News Stories

Big Wave Wisdom

A tsunami like the one that struck the coasts of Thailand, India and Indonesia 4 years ago may strike again. "Azhii peralai" means "from the deep ? large waves" in Tamil, the oldest language in southern India. For an ancient dialect to have its own phrase for destructive waves triggered by earthquakes, the people of Tamil Nadu likely experienced tsunamis periodically through the centuries, so they could have been much better prepared for it last time. Ocean waves are getting higher, so a tsunami could strike again.

LiveScience.com reports that Ocean wave heights along the East Coast of the US are getting bigger and bigger. Halifax scientist Alan Ruffman is using two kinds of data to predict when the next tsunami will hit: geological studies of sand particles and an analysis of southern India?s early writings and folklore, to find human accounts of early tsunamis.Ruffman says, "There are more than 1,500 unanalyzed early documents in the Tamil language that stretch back one to two thousand years."

The waves may have caused such a devastating death toll because legends about a similar tsunami may have been forgotten, due the modernization of these countries. As William Henry fans all know, sometimes legends can be the way a culture conveys not only wisdom but factual knowledge.

In LiveScience.com, Andrea Thompson reports that "survivors' tales of similarly massive waves sweeping in from the ocean are passed down by elders in certain communities and may be enough to save lives in the event of another disaster." This is shown by the fact that a similarly intense tsunami that struck northern Papua New Guinea in over 70 years ago caused a fraction of the deaths that occurred in the more recent, 2004 disaster.

Tsunami expert Simon Day and his colleagues studied the stories that were once passed down across generations of people who lived on the island hundreds of years ago. He says, "It became apparent that oral traditions were going back 500 years. The stories contained information about how to recognize a tsunami was about to come, such as falling sea levels, and told how people should take action. That's the reason why casualties [in 1930] were so low."

Thompson quotes Day as saying, "Oral traditions are a very efficient means of tsunami education."

Art credit: gimp-savvy.com

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