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Date Posted: 01/10/06 21:52
Author Host/IP: 222-153-76-161.jetstream.xtra.co.nz/220.127.116.11
The Indigenous Way
We have repeatedly observed that the dominant western culture of humanity, imposed on much of the world, behaves immaturely from an evolutionary perspective. We also suggested it had something to learn from the organization and evolution of ecosystems, as well as from some of the non-technological indigenous and traditional cultures that have survived the colonial process and the more recent impetus to modernization. In this chapter we will explore the worldviews and knowledge of indigenous peoples to see why cooperation between indigenous and industrial humanity is so important at this critical time in our evolution as the body of humanity.
Indigenous cultures are generally held to be non-industrial cultures with ancient roots in their land, though some have been migratory and others forcibly displaced. Their cultures range from very simple material lifestyles to extensive historical urban/rural systems such as Maya, Inca and Aztec. For all their great diversity, we will see that they do hold some common elements of worldview and values that unite them with each other and distinguish them from modern or post-modern industrial cultures, which are also diverse, yet united by their basic worldview and values.
In today's world, there are very few even relatively intact indigenous cultures. Yet we do have indigenous people to whom traditional knowledge and ways have been passed on and who live by this knowledge. This knowledge represents a relationship with the rest of our living planet that has been essentially rejected by industrial culture, yet is very relevant to our healthy future.
Let us begin with the historical perspectives of two indigenous cultures that have ancient teachings concerning their relationship with industrial cultures: The Hopi Indians of North America and the Kogi of South America.
The Hopi have an ancient prophecy predicting our present and future, reported, among other places, in Rudolf Kaiser's book Voice of the Great Spirit. Part of this prophecy tells the history of the Red and White Brothers, sons of the Earth Mother and the Great Spirit who gave them different missions. The Red Brother was to stay at home and keep the land in sacred trust while the White Brother went abroad to record things and make inventions.
One day the White Brother was to return and share his inventions in a spirit of respect for the wisdom his Red Brother had gained. It was told that his inventions would include cobwebs through which people could speak to each other from house to house across mountains, even with all doors and windows closed. There would be carriages crossing the sky on invisible roads, and eventually a gourd of ashes that when dropped would scorch the earth, burning everything, even the fishes in the sea.
If the White Brother's ego grew so large in making these inventions that he would not listen to the wisdom of the Red Brother, he would bring this world to an end in the Great Purification of nature. Only a few would survive to bring forth the next world in which there would again be abundance and harmony. (It should be mentioned that not all Hopi approve of having any part of this prophecy in print; the author apologizes to anyone who may be offended by this citation of other written sources.)
The Kogi Indians of Colombia have a similar historical scenario in their creation story, told as part of the BBC film made by Alan Ereira, called Message from the Heart of the World: the Elder Brother's Warning. According to the Kogi, the Great Mother Aluna is the primeval waters and the source of all creation. Even before creating worlds, she lived through all possibilities for all worlds and all times through great mental anguish. For this she is known as Memory and Possibility. The eight worlds she created previous to this one were not peopled, but in this ninth world she put humans, including Elder and Younger Brothers.
From the beginning, Younger Brother caused so much trouble that eventually he was given knowledge of technology and sent far, far away across the waters. Five hundred years ago, the Kogi say, he found his way back across the waters and he has been causing trouble again ever since. If he does not listen to the Kogi, who see themselves as Elder Brother, and stop destroying the Mother, stop digging out her heart with his mining and cutting up her liver with his deforestation, he will bring this world to an end.
From the Hopi and Kogi perspectives, we see that present human existence is dominated by the white or younger brother of their ancient stories. He is industrial man as we have seen him in earlier chapters, creating a technological society founded on a mechanical worldview and scientific discovery. We have seen that his technological way of life, for all its benefits, has brought us to the brink of disaster. In this chapter we will see that his ways stand in sharp contrast to many indigenous and traditional peoples' worldviews, value systems and lifestyles which are only now beginning to be recognized as valid in their own right and possibly critical for our very survival as a species.
The Hopi, with the help of many friends, made forty-five years of effort trying to tell their prophecy orally in the United Nations, succeeding at last in 1993, at the beginning of the UN Year of Indigenous Peoples. Their prophecy does not suggest we would be better off without industrial society. It does suggest that the wisdom and knowledge of indigenous peoples must provide the context in which we make, use and dispose of industrial goods if we are to survive. This view of things from their perspective is consistent with our own growing understanding of the need for ecologically sustainable development, as discussed in the next chapter.
It is important to understand why the UN resisted Hopi efforts to give their message for so long. Only if indigenous nations were granted sovereignty and recognized as nations could they have UN member status. In the meantime, the UN struggles to define their status and rights, given that they exist within member nations who do not wish to grant them this sovereignty.
Historically, the European colonial "White/Younger Brother" had seized the lands of the Hopi, the Kogi and most other indigenous cultures around the world on grounds dating back to a Papal Bull of 1493 stating that infidels had no land rights, while Christians did. Indigenous peoples were defined as part of the `brute nature' the Europeans were to conquer and subdue; thus their territories were reduced to reservations within the boundaries of United Nations' member nations. Since this colonial process began, the Euro-American culture has perpetuated the dogma that indigenous people were backward, ignorant and impoverished before the white man's benign intervention. Jerry Mander and Chief Oren Lyons have both documented this unfair and brutal historical process with respect to indigenous North Americans.
Technological culture defines itself as progressive and non-technological cultures as backward and ignorant, thus taking the stance: What advice could they possibly give us? Only now, when we begin to understand how essential diversity is to the very survival of living systems, do we open ourselves to respect for different worldviews and the choice of different lifestyles.
The Hopi and the Kogi are only two among many indigenous cultures that have ancient prophecies of man's destruction of nature as well as present evaluations of our global crisis. These two in particular foretold not only nature's destruction at this time, but specifically identified, as we saw above, the inventive, technological branch of humanity as responsible because it fails to heed the sacred Earth knowledge and wisdom so vital to indigenous peoples. Yet neither the Hopi nor the Kogi tell us that technology is bad in itself, that we should abandon it and "go back to nature," living as they did. Both Hopi and Kogi validate technology as an important aspect of humanity, simply warning us that it must be brought into harmony with the sacred natural world.
How did these indigenous peoples know the crisis technology would bring on? Why is it that the science on which our technological world is based -- the science which so prides itself on its ability to predict -- failed to predict its own consequences while indigenous cultures saw where it would lead?
The failure of industrial society's scientists to predict the consequences of their technology is directly related to the mechanical/materialist worldview in which that technology was developed -- a worldview fundamentally different from the organic worldviews of indigenous peoples. In the worldview shared by indigenous peoples everywhere, despite many differences in its formulation, the universe, nature, is alive and sacred. All beings within it are related and interdependent: the stars, the rocks, the waters, the winds, the creatures, the people, the spirits and so on.
The human role is to hold nature sacred and to live in a balanced way within it, to give back as much as is taken while pursuing social and spiritual development. There is no concept of waste and no waste accumulation. In many cases there is deliberate avoidance of material accumulation of any kind. The Northwest American potlatch ceremonies were designed as giveaways to distribute accumulated goods so that no one would be burdened by owning too many of them.
The scientific worldview of the conquering industrializing cultures held that the universe is fundamentally lifeless, with life happening by accident on the surface of this planet. In this view, which we have deeply explored, the role of science is to study nature objectively -- as though from outside -- and reduce its machinery to basic parts in order to understand it. One of the basic laws of nature in this view is the law of entropy discussed in Chapter 14, a law stating that everything in nature is running down, a law of unsustainability. The purpose of science is to gain control over nature by exploiting it for human purposes -- converting it to food production and the manufacture of goods to improve life. Development is thus focused on material production.
The indigenous worldview, of nature as fundamentally alive and sacred, often represented it by the symbol of a circle: the unbroken sacred hoop of life. In many indigenous cultures the basic laws of nature were formulated in accordance with what we now call sustainability: laws of balance, harmony, mutual sustenance, of returning in equal measure for whatever you take.
Understanding the world as a single, interconnected and interdependent living system, the Hopi and Kogi knew that the consequences of the White or Younger Brother's destructive ways would necessarily be disastrous. He took from nature, often leaving scars upon it, produced things and threw away wastes. He did not notice the circularity of nature: that the wastes actually closed a loop, becoming part of his environment, poisoning it if the wastes were poisonous. In the `sacred hoop' view, there was no concept of waste and whatever was put back into the environment was useful to other species -- an excellent life insurance policy for any species, as we pointed out earlier -- one followed by the species of mature ecosystems.
No wonder indigenous people noticed the White Brother's failure to restore what he destroyed, and were able to predict the consequences thereof. He mowed down great forests, plowed up the earth to grow food, made gaping holes in it to mine minerals, and dumped wastes onto land and into clean rivers. The Kogi, in particular, could see the mining and cutting of forests below the mountain on which they lived. The more devastation below, the fewer the clouds which used to rise from the forests bringing rain to their lands, which literally dried out before their eyes, forcing them ever higher and closer to the water's source in the dwindling snows.
Indigenous peoples were humble about their place in nature, while industrial society was founded on the conviction that European man was master of all nature and would bring about a Golden Age by conquering, subduing and transforming nature to his own ends. Its founding philosopher John Locke clearly stated, "The negation of nature is the road to happiness," and indigenous people were negated along with the rest of nature.
Only now, when we are in critical danger do we look back to understand the history of the White/Younger Brother's destruction of indigenous cultures, as well as of whole ecosystems, to build his technological world -- a world in which nature has been seen only as a supply base and a dumping ground, a polluted world which testifies to the White Brother's failure to respect the Red Brother's sacred Earth wisdom. A world we now recognize as unsustainable.
· · ·
"How, how can we explain to the Younger Brother so that he will understand?" a Kogi elder laments in Ereira's film. Will he listen in time?
The image of indigenous peoples as backward and ignorant stands in the way. Their philosophies are still largely ignored, their lands are still under seige as dumping grounds for toxic wastes, in both Canada and the U.S., or for mining. . Elders who deserved to be treated as national treasures die in poverty. As of this writing, almost all traditional Hopi elders have died; Roberta Blackgoat, a Dineh (Navajo) grandmother in her advanced eighties, good friend of the Hopi, suffers the theft and deliberate injury of her animals decade after decade in efforts to force her from her home. When the Rockefeller Family reevaluated the basis of their philanthropy some years ago, the president of its well-known foundation repeatedly cited indigenous philosophy for its guiding principles to a better world. Yet indigenous people remain among the poorest in the U.S. and still suffer evictions from their own lands in the name of profits.
Unfortunately, indigenous histories are generally known not through their peoples' own telling, but by anthropological reports. It has been widely assumed that non-technological peoples, many of whom have no written language, do not know their own histories and were not smart enough to develop technologies.
A case in point is that even the urbanized Mayans, Aztecs and Incas with their sophisticated cultures and high arts were seen as backward on the grounds that they did not even invent the wheel. The Incas at least did understand the possibilities of wheels, using them on children's toys, though never for transport. Perhaps burdened slaves were seen as more appropriate to the task of transport. Perhaps the sacred hoop of life was forbidden as a mundane technology. It is instructive to recall that ancient Greeks, even when inventing technology under duress, as in the case of Archimedes' war machines, did not write down the plans. Technology, based as it is on geometry, was considered to be God's sacred art and was forbidden to man, though the Greeks obviously exempted the wheel. The Incas apparently did not.
It is difficult for people born into technological culture to imagine anyone preferring a simple, non-technologically developed lifestyle in a natural setting, with few possessions. Yet, most indigenous people of the Stone Age, as Marshall Sahlins points out, worked very few hours to make a good living. To prefer the leisure time granted by choosing not to be a consumption-oriented society is seen by our own consumer society as laziness; to do without material wealth is seen as deprivation.
Sarah James, a Gwich'in Indian from the northernmost inhabited village of Alaska made the arduous trip to Rio de Janeiro for the Earth Summit of 1992. She described her caribou culture before contact with the white man as rich -- rich with family, warm homes and clothing, plentiful food, much time for ceremony, music, dance and story telling, much reason for celebration.
When the white man came to them, he saw only people living in forty degrees below zero weather, with nothing but caribou to provide food, clothing, implements and skin huts. He called them savages and brought them canned goods, junk food, alcohol and real poverty. Sarah beat her caribou skin drum, sang her welcoming skin hut dance song, and smiled broadly as she shouted "Let's keep Alaska savage!"
Her traditional lifestyle had been truly rewarding -- its natural simplicity an integral part of a spiritually rich culture. Her people honored the caribou as their brothers and kept the herds healthy in turn for their gifts. Like hers, most remaining indigenous communities have lost their old values and communal lifestyles, the allure of modern culture pulling strongly, especially to the young. The conflicts within indigenous communities over this issue are heated as efforts to revive traditional lifestyles compete with the trend to assimilation and modernization. One can only hope the traditional values will be incorporated into whatever lifestyles result.
· · ·
After colonialism disrupted and often destroyed the indigenous cultures of Africa, the Americas, Australia, Asia and the Arctic, their remnants were judged as though they represented the original cultures. This has led to much misunderstanding. When communities are broken up and/or dislocated, their social integrity, traditions, ecological practices and health are disrupted as well.
One popular belief we hold about native peoples is that they all had short lifespans due to their backward existence. Indigenous people's lifespans `B.C.' -- a native term meaning Before Contact -- as reported by these cultures, were ignored. Instead, statistics on life expectancy were taken after respiratory and other diseases brought in by colonists decimated infants and children, and often older people. The average life span of Tewa Indians in the U.S. Southwest, for example, was given by the Spanish settlers after contact as 40. Along with this Spanish missionary statistic, it was reported that half the children died of respiratory diseases before the age of four. That leaves the average life span of the survivors of imported disease as 78!
The Kogi bury people who have not reached the age of 96 with strings coming out of their graves so the spirits can leave when their allotted lives are complete. Hopi elders are expected to reach one hundred years and more, and they still do. Shuar Indians say 120 is a normal death age. People from northern white cultures now travel to the Amazon to learn the secrets of longevity.
Unfortunately they are going late, as indigenous cultures are disappearing faster than ever. Many indigenous groups today are fighting or acquiescing to their own extinction. At this writing the Guarani Kaiowa of Jaguapire, in Brazil's Mato Grosso del Sul threaten collective suicide as other Guarani have already done in the face of forced eviction from legally held tribal lands and the murder of leaders. In Ecuador multinational oil companies scramble to take over other tribal lands, of the Huarani, Shuar, and others, extracting oil messily in a country without environmental safeguards. The last pristine headwaters of the Amazon are in these territories, being covered one by one in oil slicks as the natives die from disease and destruction. North American volunteers, shocked by the situations of indigenous people in South America, have tried to help them. Some, like indigenous people opposing these processes themselves, have been murdered for their activities.
Linguists estimate that half the languages of the world are already extinct, and that in one more generation half of those left will be gone. Human diversity is crashing even faster than bioregions are destroyed. The Hopi, the Kogi, the last free-living Aborigines all tell us that they can no longer keep the world in balance through their prayers and ceremonies. The White/Younger brother is too powerful and must now come to his senses or complete the destruction.
In North America, as in other parts of the world, the indigenous survivors of colonial policies forced onto reservations were deprived of their natural economic bases. In Canada, some Indians could get title to their lands only if they `improved' them by stripping them of trees. In the United States, bulldozers ripped out the pinion trees that provided the sustenance of the Shoshone and the animals of Dine'h (Navajo) shepherds are destroyed even today in efforts at forced relocation of people in order to mine their lands.
Native peoples' religious practices were outlawed until 1978 in a country founded on religious freedom; their traditional governments dismantled, outlawed and replaced by Tribal Councils designed by the U.S. government. Consequently, many native nations are divided by conflicts between such councils and traditional, if `illegitimate' leadership.
1992, the Quincentennial Celebration year of Columbus' first voyage to the Americas and the year of the Rio Earth Summit with its worldwide meeting of indigenous peoples -- in addition to the world's governments and non-governmental organizations -- brought indigenous issues into the public eye as never before.
The systematic destruction of native people and cultures is at least now well documented, though still not widely known. Precisely because it is not common knowledge, confusion still exists about what real indigenous cultures were. It is as inappropriate to judge indigenous cultures by the worst behavior we find among their abused and impoverished survivors as it is to glamorize them, to sell their ceremonies, their portraits and their art for profit, with few exceptions giving little or no return to their creators. The point is not to romanticize indigenous people, who have been and are as human as all others, but to acknowledge and learn from their traditional best -- from their deeply spiritual respect for and scientific knowledge of nature.
· · ·
To be respected by the dominant culture of the White Brother, knowledge must be scientific. For this reason it is important to show that indigenous people indeed have scientific knowledge.
Science is defined by Merriam Webster's Collegiate Dictionary (10th edition, 1993) as "the state of knowing" or "a department of systematized knowledge as an object of study." This definition certainly includes indigenous knowledge. The American Heritage Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language (3rd edition, 1992) defines science as "the observation, identification, description, experimental investigation and theoretical explanation of phenomena." This is a bit more precise, yet a good description of what indigenous people do that is appropriately dignified with the label `science.'
As defined by the Oxford English Dictionary, science is "the state of knowing", or "knowledge as opposed to belief or opinion," knowledge, that is, "acquired by study." The OED continues explaining that science is "in a more restricted sense: a branch of study which is concerned either with a connected body of demonstrated truths or with observed facts systematically classified and more or less colligated by being brought under general laws, and which include trustworthy methods for the discovery of new truth within its own domain." Detailed as this definition is, there is nothing in it to exclude indigenous science.
While native scientists do not do science in laboratories, they do systematically acquire scientific knowledge through observation, experiment and theoretical explanation in a framework of natural law. Dr. Greg Cajete, a Tewa Indian educator and author from the Santa Clara Pueblo observes that the white man does science in a "low-context environment," isolating phenomena to study them outside their natural context, in a laboratory, while the red man does science in a "high-context environment," studying phenomena within their natural context.
He explains that the reason for this difference has to do with the purpose of science in the two cultures. While both do science in pursuit of knowledge based on real observation and experiment, the white man removes phenomena from their natural context to study them in laboratories because he seeks knowledge enabling him to control nature for his own purposes, while the red man leaves what he studies in place because he seeks knowledge that will permit him to integrate himself harmoniously into nature. Indigenous scientists have always known the participatory universe, while the industrial culture's scientists only recently discovered it, now understanding that the pure objectivity considered so fundamental to doing good science was illusory.
Indigenous science is thus participatory -- fostering dialogue between humans and the rest of nature. It is taught to all people, not as something learned in limited years of schooling, but as a lifelong task, though its specialists -- such as medicine people who are both researchers and practitioners -- spend many years in formal and rigorous training.
Industrial era science consciously and carefully divorced itself from religion for reasons of historical conflict with the church. Efforts to resolve this conflict are being made by scientific theologians such as Thomas Berry and Matthew Fox, who integrate the modern scientific story of cosmology and planetary evolution into religion, by physicists such as Brian Swimme and Stephen Hawking, who comfortably talk about God, by philosophers such as Ken Wilber.
It is noteworthy that on both sides -- religion and science -- these efforts are seen as integrating the separate concepts of God and Nature. In most indigenous belief systems, God as Creator and Nature were never separated, as Creator was the very essence of Nature, just as we discover today. Many indigenous people are puzzled by industrial culture's separative tendencies, with their arguments, for instance, about whether God exists outside or inside the natural world. They ponder our strange separations -- our divisions of our lifestyles into separate categories of science, religion, economics, politics, ecology, arts, etc.
One Meshika grandmother, Xilonem Garcia, has said "Anyone who knows how to run a household knows how to run a world." She understands fractal biology -- that patterns repeat at different levels, and that a healthy living system must run by the same principles no matter what size and scope it has. Consider the definitions given earlier of ecology and economy as `organization of the household' and `operating rules of the household.' This native elder understands that they cannot be separated.
The point of this discussion is not to show one science or cultural pattern superior to another, but to recognize that there can no more be one true science than one true religion. In Chapter 12 we discussed the impossibility of any single true worldview. Science itself is a mapping activity -- its theories are testable maps to the underlying reality filtered into our minds through our limited senses. We make many different kinds of actual maps, all valid. We do not expect a pilot to fly by a road map, a driver to drive by a weather map, or a weather forecaster to predict weather from a topographical map. We make our maps for different purposes, just as indigenous and industrial scientists make their scientific descriptions of the world for different purposes.
What matters is which sciences we consider when we want to achieve these varied purposes. Indigenous science may offer little to the design of a radio telescope or new computer operating system, but it may be extremely useful if we want to know how to survive as a healthy part of nature. In Chapter 20 we will see that sustainable agriculture, for example, may better be based on indigenous and traditional techniques than on costly and destructive hi-tech farming.
· · ·
By the fields recognized in western science, indigenous sciences include biology, geology, astronomy, navigation, meteorology, botany, medicine/pharmacology, psychology, agricultural engineering, plant genetics, ecology, social and political sciences, all based on as much as thousands of years of observations and experiments. Such sciences have contributed enormously to modern knowledge. Jack Weatherford has documented many examples of the very widespread fruits of indigenous science in our modern civilization, from aspirin and freeze-dried potatoes to the political science of our own constitutional democracy.
The political science of the Haudenosaunee contributed much to the democratic Constitution of the United States, as the September 1987 National Geographic Magazine and the later work of work of scholars such as Oren Lyons, Vine Deloria, Jerry Mander and Jack Weatherford, have documented. The founders of the U.S. were refugees from European tyrannies. It was among the Indians of the Haudenosaunee League, whom they called Iroquois, that they -- especially Benjamin Franklin -- found democratic principles and practices at work. The Haudenosaunee League was a peaceful and democratic federation of tribes that had been historically at odds with each other. Unfortunately, while adopting these Indians' democratic forms -- there were no democratic government role models in Europe -- the founding fathers left out the equal role of women in governance, as well as the role of children and the sacred contract with nature.
Among the Haudenosaunee, chiefs were selected by grandmothers, who had watched them grow up and knew who would serve their people well. It was also the power of the grandmothers to remove chiefs from their positions if they did not govern and keep ceremony as they should. More generally, women participated equally in all decisions. The Haudenosaunee, like indigenous peoples everywhere, used the sacredness of nature as their guidepost to what should or should not be done by humans. To be sacred is to be inviolable, to be treated with utmost respect. To have a sacred contract with nature is to care for it, protect it, give back for what you take.
Indigenous and traditional communities were necessarily aware of the ecosystems in which they lived. Current anthropological/archeological interest in demonstrating the demise of cultures such as the Maya through their own environmental devastation is inconsistent with their sophisticated level of agricultural knowledge. Droughts not controllable by humans are another matter, and a drought phase lasting hundreds of years is far more likely to have caused the demise of the Mayans.
Some native techniques, such as burning small forest areas, farming them a few years, then moving on, were considered destructive until recently, when our own scientists recognized the value of controlled burning to forest health. The Amazon Kayapo and many other rainforest peoples in other parts of the world carefully included in their gardens plants and trees that would insure the rapid regrowth of forest on each such plot.
Hunting buffalo by driving herds over cliffs is another example used to demonstrate ecological malpractice among Indians. This was indeed a real, though difficult and dangerous practice among a few tribes. Vastly fewer buffalo were killed this way than by the colonists' practice of shooting them by the thousands from trains. All dead animals were fully used by Indians rather than being left to rot as in the latter case. It is true that some young Indians today hunt recklessly when allowed. They fear their hunting privileges may be taken away again at any time. As Haida elder and former leader of the Haida Nation Lavina White (Tthow-Gwelth) said in a speech at a 1990 University of Calgary conference:
To my people, all creation is sacred and our religion is to live in harmony with nature. But... we've had no control over anything, not even our own lives, for a long time. We've been held captive in a reserve system that has no economic base, and we have been unable to live as we should be able to. Before contact -- before interference from white men -- there was order, and we assumed such order existed throughout the world. ... Some people are worried about how we are going to treat wildlife if we ever get control of our lives again, worried that there would be a lot of abuse. That's untrue historically and...I would like to assure you that our philosophies wouldn't permit us to carry on in that way. Even if there were some people wanting to do that, they wouldn't be able to for very long. If we got our systems back, we could deal with those sorts of things.
· · ·
Because we are accustomed to equating science and technology with mechanical instruments, machinery and all the material products of our culture, it is difficult for us to grasp the enormous scientific and technological prowess of peoples who consciously and deliberately kept their material goods to a minimum in order to live in ecologically sound ways. An Amazon Indian child may learn to distinguish literally hundreds of species of bees by their appearance and behavior. A trained medicine person would have as detailed knowledge of psychology, traumas, illnesses and medicines as any technological society doctor, though this knowledge is orally and experientially acquired and its practice does not depend on hospitals with their technological support systems.
Manuel Cordoba, a Brazilian rubber tapper kidnapped as a boy early this century, learned the medicine he practiced all his life from Amazon Indians, as documented by Bruce Lamb. In Cordoba's advanced age, he was called in when doctors failed to cure the chairman of the Medical School at the University of Lima of a terminal illness. Cordoba succeeded, using only indigenous knowledge and medicines. He was offered a professorship at the university, but declined. Today drug companies buy up rights to exploit the Amazon for medicines, patenting them on discovery.
'Invisible' technology appears magical to those not trained to use it, especially in the realm of healing. Many Amazon medicine men use the hallucinogen known as ayahuasca, made from several varieties of Banisteriopsis vine, to diagnose in detail the physiological problems of their patients, as Cordoba was taught to do. In the hands of trained practitioners, it can be used to unite minds and bodies such that detailed knowledge can be transferred directly among people and other species. Cordoba was even able to telepathically transmit specific physiological information to his wife, who had not taken the ayahuasca. These abilities have now been researched by Fred Alan Wolf and other western scientists.
Amazon hunters also use ayahuasca visions to locate and communicate with animals prior to hunting them. In Canada, some Indian hunters dream the hunt before going on it, without the aid of hallucinogens. Such a hunter sees the animal willing to sacrifice its life and makes a sacred contract with it in the dream, to give its life. He tells the other hunters how and where to find it, making the actual hunt efficient. He teaches tracking and the making of weapons as well as how to dream. In industrial cultures our great men sometimes say they got information through dreams, as with the scientist Kekule's carbon ring, or some of Einstein's theories. But we write these off as quirks of genius, and show interest only in the formulas that can be written. We do not ask them to teach students to dream.
Polynesian navigators of the Pacific Ocean have traversed its waters for thousands of years without benefit of compass. These navigators knew astronomy for navigation by stars, had sophisticated knowledge of both deep and surface currents, cloud and weather patterns and fish and bird migrations to guide their swift, elegant outrigger canoes over vast stretches of ocean. They were also trained to detect magnetic fields directly in their bodies to give them the compass directions migrating animals have. They could sense their proximity to land, or, as one such navigator said, "stand tall in your canoe, until you see where the land is." Nowadays that is called remote viewing and has been much researched by the U.S. military. Thirty indigenous Pacific nations have recreated their traditional sea-going vessels in recent years in order to retrace ancient voyages using the same techniques.
Much indigenous science is based on centuries and even millennia of observation passed on through time, generating laws of relationship. Hopi observations in geology and meteorology, for example, led to the understanding that underground copper deposits in the Southwest act as lightning rods, drawing down lightning and bringing life-giving rains to the desert. They know that mining can change weather patterns as surely as the Kogi know that deforestation and mining are drying the climate around them so their mountains no longer have adequate snow to feed the rivers on which their crops and lives depend. Both cultures have observed the destruction while the white man saw only the copper and the gold that would bring him wealth.
Australian aboriginal tribes have also observed changes in their outback desert habitat over time -- an ongoing trend of decreased rain, increased heat, the reduction of plant and animal reproduction. Of all indigenous peoples, these Aborigines may play the most conscious roles of all in the co-creation of their environments. Many people have by now seen their beautiful dot paintings, but few have understood their significance, which can be learned only by deep relationship with these cultures.
Like Tibetan or Dineh (Navajo) sand paintings, the Aborigines' paintings are traditionally made not on canvases, but on the ground, to be blown away or dissolved back into their place. Each painter is responsible all his or her life to a particular species or element of the land, painting it, in its context, again and again. The painting process itself is a ceremony that takes weeks, and includes ritual song and dance. Its purpose in an Aborigine community is to consciously connect it with all the elements of a particular ecosystem, from sand and rock to microbes, plants and animals, and help bring it into being from source consciousness -- sometimes called Dream Time -- moment by moment.
Such understanding of creation has been completely foreign and apparently superstitious to Euro-Americans. Only now, with the latest discoveries of physics, does it begin to make sense and demonstrate the advanced knowledge we were incapable of comprehending. Deep dialogue between the remaining traditional Aborigine elders and western theoretical physicists and biologists could lead to new breakthroughs.
This book takes the optimistic position that it is not too late to learn from the ways of nature and the scientific knowledge of indigenous peoples, with their deep ecological wisdom. Cooperation between indigenous and industrial society, based on mutual respect, can help us identify destructive technologies and make useful technologies ecologically sound. It can even lead to advances in our knowledge of how the universe and out own planet create themselves and function, as we have just seen. The White Brother's inventive genius is enormous and capable of solving the greatest problems we face, if it is augmented by the Red Brother's deep knowledge and wisdom.
copyright © 1999 by Elisabet Sahtouris
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