Indigenous peoples, their problems and a link to the past

Learning about modern day problems and our past from indigenous peoples.

The Sami people of Finland, the Australian Aborigines, the South and North American Indians are all indigenous peoples who, whilst we in modern civilisation rush head long into an abstract meaningless void, struggle to retain their connections with their ancestors, nature and culture under constant attack from modern society.

Learning from indigenous peoples

The indigenous peoples interest me because their life, their mythology, their culture is so close to that of ancient peoples running back to the first cave paintings.  The study of indigenous peoples puts flesh upon the bones of the archaeology and myths of the past, for they are the living descendents of those peoples, their worldviews near the same.  I mentioned yesterday initiation rites from the point of view of the Ice Age archaeology and cave paintings, but to put flesh upon bones it is useful to look at modern-day indigenous peoples; this is what a site on the Australian Aborigines says:

Initiation ceremonies are performed to introduce and celebrate adolescent boys and girls as adult members of the community.
Aboriginal Initiation CeremoniesThe ages of the person being initiated varies between language groups, but usually occur between the ages of 10 and 16 years of age. Only those boys and girls who had proven themselves worthy of the responsibility of adulthood mentally and physically are initiated.

The time is decided on by specific members in the language group. This is often called one’s right to passage. That is they have the right to pass from childhood to adulthood.Those being initiated are instructed and prepared for their roles within the ceremony and later in life as an adult. These teachings are taught over a period of many years by significant people within the language group.

During the ceremony everyone has a different role. The initiates are decorated with body paint and ornaments and are often given a permanent symbol on their bodies to show that they had been initiated into adult life. Initiated members would sometimes have a tooth removed, their ears or nose pierced or flesh cut with a particular sacred markings. Other members in the family would also carry special markings to commemorate the event. Special knowledge and skills are passed on through initiation ceremonies. These enable the new adult to function accordingly and in a new way within the language group.
Members of the language group would mourn the death of a child in the ceremony and later celebrate the birth of a new adult.

Depression, suicide, alcoholism

A common pattern amongst all indigenous people is a high degree of social and mental problems.  These peoples belong to an era that never followed the rest of the world into the abstract, meaningless mess we call modern society.  The indigenous people have been under attack on multiple fronts from Christian evangelists to forcing them to conform to political correctness; this creates a separation between the indigenous individual and the source that gives them meaning, dignity and strength; thus a wasteland of despair emerges, with its major symptoms of depression, suicide and alcoholism.

WHO report

The World Health Organisation has issued a report on the mental health of indigenous peoples; which is backed by countless scientific journals.  I have yet to read this report in full, but a scan of it excites interest in me, for it goes into the worldview of the indigenous peoples, and the link between modern society and mental health problems.  Within that report potentially lies some golden nuggets of wisdom of how to address problems of modern society.


10 responses to “Indigenous peoples, their problems and a link to the past

  1. This is unfortunately the case here in Winnipeg. Aboriginals are almost all unemployed, living in poverty, crammed into prisons, destroying themselves with drugs and alcohol and bad diet,, have little to no education, and by far the highest birth rate. Most people believe they brought all of this on themselves, and hate them for it. I see a miserable people who have just given up altogether, whose fire has gone out. Whatever connection they had with nature is gone..

  2. So much wisdom being buried… This is a great post.

  3. Not all First Nations People in Canada are going down the drain, many are turning back to their traditions, languages and cultures to try to give them new balance in their lives. Many others can see what has been done to these people’s cultures, and are now trying to help them.

    From my forest hermitage, it looks as if modern society is insane, and pretty close to going over the edge. I can’t imagine why we would want indigenous people to join in. They would be much happier and content living in the old ways, and perhaps they could teach us a thing or two about living contently with nature instead of always running after the latest ‘thing’. Greed is modern society’s biggest problem. Modern society is like a large ravenous cancer, destroying everything that gets in the way, all in the name of progress. Some progress!

    • There appears to be a correlation between the problems that indigenous people suffer and the separation from their culture, so anything that is restoring those connections is bound to have a positive impact on them.

      I think the divide between the worldview of the indigenous people and the sort of world you and I exist in is too great for them to adapt to, which may be part of their problems they now face.

      I agree with your assessment of modern society, it does not enthuse me either.

  4. The problem is that modern society, from the time of the city states, wants everyone else it comes in contact with to become like them. Adapt to their ways, but any indigenous people who do still exist have seen what ‘modern society’ ends up with for thousands of years. It generally ends in collapse, from Sumer to what we see happening today. Many indigenous people want no part of this sort of life style. It isn’t sustainable, whereas their life style, before we started mucking with it, was sustainable.

  5. I agree that we could learn so much from the times we have forgotten, but to comment on the feeling of the comments… it is difficult to form an opinion that I can justly defend.

    What I mean by this is that we berate this society that we live in from within, but how many of us would actually drop everything that we own, and all the duties and responsibilities we currently hold, and learn how to truely return to the lifestyle spoken of above?
    I remember learning of the way in which the Hadze tribe of Tanzania? are being hounded out of their hunting and gathering lifestyle, and as a result can only agree with what is said above, but I also remember reading of the Inuit that their traditional way of life is being taken over by the modern world quite simply because it is easier!
    Like electricity, our actions follow the path of least resistance. When faced with a certain challenge, we inevitably choose the easier option offered. So, when faced with the choice of the harder, even though more sustainable living, we invariably choose the one that will allow us more time to sit down and relax.

    Like many of us, I also like the ‘romantic’ thoughts of returning to a world where we can all live a ‘happier’, more ‘satisfying’ life, but I ask you all:
    “Would you really choose to do away with clean water in the tap, invisible sewage disposal, gas and oil for keeping you warm in winter and for cooking food and boiling and sterilising water, electricity that benefits us in so many ways, and learn (re-learn?) how to live in a much tougher world?”

    We are each like the angel in the painting ‘Angelus Novus’ :

    “There is a painting by Klee called Angelus Novus. It shows an angel who seems about to move away from something he stares at. His eyes are wide, his mouth is open, his wings are spread. This is how the angel of history must look. His face is turned toward the past. Where a chain of events appears before us, he sees on single catastrophe, which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage and hurls it at his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing from Paradise and has got caught in his wings; it is so strong that the angel can no longer close them. This storm drives him irresistibly into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows toward the sky. What we call progress is this storm.”

    –from Walter Benjamin 1940 work, “On the Concept of History

    • Hi Danny, it is great to see you active again and commenting here 🙂

      This is a question that has been asked for hundreds of years, if progress of the “modern” is better, if the return to the “noble savage” is better.

      Of water, is it really as clean as some claim? What of the chemicals and drugs in the water? However, drinking direct out of rivers and springs open the possibility of parasites.

      Have you noticed every advance we take in technology and “progress” we move further away from self, each other and nature? Is there a happy middle way somewhere between two extremes, the Golden Mean of Aristotle?

      The more dependent we become on civilisation and technology the more we lose our practical wisdom. How close is civilisation and technology close to a potential collapse? In USA they had Hurricane Katrina, look at how fast everything collapsed in its aftermarth.

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