Thylacine by courtesy of the artist Agata Ren
This piece by Cassie Piccolo was published in Words in the Bucket to mark the anniversary of the extinction of the thylacine:
It is 2016 – a year of perpetual progress, demanding deadlines and heedless haste. Seconds spared for personal reflection, far between as they may be, are often consumed with personalized distraction to help in avoiding impending circumstances which this generation has no choice but to eventually face. Amid the discord caused by the inflation of humanity, there is the loss of countless lives of other creatures. At our own expense, the animal kingdom has lost over half of its beings- and the rate of loss continues to accelerate with entire species becoming extinct.
We are entering into what has officially been coined the Anthropocene epoch, translating to the “age of humans”. The epoch began in the 1950s, where the nuclear age, use of plastics and large population spikes began after the war. Recognized as the era when global destruction is profound, it reveals that the next great period of extinction is well under way.
What has been occurring are successive events manipulated by human activity- climate change and alterations of whole cycles and ecosystems caused by events such as colonization and agriculture. These are impacts that we can decidedly control yet have only exacerbated.
Peoples’ ability to cope with the process is telling; despite the need to adjust lifestyles into something more sustainable, humanity seems stuck somewhere between feelings of denial and helplessness. The 3 species we permanently lose every hour are often addressed by the scientific community, yet are seldom culturally understood.
Founded in 2011, Remembrance Day for Lost Species is a series of events determined to honour the lost creatures of this epoch using theatre, storytelling, and memorial services. Each November 30th, anyone interested is invited to partake in rituals that assist us in engaging with the grief of extensive loss. In this way people can transform their experience of extinction into a will of action instead of one of despair or inertia through confronting ecological loss through a cultural ritual.
Persephone Pearl, co-director of ONCA and Feral Theatre who host the major Remembrance Day events, reflects on the significance of hosting such memorials. “It’s not science or statistics, it’s history, it’s real life- and in an age of cultural amnesia, storytelling inspired by historical events is a way to learn lessons from the past.” Such events can remind participants of past mistakes in human history, urging people to act upon the emotions they may be confronted with.
Humanity has engaged with many poor actions when it comes to operating society responsibly, especially by separating the human culture from the rest of nature. At the same time, there has been a lack of effort to reverse the wrongdoings we are now aware of. “The stories of extinct species are powerful, intelligible warnings about the consequences of human [in]action” Persephone asserts.
Use of ceremony and storytelling play a crucial part in bringing people to terms with the truth about our history and additionally with the challenges we will face ahead. When loved ones die, a procession commences and we can fully acknowledge that the deceased will be gone forever. Thus we become more capable of moving on due to closure. Similarly when animal species become completely extinct, they will never return to exist in any form- yet there is otherwise no such procession for ecological losses.
Death and loss are topics that are generally avoided when possible, however Feral Theatre aspires to transform those feelings into a channeling of collective hope. Through performance, the isolation or fear that are often associated with dying can instead take on a process of beauty and community. Events like Remembrance Day offer room for discussion and confrontation for topics such as environmental change that can otherwise fail to be addressed as often as they should.
Rituals have included ceremonies with poems and processions, songs and large-scale models of species that have been lost. For instance in 2011, a sculpture consisting of waste materials modeled into the image of the Bali Tiger was burned on a pyre after a procession similar to the style of a Balinese royal funeral. The merging of cultural and natural events brings honour to species that are otherwise only named and catalogued. It invites people to grieve for the species that are already gone.
Remembrance Day For Lost Species has been expanding its following in the UK and internationally since its beginnings, with scientists and historians becoming involved, as well as school students, who are in some cases already marking the date on their calendars. The separation of science and art continues to dissolve in most places, encouraging a broader group of participants to emerge. It is clear that the influence will continue to grow as the necessity for the event is further realized.
As an international event, people from everywhere are invited to hold their own events to honour extinct species. Every effort counts toward the momentum being assembled to confront the Anthropocene epoch. “Participation can be as simple as lighting a candle or holding a moment’s silence, or as extensive as a community parade or bell casting” says Persephone. Participants are encouraged to send their Remembrance Day efforts as photographs, videos and writings to ONCA to be collected and shared.