the last speakers

the last speakers
dedicated to the evenki people of siberia &
speakers of the evenki language
beijing, 2009

last speakers
With acknowledgements to for use of this image, taken from their page on the crowd-funding project to restore the reindeer herd for the nomadic Evenki.

the silence hard upon me now
last run of a river forgotten
last hunt of the bear
long rolled over
into earth
last story
of the tongue
that calls
out to
those of us
long gone

we are the last speakers.

children grand-children
lost to the cities
that tear away
at the waters
rip down
the holding back
of trees
that frighten
the bear
dynamite fish
in the soaring
quiet of the sun
on a valley
of fir trees
the river a cold vein
of vanishing ore
between them
the firs
darkness in the morning
darkness in the noon
lit trunks in
the evening
slip of sun
down between them

we are the last speakers.

the natural breath of our stories
broken into pieces for
another tongue
a subject of
underfunded study
the long root of
our tongue
cut dead
the stories wither there
our fathers’ fathers told
the crackling sticks of breath
they burned on hushed long nights
under the shadow of
the hunted bear
the beat on the broad skin drum
as the shaman rode
the bird of the hand’s
shadow into the
smoke through
the gap at the peak
of the frame and
skins up
to the stars
brought us down
a difficult, bitter

man was i-le*
the sound he came as in
our legends our firelight
telling of the start
of the dark woods

man was i-le
i will not know
another man
as other word
the man of
those who rightly
buried the bear
honoured every
single bone
the tooth and hide
of him

the man was i-le
who left
the dark woods
in tact keeping
first meat for
the fire, and
blade to himself
in respect
of all that wandered
on the evening
moving among
trees, slapping
the waters a sound
above their run
the crossing
of animals, or

the fingers were u-mu-ko-shor
fingers that played
the breasts of
my young wife
that tightened in
the hunt that
gutted fish
that stole
a drum beat
on the sacred
skin one time
and dreamed
a nightmare of
hot stones in my
gut my mouth
sewn closed

i will not take
the root of this hand
and put it into
the well-meant
glove offered
me the
pension of another
tongue paid to
me at the
killing of
that my own
our own with
little else
left to us.

we are the last speakers
having spoke

* The pronouncations of ‘ile’ and ‘umukushor’ are my phonetics taken from the Russian website where sound bites of the Evenki language were posted.  That site is no longer functioning.

Copyright ©2015 Peter Le Baige.  All Rights Reserved

The music is from the track ‘Sentience’ off the album ‘Ocean Fire’ by Chris Willits & Ryuichi Sakamoto.

The following rap is in both Evenki and Russian by the group ‘Mit Evenkil’ (We are Evenks):

7 thoughts on “the last speakers”

  1. Hey, Peter. I’ve just found your website and I must first say–how lovely this all is. Powerful words you write, beautiful pictures that adorn your blog. I especially like this one, this immortalization of that which is lost or almost lost, this sort of tribute. Reminded me a bit of a poem by Miguel León-Portilla… When A Tongue Dies, it’s its title in English. Maybe read it if you have the time.

    If you allow me to deviate a bit–and I hope I don’t come off as rude for this–I read your older entry about Chieko’s sky. I’ve read Kotaro’s poetry in the past, several times, in fact, and it’s some of my favorite literature in the whole world. What really called out to me about your post, though, is that you mentioned having watched the 1967 film, Chieko-sho. To be frank with you, I’ve been looking for this film for a good while, and I’ve had no luck in finding any way to buy it, download it, stream it, etc. It doesn’t seem to have been released for home video (?) or at the very least I’ve found no indications for it. So, what I’m getting at is, if I may ask, how did you watch it? I’m not kidding when I say that knowing that would be immensely helpful to me, because I really, *really* wish to watch this film.

    Best regards. Please forgive any clumsiness in this message or inconvenience caused by it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Rin,

      Many thanks for your feedback. I will certainly look for that poem by Miguel León-Portilla. Most of the pictures I use I take myself, and often they are credited to my cats (The Weathercats).

      Great question about Chieko-sho, and glad to find someone equally inspired by her story. In answer to your question, I actually saw the film in a film festival in New Zealand around 1982/83. The copy was a quite grainy and scratched, but it stayed with me in mind for many years, and I only much, much later found Kotaro’s poems and read them. I don’t know where you are located, but I have a friend in Japan I could ask about finding a copy of it (if it exists). Let me know if you’d like me to ask him.


      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thank you for such a quick and kind reply. I would be eternally grateful to you and your friend if you could do me that favour.


      2. Hi Tezukarin, my friend in Japan let me know he could find no trace of the movie having made it to DVD format. I found some online links to watching it online, but whatever they say about being free they all require some kind of joining up and supplying credit card details etc.


      3. Huge thanks either way to you and your friend, for doing all that for a complete stranger. And sorry for replying only now, that’s my fault.
        I feared that it would be nearly impossible to find, but I have hope that one day it will see the light on the Internet. And even if it doesn’t, I’m glad you had the chance to see it.
        Thank you again. Best wishes!


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