Friday, December 3, 2010

Romancing the Indigenous?

There are many intellectuals today who feel that any respectful reference to indigenous beliefs smacks of romanticism, and a kind of backward-looking nostalgia. Oddly, these same persons often have no problem "looking backward" toward ancient Rome or ancient Greece for philosophical insight and guidance in the present day. What upsets these self-styled "defenders of civilization" is the implication that civilization might have something to learn from cultures that operate according to an entirely different set of assumptions, cultures that stand outside of historical time and the thrust of progress. Many persons steeped in Western science tend to assume that native notions are superstitious or simply negative, unaware that indigenous thought stems from a radically different view of what language is, and what thinking is for.

There is simply no way to comprehend indigenous notions without stepping aside from commercial assumptions that are broadly taken for granted today (including the basic equation of land with property -- with a commodity that can be bought, sold, or owned). Indigenous insights cannot be understood without slowing down, without taking time to notice the upward press of the ground and the earthen silence that surrounds all our worlds. Often at home in such silence, oral peoples tend toward reticence, reluctant to broadcast their experience very loudly. Hence, while indigenous traditions are vigorously unfolding today, the philosophical intensity and practical wisdom of native peoples all too often remains invisible and unheard amid the bustle and blare of contemporary commerce, conveniently ignored by those who most have need of such intelligence.

David Abram, Becoming Animal, 267


  1. I believe there is always little element of truth to whatever critics espouse. Yes, it's true that western mentality believes it's the only and "right" way of being in the world, which requires some heavy decolonization therapy! However, rarely as westerner you see (except at costume parties) dressed up in a Greek or Roman toga. You will find that in the Filipino indigenous movement, Filipino-Americans dressed up in indigenous garb, trying to "reconnect with the ancetors" via clothing among other things. Personally, the connection with the ancestors and ancient traditions has nothing to do with what you wear at a ritual or ceremony or conference one attends.

  2. It is difficult to dialogue with an "anonymous" person....but thank you for your comment.

  3. i love all your posts, leny.