At stake are not only language themselves but “entire worldviews, religious beliefs, creation myths, observations about life, technologies for how to domesticate animals and cultivate plants, histories of migration and settlement….” (Harrison:2007.159). Daniel Nettle and Suzanne Romaine (2000) argue that “the extinction of languages is part of the larger picture of near-total collapse of the worldwide ecosystem… and that the causes of language death, like that of ecological destruction, lie at the intersection of ecology and politics.” My research points to a further endangerment, that of untold thousands of religions that have formed most of human history (Rappaport:1999) for hundreds of thousands of years. Almost all of these religions (themselves worldviews in fluxx rather than static or bounded entities) have been unwritten and undocumented, and as they disappear they leave little race. The analogy with endangered species is not complete , and that with languages is closer, since religions can rapidly transform themselves, split, amalgamate, and make compromises in ways that species cannot.
My experience with the Sora suggests that each religious form may be highly adapted to local social and historical situations, which are like ecological niches. Until the missionary hospital, this was a society total without medication. In earlier times there may have been more healing plants than I saw, but these were probably worn rather than ingested. The Sora lived and reproduced themselves in a situation of extreme survival, in which a high mortality rate reflected a process of extreme natural selection and extreme antibody production, experienced culturally as an extreme level of sonum (ancestral spirits) activity. By the 1970s, the government was following the missionaries in providing medicine locally, but there were many obstacles to its availability, not least embezzlement by medical personnel (and there was also one large scandal in the mission hospital), and I still had to watch helplessly as people of all ages dropped dead around me. Yet the Sora did not have a concept of a lack of medical facilities; rather, their attention was focused on a different understanding of survival and flourishing, based on familial relationships. Today the person has become more individual and less relational, and this has combined with the greater availability of medicine to narrow the chains of reasoning about misfortune." (Vetebsky:2017.330-332)
I would add: in a changing world that would impact them eventually but gives them some agency to transform on their own terms. Yes, for the Christian converts had an initial impetus to throw away the old and embrace something new, but always there is memory or nostalgia that calls back to an older narrative that does not escape, something about food, social interactions, family and kinship relationship, moral sense, and I think most of all, their folk tales and music (the literature of the illiterate), or their ability to tell their stories and hear their own stories in their own voice.
Their stories and culture are not simply beneficial for the identity of the people themselves, but there is a growing global awareness that in the mad rush towards development relations to each other, to nature and both the physical and spiritual realities has become distorted and corrupted. Those surviving traditions may become a helpline to regain new ways to develop and progress that is actually sustainable, with agency in the hands of the people themselves to write their own stories, and to form a collective memory based on forgotten relationships and knowledge.