Easterine Kire is a poet, novelist, Jazzpoetry pioneer; a “one-woman cultural renaissance” (Vivek Menezes, Scroll). Her latest novel, Spirit Nights, delves deep into the spirituality of her indigenous community, primarily through an elder woman protagonist who experiences prophetic dreams and feels the spiritual world deeply.
What follows is a short essay Easterine wrote for us at Barbican on her personal experiences with spirituality.
My generation of Nagas accept that our territories are shared between human and spirit inhabitants. In our cultural life, all teaching revolves around respect. We live our lives showing respect for the human world and the animal world, as well as the spirit world. I have experienced encounters with spirits beginning from a young age. At age four and half, I had a small spirit friend. He was a boy. Even as an adult, I have had spiritual encounters in several places. Deep spiritual awareness comes quite naturally to most Nagas.
A key aspect of Naga spirituality is dreams. We believe we receive messages and warnings about impending tragedies in dreams. There are many types of dream-metaphors and the ‘owner of the dream’ interprets the metaphor accordingly. Here’s an example: if one dreams of a big tree falling, this is interpreted as a warning of the death of a parent or spouse. Thus, dreaming itself is a very important aspect of our spiritual experience. I can recall several warning-dreams that came true in my life. Not all dreams warn of tragedy. Dreams can also foretell success in an enterprise, success in a marriage proposal, a happy meeting of friends to take place. These are just some examples, and there is much more to say. Ultimately, dreams and dreaming are important windows into the spiritual world. This is why they play such a vital role in Spirit Nights.
My tribe identifies spirit beings by their appearance, locations they frequent and their benevolent or malevolent natures. Spirits have names according to the character they manifest. For example, a spirit called Rhuolo is quite malicious and can cause any person who encounters him to be struck dumb. Miawenuo is a long-haired spirit often sighted near new houses and is taken as a sign of wealth for the household.
The most feared spirits are the ill-tempered Kamvülhouphreimia, a group of new spirits. I was told of an incident when an elderly midwife was travelling through narrow paths to attend to a patient. A traveller met her on the way and warned her not to go ahead because the Kamvülhouphriemia had destroyed trees and young saplings in their way.
Elders teach youngsters to put a sprig of Bitter Wormwood behind their ears when they are going to the woods as it protects them against spirit attacks. Never whistle at night. Make cuts in the door with a machete if the spirits of the dead return. Such instruction is part of their education to provide them with protection against spirits. There are spirit abodes that villagers studiously avoid. One of these places is an underground water channel not too far from the village of Khonoma. Hunters never neglect to leave a portion of meat for the spirits of the river. If they overlook this courtesy, their meat portions are greatly diminished when they reach home. The explanation is that the spirits have taken their share.
The Nagas interpret sounds like bird-calls as spiritual warnings. For example, on a certain day of the festival of Naknyulum, if the call of a certain bird is heard, it is taken as an omen that people will die soon after. Reading omens is learned from years of being taught by elders in the villages. For instance, the way the new moon is ‘sitting’ is taken as an indicator of good or bad weather. If it has its legs in the air, it means inclement weather, for example. Dogs that wail for days together is an omen of death about to visit the owner of those dogs.
Spiritual rituals and their proper observance are very important to the Naga. Most Nagas are Christians today but we have a nativised Christianity which accommodates all the spirit beliefs that I have written about here.
Our main festival, Sekrenyi, is a festival of sanctification and preparation for the new year. Herein lies a good example of the importance of proper observance. Male participants get up early to perform a ritual of sanctification which starts with fetching water from the water source, then bathing at the communal water source and repeating a prayer to be cleansed of illnesses and bad luck in the coming year. After the ceremonial bath, the young men must even check that they are wearing their body-cloths in the right manner (with the tassels and embroidery facing the right way).
Though Spirit Nights is a work of fiction, it is rooted in the history and mythology of Nagaland. Easterine wields profound knowledge of spirits, dream visions and rituals to weave a compelling, human story. Spirit Nights is available to pre-order now.
Martin Goodman’s Ectopia, originally published in 2013, has been republished as an audiobook that’s available on Spotify! It’s now massively accessible with powerful, dramatic narration that enriches already brilliant source material. Listen to the greatness in just a click – right here.
Pru, how are you? Introduce yourself!
Coming out of a post graduate degree in an uncertain industry has certainly been a little stressful but the determination I had during this production still remains the same. I’m a 23-year-old Northerner looking for ways to have the adventure of a lifetime doing great things!
Describe Ectopia to us in your words:
Ectopia is a reflection of what the world could come to in under 300 pages. Homophobia, hate crimes, sexual violence and nasty experiments. It also manages to pull through with an escapist romance in a post-apocalyptic world where science struggles to define humanity.
How does Ectopia benefit from an audiobook?
Ectopia is a very vocal, visceral book. Originally a movie idea, as I recall Martin saying. It makes sense to hear the emotions and feel what the characters are going through. It really makes you curl your toes and leaves you with a gaping mouth.
What’s a particular (spoiler free!) moment that benefited from being adapted into an audiobook and why?
There are many… ones that make you gag, and smirk and ones that shock you unexpectedly. In some ways, Ectopia reflects the unexpected reality of our present. The brother and father’s volatile relationship leads to a dramatic change in the book. I think that’s the moment that best benefited from being audio.
Could you tell us about the actors involved?
Emma and Dan brought everything an actor should especially with their own individual talents. Emma’s ability to bring such a natural delivery with the smaller part of Karen was great to record on the final day. She was really easy to get along with and communicate with which made my job easier. I’m glad I could give her a relaxing environment too.
Dan’s versatility and ability to evoke heavy emotions was stunning and I loved watching him from behind the studio. He was juggling both rehearsals for his showcase and this long production of Ectopia – so kudos to him!
How did working on Ectopia come about, and what drew you to the project?
This project was a key part of my MA Publishing Dissertation at Manchester Metropolitan University. There were editorial options and things relating to social media, but the fact there was an option to produce a full audiobook struck my eyes. I love production and it is a growing industry… I knew I would get the most out of it as well as get leadership and team working opportunities.
What was working on the project like and what was the process?
It was fun and exciting as I was bringing it all together and overseeing the flow of it which was satisfying. Like any other production, there was a lot of planning. Meetings with Martin on Zoom, talking about what we feel will do the book justice and how we can make it happen.
Being a student and a former user of a studio during my Bachelors, I contacted Raz our engineer immediately and was able to get the studio booked. From then it was a matter of auditions over a dozen actors from the North, all so amazing that I could actually give them feedback and keep them in my books!
Emma wasn’t needed until the end but we had our own little meetings. For me, Martin and Dan, we were able to meet for lunch and have a tour of the studio and begin production for 3 long days the day after.
Wrap up was kind of emotional but very relieving. I just wanted to sleep by then! It was making notes for the dissertation and keeping the social energy constant that tired me out the most… as well as the early mornings!
Dan had to shoot off to his showcase but we all got a nice picture together in the studio and then the rest of us went out for drinks… from then it was a matter of still checking up on the edits and proofs.
What was your favourite part of the project?
My favourite part must have been the auditions and letting the two know they got the part… its always those moments that get you excited for it all.
What was the most surprising part of the project?
Can’t really say… I wasn’t surprised we went over studio time and I wasn’t surprised it was a stressful process when things didn’t work out. It’s all a part of production and it was a matter of being calm and persistent.
What advice do you have for anyone looking to do audiobook production at a small publishing company?
Be ready to make things happen on your own. Unlike big publishing houses where money and space is more available, you have to make do with what you’ve got. More importantly, you can’t always guarantee yourself another gig so it’s always good to keep looking for other projects or even pitching your own to the publishing house!
We’re proud to share that the British Science Fiction Association took on My Brother the Messiah, Martin Vopenka’s provocative sci-fi that combines technology, religion and human nature itself. It’s a stellar review that you can read in full here
‘The style and tone of this novel contrasts significantly with some dominant voices in English-language SF. It’s instructive comparing Vopenka’s style with recent US utopian novels like Kim Stanley Robinson’s Ministry of the Future (2020) and Cory Doctorow’s Walkaway (2017). The moral universe of the US novels seems broadly far less ambiguous than the one presented in My Brother the Messiah.’
This final statement is deserving of some elaboration.
In The Ministry of the Future and Walkaway, the salvation of Earth’s people lies in technological advancement. The Ministry of the Future advocates geoengineering, which means altering the planet with technology to fight climate change. In Walkaway, highly advanced 3D printing undermines the power of an oppressive oligarchy.
This technocentric worldview is common in western Europe and America, I think – particularly when we conceptualise the climate crisis. We’re bombarded with information about harnessing green energies, and developing ever-improving recycling or waste apparatuses.
In My Brother the Messiah, such optimism is gone. The technocratic governments are ineffective or exacerbate the problems of Vopenka’s dying world. What’s striking about this is that it’s not pessimism, it’s grounded realism; technology hasn’t always been our salvation. The very mission of creating a utopia has caused some of our darkest days in history.
Modern sci-fi writers sometimes craft future worlds that are almost ‘post-religion’. Often, religion is used as a metaphor for complacency or ignorance; it’s conceptualised as the antithesis to technological progress. This couldn’t be farther from the case in My Brother the Messiah. Here, the spiritual movement centring on the ‘messiah’ Eli is multifaceted. It explores conviction and doubt, science and faith. It explores the internal dynamics of the religion and its public perception. Technology and religion are inextricably intertwined. These people have found faith not because they have betrayed rationalism, but because rationalism has betrayed humanity.
My Brother the Messiah challenges the entanglement of technology and salvation, and undermines the dichotomy of science and religion. This greyness is the fabric of our world today; that’s what makes this speculative sci-fi so special.
by George Biggs