Dispatches from the wilds of Proseambique – Sirenum

Off the coast of Italy lies a small island that has not adorned a single map since the days of Herodotus. This quite deliberate deletion has been in the interests of safety – that of the island’s inhabitants, certainly, but more importantly; everyone else’s. Herodotus wrote about this island, of course, how could he not? But no modern translation bears the relevant passage, and anyone seeking to inspect the oldest known copies of his works would find a mysterious lacuna in the same spot of each.

But this is hardly a thing most people would notice, and so this carefully obliterated island sits calmly in the Tyrrhenian sea, undisturbed for millennia. Or, almost. But we are getting ahead of ourselves.

In most ways, the society on this island is unremarkable; notable, perhaps, for its relatively primitive state – disconnection from the outside world for over two and a half millennia has left them living in a style not dissimilar to that of their ancient neighbours. Indeed, the only fact of any especial note one should concern oneself with is the fact that the language of the island’s inhabitants contains not a single consonant. But that is a universe in itself.

For instead they communicate entirely in vowel-forms, long stretches of ooos and aaas, with meaning buried in modulations in pitch and tone. Undistracted by consonants, their language taps into some deep primal meaning, some hardwired natural language, some language of the soul. It is as though they sing, but what they sing is pure emotion.

To ask for a glass of water, for instance, they sing at you and you are overwhelmed with the feeling of thirst. But not your own feeling of thirst; you feel their thirst. So finely tuned is this language, so acutely can they make you feel, that they can make you feel exactly how much water they want. But this is just the simplest example. To say that they would be the envy of every tenor and soprano who ever lived would be a vast understatement – for they can move you more with simple conversation than the finest opera singer can in their prime.

And so we come, then, to their encounters with the outside world. For there have been encounters. Mediterranean islands, no matter how small, inevitably entice the eye of some hungry emperor, king or warlord. Army after army has landed on her sandy shores, but all have returned, defeated, tears fresh in their eyes. For when they land, they are greeted with the song of a mournful populous, saddened by their avarice, fearful for their lives, and with every step these would-be conquerors take, they know how it feels to be invaded. Some fall on their swords. Some beg forgiveness. All weep. All retreat.

And so they are left alone. Hidden for their protection; and ours. For though their gift is great, and they could no doubt sing us into peace and love, and sing to us of our dying world, and sing us to sanity; in their nightmares, those that know of them see only their hand on a microphone.

And hear only their voices howling.

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Published in: on November 18, 2010 at 5:53 pm  Leave a Comment  
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