Izzy Bird, Mr Von S
Izzy Bird, two women

Izzy Bird, savages


The letters get longer for the next bit, mostly because Isabella is deep in the mountains and there is no where she can post them. I’ll break them into more manageable chunks just for the sake of clarity.

For the last three days and two nights she’s been in an Ainu hut in Biratori. She has been overwhelmed by the newness of it all and finally sat down five hours ago to write up her notes. She is still writing them up. She also refers to the Ainu as “savages” throughout, which, through a modern lens is highly problematic.*

Her trip to Biratori is through a “dark and very silent forest. The ‘main road’ sometimes plunges into deep bogs, at others is roughly corduroyed by the roots of trees, and frequently hangs over the edge of abrupt and much-worm declivities, in going up one of which the baggage-horse rolled down bank 30 feet high, and nearly all the tea was lost.” At one point, Isabella’s horse gets bogged down and she has to “scramble upon his neck and jump to terra firma over his ears.”**

They make it to the chief’s dwelling, which is quite large and inhabited by a bunch of people. Even though her entourage’s arrival is a complete surprise to the people who live there, they welcome her warmly. Ito is less thrilled about this whole thing — according to Isabella, “one would have thought he was going to the stake.” While they were advised to bring food for themselves — the Ainu live pretty close to starvation most of the time and visitors shouldn’t tax their resources — Ito has gone above and beyond, packing “chicken, onions, potatoes, French beans, Japanese sauce, tea, rice, a kettle, a stew-pan, and a rice-pan.”

As Isabella is writing up her notes, “a savage is taking a cup of sake by the fire in the centre of the floor. He salutes me by extending his hands and waving them towards his face, and then dips a rod in the sake, and makes six libations to the god — and upright piece of wood with a fringe of shavings*** planted in the floor of the room. Then he waves the cup several times toward himself, makes other libations to the fire, and drinks.”


Tomorrow: everyone’s favorite topic — gender politics!


* I know I keep saying we’re going to unpack this and then not unpacking this. But do I need to? Or is the baggage behind “savage” already known?


*** a quick explainer about Inau.


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