In this post Christmas lull, while winter light draws me to the window again and again, unusually clear, cold days on the coast and skies stained pink and melon, tangerine, the unusual colour of old Lifebuoy soap gone white around the bottom where it sat in the soap dish; all those warm glowy colours reflected in the water, I'm thinking about tribes. Something the anthropologist Wade Davis said about how - did he say this year? Is it possible? Could he have meant this decade? - we will lose 50 percent of existing human languages as people and communities are absorbed or  gradually wiped out. Davis said the reason we should lament this loss is because each of the fifty languages complicated and enriched the chorus of humanity. I'm not sure if he used those exact words, but it's what I remember.

That's part of the reason I started thinking about tribes: people associated with one another because of a dominant thing in common. Language is a big definer because language reflects and creates culture, a bit of an abstract word that stands for so much - how we communicate, what we create, the way we do things. Wade Davis talked about the people of the Anaconda who do not distinguish between the words green and blue because the blue of the heavens we see is the green jungle canopy of their world, their heaven. This is a wonderful way of illustrating the differences in world view, but I have experienced those differences more simply,  as a visitor encountering "we's," as in, "down here we..." or, "in Quebec we...,"noting the sense of basic understanding that passes in glances between people who are included in the we. The comfort.

Besides language as a seminal tribal marker, there are national tribes, regional tribes, and within those, political tribes. Certainly those who belong to  religions consider themselves part of a tribe, a Catholic, a Sufi, a Buddhist, and within each religion are sub-tribes, i.e., not only a Protestant, but a Methodist or a Lutheran. Not only Jewish, but observant, non-observant, orthodox. The eminent Canadian writer Margaret Laurence talked about her "tribe" of fellow Canadian writers during one memorable speech. There are tribes of hockey fans and maybe, where it's recreational, the tribal connection is looser, lighter. It's just a game after all.  On the other hand, there are those infamous blow outs between opposing soccer or football teams in Europe. The more I think about it, the more my thoughts swim wildly in a racing current of words we possess to describe commonality, nation, clan, family, tribe, race, species....

Obviously personal identity depends to some extent on tribal identity, but when does it get divisive? How far from the ultimate tribal connection, that of being the same species, does the split begin and the chorus become quarrelsome? Another thing that particularly interests me is the determination some people have to identify with a tribe long after they have physically left it. Plenty of fodder for the new year.