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In this remote Indian village, every person's name is a song
In the village of Kongthong, villagers don't call each other by their name; instead, they call out using unique, bespoke tunes that resemble birdsong.
- In the remote mountain village of Kongthong, villagers call out to each other using short tunes that resemble birdsong.
- These songs act as a second name for each villager, and are used more frequently than a villagers "real" name.
- The practice is called jingrwai lawbei, which translates to "song of the clan's first woman."
If you were to approach the mountain village of Kongthong in India, you might notice the cacophony of peculiar bird calls echoing through the jungle. They wouldn't sound like any birds that you had heard before, though — these songs come from the villagers themselves.
They call to their neighbors in song. They sing to their children in to eat. They rhapsodize to find each other in the jungle.
Each song is unique, and each one refers to a specific individual. The practice, known as jingrwai lawbei, means each villager is given a musical name alongside their more traditional one.
Kongthong is an isolated, ancient village that's been in the mountains of the Indian state Meghalaya for five centuries. It only become electrified in 2000, and until 2013 when a dirt road was constructed, it was a several-hour hike from the nearest town.
Villagers say that jingrwai lawbei is an expression of maternal love — the term itself translates to "song of the clan's first woman," and so the practice is in honor of the mythical woman who first established the community.
Kongthong is a matrilineal village, unlike most other Indian villages. Husbands take their wives' names, and property is passed down from mother to daughter, but it's not entirely as idyllic as it sounds. Women don't have much decision-making power, and male and female roles are clearly defined. Raising children is distinctly a female job, while males make most of the major decisions in the village.
When a child is born in Kongthong, their mother gives them song. Often, the father composes a song as well, until eventually, the best tune is selected. They come in two versions: a short version and a longer one, which lasts about 30 seconds or so. In the house, the shorter tune is used, but in the forest, the longer one is used. This practice partly began from the superstition that if a ghost in the jungle learns your name, then they can take it, making you sick and causing your subsequent death.
Why use jingrwai lawbei?
What is the difference between jingrwai iawbei and a regular name? "Calling out by jingrwai Iawbei is calling with love and respect," the villagers say. "Jingrwai Iawbei is unique for it lives as long as the person lives."
"It expresses my joy and love for my baby," said 31-year-old mother Pyndaplin Shabong to the AFP.
They're not used all the time, either. Rothell Khongsit, a community leader, explained that "if my son has done something wrong, if I'm angry with him, he broke my heart, at that moment I will call him by his actual name."
The songs have no specific meaning, and no words are involved — instead, they resemble bird song. "We are living in far-flung villages, we are surrounded by the dense forest, by the hills," said Khongsit. "So we are in touch with nature, we are in touch with all the gracious living things that God has created. Creatures have their own identity. The birds, so many animals, they have ways of calling each other."
An Indian villager whistles as he calls to a friend in a field in Kongthong village. Photo credit: Biju BORO / AFP
Unfortunately, modernity threatens to undermine the tradition. Music from the outside world has influenced the practice, with one woman naming her child after the tune from the Bollywood song "Kaho Na Pyar Hai." As mobile phones become more common in the village, it's become easier to call one's peers rather than to sing out their name.
In order to preserve this practice, Khongsit and other village leaders believe that they need to open the village up to the world. They've constructed cottages for tourists, who are drawn both by the unique singing tradition there and the many living root bridges that are throughout Meghalaya.
Ever since we've had the technology, we've looked to the stars in search of alien life. It's assumed that we're looking because we want to find other life in the universe, but what if we're looking to make sure there isn't any?
Here's an equation, and a rather distressing one at that: N = R* × fP × ne × f1 × fi × fc × L. It's the Drake equation, and it describes the number of alien civilizations in our galaxy with whom we might be able to communicate. Its terms correspond to values such as the fraction of stars with planets, the fraction of planets on which life could emerge, the fraction of planets that can support intelligent life, and so on. Using conservative estimates, the minimum result of this equation is 20. There ought to be 20 intelligent alien civilizations in the Milky Way that we can contact and who can contact us. But there aren't any.
Building a personal connection with students can counteract some negative side effects of remote learning.
- Not being able to engage with students in-person due to the pandemic has presented several new challenges for educators, both technical and social. Digital tools have changed the way we all think about learning, but George Couros argues that more needs to be done to make up for what has been lost during "emergency remote teaching."
- One interesting way he has seen to bridge that gap and strengthen teacher-student and student-student relationships is through an event called Identity Day. Giving students the opportunity to share something they are passionate about makes them feel more connected and gets them involved in their education.
- "My hope is that we take these skills and these abilities we're developing through this process and we actually become so much better for our kids when we get back to our face-to-face setting," Couros says. He adds that while no one can predict the future, we can all do our part to adapt to it.
Frequent shopping for single items adds to our carbon footprint.
- A new study shows e-commerce sites like Amazon leave larger greenhouse gas footprints than retail stores.
- Ordering online from retail stores has an even smaller footprint than going to the store yourself.
- Greening efforts by major e-commerce sites won't curb wasteful consumer habits. Consolidating online orders can make a difference.
A pile of recycled cardboard sits on the ground at Recology's Recycle Central on January 4, 2018 in San Francisco, California.
Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images<p>A large part of the reason is speed. In a competitive market, pure players use the equation, <em>speed + convenience</em>, to drive adoption. This is especially relevant to the "last mile" GHG footprint: the distance between the distribution center and the consumer.</p><p>Interestingly, the smallest GHG footprint occurs when you order directly from a physical store—even smaller than going there yourself. Pure players, such as Amazon, are the greatest offenders. Variables like geographic location matter; the team looked at shopping in the UK, the US, China, and the Netherlands. </p><p>Sadegh Shahmohammadi, a PhD student at the Netherlands' Radboud University and corresponding author of the paper, <a href="https://www.cnn.com/2020/02/26/tech/greenhouse-gas-emissions-retail/index.html" target="_blank">says</a> the above "pattern holds true in countries where people mostly drive. It really depends on the country and consumer behavior there."</p><p>The researchers write that this year-and-a-half long study pushes back on previous research that claims online shopping to be better in terms of GHG footprints.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"They have, however, compared the GHG emissions per shopping event and did not consider the link between the retail channels and the basket size, which leads to a different conclusion than that of the current study."</p><p>Online retail is where convenience trumps environment: people tend to order one item at a time when shopping on pure player sites, whereas they stock up on multiple items when visiting a store. Consumers will sometimes order a number of separate items over the course of a week rather than making one trip to purchase everything they need. </p><p>While greening efforts by online retailers are important, until a shift in consumer attitude changes, the current carbon footprint will be a hard obstacle to overcome. Amazon is trying to have it both ways—carbon-free and convenience addicted—and the math isn't adding up. If you need to order things, do it online, but try to consolidate your purchases as much as possible.</p><p>--</p><p><em>Stay in touch with Derek on <a href="http://www.twitter.com/derekberes" target="_blank">Twitter</a>, <a href="https://www.facebook.com/DerekBeresdotcom" target="_blank">Facebook</a> and <a href="https://derekberes.substack.com/" target="_blank">Substack</a>. His next book is</em> "<em>Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy."</em></p>
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