Irish Gaelic, Rapa Nui And More Endangered Languages From Around The World

There are nearly 7,000 languages spoken throughout the world today, the majority of which are predicted to become extinct by the end of this century. Half the world’s population speaks the top 20 world languages – with Mandarin, Spanish and English leading the charge, in that order – and most linguists point to globalization as the main cause for the rapid pace languages are falling off the map.

The problem is, when a language dies so does much of the knowledge and traditions that were passed won using it. So when Mental Floss used data from the Alliance for Linguistic Diversity to post a list of several at-risk languages, we here at Gadling were saddened by the disappearing native tongues and decided to use data from the Alliance for Linguistic Diversity to highlight some in our own list.

Irish Gaelic: Despite the fact that the government requires Irish students to learn this language and it currently has an estimated 40,000 native speakers, it is still classified as vulnerable.

Rapa Nui: The mother tongue of Chile’s famous Easter Island has fewer than 4,000 native speakers, and is quickly being taken over by Spanish.

Seneca: Only approximately 100 people in three Native American reservation communities in the United States speak this language, with the youngest speaker in his 50s.Yaw: Most young people living in the Gangaw District of Burma understand but do not speak this critically endangered language that has less than 10,000 native speakers.

Kariyarra: Although there are many people who have a passive understanding of this aboriginal language, only two fluent Kariyarra speakers are left in Western Australia.

Francoprovençal: There are only about 130,000 native speakers of this language, mostly in secluded towns in east-central France, western Switzerland and the Italian Aosta Valley.

Yagan: This indigenous language of Chile purportedly has only one remaining native speaker. Others are familiar with the language, but it will likely disappear soon.

Patuá: Derived from Malay, Sinhalese, Cantonese and Portuguese, less than 50 people in Macau, China and their diaspora speak this language. It is now the object of folkloric interest amongst those who still speak it.

Better Know A Holiday: Buddha’s Birthday

AKA: Vesakha, Vesak, Wesak, Visak, Vixakha and many more derivatives.

When? The second Sunday in May OR the day of the full moon in May OR the Sunday nearest to the day of the full moon in May OR the eighth day of the fourth lunar month OR if you’ve decided all that calendric work is too much hassle, like the Japanese, April 8.

Public holiday in: Hong Kong, Macau, Thailand, China, South Korea, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, India, Nepal, Cambodia, Vietnam, Bhutan, Laos.

Who died? Nobody.

Reason for celebration, then? The birth of the Buddha, of course. Though for many, the Buddha’s birth, death and enlightenment are lumped together in one big holiday. So …

Who died? The Buddha.

Origins: Some 2,500 years ago, Queen Mahamaya of the Shakya Kingdom in modern-day Nepal gave birth in a grove of blossoming trees. As the blossoms fell around mother and child, they were cleansed by two streams of water from the sky. Then the baby stood up and walked seven steps, pointed up with one hand and down with the other – not unlike a Disco Fever John Travolta – and declared that he alone was “the World-Honored One.”

The rest is Buddhist history. The toddler, named Siddhartha Gautama, grew up to become the Buddha and the founder of one of the world’s major religions. He attained Enlightenment under the Bodhi tree in what is now Bodhgaya, India. Later, after amassing many followers, he died, either of food poisoning or mesenteric infarction, depending who you ask, and reached Parinirvana, the final deathless state of Buddhism.

How is it celebrated now? Bathing little statues of the baby Buddha with tea or water, hanging lanterns, extended temple services.

Other ways to celebrate: Freeing caged birds, parades with dancers and illuminated lantern floats, temple offerings.

Concurrent festivals: The Flower Festival in Japan, the Bun Festival in Hong Kong.

Associated food: In many places, varieties of porridge, which commemorate the dish that Buddha received that ended his asceticism phase.

Associated commercialism: Certain companies like McDonald’s will even offer solely vegetarian options on Buddha’s birthday to stick with the spirit of the festival. Precious little, in fact. Though sales of lotus lanterns and baby Buddha statues rocket during this time, the celebrations are remarkably uncommercial.

Associated confusion: There is no reliable record for when the Buddha was actually born, thus the wide range of celebratory dates. This in no way puts a damper on festivities, but does result in a bit of awkwardness when there are two full moons in May, which happens regularly enough. Most recently it occurred in 2007, and Cambodia, Sri Lanka and Malaysia decided to celebrate during the first full moon of the month, while Singapore and Thailand celebrated at the end of May.

Best place to enjoy the festivities: Seoul really takes it up a notch, planning a week of events and celebrations in the lead-up. It kicks off with the Lotus Lantern Festival the weekend prior to Buddha’s birthday, when tens of thousands of Korean Buddhists parade through Seoul’s main roads under colorful lanterns, bringing the city to a standstill. The municipal government really pulls out all the stops, offering music, dance and theater performances in public places that are jammed with revelers. Take a look at the celebrations in Seoul and elsewhere around the world in this gallery:


Better Know A Holiday: Tomb-Sweeping Day

AKA: Qingming Festival, Pure Brightness Festival, Ancestors Day

When? 15th day after the vernal equinox (in 2013: April 4)

Public holiday in: China, Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan

Who died? Generations of ancestors.

Origin story: Unclear. However, Tomb-Sweeping Day did originate as the Cold Food Festival. In the seventh century B.C., a former prince named Chong’er and his followers were in exile. Food was scarce. One extremely loyal follower, named Jie, cut a chunk of flesh from his leg to make broth, which was used to feed Chong’er. Moved by this show of loyalty and sacrifice, Chong’er vowed to repay Jie. However, when Chong’er finally became king and rewards were being dished out, he somehow overlooked the guy with half a leg. Jie, understandably disappointed, moved into the forest.

Once he realized his mistake, Chong’er sought out Jie, and when he couldn’t find him in the dense forest, he burned it to the ground to flush him out. No good deed goes unpunished. Poor Jie didn’t have a leg to stand on and was found dead under a willow tree, burned to death. The king was filled with remorse. He declared three days of remembrance for his acolyte and forbade fires for those three days. The name Qingming (“pure bright”) stems from a note that was found declaring that Jie had a clear conscience in the after life.

The Cold Food Festival gradually merged with other traditions to the point where it became the annual time to pay tribute to one’s departed relatives.How is it celebrated? Tomb-Sweeping Day is less of a festival and more of a sincere celebration of family. Chinese travel to their hometowns for large family reunions. On the day proper, the family heads to the cemetery to pay respects to their deceased loved ones. This involves kowtowing to the graves of their ancestors, presenting food offerings, burning joss paper and generally tidying up the surroundings. Then, families will sit around, maybe have a picnic at the gravesite, and talk about – what else – family.

Associated food: Spring rolls are popular, but anything cold to recall the origins of the festival.

Associated commercialism: Even the dead can be commercialized. Part of the Qingming celebration involves burning fake money and paper replicas of consumer goods, and the memorial merchandise business is booming. Chinese spent over $1.5 billion – that’s with a “B” – on fake money, fake property deeds and papier mâché iPhones, sports cars and castles in 2012. These items are sacrificially burned to venerate the dead and contribute to their welfare in the afterlife. That’s a lot of money and paper that is literally going up in smoke, which given China’s current pollution woes, is not good news for the still breathing.

Other ways to celebrate: Planting willows, flying kites, tug-of-wars, paying homage to revolutionary martyrs.

[Photo Credit: istolethetv, bfishadow]

Macau: China’s First And Last European Colony

Macau, one of only two special administrative regions of the People’s Republic of China, features a unique blend of architecture, culture and heritage.

Walking the streets, it will become immediately clear the region makes a lot of money off gambling; however, through the architecture you’ll also be transported back and forth from Europe to Asia, and from the 16th century to the present. The city is a former Portuguese colony, and is China’s first and last European colony. While today China is responsible for the region’s military defense and foreign affairs, Macau is quite autonomous with its own police force, currency, laws, customs policy and immigration policy.

With such a diverse history, it’s no surprise a large section of Macau is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site, with 25 buildings being deemed to have historical and cultural significance. Well-known sights like the Guia Fortress, Senado Square and the Ruins of St. Paul’s Cathedral are on the list, and many of these elected sights can be seen via the Macau Heritage Walk circuit.

For a more visual idea of Macau, check out the gallery below.


[images via Big Stock]

In Search Of Harmony In Hong Kong

World traveler and television personality Richard Bangs has a knack for finding adventure wherever he goes. His award winning program “Adventures with a Purpose routinely sends him to the far corners of the planet where he immerses himself in the history and culture of the destination while taking part in a host of unique activities.

In a recent episode entitled “Quest for Harmony,” Bangs visited the Pearl River Delta, a region that includes Hong Kong, Macau and portions of China‘s Guangdong Province. That particular show gave viewers a brief glimpse at all the many travel opportunities that exist throughout the area and, intrigued with what was shown, it left me wanting to know more. With that in mind, I recently sat down with Bill Flora, who was instrumental in getting Bangs to visit the Delta. Bill also happens to be the U.S. Director of Hong Kong Tourism, so as you can imagine, he has a lot to say about the region.

Gadling: The theme of “harmony” crops up often in this episode and it seems to play an important part in life in Hong Kong. How is that concept exhibited in the city?
Bill Flora: Finding harmony or balance is a universal theme in Asian culture and that is evident throughout Hong Kong as well. The city has a Yin and Yang to it that blends both high technology and nature surprisingly well. Amidst the towering skyscrapers and bright lights there is a peaceful serenity found in the city’s parks and natural spaces. Life there is a wonderful blend of traditional values and modern sensibilities.

G: Hong Kong and the surrounding Pearl River Delta seem to offer something for just about every kind of traveler. Is that a major part of its appeal?
BF: Absolutely! Variety is definitely the key. Hong Kong is the type of city where you’ll find a five-star restaurant on one corner, then walk around the block to discover an ancient temple on another. It is that mix of modern sophistication and traditional culture that makes it such an interesting place. Great shopping, a thriving nightlife, a sophisticated art scene and so much more – it’s all there for visitors to experience for themselves.G: And what about adventure travelers? Is there anything to draw them to the region as well?
BF: The term “adventure travel” is such a broad one and the word “adventure” means something different to everyone. But for those looking to explore the Pearl River Delta’s more wild side, they may be surprised to find that 40 percent of Hong Kong’s land volume is dedicated to parks, many of which have great hiking trails. Additionally there are 260 outlying islands to explore and the nearby Danxia Mountain Park, located in Guangdong, offers spelunking, trekking and climbing opportunities as well.

G: In your opinion, what is the best kept secret about the Pearl River Delta?
BF: I think visitors will be surprised at how great of an outdoor destination it is. Sure there are plenty of things to do in Hong Kong and Macau, but once you leave the city behind, the Pearl River Delta is a rugged and remote region. Upon my first visit I was surprised at just how lush and green it is there and opportunities for adventure abound.

G: And when they return to the city?
BF: They’ll have the opportunity to refuel with some of the excellent local cuisine. Hong Kong has everything from great street stalls with fresh seafood to Michelin-starred restaurants that are ranked among the best in the world. The city is also one of the most sophisticated wine destinations on the planet, which often comes as a surprise for visitors too. One thing is for sure – no one will go hungry!

G: For visitors traveling to Hong Kong for the first time, what is your recommendation for the one “don’t miss” activity?
BF: Without a doubt they should take the tram to the top of The Peak [Victoria Peak located in HK Harbor]. The view is spectacular, particularly at night, and I never grow tired of it. It is the signature spot in Hong Kong.

G: What else should first-time visitors to Hong Kong know?
BF: Hong Kong is the Gateway to Asia and it makes a great launching pad for visiting other parts of the continent. But everything a traveler could hope for can be found right there in the Pearl River Delta. I think anyone who visits the region will agree; it really is an amazingly diverse destination. With that in mind, we’ve partnered with Peregrine Travel and Cathay Pacific to offer several Pearl River Delta travel packages of varying lengths and itineraries. We really do hope they come visit us.

Many thanks to Bill for sharing his thoughts and insights into Hong Kong with me. Now I want to go to experience it for myself.

[Photo credit: chensiyuan and Doctoroftcm via WikiMedia]