Beyond the Last Village
A Journey of Discovery in Asia's Forbidden Wilderness
By Alan Rabinowitz
During his journey, Dr. Alan Rabinowitz encountered a tribe of Asian pygmies called the Taron. They are an entirely pure race; but generations of inbreeding had led to deformities, mental retardation and insanity throughout their tribe. By the time Dr. Rabinowitz reaches their secluded mountain village, cut off entirely from the world, there are only 12 pure Taron left in existence.
As soon as I entered the hut, the man sitting by the fire turned away from me. He had known I was coming. Two Taron women, his older and younger sisters, stood beside him. As Khaing worked with the translator to ask the women questions, I sat down beside the man, sipping tea and looking into the fire. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw him cast furtive glances toward me. I waited.
I reached for the teapot sitting in the fire, forgetting that my hands were not as work-hardened as those of the villagers whom I'd watched do this many times. "Yow!" I hollered, dropping the pot, spilling the tea, and spraying myself with hot ashes. "Damn," I said, pounding out the smoking embers that were burning holes in my clothes. Suddenly, I heard the strangest sound and turned. The Taron man was now facing me, rocking back and forth, cackling with high-pitched laughter. Unwittingly, I had broken the ice between us.
His name was Dawi and, at 39, this stocky, impish-looking man was the youngest of the surviving Taron in Myanmar. He and his two sisters were the only pure Taron family left. The other eight Taron were part of Htalu families. As he poured the tea for me, I took out my last remaining PowerBar, which I'd been saving for an emergency, and gave it to him. He sat facing me now. He was wearing a coarse, dirty blanket thrown over his shoulder, light cloth pants tied at the knees, and cloth leggings that ended at black, hardened feet that had never seen shoes. He was one of the few who still wore remnants of the Taron traditional dress. I asked him several questions that went unanswered. He nibbled around the edges of the PowerBar, smiling and speaking to his sisters in the Taron dialect; suddenly, the whole bar was gone in a gulp.
After many cups of tea and a long hard look at me, Dawi began to speak, straining to put into words thoughts he'd perhaps never voiced before. He'd remembered everything I had asked him, and the intensity of his gaze hinted at an intelligence that had probably been long suppressed.
"For many years the Taron only marry each other," Dawi started, almost in a whisper. "But when we have babies, the babies have small brains and small bodies. It was no good." He turned his eyes away for a moment and then looked back at me.
"We don't want Taron babies anymore," Dawi continued. "Long ago, the Taron decided not to have babies with each other. Only with Htalu. Some Htalu marry Taron, many do not want to. If Htalu won't marry Taron, then we die alone."
His voice became almost defiant. "There are few Taron left. Many die alone."
Dawi shifted his body away from me again and faced the fire. It must have taken a lot for him to tell me what he did, to face images of a past that was gone and future that would never be. Kingdon Ward called the Taron "one of nature's unsuccessful experiments." I think Dawi might have agreed. I didn't need to ask him what he thought of his own future. He was among the last. And he was dying alone. (p. 144-146, Beyond the Last Village)
Excerpt courtesy Island Press