We are all indigenous
In Ireland today, one often hears the wailings of those who are horrified at the influx into the country of so many nationalities, since the expansion of the EU to include Hungarians, Czechs, Romanians, Poles etc. They predict the loss of the Irish character (as if that were ever possible!) or our culture. The latter is quite an interesting point as the fact is we lost it over 800 years ago, with the invasion by the English, who set out to smash everything that was Irish, from our language to our religion. The latter survived, the former was well and truly wiped out for the most part. My paternal grandmother, a native Irish speaker, was beaten in school when she spoke her mother tongue and not English. I won’t even go into the other things such as the horrors of English cuisine that was literally and metaphorically forced down our throats. It would almost be amusing, were it not so tragic, to watch as fine dining and home cooking have become obsessions in Ireland today as we shake off the past and revel in the new found wealth and confidence that has come with the period of the so called “Celtic Tiger”.

My father used to say “we are all only a generation away from starvation and poverty”. That used to make a lot of Irish people very cross - even then. God knows how they would react now, even with some more generations’ distance. However, I digress…

Had one suggested a few years ago, that the Irish as the indigenous people of Ireland would be the minority in time to come, the hoots of laughter would have been heard from Cork to Donegal. Now such a suggestion would bring on wails.

So, is it too much to ask that the same people in Ireland and throughout the EU would reflect for a moment on the fate of the world’s indigenous people? Specifically, the indigenous people of the North with whom Ensemble XXI is working today. Archaeologists and historians alike are constantly bemoaning the lack of funding for archaeological digs and research into the lives, history and artefacts of our ancestors. Trust me, these people are lucky. Of course I am not saying that they should not be supported. They should be. However, what would you say if you knew that nothing was being done to protect the most exquisite Etruscan art, the Acropolis in Athens or indeed the Pyramids from a predicted earthquake, landslide, flood or any other calamity? You would cry. “Outrage!” “Madness!” “Barbarism!” And you would be right. Only, that is exactly what is happening to the earliest music known to man. The kind of music that is as exquisite as the most beautiful piece of Art that you have ever seen. As I write the generations of indigenous people in the Arctic are dying out – daily -creating a tomb of treasures that can never be opened and revealed in an archaeological dig.

So, it is with great pride that I speak of the work of  Ensemble XXI’s concertmaster, Finnish violinist Pia Siirala, who is meticulously collecting, not as a scholar, but as a musician, these ancient treasures before it is too late. Please read her extraordinary diary and audiovisual material on You Tube here from her last voyage to Sakhalin and its indigenous people – the Nivkhs. Before she had completed the compositions that were inspired by two of the Nivkh people’s legendary singers, they had died. So time is of the essence as we explore the music of the Arctic and sub Arctic nations.

Now I write on the eve of her next great adventure – a month long journey to the indigenous peoples of Kamchatka – the Koryaks and the Itel’mens. The next diary will no doubt shed more light on these extraordinary cultures as Pia moves amongst the indigenous people and notates or records their music. Watch this space for updates on that voyage! And remember, that tomorrow any of us, whatever our nationality, could be the next dying nation of Nivkhs, Koryaks, Unangans or Nenets. Spare a thought for them and keep Pia in your thoughts as she sets off from a warmish Moscow to Kamchatka and the frozen north on a truly historical and courageous quest.