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Home » The Human Element » Hunger Stones: “If You See Me, Weep”

Hunger Stones: “If You See Me, Weep”

PortandTerminal.com, September 27, 2020

If water levels dipped low enough to reveal an old carving, it would signal to locals that dry, hungry times – similar to the date marked on the stone – were coming

HALIFAX, NOVA SCOTIA – A hunger stone (German: Hungerstein) is a type of hydrological landmark common in Central Europe. Put simply, they are warnings engraved on rocks in waterways that emerge only when the water levels dip low enough to reveal them. Their purpose is to act as a warning to future generations that they will have to endure famine-related hardships if the water sinks to this level again.

Hunger stones were erected in Germany and in ethnic German settlements throughout Europe in the 15th through 19th centuries, although there are written records of one example dating back to 1115 – it’s current location unknown.

One famous example in the Elbe river in Děčín, Czech Republic, has “Wenn du mich siehst, dann weine” (lit. “If you see me, weep”) carved into it as a warning.

The hunger stone on the Elbe River in Děčín, Czech Republic. It's earliest carving dates back to 1616
The hunger stone on the Elbe River in Děčín, Czech Republic. It’s earliest carving dates back to 1616

The stone measures approximately 210 ft3 and is carved with different years of drought. The oldest readable carving is from 1616, with older carvings (1417 and 1473) having been wiped out by anchoring ships during the years. It is one of the oldest hydrological landmarks in the Elbe river.

The stone also features the Czech sentence „Neplač holka, nenaříkej, když je sucho, pole stříkej“ (lit. “Girl, don’t weep and moan, if it’s dry, water the field”), probably added in 1938. 

Other examples of hunger stones:

Tsunami Stones

“High dwellings are the peace and harmony of our descendants,” the rock slab says. “Remember the calamity of the great tsunamis. Do not build any homes below this point.”(T.KISHIMOTO, via Wikimedia Commons.)

The opposite of a hunger stone would have to be the Tsunami Stones, hundreds of which dot Japan’s coastline, warning the carvers’ descendants to seek high ground after earthquakes in case they foreshadow destructive waves.

Planted decades or even centuries ago, they commemorate past disasters and warn residents of future ones.

“High dwellings are the peace and harmony of our descendants,” the rock slab says. “Remember the calamity of the great tsunamis. Do not build any homes below this point.”

Over the decades, the stones’ warnings were disregarded or forgotten by many as coastal towns boomed and people placed their faith in massive seawalls built by the Japanese government. But in some places like Aneyoshi, residents still heeded the tsunami stones’ warnings.

“Everybody here knows about the markers. We studied them in school,” 12-year-old Yuto Kimura told the Associated Press in 2011. “When the tsunami came, my mom got me from school and then the whole village climbed to higher ground.”

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