Ilan Kelman

Source: Ilan Kelman

At the end of the 1982 movie Blade Runner, the replicant (humanoid robot) Roy Batty (played by Rutger Hauer) recites a famous 42-word monologue. It finishes with, “All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to die.” As the world’s climate changes, affecting rain and other weather patterns, peoples including the Pgak’yau in Thailand’s northern border region feel that they are losing their cultures, their places, and their moments in time.

They number around 600 people, with outsiders labeling them as Karen people. The Pgak’yau describe The Crying Place in their language Haku (ฮากุ) as their location and their earth. A baby’s first sound after birth is wailing; we sob when we suffer; pain and grief well up our eyes; and we weep with happiness at meaningful junctures of our lives.

Some cultures are ashamed of crying, masking it as “ninjas cutting onions”, “eyes sweating,” or claiming “real men don’t cry.” The Pgak’yau accept tears as part of life connected to the land. They refer to taking care of the earth and the earth taking care of them, owing it to each other. Around the world, these philosophies are mirrored when tears provide water and salt that gifts the soil life—and the land-based emotions and memories that make us live and create psychological strength.

Solastalgia refers to adverse psychological effects of forced environmental change. This is documented for and by the Pgak’yau in a podcast as part of Land Body Ecologies. Co-led by the art studio Invisible Flock in the U.K. with community groups around the world, I am involved in Land Body Ecologies to research and support peoples aiming to describe, understand, and address their solastalgia ordeals.

Rain and rice deliver psychological safety through food and livelihood while rapid changes bring psychological despair by torpedoing the Pgak’yau’s physical and mental sustenance.

As expressed in the podcast, we ought to slow down to process and respond to the intertwined needs of ourselves and the land. As we speedily harm our surroundings, we harm ourselves. Land trauma traumatises us and vice versa.

In contrast, we could learn from the land so that it responds to us. The Pgak’yau do so, implementing rotational farming over a seven-year cycle across seven plots. They plant multiple crops in a plot for a single year, then let it sit for six years. Leaving plant stems allows trees to grow to the height of seven people. Seven plants emerge from sown rice.

As scars take seven days to heal and moon phases shift over seven days, the same period is required to determine whether or not a planted seed will grow. In the Pgak’yau’s seven phrases: don’t use everything, little-by-little, step-by-step, plot-by-plot, point-by-point, rising-falling, and generation-by-generation.

Outside violence aimed to wreck this relationship. The Pgak’yau have made it through Japanese soldiers during World War II, the UK’s post-war colonialism, and the Thai government’s taxation, militarization, and corruption. They have overcome imposed cash cropping, monoculture, logging, and opium. Forest conservation forced them off their land into homes that could not sustain their livelihoods, their families, or their knowledge. They are now dealing with the changing climate and changing values from distant cities.

These impacts force the Pgak’yau to lose links with their land, their livelihoods, and their crying place. Unlike in Blade Runner, they refuse to accept that it is “time to die.” Their land-based moments remain for their tears to mingle with their rain, through the misery and joy of birth, living, and end-of-life.

In contrast to the replicant, The Crying Place means that “All those moments will be retained in time, like tears in rain. Time to live.”

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