Numbering around 15,000 people in the 18th century, the population of the Juma people of Brazil was ravaged by rubber tappers, loggers and miners who wanted their ancestral land. Only 100 remained by the 40’s and a massacre in 1964 left only six, including Aruka Juma. His three children were all girls, who married into the neighboring Uru-eu-wau-wau community. After the death of his brother-in-law in 1999, Aruka became the last remaining Juma male and the last fluent speaker of their language. And in March 2021, he died of Covid 19.
This week’s episode turned into a two-parter on me when I sat down to start writing. The topic “last of their kind” was voted on by our supporters at Patreon, where folks like Sebastion, Catherine, Rachel and Michael already get perks like ad-free early episodes, and based on feedback from the recent poll, the Brain Candy level will now get to submit a fact or question for the show as often as every five episodes. Then I couldn’t decide if I wanted to do endling, the term for the last example of something, endling people or endling animals, or some of each. When the question was posed over in Breakroom, which you can reach… and sub-reddit, your fellow Brainiacs were like the little girl in the Old El Paso commercial, [sfx] why not both? Or Road the El Dorado, if you prefer. [sfx] So this week we’re doing people and next week we’re doing animals. The wiki list of the last person to X left me spoiled for choice. I completely forgot I was going to talk more about Yahee, the last of the Ishi of modern California, whose story was mentioned in the episode #149 The Founding Mothers of SciFi, by way of Ursula Le Guin’s father.
There are many arts and skills that are down to their endling, some who accept the inevitable march of time. […] Stories are passed from generation to generation, but the role of story-teller might not be. Take for instance Awang Batil, a traditional form of musical storytelling in the Maylasian state of Perlis. The name Awang Batil also refers to the storyteller, who accompanies his stories drumming on a batil, a type of brass bowl that normally holds water. [sfx] You can almost picture someone tipping out the last of the water from the pot after the evening meal and turning it over to use a drum. The Awang Batil employ other instruments as well, such as the violin or the oboe-like serunai. There’s a visual component as well — the storyteller uses two masks; the Hulubalang and the Wak Nujum mask, which both cover the face in the style of a Southeast Asian Phantom of the Opera, to help the storyteller create different characters. Which I could employ masks for the audiobook I’m narrating; I am *not good at character voices. [VO plug] Awang Batil storytelling isn’t just an after-dinner diversion of half an hour. It’s often part of wedding celebrations and other festivities. A performance can go until dawn, and pick up again the next evening and go til dawn again, and again. It would be like a special mini-series event. Do they still do those on network TV?
Once common around Malaysia, Awang Batil and similar oral traditions have been slowly disappearing, even in rural areas, where TV and the internet are slower to reach. Currently, there is only one living practitioner of Awang Batil: Romli Mahmud, who is in his fifties. When Mahmud dies, Awang Batil will die with him…and that’s what he wants. “Wants” might be the wrong word. It’s what he sees as inevitable. Mahmud was taught by his father, but he doesn’t intend to teach anyone else. [Bill] “The art cannot survive. Life has changed. It’s just a matter of time before my instruments and masks are taken to a museum.” The traditional tales are too old and too long to connect with modern audiences, and thus the tradition will likely die with him.
Related tangent, have you ever seen the movie The King of Masks? It’s an amazing story about an old Chinese man who does quick-change mask performances, but has no son to pass it to, so he decides to buy a little boy from the black market (it’s less grim than it sounds, I promise), who turned out to be a little girl who’s already been sold six other times, but refuses to leave the old man even after she’s found out. I don’t endorse Amazon, but it’s on Prime right now. Watch it and shout out on the soc med. Or we can have a watch party! Do we want to do that, in all seriousness?
Another storytelling tradition that is dying out is a Syrian tradition called Hakawati. Like Awang Batil, Hakawati is part performance and part history, with the performer, also also called a hakawati, using props, accents, and even audience participation to tell stories from Arabic history. Sounds like a lot of buskers and street performers I know. Yes, I know a lot of buskers and street performers from my days as a burlesque dancer. But unlike my busker buddies who go from place to place, from event to event, the hakawati always operates out of the same coffeehouse or cafe and the audience comes to him. Knowing where and when to find the hakawati is key, since hakawati stories are serial in nature. If you want to find out how the story you heard today ends, you’ll need to be back in the same cafe tomorrow. This is a common feature to Arabic epic poetry, which you already knew, even if you don’t think you do. Ever hear of Shaherazade and A Thousand and One Nights? Same same. The hakawati once ruled the coffee houses of the Middle East
The last performing hakawati was Abu Shadi in Syria. as been holding nightly court since 1990 at an-Nafura, a lively café in the shadow of Damascus’s signature Umayyad Mosque, the very cafe in which Shadi first heard a hakawait as a child with his father. Shadi’s performances were more than just oration. Shadi would hold the crowd spellbound with exaggerated acting. His bread-and-butter were battle scenes, which he punctuated with shouts and slashes of a short sword, a sword which would get banged down on the table of people who talked during the performance. I know a lot of stand-up comics and other performers who are right now wishing they could do that to people talking during their show. Seriously, I did shows where a table of chatty basics were louder than the barrel-chested emcee with the mic. Anyway, don’t be that guy, that’s all I ask.
Hakawait needs to keep the audience coming back every single night, because when I said “epic,” I meant epic — a single story can take a year to tell in one-hour nightly chapters.
He and his audience were of a certain age, most of them in their sixties, who had been coming to see Hakawati performances since childhood. He believed that one reason for the decline of Hakawati was that the storyteller best connects with audience members who are regulars—people who respond well to him and vice versa. Just as evolving tastes and technologies whittled away Mahmud’s audience, changing demographics in Damascus saw fewer and fewer regulars dropping in at Abu Shadi’s cafe. He’s been encouraging his son to follow in his footsteps, but is realistic about the chances the young man will be able to make a living telling stories in the age of satellite TV and the Internet. [Jeff] “No one is going to do it after me. The income is too poor,” Abu Shadi says. but he proudly kept the tradition alive until he passed away in 2014.
We wear many hats in life and Jinichi Kawakami is no exception — university professor, museum director, engineer, and the last authentic example of Japan’s legendary ninjas. Kawakami started practicing ninjutsu as a child, and eventually he rose up the ranks as the 21st head of the five-century old Ban ninja clan. He also runs the Ninja Museum of Igaryu, which collects and preserves the secret ninja scrolls, including recipes for poisons, recipes of dubious veracity, since it’s not like you can try these out these days. That’s why a lot of “history” of ninjutsu is as cloudy as the air after a quick-escape smoke bomb. Wait, were they real?
Let’s stop for a quick history lesson for those of us who hear “ninja” and picture turtles, Snake Eyes, Scorpion, and Chris Farley’s second-to-last starring role. Japanese folklore states that the ninja descended from a demon that was half man and half crow. However, it seems more likely that the ninja slowly evolved as an opposing force to their upper-class contemporaries, the samurai, in early feudal Japan. Most sources indicate that the skills that became ninjutsu, the ninja’s art of stealth, began to develop between 600-900 A.D. Prince Shotoku, (574-622), is said to have employed Otomono Sahito as a shinobi spy. In 1162, a fallen samurai decided not to kill himself as was the custom of the times, but rather spend his retirement forming the country’s first ninja school, the Togakureryu. Between 1336 and 1600 the ninja culture peaked. Those times were defined by constant wars, so ninja skills were a plus for survival. Most ninja were not disgraced samurai or Batman-type nobility, but seemingly ordinary peasants and farmers who learned the ninja art as a way of protecting their property. Women also became ninja, or kunoichi, and infiltrated enemy strongholds in the guise of dancers, concubines or servants where they would carry out assassinations or gather information. Starting in 1603, Japan’s stable and peaceful Edo period made ninja skills less important. You need fewer warriors if you’re having fewer wars.
The practice began dying out, though some families, like Kawakami’s, held on tight to their ninja heritage. Kawakami began training at age 6, acquiring a diverse skill set that included study of chemistry, weather and psychology in addition to the rigorous physical demands we associate with nimble assassins clad in black. When he turned 19, Kawakami became a full-fledged master and gained access to secret scrolls and tools. But he’s decided not to pass those secrets on. Ninjas “just don’t fit in the modern day.” [Vlado] “In the age of civil wars or during the Edo period, ninjas’ abilities to spy and kill, or mix medicine may have been useful. But we now have guns, the internet and much better medicines, so the art of ninjutsu has no place in the modern age.” Okay, wait, you’re saying, there are other people teaching and learning ninjutsu, can you really call Kawakami ‘the last’? According to Japan Times, “Kawakami has something most other ninja claimants do not — an earnest combination of humility and scholarship. Not to mention some highly polished martial arts skills of his own.” If there are two practitioners of a particular skill and one has a chain of schools and branded DVD, and the other guy doesn’t, I’m inclined to believe the second one.
Ring Lardner Jr., the son of the famous journalist and humorist, wrote many words as a journalist and scriptwriter, but he is most famous for the words someone else said to him. [sfx?] “Are you now or have you ever been a member of the communist party?” Lardner was the last surviving member of the Hollywood Ten, 10 motion-picture producers, directors, and screenwriters who appeared before the House Un-American Activities Committee in October 1947, but refused to play ball with the terrorism that was McCarthyism. All ten refused to answer questions regarding their possible communist affiliations, spent time in prison for contempt of Congress, and were blacklisted by the Hollywood studios. Thoroughly, too. Each was on their way to lasting fame; each is now all but unheard of, but you’re going to hear them now because it’s the least they deserve: Alvah Bessie, Herbert Biberman, Lester Cole, Edward Dmytryk, John Howard Lawson, Albert Maltz, Samuel Ornitz, Adrian Scott, Dalton Trumbo and the last to ultimately pass away Ring Lardner.
Ring Lardner, was born in 1915, was educated at Princeton University, became a reporter on the New York Daily Mirror, then moved to Hollywood where he worked as a publicist and script doctor and films like the original A Star Is Born in 1937. Lardner began writing his own material, including Woman of the Year, which won the 1942 Oscar for best screenplay. An active member of the Screen Writers and Authors Guild, Lardner wrote about two movies a year, becoming the highest-paid script writer in the biz, earning the equivalent of about $23k from 20th Cent Fox a *week. He was also involved in organizing anti-fascist demonstrations, which didn’t sit well with his bosses. Lardner held strong left-wing views and helped fundraise for groups like the Popular Front in Spain during their Civil War.
After WWII, the House Un-American Activities Committee began an investigation into the Hollywood Motion Picture Industry. In September 1947, the HUAC interviewed 41 people who were working in Hollywood. These people attended voluntarily and became known as “friendly witnesses”. During their interviews they named several people who they accused of holding left-wing views. Lardner appeared before the HUAC on 30th October, 1947, but he and the other 9, refused to answer any questions. Lardner wouldn’t even confirm he was a member of the Screen Writers Guild and flatly refused to name any members of the American Communist Party.
Lardner had written a statement to present to HUAC: [Zach] “My principal occupation is that of screen writer, I have contributed to more than a dozen motion pictures, among them Woman of the Year, for which I received an Academy Award. The Cross of Lorraine, about the anti-fascist movement in France during the war, the screen version of the play Tomorrow the World, about the effects of Nazi education, Cloak and Dagger, about the heroic work of our Office of Strategic Services, and an animated cartoon called The Brotherhood of Man, based on the pamphlet, The Races of Mankind, and exposing the myth that any inherent differences exist among people of different skin color and geographical origin…. My record includes no anti-democratic word or act, no spoken or written expression of anti-Semitism, anti-Negro feeling or opposition to American democratic principles as I understand them.” He had written it, but wasn’t allowed to read it. The Hollywood 10 were each found guilty of contempt of Congress; Lardner was sentenced to twelve months in prison and a fine equivalent to $11,000, and naturally lost his job.
Lardner and his wife moved to Mexico City, as did some of his contemporaries in ostracization. The families would picnic together on the weekends, which the FBI, who were spying on them in Mexico, believed were cover for “Communist meetings.” Will the nonsense never end? Lardner moved back to the states in ‘55 and wrote under several pseudonyms before the blacklist was lifted, including on a little film you may have heard of, 1970’s MASH, for which he won another Academy Award. His autobiography, I’d Hate Myself in the Morning, a reference to his refusal to name names to try to save his own skin, was published in 2000, the same year he passed.
Show of hands if you read Scott O’Dell’s 1960 classic, Island of the Blue Dolphins as a teenager. The book tells the story of a 12-year-old girl who is stranded alone for years on an island off the California coast. It won a shed-load of awards, including a Newbery Medal, was adapted into a movie and spawned a sequel comparatively no one has read,, but the most interesting thing about it is it’s *based on a true story. Some say “based,” some say “inspired by.” I suppose it remains to be seen.
O’Dell called her Karana, missionaries christened her Juana Maria, but the true name of this early 19th century woman has been lost to history and her story mirrors the experience of many Native Americans in the face of European colonialism. Juana Maria’s tribe, known as the Nicoleños, lived on San Nicolas Island, one of California’s Channel Islands, for around 10,000 years, give or take a week. In 18-teen’s, when Juana Maria was a young child, a crew of otter hunters, some Russian, some Native Alaskan, sacked the island. The tribe of 300 was reduced to a few dozen in the wake of the attack. By 1835, only about 20 people remained, who were taken off the island by Catholic priests. This was not “Hey, we’re going to the mainland. Y’all wanna ride?” They had to go, and they did, all but Juana Maria, now in her 20’s, and no one knows for sure why. One story claims that she was absent from the group as they were being evacuated because she was out looking for her missing two-year-old child. Another story imagines Juana Maria jumping off the boat, believing that her little brother was still on the island. Whatever happened, an approaching storm meant that the ship departed San Nicolas in a hurry and couldn’t turn back.
Multiple attempts at locating her through the years failed until she was found by Cpt George Nidever of the Peores Nada. In his memoir, he recounted the moment they discovered Juana, stripping whale blubber. She was [sandman] “of medium height… about 50 years old but… still strong and active. Her face was pleasing as she was continually smiling… Her clothing consisted of but a single garment of skins.” She did not flee from the men, but bowed, smiling, and talking happily in a language no one could understand. She couldn’t know it then, but she was the last person alive who could speak or understand her mother language. This was in 1835, 18 years after her people left the island.
Alone on San Nicolas, she killed seals and wild ducks and made a house of whalebones. She sewed, fished, and foraged, living on seal fat. She sang songs and crafted the tools of life: water jugs, shelter, clothing. When her rescuers found her in 1853, they discovered that she had built a hut out of whale bones and was probably living in a nearby cave. It’s hard to say what impact total isolation had on Juana Maria mentally and emotionally.
She was taken to Mission Santa Barbara, where she became a local celebrity, dubbed the wild woman, though the Catholic priests renamed her Juana Maria. Newspapers reported on how she was acclimating to life at the Santa Barbara mission, even noting that she marveled at the horses around the mission and enjoyed coffee and liquor. She even performed songs and dances for those who came to look at her.
Though Juana Maria found human contact again in 1853, she only got to enjoy it for seven short weeks. After living in solitude for nearly two decades, her immune system was quite vulnerable when she arrived in Santa Barbara. She contracted dysentery and died seven weeks after arriving. A priest baptized her on her deathbed, which it can safely be assumed was without her consent since they couldn’t speak to one another. Juana Maria’s personal effects, including bone needles that she had probably used to make a dress from seabird feathers, had been housed in San Francisco, prior to the great San Francisco Earthquake of 1906. You can guess what happened to them. Her feather dress has also disappeared, after being shipped to, of all places, the Vatican.
The butcher, the baker, the candlesticker maker; we now move to Portland to look at the Shakers. What’s a Shaker. Technically, they are the United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing, are a millenarian nontrinitarian restorationist Christian sect. Okay, that got a little too technical. Millenarians are waiting for a big change to come along, like the end of the world; nontrinitarians reject the standard Christian doctrine of the Holy Trinity, and restorationist means they believe the church should be like it was in ye olde times. That description might be complex, but life for Shakers is meant to be a simple one. They practice a celibate and communal lifestyle, pacifism, uniform charismatic worship, and their model of equality of the sexes, which they institutionalized in their society in the 1780s. They were initially known as “Shaking Quakers” because they were an offshoot of the Quaker movement and were known for their ecstatic behavior during worship services. Decades before emancipation and 150 years before women had the vote, Shakers practised social, gender and racial equality for all members. In fact, a number of the founding leaders were women, such as Jane Wardley, Mother Ann Lee. The Shakers emigrated from England and settled in Revolutionary colonial America, with an initial settlement at Watervliet, New York (present-day Colonie), in 1774.
Shakers were known for their simple living, architecture, technological innovation, good, sturdy furniture, and music, like the song Simple Gifts that’s playing in the background. Meetinghouses were plain white and largely undecorated, but the people inside might be dancing, singing, or speaking in tongues and “getting the feeling” in apparent convulsions. Unlike the set order of the long, boring Catholic masses of my childhood (can’t imagine why I didn’t keep up with it), Shaker worship services were unstructured, loud, chaotic and emotional. The movements of natural excitation were converted into choreographed dances and symbolic gestures, which other people living nearby didn’t get and gave side-eye to.
The Shakers built more than twenty communities in the United States. The Shakers practiced communal living, where all property was shared, and it really worked for them. Men and women live as brothers and sisters. Their cleanliness, honesty and frugality received the highest praise. All Shaker villages ran farms, raising most of their own food with the latest scientific methods in agriculture. Their livestock were fat and healthy, and their barns were commended for convenience and efficiency. Their schools were also not to be sneered at. Neighboring non-Shaker parents so respected the Shakers’ schools that they sent their non-Shaker children there to be educated.
Children are an interesting bullet point in the Shaker story. Shakers were celibate. Completely celibate. They didn’t even have sex for procreation. Without members producing children, it made it tricky to keep up the community’s population. They had to rely on adoption and conversion, and a sexless life can make for a tough sell. Turnover was higher than retail. At its peak, the Shakers numbered about 6,000 believers in 20 communities. at the peak of the Shaker movement. The members who did stay saw industrialization bring cheaper consumer goods to market, hurting the skilled-craft side of their economy and many left to find better . By 1920, there were only 12 Shaker communities left by 1920. In 1957, for reasons not immediately clear in my research, Shaker leaders voted to close the Shaker Covenant, the document which all new members need to sign, and locked it away in a safe. This was arguably the death-blow to the community, but not an immediate one — the last remaining Shaker community, Sabbathday Lake Shaker Village, still welcomes sincere converts.
If someone wants to become a Shaker, and the Shakers assent, the would-be member can move into the dwelling house. If the novices, as they are called, stay a week, they sign an articles of agreement, which protects the colony from being sued for lost wages. After a year, the Shakers will take a vote whether to allow the novice in, but it takes another four years to be granted full Shaker status in sharing in the colony’s finances and administrative and worship decisions. How many Shakers will be there to welcome you? Two. A decade ago there had been four, but a Shaker brother fell in love with a visiting journalist and left, and in 2017, 89 year old Sister Frances Carr died. This leaves 64 year old Brother Arnold Hadd and 82 year old Sister June Carpenter. In Sabbathday Lake as in other former Shaker villages, neighbors called Friends of the Shakers raise money to preserve archives and buildings. Many Friends attend Sunday services, but few opt to join the faith and none stick it out long-term.
And that’s… The patrilineal system of the indigenous Brazillian communities means that Aruká Juma’s grandchildren are part of their fathers’ group and not their mothers, but some of those grandkids are breaking with tradition, identifying as *both Uru-eu-wau-wau and Juma. “We are going to carry on our people’s tradition”, says 20-year-old Bitaté Uru-eu-wau-wau. Bitaté’s 18-year-old cousin Kuaimbú has legally incorporated his grandfather’s surname into his own and calls himself Kuaimbú Juma Uru-eu-wau-wau. “I’m a grandson of a Juma, a son of a Juma. I have the right to have Juma in my name.” So maybe Aruka was the last Juma after all.