Aboriginal wisdom and economics

Date: Fri, 29 Nov 1996 21:03:08
From: John CROFT
To: Designing for POST-INDUSTRIAL REALITIES <futurework@csf.colorado.edu>

> Some associated with indigenous cultures advocate a return to the
> way they did things and saw things as the salvation of the west.  I am
> very wary of people who advocate that the way forward is to go
> back.  Rather, I would like to think that we could learn from the lengthy
> history of indigenous culture that certain basic processes and values
> are critical (like providing for everyone's needs) to long term survival.
> If we could all strive to develop our understanding of these basic
> values - and then WORK to incorporate them into the way we do things
> we would be making a huge difference to our survivability.
I am reminded of a workshop I helped facilitate in the Southern Highlands Province of Papua New Guinea, when that country was preparing its second five year plan. Towards the completion of the workshop, one old man who had been silent thus far stood up and started, in a completely unselfconscious fashion, to sing. I asked my neighbour what was he saying, as a spoke no Anggal Heneng (i.e. "true talk" - us whites have no monopoly on ethnocentricism). I was told to "shush!"

Later it was explained that I had just witnessed a last example of a dying art of native oratory. The man in question sang his life. He told how he was the first person to lead the Kondol (red-skin, as we whites burn bright red) up the valley in the early 1950s. He explained how he was also the person who persuaded his people to release the land on which the provincial capital of Mendi now stood. He said that, sitting on his hill had given him a view of the ways of the Kondol that he would not have believed possible.

He saw some things that we Kondol did that were very good and he wanted these for his people. Other things we Kondol did were absolutely stupid, and he did not want those things. But watching the Kondol had given him the power to watch his own people, the Mendi Anggal Heneng, with a new eye. He saw some of the things which his people did were really good, and the Kondol needed these things urgently. Other things of his people were equally stupid, and his people should stop doing it.

The secret of real development, this illiterate villager said, was to build a bridge of a kind never seen before, a bridge with a gate at both ends, between the ways of the Kondol and the ways of his own people. The bridge could start small, just a rope bridge, but as more and more people came on board, the bridge would need strengthening. The gate on the Kondol's side would be only open for the true ideas. His stupidities would find the gate shut. Equally the gate on the Anggal Heneng side would be open only to the sensible ideas, and shut to his stupidities. Eventually, everybody, he sang, would come to live on the bridge, and the world could be at peace.

This image has been with me ever since, and best describes for me, not an assimilation of indigenous people to our way of doing and seeing things, but a mutual integration, where we can, in respect, learn from each other and build something totally new, for both our sakes.


Forwarded 2/98 to [Anthro-L]

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