Saturday, 19 October 2013

We Were Here

Stone Baba
Velike/Velichne Art Exhibit
Kyiv August 2013amk
When Canadians see an Inukshuk, we are reminded of the ancient history of the Inuit people.  Their piled stone sentinels marked the Arctic landscape, sparsely populated but consistently inhabited for thousands of years.  Over the course of European presence in North America, these stone statues represent the lingering aspirations of a people, to be remembered. Reminders of the human hands that intentionally gathered, interpreted, shaped and piled the stones, their dreams of eternal memory linger. For Canadians, the Inuit inukshuk tells us of a people who were here long ago.

For the newcomer, the Ukrainian term Baba means grandmother.  Or rather, it is an honorific that is used when referring to an older woman, in this case a grandmother.  Baba, Babushka, Babusia,  Babunia, these are all endearments, all referring with respect and honor a woman of wisdom, perhaps but not necessarily older, representative of lineage, heritage, family, wisdom, care and love.  The term Baba is generously applied across the spectrum within the Ukrainian world, in Ukraine and in the diaspora.

stone baba
Odessa museum
July 2013amk
stone baba - Feodosia museum
July 2013amk
The storied history of the lands north of the Black Sea extends back thousands of years, many thousands of years into prehistory when preliterate cultures dotted the landscape.  Living full lives, and attesting to their very existence, they left stones of honor over kurhan grave mounds.  Whether simple, or carved, weather battered or protected under the soil, these stone Babas witness to the past.  And they are now protected in some of the great museums in Eastern Europe.

stone baba
Odessa museum
July 2013
Stone Babas, now battered and ravaged by weather, raiders, guests and colonizers once dotted the landscape.  Markers of ancient burial sites called kurhans, they protected the offerings of bone and wealth within, and witnessed the rising of the sun over the horizon, in anticipation of an afterlife for the souls released.  It is said that nothing goes wasted, so most of the stone Babas have put put to new use, recycled into the foundations of some temple to more modern ways.  The stone Babas that remain however, say "we were here" to anyone passing, even though now most of them stand lonely and silent in parks, museums and storage sites.

stone baba
Odessa museum
July 2013
I once mentioned the word Baba came from the east, from a time when languages were still young - and the word was an honorific. Today you can hear people of Hindi background refer to their honoured leaders, wise ones or valued life companions with the term Baba.  It makes me happy to know the rich, cultural baggage that comes with the honoured title Baba.  Baba - the guardian, the honoured one, the sentinel, the silent keeper of ancestral memory with but one wish - the hope that someone would notice - "we were here".     Eternal memory!
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