Thursday, October 24, 2013

Written in Stone

 Image Courtesy: Author's website
Written in Stone
Author: Rosanne Parry
Recommended ages: 10+

Tucked away in the far Northwest corner of mainland United States are forests of emerald green. Flanked by ocean blue on one side and mountain ranges on the other, this is the Olympic Peninsula.

My family is grateful to have had the opportunity to migrate by choice from our land of origin to inhabit a small square footage close to this beautiful region. A couple of hours of drive out of our home takes us to pockets of untouched greenery, rugged landscapes and crystal clear water bodies.

Many centuries before us, before the Europeans, all of this land belonged to Native American tribes. Today, Native American tribes still thrive here, their culture preserved over generations. Their existence is proof of their resilience to forced migration.

Written in Stone is a story about one such tribe, the Makah, inhabiting the northwestern most corner of mainland United States, where the land juts into the ocean in a little inverted v shape.
The Makah's traditional practices were adopted to be least invasive to nature, unlike contemporary practices of manipulating the environment to suit human needs. For instance, the Makah tribe lived in a contained space with minimal encroachment on the forests. While traveling through animal habitats, they sang songs instead of arming themselves with weapons. They gathered wool, instead of shearing sheep. Creatures of nature were revered and respected, not hunted for game. Hunting was a spiritual act, carried out with reverence and gratitude for the prey. This habit of worshipping nature was passed from generation to generation through song, dance and stories.

From the prehistoric times till the early part of the 20th century, Makah life thrived on the life of another seasonal migratory species, the gray whale. The magnificient gray whale provided meat, oil and bones that were utilized for a variety of needs, not wants. No part of the whale was wasted. A whale's meat could feed half a village, what was unused was cured and preserved for the winter months. The oil was used to light lamps. Bones were used for carving. Whale hunting was an act of delicate balance, taking only what was needed for sustenance.

Unfortunately, in the early decades of the 20th century, non-native prospectors, fueled by greed and armed with machines, hunted whales on an industrial scale. It disrupted the delicate balance and was primarily responsible to drive the gray whale to near extinction. With intervention and regulation, the gray whale returned to the Pacific Northwest waters in 1999.

This is where Written in Stone begins. Eighty-nine year old Pearl, lives in the Makah nation walks hand in hand with her great granddaughter to the ocean to see the first gray whale hunted in 70 years. It takes her back to early 1920s to the day when the tribe's whale hunt came to a halt. As a pre-teen, Pearl had stood at the edge of the Pacific ocean waiting for her father's return. Her father, a whaler in his prime, had gone out to sea in a harpooon with a team of eight. His boat returned, carrying only seven, losing him to the ocean.

Pearl, an orphan, questions her existence. She is tied irrevocably to her land and her people. The possibility of moving away to work in urban areas does not appeal to her. With the whales endangered, the livelihood of the Makah tribe is in peril. Pearl, after a lot of introspection and prude finds a way to use the Makah traditions to keep the livelihoods alive. In parallel, with her cousin, she uncovers a devious scheme of land piracy and fights for Makah rights with words for weapons. Written in Stone tells us how.

The book is an easy read. But over the course of the book, the reader is introduced to several poignant moments in Pearl's life. When Pearl is orphaned, when she questions the meaning of her
life, when she questions the justice in her cousins' lives, when she encounters greed in the non-natives - these moments of growth for the character tug at the heart strings of the reader.

Before writing the book, author Rosanne Parry lived with the Makah to teach English and in the process grew to love the food, the culture and the people. She was enthralled with the stories she heard and she shares a few breathtaking pictures of the region and pictures of objects featured in the book. Her pinterest page made the book come alive for me.

Read Written in Stone for appreciation of the Makah tribe, and for profound lessons on human endurance.


sandhya said...

Loved the review, Anusha. Makes me want to get my hands on this book ... NOW!

Yes, we can learn much from societies that lived close to their land.

ranjani.sathish said...

Beautifully written Anusha ! Enjoyed every word of the review and it seems to be a remarkable book.Will definitely try to get this.

sathish said...


There are some book covers that sing out and one cannot but open the book.
What a lovely cover for this book.

Very interesting and I would love to read this.

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