by Tyson Yunkaporta
Sand Talk is a paradigm-shifting book. Readers of Sapiens and The Uninhabitable Earth will especially appreciate the crucial Indigenous perspective to historical and cultural issues of history, education, money, power, and sustainability—and offers a new template for living.
As an indigenous person, Tyson Yunkaporta looks at global systems from a unique perspective, one tied to the natural and spiritual world. In considering how contemporary life diverges from the pattern of creation, he explores important questions. What happens if we bring an indigenous perspective to the big picture? Would we have proper concepts of sustainable life without indigenous knowledge?
Yunkaporta’s writing process begins with images. Honoring indigenous traditions, he makes carvings of what he wants to say, channeling his thoughts through symbols and diagrams rather than words. When he does use words, they hold much more meaning and knowledge than everyday speech. In fact, he does not describe it as talking. Rather, he “yarns.” He explains that yarns “are like conversations but take a traditional form we have always used to create and transmit knowledge.” Yarns look for ways to connect images and stories with place and relationship to create a coherent world view.
To further this knowledge, Yunkaporta, a member of the Apalech Clan in far north Queensland, Australia, uses “sand talk,” the Aboriginal custom of drawing images on the ground, to bring clarity to complexity, which inspired the name of the book.
For anyone disturbed by news feeds that depict a world in constant crisis—from environmental damage to political corruption to human rights violations—it can feel as if all hope is lost. Sand Talk offers hope based on the perspective and knowledge of the first peoples, addressing the big questions of our time, just as they become hot-button issues of the 2020 U.S. Presidential election.
In Sand Talk, Yunkaporta provides a new model for our everyday lives. Rich in ideas and inspiration, it explains how lines and symbols and shapes can help us make sense of the world. It’s about how we learn and how we remember. It’s about talking to everyone and listening carefully. Most of all it’s about a very special way of thinking; of learning to see from a native perspective, one that is spiritually and physically tied to the earth around us, and how it can save our world.
Lest anyone think Yunkaporta’s message might be too big to grasp, The New York Times invited him to contribute to a column, and the Australian publisher created a video, as an accessible way into a deep subject (watch video, below):
Sand Talk includes 22 black-and-white illustrations that add depth to the text. Tyson Yunkaporta is an academic, an arts critic, and a researcher. He carves traditional tools and weapons and also works as a senior lecturer in Indigenous Knowledges at Deakin University in Melbourne, where he resides.