The creation myths are also about interrelatedness and connectedness of all beings. That we are all intrinsically related to one another and what one does affects each other, for good or bad. The underlying assumption is the peaceful co-existence of the whole creation and human kind. Because of the organic relationship that humans maintain with other creatures, what one does good or ill affects non-human creatures too. This interrelatedness between humanity and all of creation is reflected further in the performances of rites and rituals. Rites and rituals for the indigenous people are an integral part of life. They are performed for maintaining balance and harmony in the community. They convey the message of wholeness and unity. It is basically for this that, although the rituals are performed by an individual, it is done for and on behalf of the whole community.
For instance at the time of sowing the [rice] paddy, the village chiefoffered sacrifices and performed the paddy sowing rites a day ahead of the people. If in some rare cases, an individual by mistake [or willfully] did the sowing ahead of the village chief the entire village 110suffered from failure of crops that particular year and had to face famine.(1)
In the tribal perception, neither humanity nor creation is unique in itself. In this sense, there is a distinction but no separation between humanity and creatures, the being and beings and all other entities. A distinction is made only at the existential level. K. Thanzauva, a Mizo theologian, points out that the apparent hierarchy in the relationship of beings is not a social order or the idea of degradation. (2)He goes on to say that, though there are functional differences, God, human and world form a community in which they are interrelated and hence it is appropriate to describe this relationship as a “community model of relationship.”
1) R. R. Shimray, Origin and Culture of the Nagas (New Delhi: Privately published by Mrs. Pamleiphi Shimray, 1985), 22f.
2) K. Thanzauva, Theology of Community: Tribal Theology in the Making (Aizawl: Mizo Theological Conference, 1997), 157.
Asian sacred wisdom had organised a lecture on the “Towards Indigenous higher Education? The Decolonial Potential of Intercultural Universities in Mexico” on the 24th of April, where around 15 participants from across Asia had joined. This interesting lecture was lead by Dr.Gunther Dietz. Gunther Dietz grew up in southern Chile and in northern Germany.
He studied anthropology, philosophy and philology in the Universities of Göttingen and Hamburg. He holds an M.A. and a Ph.D. in anthropology from Hamburg University. He has been teaching at the Universities of Hamburg, Granada (Spain), Ghent (Belgium), Aalborg (Denmark), Veracruz (Mexico) and Deusto (Spain).
Currently he is a research professor in Intercultural Studies at Universidad Veracruzana in Xalapa (Mexico), where he works on multiculturalism, ethnicity, interculturality and intercultural / inter-religious education. His current project “Indigeneity and Pathways through Higher Education in Mexico” is carried out jointly by the University of Bath (UK), by UNAM and Universidad Veracruzana.
The Lecture elaborated on the problems faced by indigenous youth due to the practices/structures of the education system in Mexico and the efforts of Universidad Veracruzana along with local & regional NGOs and Social Movements in developing ‘Intercultural Universities’ for the upliftment and development of IP’s in Mexico. Lets look forward for the recording of this interesting session to be uploaded so that we can revisit and learn to adopt such projects in our own regions where need be.
In the tribal society, the land is owned by the community in general. For example the land tenure in Naga society is well reflected in the report that follows: In Nagaland, each tribe had a well demarcated territory within the villages inhabited by that tribe were located, with well-defined boundaries. Though the practice of each tribe differed, the village land was generally classified as (a) common village land, (b) clan land, (c) individual land, and (d) morung land.
The village council was responsible for the management. Clan land was mostly jhum land owned by a particular clan certain areas, usually terraced land were owned by individuals. Some portion of the village land was designated for morung where the young boys slept there. 1) Similar system is also found among the Khasi-Jaintias of Meghalaya. The land is classified into Ri Kynti (clan land) and Ri Raij (community land). 2) The principle behind this land system is to ensure that no one in the village is made landless and poor. In the past, landlessness and beggars were unknown to the tribal society.
The cited report is expressive of the land system among the tribals in the Northeast India in general. In most cases, it is the community or the village that owns the land. The village chief holds the nominal ownership of the land. 3) The village chief is normally assisted by the village council, the people’s representatives. However, the ultimate power rests in the hands of the people as a whole, who empower the chief and the council to carry out the tasks on behalf of the village.
Although the land is in the hands of the people, like the Hebrews, the indigenous believe that “the earth and everything in it belongs to God.”(Ps.24:1). The Creator is the ultimate owner of the land. Therefore, land is a gift of God to the people. Secondly, for the indigenous people, land is life. Land is central to their lives. Their whole life activity revolves around the land and its surroundings. It is central to their identity, history, spirituality, economy and their very survival. Land is life because the land has her own distinct life; the land is never a dead object. It is a living entity endowed with spirits. “In a non-literate society the land is their scripture through which they read about the spirits and God and create myths and songs.” 4)
Thirdly, the importance of land to the indigenous people lies in the fact that even the Supreme Being is understood in relation to the land. A number of the Northeast Indian tribes including the Aos, Sangtams and Chang Nagas call their Supreme Being, Lijaba. Li means “soil” and Jaba means “enter”, meaning “the one who enters” or “indwells in the soil.” 5) It is the belief of the people that Lijaba enters into the earth with the seeds and rises up again along with the crops. Hence for the people, the blooming flowers, trees bearing fruits and rice signify the presence of the Creator. Thirdly, the tribal people’s notion of time and history are related to the land. Their yearly calendar and agricultural activities are based on the cycle of the earth. All the festivals, dances and songs of the people are connected with land.
Moreover, their religious activities are all centered on the land. R. R. Shimray poignantly puts it, “Every mountain, every range, and every ridge has a legend and every peak a tale to tell.” 6) Fourthly, tribals believe that it is the land that owns the people and not the other way round. The people know that it is the land that gives them their identity. Land is therefore highly respected. Fifthly, people’s ethical life is again closely related and based on the land. As long as one lives on this earth, one is expected to live an honest and truthful life. Honesty, truthfulness, sincerity and faithfulness are highly valued virtues among the tribal people. First, they believe the Supreme Being is everywhere and knows everything.
And so they live in the constant awareness of the presence of the Supreme Being. Secondly, they also believe that land is older than human beings and therefore the land is wiser than the humans. One of the tribal wisdom says: “The land never lies; do not lie to the land.” Swearing in the name of the Supreme Being and the land is like an anathema. Only for resolving serious cases such as land or boundary disputes, when every possible effort fail, people resort to swearing in the name of the Supreme Being by eating a lump of soil. Normally, the one who gets sick or dies prematurely is declared the guilty one.
1) Planning Commission, The Report of the Working Group on the Land System Among Tribals in the North Eastern India, May 1984.
2) R.T. Rymbai, “The Traditional Ecological Concepts of the Khasi-Pnars,” in The Tribal Worldview and Ecology, Tribal Study Series no.2, ed. A. Wati Longchar and Yangkahao Vashum (Jorhat: Tribal Study Centre, 1998), 16.
3) There are tribes like the Kukis of Manipur and the Sumis of Nagaland where land holding is in the hands of the village chiefs.
4) Thanzauva, Theology of Community, 130. For a detail discussion on tribal concept of land refer to Yangkahao Vashum, “Theology of Land: A Naga Perspective,” in The Tribal Worldview and Ecology, Tribal Study Series no.2, eds. A. Wati Longchar and Yangkahao Vashum (Jorhat: Tribal Study Centre, 1998),69-94.
5) A. Wati Longchar, “A Creation-Poem of the Ao Nagas: A Theological Exploration,” in The Tribal Worldview and Ecology, Tribal Study Series no.2, eds. A. Wati Longchar and Yangkahao Vashum (Jorhat: Tribal Study Centre, 1998), 16.
Indigenous Peoples’ Worldview: The Basis of Indigenous Spirituality
by Rev. Yangkahao Vashum
Indigenous peoples’ worldview can be described as the recognition of the undifferentiated unity of all things, meaning, there is no distinction drawn between the spiritual and physical, material and immaterial, sacred and profane, and spiritual and earthly. Nor does an indigenous worldview recognize any structure of hierarchy in creation. They see the world and all its surroundings in holistic perspective. While a Western world view is essentially anthropocentric, an indigenous worldview is creation-centered and is characterized by understanding the interdependence and the inter-relatedness of all creation, including human beings. Therefore, indigenous peoples across the world that I know believe that the whole of creation are our relatives. The Lakota nation of American Indians has an expression which describes beautifully all that concerns the Indigenous worldview, “We are all related.
”According to Standing Rock Sioux scholar Vine Deloria, Jr, the similar phrase, “All my relatives” is not merely a religious sentiment which many people have supposed, but it also “describes the epistemology of the Indian worldview, providing the methodological basis for the gathering of the information about the world.”1 Deloria goes on to explain the implication of this worldview when he states: “ We are all relatives ” when taken as a methodological tool for obtaining knowledge means that we observe the natural world by looking for relationships between various things in it. That is to say, everything in the natural world has relationship with every other thing and the total set of relationships makes up the natural world as we experience it. This concept is simply the relativity concept as applied to a universe that people experience as alive and not as dead or inert.2
Here then is another key characteristic which distinguishes an indigenous worldview and its knowledge from a Western worldview and its scientific methods. In a similar vein, Leroy Little Bear observes that the indigenous “paradigm is comprised of and includes ideas of constant motion and flux, existence consisting of energy waves, interrelationships, all things being animate, space/place, renewal, and all things being imbued with spirits.”3
As noted above, indigenous “peoples do not differentiate their world of experience into two realms that oppose or compliment each other. They seem to maintain a consistent understanding of the unity of all experience.”4 Referring to Naga religious view, J. H. Thumra asserts that “unlike many modern Christian belief in the dichotomy of the ‘sacred’ and the ‘secular’ or the ‘spiritual’ and the ‘material’, the traditional Naga religion does not have such a dichotomy. For them the ‘sacred’ and the ‘secular’ are one.”5 In “An Emerging Asian Theology: Tribal Theology,” Wati Longchar makes a useful comparison between dominant Christian worldview and traditional Tribal worldview in which he underscores their differences.6 Indigenous peoples around the world view reality in its wholeness and perceive life as one single web and many smaller webs of relationships which is the antithesis of the dominant Christian dualistic and individualistic views. Further, their cultural and religious values are governed by respect for one another and reciprocity is the norm for their day-today interactions.
The well-being of all creation including that of human beings depends upon preserving and restoring the harmonious inter-relationships of all creation. All living creatures including humans are meant to work toward maintaining balance and harmony and these are to be seen as the ultimate concern of all beings. Indigenous peoples do not believe in the superiority of humans over against the rest of creation.
In fact, most Indigenous people believe, as their stories and mythologies attest, humans are thought to be at the lowest strata of creation order. 7 Arguing against the Euro-western theories of evolutionary ascendancy, Tinker asserts that:Rather than elevate human beings to the apex of an evolutionary ascendancy (i.e., common descent), the lack of human privileging over against these other life forms means that Indians understand that all life shares equal status and that value, personhood, intelligence, and the like must be recognized in all life. If there is a hierarchy of beings in the Indian experience of the world, humans are found at the bottom rather than at the top, the youngest and least wise of all living things.”8 Indeed, indigenous people consider animals, other living creatures, and all created as “‘people’ in the same manner as the various tribes of human beings are people.”9
Indigenous peoples claim they have reciprocal relationships with all living things, which includes the so-called “inanimate” objects such as rocks, plants, and other natural forms.10 Everything is imbued with spirit so all is sacred for Indigenous peoples. Because all creation is sacred the very land we walk and till must be treated with respect and reverence. Therefore, they treat life and creation with respect and reverence. One reason land is sacred for Indigenous peoples is that it is the dwelling place of the spirits; the ancestors have lived and worked the same land and they take their final rest and their bones becomes the land.11
Indigenous worldview is further characterized by being spatially oriented rather than temporally focused as is of the Euro-american worldview. This worldview of spatiality ess entially accentuates and locates the all important life qualities of relationships among and between human beings and the whole of creation. This understanding extends and embraces the way Indigenous peoples view the world and relate themselves to the spirits and God(s). In “Full Circle of Liberation: An American Theology of Place,” Tinker argues that the traditional Christian Euro-centric notion of God’s action in time, which incidentally is also embraced by Black theologians and Latin American theologians, is not how American Indians could understand a relation to God. God acts in space and in place.
Tinker explains, “God reveals God’s self in creation, in space or place, not in time.”12 For Tinker and other Indigenous thinkers, the traditional linear thinking of temporality that is fundamental to the Western intellectual tradition is quite alien to Indigenous peoples and is in fact destructive to their livelihood.
Reference: 1. Vine Deloria, Jr, Spirit & Reason: The Vine Deloria, Jr., Reader, Eds. Barbara Deloria, et al (Golden: Fulcrum Publishing, 1999), 52. 2. Ibid., 34 3. Leroy Little Bear, “Foreward”, in Gregory Cajete, Native Science. x. 4. Deloria, Spirit and Reason. 354. 5. Jonathan H. Thumra, “The Naga Primal (Traditional) Religion and Christianity: A Theological Reflection,” in V. K. Nuh, ed. In Search of Praxis Theology for the Nagas (New Delhi: Regency Publications, 2003), 54. 6. For a detailed comparison see A. Wati Longchar, An Emerging Asian Theology: Tribal Theology: Issue, Method and Perspective (Jorhat: Tribal Study Center, 2000), 64. 7. Ibid., 131. 8. George E. Tinker, “The Stones Shall Cry Out: Consciousness, Rocks and Indians”, TMs, 3. 9. Vine Deloria, Jr, God is Red: A Native View of Religion. 2d ed.(Golden: North American Press, 1992), 89. 10. Walking Buffalo articulates this truth: “Did you know that trees talk? Well they do. They talk to each other, and they’ll talk to you if you listen. Trouble is, White people don’t listen. They never learned to listen to the Indians, so I don’t I suppose they’ll listen to other voices in nature. But I have learned a lot from trees: some times about the weather, some times about animals, sometimes about the Great Spirit.” Quoted in Deloria. Ibid., 90. 11. M. Horam, Nagas Old Ways New Trends (Delhi: Cosmos Publications, 1988), 15f. 12. George E. Tinker, “The Full Circle of Liberation: An American Theology of Place,” in David G. Hallman, ed., Ecotheology: Voices from South and North (Geneva: WCC Publications, 1994), 221; Spirit and Resistance, 91-92.
Joint Statement in Support of Garo (Mandi) People of MadhupurGarh, Bangladesh who fear eviction from their land
We the undersigned organizations across the world condemn the act of eviction of local indigenous communities from their land by the declaration of National Park, Eco Park and reserve forest in the name of recovering forest land by the Bangladesh governments’ Forest Department. The Forest department is conspiring against the local indigenous community consisting of Garo, Koch and Barman in order to capture their inherited lands from their ancestors.
According to a report published in the different national dailies, the government has decided to recover the country’s occupied forest lands. The eviction drive is supposed to start from January 30. We have also learnt that this drive will start from Gazipur first and Tangail has been kept second in the list. Local indigenous people have been passing days in fear of eviction.
In this regard, Indigenous people of Tangail’s Madhupur Upazila staged a demonstration in the Upazila on 31st January 2021, bringing an allegation that the forest department is attempting to evict them from their own land in the name of recovering forest lands. Terming the forest department’s attempt to evict them a conspiracy, hundreds of people from Garo, Koch and Barman communities brought out a procession and formed a human chain in Madhupur bus stand area. They also submitted a memorandum to the prime minister through Madhupur Upazila Nirbahi Officer Arifa Zohura.
Article 10 of the UNDRIP says, “Indigenous peoples shall not be forcibly removed from their lands or territories. No relocation shall take place without the free, prior and informed consent of the indigenous peoples concerned and after agreement on just and fair compensation and, where possible, with the option of return.” Article 19 of the declaration says, “States shall consult and cooperate in good faith with the indigenous peoples concerned through their own representative institutions in order to obtain their free, prior and informed consent before adopting and implementing legislative or administrative measures that may affect them.” As a member country of the United Nations, Bangladesh needs to follow the UNDRIP properly.
The United Nations has recognized this customary and traditional land right and called on member states to take action. There are several UN declarations in this regard. The convention, namely ILO Indigenous and Tribal Population Convention 107 was ratified by the government of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in 1972. Article 11 of this convention says, “The right of ownership, collective or individual, of the members of the populations concerned over the lands which these populations traditionally occupy shall be recognised.”
Article 12 (1) says, “The populations concerned shall not be removed without their free consent from their habitual territories except in accordance with national laws and regulations for reasons relating to national security, or in the interest of national economic development or of the health of the said populations.” And article 12 (2) says, “When in such cases removal of these populations is necessary as an exceptional measure, they shall be provided with lands of quality at least equal to that of the lands previously occupied by them, suitable to provide for their present needs and future development. In cases where chances of alternative employment exist and where the populations concerned prefer to have compensation in money or in kind, they shall be so compensated under appropriate guarantees.”
On February 15, 2016, the Forest Department of the Environment and Forest Ministry issued a gazette notification declaring 9,145 acres of land in Madhupur Garh area—home to the Garo, Barman and Koch indigenous peoples—as reserved forest under the Forest Act 1927. The government made this decision without taking the free, prior, and informed consent of the indigenous peoples of Madhupur. It provoked fear that lives of more than 20,000 forest-dependent indigenous peoples living in the area would be adversely affected. The communities have since been protesting against this decision. Local indigenous leaders alleged that the main objective of the government’s move is to grab the lands of indigenous peoples by manipulating loopholes in the Forest Act, 1927.
We call upon the Government of Bangladesh to immediately stop this Eviction process. This is a blow against human rights. As per the ILO C107 Indigenous and Tribal Populations Convention, 1957, the Bangladesh government should recognize the lands traditionally occupied by indigenous peoples at Madhupur Garh.
Organizations: 1.All India Catholic University Federation (AICUF) 2.Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact (AIPP) 3.Asia and Pacific Alliance of YMCAs (APAY) 4.Asian Lay Leaders Forum (ALL Forum) 5.Bangladesh Indigenous Peoples Forum 6.Bangladesh Banai Development Organization 7.Bangladesh Catholic Students Movement 8.Bangladesh Jatiya Hajong Sangathon (BJHS) 9.International Movement of Catholic Students- (IMCS-Pax Romana) 10.International Catholic Movement for Intellectual and Cultural Affairs- (ICMICA-Pax Romana) 11.International Movement of Catholic Students (Pax Romana) Asia Pacific, Manila, Philippines 12.International Movement of Catholic Students, Nepal 13.North South Initiative (NSI), Malaysia 14.Union of Catholic University Students of the Republic of Indonesia 15.University Catholic Chinese Students Association (UCCSA), Taiwan 16.Eirini Freri – European Coordination (JECI-MIEC) International Young Catholic StudentsInternational Movement of Catholic Students, Brussels, Belgium 17.Jorge Parra Herrera, Latin America Coordination, European Coordination (JECI-MIEC) International Young Catholic Students- International Movement of Catholic Students, Quito, Ecuador