaman I know nothing about… did she sing? I know she used to heal people. But I don’t know any of her songs. What I know are the hymns of my mother which sustains me to this day.
Once in the country side of El Salvador, after a performance, an indigenous chief woman came to me, held my head and said: now you only need the sacred song. Oh my dear Honeyeaters, I’ve been searching for this sacred song all along. With the loss of your own songs, I realized that perhaps my sacred song has always been the songs of birds. But I feel like you now, singing foreign songs, metallic sounds, off tune, strange. I feel that the extinction of your song is the my extinction.
I don’t know what to do, besides sit here and listen to you. And say a prayer of care, healing. I ask that God, all that is life, console your hearts and help you each day.
May your songs, dear Honeyeaters, stay with me, both the authentic and the mimicked ones.
May I find a way with them, between them.
May my little singing grows!
May I learn with Chief Plenty Coups to keep singing in the midst of my own colonized heart.
Dear Honeyeaters, my heartbreaking song this morning goes to you,
All my love to you.
Read more here: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/17/science/bird-honeyeater-australia.html
There is also this last song of a bird who died because he was the last species alive: