Book review: Sand Talk by Tyson Yunkaporta

I listened to Indigenous author and academic Tyson Yunkaporta’s non-fiction book Sand Talk whilst pottering around the garden and was blown away by its beauty. If you decide to investigate it, I recommend getting hold of the audio book read by the author as I felt the oral history of Aboriginal people, made listening to his yarn more powerful.

We don’t have a word for non-linear in our languages because nobody would consider travelling, thinking or talking in a straight path in the first place. The winding path is just how a path is, and therefore it needs no name.

In Sand Talk, Yunkaporta reflects on global systems from an Indigenous Knowledge perspective. He shares an outlook on natural systems that is complex and non-linear. It rejects the western notion of reducing Indigenous Knowledge down to a series of symbols and codes, and asserts that the complexity of Indigenous Knowledge makes it fit for the challenge of wicked problems like sustainability and climate change.

An Indigenous person is a member of a community retaining memories of life lived sustainably on a land base, as part of that land base.

The title of the work is a reference to the way that Aboriginal cultures transmit knowledge – by drawing on the ground – which enables communication of more meaning than simple words. Yunkaporta talks about relations between individuals and groups of individuals using two terms. He refers to himself and the reader as ‘us-two’, like a kinship pair and encourages the reader to form ‘us-two’ pairings throughout our lives in order to work together successfully. ‘Us-exclusive’ refers to just us, not them, in the context of exclusive groups, but they also need to work together in ‘us-all’ pairings.

If people are laughing, they are learning. True learning is a joy because it is an act of creation.

Each chapter of Sand Talk is a series of thought experiments represented by the carving of a traditional object captured pictorially. In other words he carves everything he writes to preserve the oral cultural orientation of this thoughts. He calls this method of adapting oral culture processes into the written word ‘umpan’. The entire book is represented by a large boomerang which features on the cover. Each carved object is memory inspired and contains within it a wealth of meaning and story.

Our knowledge endures because everybody carries a part of it, no matter how fragmentary. If you want to see the pattern of creation, you talk to everybody and listen carefully.

Sand Talk is a melding of Yunkaporta’s professional, academic, personal and community influences, which itself is representative of on of the works central premises – that knowledge is co-created.

Guilt is like any other energy: you can’t accumulate it or keep it because it makes you sick and disrupts the system you live in – you have to let it go. Face the truth, make amends and let it go.

Aside for an opportunity to hear one Aboriginal man’s story and learn about his attempt to document aboriginal ways of thinking and how this can be applied to our most complex challenge of global warming. Sand Talk is also a beautiful work of literature to listen to that encourages the reader/listener to see the world differently.