The Indispensability of Indigeneity

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Part 3 of -WEIRD Diaspora and Responsible ‘Return’-

‘Indigenous’ is one of those words that often gets thrown around, misconceived and misused a lot. A simple dictionary definition of Indigenous is “originating or occurring naturally in a particular place; native”, yet there are many conflicting opinions on the words meaning. So why is it that aside from in relation to a few groups such as Scandinavia’s Saamis and Greenland’s Inuits, it’s so rare to see associations of the word with european populations?

In part 2, I explored a way of seeing reality as a process of continuous change and flow. Seeing that even the most seemingly stubborn objects are in actuality events. Coming in and out of being through the flux of spacetime.
Following this logic, it really hits home that places too are not simply solid unchanging objectified segments of land, water or sky, but are dynamic processes of relationships ever changing and flowing.
You can never step in the same river twice.
Nothing stands still.

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All is movement

Furthermore, I suggest that a people and their culture aren’t simply indigenous or not, in a simplistic binary perspective. Instead I suggest a definition that sees indigeneity as a measure of degree in how well attuned, adaptive and responsive a cultural organism is to its context in spacetime.

A highly Indigenous culture is one that is intimately acquainted with and in appropriate relationship to its dynamically dancing environmental situation.
This includes factors such as living in sync with natural rhythms of a region’s seasonal cycles and the behavioral patterns of other beings that cohabit within them.

A dualistic worldview — that fundamentally denies that an intrapenetrating relationship between mind and matter even exists — is therefore incapable of grasping the deeper intricacies of such a dynamic web of life process.
Incapable in being in a relationship of healthy participation with the rest of its environment.
Instead there is a tendency to cast nature as ‘other’ — as something to be dominated and extracted from — and so impoverishes its own capacities of indigeneity.

A similar but contrasting word, Endogenous, refers to “substances and/or processes that originate from within a system”.
So I’d suggest that it’s possible for a culture to be endogenous to a particular place, without having a high indigenous affinity with it.

In his book ‘The Patterning Instinct’ Jeremy Lent Explores how core metaphors embedded in language affect how we think about and thus relate to the world.

“Lent speculates that dualistic frameworks articulated by western thinkers like Plato and Descartes fit into a broader pattern that sprouted from the legacy of prehistoric Proto-Indo-Europeans (PIE for short), thought to have been Eastern European steppe-dwellers and possibly the first to domesticate the horse. From their language (spoken 4500 BCE to 2500 BCE), all Indo-European languages are hypothesized to descend, including English, Greek, Spanish, German, Russian, Persian, and Punjabi, making it the parent tongue of nearly half the world’s population.”

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It’s hypothisised that this culture evolved a relatively increased tendency towards domination and violent warfare, which meant it had an adaptive advantage in battle over other cultures that it encountered. Although once such a cultural modality becomes so ‘successful’ that it reaches the level of a global civilisation on a finite planet, it has an inherently self-terminating nature (much like an over-successful virus that kills all potential hosts).

Here We glimpse distant roots of what has become today’s dominant patriarchal and extractivist globalised culture and a trend in worldview and self/other/world relational pattern, that today is often referred to as ‘whiteness’, which as Bayo Akomolafe points out well in his article ‘Dear White People’, is something unrestricted by skin tone.

Through the vehicles of imperialism and colonialism this worldview has been spread across the planet, permeating cultural values, languages, family/community organising structures, economic systems and spiritual beliefs of many other cultures and populations that it’s come into contact with — so that we can now no longer look at hardly any world culture in isolation from its influence.

This isn’t describing a kind of genetic determinism, but more the propagation and evolution of memetics. Which simply put is the study of how ideas and cultures spread and grow. (Although there are feedback loop dynamics between genes and memes)

Lent highlights that throughout the evolution of ‘Western’ civilisation there have often been “moonlight traditionsenvisioning the universe as dynamic and alive… But they were a minority. The dualistic framework focused on transcendence over matter and domination of nature”.

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Another extremely common feature of highly Indigenous cultures around the world, are the Shamans.

The sheer magnitude of our shamanic ancestry means one of two things: either shamanism originated once prior to the human diaspora some 70,000 years ago and has been preserved since, or it has arisen independently countless times in premodern human cultures… Their expertise in medicinal plants and associated healing practices extends from the physical to the psychological. This happens because many [highly indigenous] tribal cultures do not differentiate between the material and mental in the same way that modern [‘WEIRD’] science often does.

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Although they have become largely obscured, other more ancient traces of such practices in European history do remain, as researchers like Chiara Baldini explore. Although — as is often the case — history hasn’t been kind to those who did not well survive it.

In Europe and the US throughout the 15th to 18th centuries, the so-called ‘Witch hunts’ further cemented the dualistic bent of ‘Western’ modernisation, by uprooting much of what remained of European Indiginous cultural practices and worldviews.

The overwhelming majority of the estimated 30,000–100,000 victims of this violent persecution and genocide were Women.
As Silvia Federici explores in ‘Caliban and the Witch’, Many of the accusations of witchcraft were in reality veiled ploys by power seeking men, conspiring to enact social control and resource capture, in the transition to a capitalist economic system.

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However, many of the women accused were often singled out for traits such as having intimate knowledge of natural systems — such as medicinal use of plant and fungal life, having keenly attuned senses and deeply empathic capacities including (and often especially) towards non-human beings.

Interestingly there appear to be some of the parallels of the such traits within contemporary studies of an estimated 15–20% of the human population known as HSP’s (Highly Sensitive People) and others living with neurodivergent hearts and minds (and probably stomachs) such as myself.

I see an interesting co-occurrence of pockets of WEIRD cultures gradually learning how to re-integrate neurodivergence into their social fabrics, while at the same time their capacities for cultivating collective intelligence is also greatly accelerating.

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Some of these pockets emerging in WEIRD cultural contexts that seem to be moving away from dualism and tapping back into these more Ancient yet ever present, patterns of self/other/world relation, include emerging spheres such as Metamodern and Regenerative communities.

As is true for all cultures, these currently emerging cultural modes, trends and communities can’t simply be reduced to a singular dimension of development and compared with others solely along such lines.

There are of course numerous novel aspects and complexities of these cultural modes that are necessarily adaptive to contemporary contexts and reflect aspects of their Geohistorical and philosophical lineages and there is a lot more happening than simply a move away from dualism.
Yet I would suggest that many of the insights that distinguish them from more mainstream dualistic WEIRD cultural frameworks, highly resonate with similar trends in the worldviews of a multitude of highly indigenous cultures around the world, throughout the ages.

It’s important also to not fall into the trap of Golden ageism, where we fetishise distant cultures and gloss over the more dissonant aspects in an uncritical way. Holding up an idealised fantasy as our guiding star for progress.
There are plenty of aspects of past and present indigenous cultures that can be learnt from and integrated into a range of appropriate contexts, just as there are plenty of aspects of those same cultures that may be less appropriate for integration.
Which parts we choose to adopt or abandon would shift and change depending on our needs and wants in accordance with our shifting contexts.

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It seems to me as if the erasure of such deeply relational cultural lineages from WEIRD cultures, (as well as the kinds of practices and aesthetics that arise from them) is a likely key contributing factor of the phenomenon of cultural appropriation. As Cultural somatics practitioner Tada Hozumi puts it “Securities and insecurities in cultural attachment can manifest in patterns that parallel attachment patterns articulated in standard attachment theory. e.g. cultural appropriation can be seen as a behavior that arises from anxious cultural attachment.

There is of course a massive diversity among highly indigenous cultures around the world, yet as shown above, there are also some striking and significant similarities in many of their worldviews and the practices that co-emerge with them.
These kinds of rituals and associated experiences seem to hold a significant place in what it means to be human in deep relation with the rest of the world.
So the alienating void induced by the absence of such elements in a cultural constellation, drives people to seek them out elsewhere. Yet as Tada writes about , this all too often, this occurs in an extractive mode, which ends up damaging the targeted cultures, as can be seen in the effects of the ayahuasca tourism boom in many parts of South America.

This illusory divorce of humans from the rest of nature — a warped dualistic view that sees us as separate from the world, is deeply entangled with the current global meta-crisis — a crisis of self on a cultural scale.

Indigenous Knowledge Systems and Education

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While checking out a small book shop in the University city of Cape Coast in Ghana, One book in particular stood out from the shelf ‘Polishing The Pearls Of Ancient Wisdom: Exploring the relevance of endogenous African knowledge systems for the sustainable development in postcolonial Africa

The book is a collection of essays whose common focus is on the need for incorporating indigenous knowledge systems (IKS) in the development of educational systems.
It outlines how much of the educational content of African institutions is based on European derived knowledge systems.
One of the detrimental effects of this, especially in the university context, is that it increases the ‘Ivory tower’ effect from educational indoctrination within many African societies. Where the more educated and thus indoctrinated people become through the processes of these institutions, the more estranged they can become from the rest of their local communities.
Several essays in the book demonstrate how indigenous knowledge systems and traditional means of cultural transmission can be incorporated into the syllabus to improve the levels of comprehension and attainment of students.

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This includes using call and response practices that are a common feature of African storytelling, to actively engage students with the content in a familiar and fun way.
Using traditional local forms of practices such as brewing and distilling as examples of scientific principles to ground the presented knowledge in relatable contexts.
Some have even taken to creating computer software that incorporates various aspects of cultures relevant to students to teach a range of subjects. A study done on one such class teaching fractal mathematics using aspects of African fractal design, showed that “students using the cultural design website scored much higher than students who did not, in both attitude and performance measures.

It’s important to say that education does not always equal schooling.
There are many other ways to educate and transmit knowledge that weave the learner more tightly into the wider community.

I was a slow starter with my educational exploits, not even talking till age 4 or reading till age 7.
These days I’m a spoken word artist, a ravenous book worm and a writer — All things in their time I guess.
Likewise with school I hardly engaged initially, then when I felt ready, proceeded to move from the bottom to top sets in all my classes.

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Yet I had difficulties with engaging in the schooling system and didn’t feel convinced by the promises of higher education being sold (quite literally).
So I eventually left ‘formal education’ at the age of 17, taking my education into my own hands, finding a wide range of mentors and learning peers along the road, sampling many kinds of jobs and apprenticeships, developing skills and knowledge in a wide range of fields and broadening my capacity to inhabit an array of perspectives through meeting with and listening to the many people I met on my travels through many countries and cultures.

Meanwhile, I saw many of my friends feeling as though they had been lured down the University track and saddled with hefty debts, realising all too late that the subjects they’d taken up as the obvious next step in their learning journey, had very little to do with the life passions that they were only just discovering laying within themselves.
You could say that the knowledge many had been amassing had very little indigenous resonance with the rhythms of their own hearts.

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This wasn’t the case for everyone of course, and I’m not knocking the Uni route for those it works for. It’s just far from the only legitimate learning path that it is too often marketed as and many who do go, would often benefit from having some breathing room beforehand to get to know themselves and their passions before investing increasingly large sums of money in a route. Not to mention that a degree just isn’t worth what it was 1 or 2 generations ago in terms of securing employment that might help pay off those debts.

There have rarely been moments when I wondered if I took the wrong path.
I would describe myself as a lifelong learner. I’ve been privileged to have many opportunities to learn and driven to make the most of most of them, not by achieving a level of certification, prestige or a promise of future income. My drive emerges from a passion for peering into mysteries, a joy in expanding my understanding of and connections to other perspectives and for the practical application of knowledge and wisdom in living a meaningful life in relation to and for the betterment of the world of which I am entangled.

In this internet age there is an unfathomable amount of information available to those with an appetite to learn. Rather than being taught what to learn, these days a much more valuable skill is learning how to learn. How to think critically and creatively about and with the information both within and around us.

It has been unfortunately common for Indigenous knowledge to be regarded as unscientific (or at most patronisingly referred to as ethnoscience) and illogical, yet “Indigenous and local traditional knowledge of place-based biodiversity is perhaps the oldest scientific tradition on earth” and will be vital in any realistic attempts to help preserve what is left of the Earth’s rapidly dwindling biodiversity to maintain some degree of biospheric health.

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The question now is, how do we appropriately synthesise both the appropriate aspects of contemporary capacities and these ever present ancient patterns of relation to develop technically aplied knowledge (technology) able nurture communities that cohere and co-create as microcosms of planetary health, within the vibrantly interconnected complexity of our biosphere?

Join me for further exploration in part 4…


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