Archive for December, 2007

Oral traditions can affect tribal survival in natural disasters like Tsunamis

This is a very interesting press release from UC Santa Cruz. The researcher found much higher survival rates in areas with previous knowledge of Tsunamis and with long term populations steeped in the oral traditions of the culture

“they had heard stories passed down from their elders about how to recognize a tsunami and how to respond. These people knew that when they saw the sea draw down, it was time to run for the hills. … ”

Oral traditions are a very efficient means of tsunami education,” said Day, a visiting research associate in Earth and planetary sciences at the University of California, Santa Cruz…

“It became apparent that oral traditions were going back 500 years,” Day explained. “The stories contained information about how to recognize when a tsunami was about to come, such as falling sea levels, and told how people should take action…”

In contrast, Day found from a review of the literature, casualties from other tsunamis are much higher in areas inhabited by recent immigrants with no indigenous knowledge about these events. For example, video evidence showed that many people in Thailand in 2004 did not recognize the warning signs of a tsunami and did not realize that there was a safe place to go less than one kilometer away …”

The focus of the study is obviously the future prevention of Tsunami casualties, but it does offer us an excellent demonstration of the interwoven nature of biological survival, cultural behavior and language. The preservation of knowledge can have a direct relationship with an individual’s genetic survival, and it poses the interesting question as to whether the memetic information contained in an oral tradition is adapted to the needs of its users? For this correlation between oral traditions and tsunami survival to be significant then every oral tradition must have preserved this information.  In addition, any cultural adaptation can only take place at a group level. You can’t have an oral culture of one…

So many unanswered questions are posed by this information that I’d love to see some more research done that focused specifically on the issue on the relationship between oral cultures and group survival.


December 2007
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