Martin Luther King, Jr. said, "We are not makers of history. We are made by history."
The Tlingits, aboriginals of the Pacific Northwest Coast of North America, have cultural and genetic links to the ancient peoples of the Nass and Skeena Rivers dating back maybe 10,000 years. From the mouth of these frigid waters rose a complex society known for exploiting the abundance of the intertidal flats along the coast of Southwest Alaska.
So complex was the Tlingits society, that to eat nothing but a diet of ‘beach’ food was contemptible, dangerous, and a sign of poverty. Shamans resisted eating beach food entirely as did those preparing for war or strenuous activities- not because beach food could not sustain you, but because it would weaken you spiritually.
This was all discussed and read about in some detail in my Anthropology class. The professor would tell of other Tlingit beliefs that would expand our understanding. Doing so, she would pass on her knowledge without passing judgment or suggesting faulty reasoning or critical of difficult to comprehend cultural characteristics.
On the Creation of the Sun and Animals…
At this, Raven opened his box just a little and shed so great a light on them that they were nearly thrown down. He shut it quickly, but they quarreled with him so much across the creek that he became angry and opened the box completely when the sun flew up into the sky. Then those people who had sea-otter or fur seal skins, or the skins of any other sea animals, went into the ocean, while those who had land-otter, bear, or marten skins, or the skins of other land animals went into the woods, becoming the animals whose skins they wore.
Tlingits were matriarchal passing inheritance and descent along the mother’s lineage. Spiritually, the Tlingits were ‘animists’ drawn to crafting mystical stories from their natural world- ravens were a favorite. This connects them to many other ancient societies that drew purpose and meaning from how they relate to the natural world. Storytelling is a universally innate need to feed the inner soul which connects them to us.
The point of anthropology, of understanding ancient human societies, is not to pass judgment on them, but to gain a more comprehensive picture of what it means to be human. To examine our common threads forensically for insight and perspective. Good anthropology is a holistic enterprise giving us a portal to the foundations of our present-day society.
In our current condition of turmoil, perhaps it would be wise for us to turn to our anthropologists and historians for insight and perspective. And if we were able to transport ourselves to, say, the year 2525, what will the children learn of us?
But first, the year 2525 was immortalized in a song by two chaps with the last names of Zager and Evans. They recorded ‘In The Year 2525’ in 1969. You may enjoy the song here.
2525 is roughly 20 generations away. Looking back the same number of generations would plant us into the year 1513. It was the year that Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de leon first stepped foot on the warm sandy beaches of Florida, and elder Tlingits, wrapped in animal pelts, were telling the next generation stories of the Great Raven (the story can be read here).
Research conducted by anthropologists usually includes the written record, the work of historians, archeologists, and stories that have survived the passing down through the generations. They’ll look for graphs and statistics of demographic data and listen to the popular music of the era and pay particular attention to the lyrics. They’ll hold symposiums and offer lectures on their findings with their most interesting conclusions. Sometimes they’ll take what they’ve uncovered and ask unanswerable questions. I think we’ll have given them a few.
In some digital lecture room in 2525, I can imagine a lecture entitled ‘2021… What Happened?” It starts with a graph showing over half of the citizens reading below a sixth-grade level and continuing to decline. Eyebrows rose when told of how society began to destroy its stories by the tearing down of statues and the removal of important literary and artworks based on the skin pigment of their creators. Even the people’s government saw its founding documents to be offensive and in need of a warning to sensitive readers.
The anthropologist tells of how, for the first time in recorded history, that freedom of speech and human liberty is no longer seen as important to a liberal society. She points to a graph where the world’s people were becoming more and more democratized and then it suddenly changed. She references a study of young college students from 2021 and then asks, “What happened?”
Because historians and anthropologists value things like museums and music and art because they are important to the telling of stories, the attendees were shocked to learn that 2021 began the movement to destroy museums and community symphonies and turn them into politically correct social justice projects where composers and musicians are not judged solely on their competency, but if they satisfy some notion of equity. That’s when they looked at one another and asked, “What happened?”
Fearing a lecture laden with doom and gloom, the anthropologist points to several positive events that occurred in 2021. She shares an image of a woman who was the recipient of an implanted brain device that allows her to see again. The first-ever of its kind. She tells of a number of endangered species, including the Panda bear, that are no longer on the endangered list.
Finally, with a chuckle, she tells of 2021 when the big social media companies decided we need something other than reality to live in. It was the year that the ‘meta sphere’ was all the buzz. 3D glasses sold by the millions as people designed their individual avatars (a digital cartoonish likeness of an individual). The technoids foresaw an altered reality where we’d live in a digital world buying things and rearranging our persona like we rearrange our furniture- with a flick of an eyelash. The whole world is to become a computer game.
“Thank you for coming, comrades” she concludes. “Please place your 3D glasses in the garbage bin on your way out.”
Every society, every people, every age, has a story. It will be left to future generations to forensically sift through the evidence and attempt to answer the question, “What happened?” As the lyrics of ‘In The Year 2525’ ponders, “I'm kinda wonderin if man is gonna be alive.”
What else was going on in 1513? Well, roughly speaking, it is the earliest link I have to my ancestral heritage. Traveling back to the mother country, I found the fertile piece of farm dirt in Northern Holland settled by an Amsterdam refugee who named the land, De Tjoele. From the loins of De Tjoele, came half my essence. It is with significant pride that in 2019, my brother and I stood on the very spot. To touch the past, and consider for a moment all the human drama, the passions, the joy, and the sorrow of twenty-some generations was an unexpectedly emotional moment. I’m sure the same is true for every Tlingit that finds his or her way back to the mouth of the Skeena River. A top a big fir sits an old beaten Raven taking credit for the morning sun.
Martin Luther King, Jr. said, "We are not makers of history. We are made by history."
The lyrics to ‘In The Year 2525.’
In the year 2525 If man is still alive. If woman can survive, they may find. In the year 3535 Ain't gonna need to tell the truth, tell no lies. Everything you think, do and say, is in the pill you took today. In the year 4545 Ain't gonna need your teeth, won't need your eyes. You won't find a thing to chew. Nobody's gonna look at you. In the year 5555 Your arms hanging limp at your sides. Your legs got nothing to do. Some machine doing that for you. In the year 6565 Ain't gonna need no husband, won't need no wife. You'll pick your son, pick your daughter too. From the bottom of a long glass tube. Whoa-oh In the year 7510 If God's a-comin, he oughta make it by then. Maybe he'll look around himself and say. Guess it's time for the judgment day.
In the year 8510 God is gonna shake his mighty head. He'll either say, “I'm pleased where man has been.” Or tear it down and start again. Whoa-oh In the year 9595 I'm kinda wonderin if man is gonna be alive. He's taken everything this old Earth can give. And he ain't put back nothing. Whoa-oh Now it's been ten thousand years Man has cried a billion tears. For what he never knew, now man's reign is through. But through eternal night. The twinkling of starlight. So very far away. Maybe it's only yesterday. In the year 2525 If man is still alive. If woman can survive, they may find.