On Wednesday evening the team re-assembled in London (which is becoming a frequent re-occurrence, the 3rd time in a fortnight!), to watch the UK premiere of the Ladakhi film ‘Jungwa: The Broken Balance’. The event was coordinated by the expedition fieldwork enterprise, Intrepid Explorers, which is connected to Kings College London’s Geography department. The event was a documentary screening followed by an expert panel discussion, which was chaired by the KCL geography Head of department, Nick Clifford.
The film was incredibly topical for all of our research projects, and we watched with notepads at the ready. It was shot beautifully and honestly, and crucially, it was produced by a Ladakhi, Stanzin Dorjai Gya, and subtitled by a Ladakhi, in order to catch as much linguistic nuance as possible. The film focussed on the disastrous 2010 flash flooding in Leh and other parts of Ladakh, as well as the other socio-economic consequences of climate change in the region. The title, Jungwa, refers to the Buddhist concept of an environmental balance between the 4 elements, and could be said to be the forerunner to modern ‘ecology’.
The film was truly compelling, and there were lots of ideas and lessons to draw from it for our project. I’ll elaborate on just two themes which really stood out to us. Firstly, how Jungwa captured the connection between spirituality and the environment seemed really important. This came through in responses to change, for example an elderly woman noted that she could not move to get more water, only sit and pray, and the film concluded with a mass prostration ritual, when a young girl explained how she felt compelled to continue the gruelling ritual in the cold to give thanks for life and remember the deceased from the floods. This struck a chord with me; I think it’s all too easy for ‘objective’ Western science to overlook the spiritual importance of the environment, particularly in climate change issues. This is something I hope both myself and the team can ‘check’ ourselves on whilst we are in Ladakh: since we’re studying the ‘social narratives of climate change’ we must remember to value the spiritual in equal measure against social or economic factors, even if this does not come naturally to us.
The second to draw from Jungwa, which is something the panel also stressed, was the importance of language in communicating science, knowledge and stories. As I have mentioned, Jungwa is significant because it was produced and directed by Stanzin Dorja Gya, a Ladakhi film maker, and also translated in Leh, so that cultural nuance was not lost in translation. The fact that this film is owned locally is really fantastic, and we hear that film making is a blossoming field in Ladakh (although as we see in the film, not all Ladakhis value film making as a proper profession in a culture dominated by oral histories!)However, it’s not just the language used to communicate these issues and stories which is important but also its style and register. Moreover, a lack of intellectual communication between scientists and locals could all too easily be seen as local people misunderstanding science. But isn’t this a two-way process? Going back to our difficulty in comprehending the spiritual importance of the environment, Western researchers may have difficulties in fully understanding meaning due to cultural, spiritual and intellectual differences. I think this is going to be a challenge we’ll face on a day to day basis whilst in the field, and given our outreach objectives, communication – in its many forms – is going to be an absolute cornerstone for our expedition.
ALSO: Check out Intrepid Explorer’s website for online talks / resources & to find out about more events. http://www.intrepidexplorers.co.uk/