In the eastern Eirian province of Krastalen, an unusual grouping of climate protesters, Unitist clergy, and elderly locals have been picketing several government buildings and commercial offices all over the province, steadily increasing in number. Their cause? Protecting a local monument, called Lei Ašala dei Atnē, that has been recently threatened by demolition plans.
Lei Ašala dei Atnē, located on Gelōs Beach, not far outside Merēta, is a large cave that looks out on the sea. It was initially a natural cave filled with naturally-occuring stalactites and other natural formations. In 1734, it was cleared out by locals, who carved deliberate shapes and intricate patterns into the strong stone walls. But these were not purely artistic carvings. This cavern is steeped in rich Eirian culture and history, and its purpose is far more nuanced than what meets the eye. The patterns etched in the stone amplify every sound made in the cavern, causing loud echoes to disperse over the vast ocean. But why would so much effort be put into honing the acoustics of a seaside cave?
Lei Ašala dei Atnē is, as is described, a particular kind of Eirian site called an ašala. The word ašala comes from a contraction of the Eirian words for tear and cave, hinting at its true purpose. These caverns were used as a unique combination of a performance hall and a mourning place, where grieving locals would come to perform a haunting ritual: singing Čanetasei dei Ašarei – “Songs of tears.” These songs, often a melodic, yet desperate string of wails, cries, and words, offered (and still offer) catharsis to those who lost loved ones.
Ašalasei (plural of “ašala”) are most often found along the coastline, where residents of the seaside communities would mourn spouses, family, and friends in a deeply personal song. Historically, the widows of sailors used them most commonly. However, they were still often used by people from all walks of life. Lei Ašala dei Atnē even bears a now famous inscription on its rear wall that drives home its usage by a wide range of mourners: “Nave reka tut” (“Death takes all”).
Often, many ašalasei are protected in national parks or under historic site laws. However, Lei Ašala dei Atnē has been in private hands for years under the protection of the historically noble Atnē family. The family of former merchant baron fame has maintained the site for many generations, passing ownership down the line to family members who cared for the site’s rich history. As such, as the ašala was well-preserved, protected, and still accessible to the public(at the will of the Atnē family), it fell off the radar of public officials, who trusted that the site would be taken care of for years to come.
Unfortunately, Yexus Atnē, who took care of the property for over forty years with his friends and proteges, died two months ago at the age of eighty-three. As he had no close heirs, his estate passed over to a distant cousin, Steven Atnē-Smith, an affluent stockbroker in Geminus. A few weeks after Yexus’s passing, Atnē-Smith announced a plan to demolish the ašala to build an oceanside resort on the property. This plan was met with immediate backlash from several prominent activists and social figures, from local politicians to clergy members.
“This plan would be a disgusting waste of Eirian cultural heritage. We cannot let our history be destroyed because a stockbroker wants to start a new side business!” Ćorinne Morel, an environmental activist active in Merēta, told our local affiliate, while brandishing a sign reading “Save our history! Remember Yexus!” She then went on to implore any Eirian watching to speak up against the destruction of the cavern and “not let the memory of so many fallen loved ones be defiled this way.”
Hannah Zvirbule, a Provincial Senator and member of the Green Party representing the area, put forward a motion yesterday to declare Lei Ašala dei Atnē a Cultural Heritage Site, permanently protecting it from destruction. If approved, this would be only the second time in the provincial history that private property has been declared a Cultural Heritage Site against the owner’s wishes. Steven Atnē-Smith has not replied to any requests for comment on the situation.