Flight of the Hummingbird: A Parable for the Environment

Described as a “simple yet moving parable,” Flight of the Hummingbird tells the story of a great forest fire. The animals of the forest flee and from the forest’s edge they watch the devastation unfold. One small bird, a hummingbird named Dukdukdiya, flies to a nearby stream and gathers a single drop of her water in her beak. She then flies over the fire and lets the water fall into the flames. She flies back and forth and each time she carries a new drop of water to help quell the fire. The animals cry out to Dukdukdiya, warning her of the perils. The smoke. The heat. It’s all too much, they say. But she persists.

The parable is a commentary on inaction. Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas teams with Wangari Maathai and His Holiness the Dalai Lama to provide a compelling analysis of contemporary idleness in regards to environmental initiatives.

Before reading this book, I was at my friend’s house doing homework and asked to print off some of my readings. She scrounged to find scrap paper so as not to be wasteful. I realized, then, that I’ve never in my life bothered to print on scrap paper. Meanwhile, in Wangari Maathai’s foreword, the Kenyan activist outlines her insistence that government offices use both sides of papers in order to halve the amount of paper used. Needless to say, I was immediately struck with guilt and an ensuing desire to change.

What I first noticed about Flight of the Hummingbird was the welcoming yet insistent style of writing. The narrative invites the reader to consider environmental issues, encourages them to contemplate without coming across as condemnatory. In the parable’s last line, Dukdukdiya says: “I am doing what I can.” This gentle reminder of our humanity, of both our capabilities and limitations speaks to the book’s most prevalent themes: collaboration and commitment.

The book explores stories whose origins can be traced back to the Quechan people of South America and the Haida of the North Pacific. In an age where we must carefully analyze how cultures interact and share information (for example, considering the meaning of cultural appropriation) Flight of the Hummingbird acts as a reminder that while every culture has a story to tell, a rich history of its own, some stories have no geographical limitations. The stories of our environment ultimately affect a shared planet and in these stories are relevant lessons, lessons that shed light on the human condition and not solely on the deterioration of various environments. Thus, Flight of the Hummingbird is an appeal to the human heart as much as it is to the mind. The story evokes empathy and rumination.

The hummingbird is an important figure to the indigenous peoples of the Americas. The parable was inspired by a story that belonged to the Quechan people (of modern day Ecuador). A symbol of optimism, wisdom, beauty, agility and the celebration of life, the hummingbird infuses this parable with hope. The contrast between hope and urgency certainly adds dynamism to the narrative. Meanwhile, the Haida Nation of the North Pacific calls the hummingbird dukdukdiya, an imitation of its sound.While the hummingbird has been celebrated by numerous cultures, what the stories of hummingbirds all hold in common is the consensus that even the smallest creatures can contribute meaningfully.

Rather, those who are not afraid to act, and who are aware of what is at stake, can make the biggest difference.

Biographical Information:

Wangari Muta Maathai: Born in Nyeri, Kenya, in 1940, Maathai was the daughter of farmers in the highlands of Mount Kenya. She founded the Green Belt Movement, which works to engage rural women in tree planting operations and in 1986, she established a Pan-African Green Belt Network. She has worked with the United Nations and various campaigns. Her aim is to direct attention towards democracy, human rights and environmental conservation.

His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama: The head of state and the spiritual leader of the Tibetan people. He was born in 1935 into a farming family in northeastern Tibet. At the age of two, he was recognized as the reincarnation of his predecessor, the Thirteenth Dalai Lama. He has received over eighty-four awards, honorary doctorates and prizes in recognition of his advocacy of peace, nonviolence, compassion and universal responsibility. He now lives in exile among numerous Tibetan refugees in Dharamsala, India.

Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas: An artist trained in Haida design, Yahgulanaas is Flight of the Hummingbird’s brilliant illustrator. He developed a genre called “Haida Manga” that attempts to connect his colonial and indigenous heritages. He is from Haida Gwaii, Canada, and his work is inspired by his long career in social and environmental justice issues. You can visit his website at: http://www.mny.ca



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