Allegra’s Speech

On July 11, 2021 Allegra Fuller Snyder passed away, one day before her dad, Buckminster Fuller’s birthday and her parents’ wedding anniversary.

Allegra and her grandson in Korčula, Croatia in 2014 (Photo credit: Stephanie Smith)

I met Allegra for my first and last time during the 28th ICTM (International Council of Traditional Music) Symposium in Korčula, Croatia in 2014. She was accompanied by her grandson on that trip and she gave the closing speech to the symposium. A special address, which I managed to record snippets of. I didn’t know much about her then (I didn’t know much about anything as I was overwhelmed by my first participation in the international conference and being in Croatia for the first time), but I knew enough that she was saying something very important. So I recorded parts of it, on film and audio, thinking “I must listen to this sometime in the future“.

Now, the future has arrived.

“There is a good possibility that this is the last time I may be with you.” Opening of Allegra’s speech, 2014.

What strikes me about the speech she delivered 7 years ago on July 17, 2014 was the timeliness of the contents. She talked about “culture” as being a relatively new concept since the late 19th century — how it grew from a singular to a plural noun, “cultures”, through the work of Franz Boas, who conducted extensive ethnographic work with First Nations people in the Northwest Coast of British Columbia, Canada from 1886 to 1931. In her speech, Allegra warned us:

“Until quite recently, few in the developed world cared much about this cultural holocaust. The prevailing attitude has been that Western science, has little to learn from tribal knowledge… [Now] some scientists are beginning to recognize that the world is losing an enormous amount of basic research as Indigenous people lose their culture and traditions. We may someday be struggling to reconstruct this body of wisdom to secure the developed world’s future.”

Snyder, 2014

On May 27, 2021, Canada mourns as the remains of as many as 215 children were found at a former residential school in Kamloops, British Columbia. Since then, there has been a string of similar horrid discoveries across the country. From 1863 to as recent as 1998, more than 150,000 Indigenous children in Canada were forcefully removed from their families and placed in residential schools. The nationwide movement to “kill the Indian in the child” is akin to cultural holocaust, in Allegra’s term, which she has quoted from a Time magazine article in the early 1990s. The Indigenous people were robbed of their language and culture, many of which are at the brink of extinction. As we continue to mourn and struggle to come to terms with this painful colonial history, I am reminded of Allegra’s prophetic claim, that “we may someday be struggling to reconstruct this body of wisdom to secure the developed world’s future. I say we are in that struggle”.

As we speak, we are also living through the consequences of “the ecological issues raised by global warming and rainforest depletion” as mentioned by Allegra in her speech. On June 30, 2021, a massive fire wiped out the historic village of Lytton, which had been experiencing days of highest temperature ever recorded in Canada, reaching 49.6 °C (121.3 °F) the previous day. She ended her speech by saying, “Planet Earth needs you to survive”. This last sentence has somehow been omitted in the published transcript of her speech, but can be heard through the audio recording below:

Audio recording of Snyder’s ending her speech with “Planet Earth needs you to survive”, 2014.

Where do we go from here? What do we do now? Every passing of a legend calls upon a new generation of hope and discoveries made possible by the legacies left behind. I am grateful for the brief encounter we shared on the magical, historical island of Croatia. I pay my respect to this giant of a woman, despite her unassuming height and everything about her that put you at ease in her presence. I thank Allegra for the enormity of her spirit and most of all, for her gentle nudge that wakes us up nonetheless, to the fact how dance, nearly forgotten, remains the very essence of what empowers us as human beings.