International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples is always a bit of a challenge to engage with.
It is always important to celebrate people under every circumstance.
It’s just that to recognise indigenous persons, one must take cognisance the great strife the “modern” governments have put them through.
Imagining all the deeply entrenched challenges, spanning colonialism and then modernisation, the most affected are often the ones who have managed, to as great an extent as possible, to remain authentic in their lifestyles and to retain their culture. Often, this has meant they have also been the least successful in terms of modern standards of success.
The dark side of modernisation, which we often fail to engage with, is the coloniality of power which subsists in our societies today, and which is sustained by the ways we think.
Bob Marley cautioned that mental slavery is the one slavery we must emancipate ourselves from. And we must question, I would go further to say, the standards by which we expect ourselves and others to live and adhere to.
I wonder, should we not aspire to the authentic lives of the people of old, in our constant search for what is real and meaningful? So, are the most educated amongst us perhaps the ones most assimilated and successfully mentally colonised? Anyway, this piece in celebrating the people known as indigenous persons, acknowledges the struggles they have faced which have largely been forgotten.
The theme for this years’ International Day of the World’s indigenous Peoples’ has to do with their resilience. This piece recognises that beyond COVID-19, and before it, the World’s indigenous persons have striven through the worst, and have remained as close to themselves as possible. If that is not resilience, I am not sure what is. In Botswana, the San, The Balala and the Nama, as well as their sub-groups have had to, and continue to resist many efforts by the government to disrupt their ways of life. Although the country has adopted the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, there is a long outstanding recognition of the nation’s indigenous peoples.
In fact, it came as a shock when in 2019, the whole country, including the government celebrated the revelation that modern history traced back to Botswana.
The indigenous peoples’ in Botswana have been the least regarded, with efforts by government to resettle the people, going as far as not providing water in their settlements.
The Ogiek inhabit the Mau forests of central Rift Valley of Kenya. A people of antiquity as they are, the Ogiek have, over a period of many years, lost their land to many processes.
One such process was the declaration of their ancestral land as forest reserves, leading to wanton destruction of the natural forest, and the replacement of the forest cover with exotic conifer plantations. Social, political and environmental changes in
Kenya have invariably and considerably affected and specifically disrupted the
This compelled the peoples to choose identities as defined by others who are not themselves.
This was disruptive to the harmonious ways in which the people lived with nature. To reclaim their land, structures of organisation, strange to the peoples themselves, were imposed, obliging them to portray themselves as essentialised cohesive indigenous peoples.
About 10 months ago, in October 2019, the world nearly came to a halt when the Amazon rainforest forest burnt up a storm. Many were concerned about the burning beauty and how the fires would affect Peru and Brazil’s economy, trying to find someone to blame, from the Trump administration, to Non-governmental organisations, to the soy producers in the agricultural businesses in the area.
In all this upheaval, not many people paused to consider the people to whom the rainforest is home – the “uncontacted tribes” (as they are popularly known). There are an estimated 20 million people in eight Amazon countries, who are presently known as “indigenous persons.” The rainforest fires threatened the sacred ways of life of these people, threatening extinction of it.
These are a people who, for many years, have struggled for survival against the rush for gold in their land, made to compete, in importance, with natural resources.
In Australia, where the indigenous persons have managed to maintain their hunter-gatherer lifestyle into present day, there are about 200 different Aboriginal languages and hundreds of dialects were spoken by the indigenous persons for many years.
The groups, largely language-named, were neither political nor economic entities, ground their identity in much more locally oriented affiliations and memberships.
With a history marred with a cultural erosion, whose trauma still resonates in the present day, the forced assimilation remains the most significant episodic and possibly even epic reference point of these peoples’ forgotten suffering.
It is with interest that one observes that the world’s indigenous peoples occupy the parts of our world which are still as beautiful as I can only imagine paradise is, untouched. It is no mistake that those who are able to resist coloniality are also preservers of nature.
They have stood against capitalism, moderinsation and ideas of good wealth and health, despite great opposition. In a world where efforts are aimed at acquiring more knowledge, acquiring more wealth, this is a call to pause to think, where are you going?
In a world in a constant effort to find itself and relate to the richness of its history, we should, as a matter of fact, honour and celebrate our indigenous peoples.