* Qualities of indigenous cultures *


Richard Moore

The excerpt below comes from an article by Dave Pollard that was forwarded to me
by Tom Atlee. In the excerpt, Dave is summarizing things he learned about 
indigenous cultures from his reading Hugh Brody's, THE OTHER SIDE OF EDEN.


Original source URL:

THE OTHER SIDE OF EDEN is hard work, and mining the learnings about how 
gatherer-hunter cultures embrace and adapt to their complex environments takes 
great concentration, but it is a necessary process. The catalogue of learnings 
below is an extreme, possibly dangerous oversimplification of what came out, to 
me, from Brody's astonishing first-person stories. I would urge readers who care
about the malaise of our culture and want to understand how indigenous cultures 
succeed through adaptation to complexity, to read the whole book, just for the 
experience of trying to see the world through an utterly foreign, different 

Here, then, is the catalogue of my learnings and discoveries from this book. I 
think it takes us one step closer to an overall framework or theory for dealing 
with complex problems:

* indigenous peoples are almost never authoritarian with their children; 
children learn by doing, by making mistakes, and by hearing guidance and candid 
comments on their behaviour, not by being 'told what to do and not to do'

* knowledge is absolutely critical to survival in indigenous communities; 
exchange of knowledge is expected, automatic, urgent and completely candid, and 
deceit and hoarding knowledge is extremely disreputable behaviour (because it 
can expose others to danger) -- these are cultures of collaboration and 
detailed, exhaustive knowledge-sharing, not of competition for 'knowledge 

* there is an expression "the land is made perfect by knowledge" that stresses 
that what is valued in these communities is knowledge and understanding of the 
environment, not control or ownership of it

* indigenous communications are generally extremely honest and forthright; the 
words that accompany greetings are those of great joy, not politeness

* words are as precise as they need to be, so there are completely separate 
words used to describe fish and other prey, and snow, and attributes of the 
land, not taxonomically but by need (e.g. there is a need for a separate word to
describe snow suitable for the construction of temporary snow shelters, so there
is such a word) -- this is not poetry or obsession, it's extremely practical, 
and word differentiation is a matter of necessity, familiar observability and, 
sometimes, valuable analogy

* part of the learning of indigenous languages is learning when to speak, when 
and how to listen, and even when and how to tease -- in oral cultures there is 
much more to language than just vocabulary, grammar and syntax

* stories are essential, detailed, and allowed to take as much time as they need
to take to be told; interruption is considered extremely rude, though it is 
often acceptable to leave if you do not find the story of interest

* indigenous languages generally have no swear words (anger is considered 
'childish' behaviour and scrupulously suppressed), and they also have no 
'status' words (e.g. there is no concept of or words for rank or hierarchy or, 
in anything close to our sense of the term "ownership" in Inuktitut)

* these languages have evolved to facilitate analogy, as an essential tool of 
learning and imagination -- drawing analogies and use of inductive reasoning are
not as 'forced' or deliberate a process as they seem to be in Indo-European 

* from necessity, indigenous people have developed prodigious memories and 
mental maps of detail, and can often recall routes and places that they have 
seen only a few times many decades earlier -- in the process every landmark is 
given a name to help entrench its later memory, and great attention is paid to 
orienting and placing these landmarks in context

* these cultures have an overarching respect for all life, and again this seems 
more practical and adaptive than spiritual (others may disagree with me on this)
-- caching extra food, wasting nothing, not hunting just 'for fun', not 
disturbing animals except for hunting, not spoiling the land, paying attention 
to the animals that are being hunted -- all these behaviours are oriented to 
encouraging prey to 'make themselves available' for the hunter as a matter of 
reciprocal respect (their self-sacrifice meets the hunter's real need for 

* indigenous peoples are part of the environment, and do not see the environment
as something apart from them; they see themselves as co-stewards of the land 
along with other creatures (and in some cases, with the spirits)

* by definition, then, the place the people live in is ideal, has become so 
through millennia of evolution and adaptation, and any change made to that place
is therefore necessarily for the worse

* the concept of gatherer-hunters as 'nomadic' and civilization cultures as 
'settled' is precisely backwards -- it is the civilization cultures that despoil
or exhaust the land and expand, move on, seek new frontiers, while 
gatherer-hunter cultures live in balance within large but mostly-fixed 
territories for millennia; the stories of indigenous peoples of how they 
'arrived' where they now live are in total conflict with our history of them 
(e.g. that they crossed the land-bridge from Asia during ice age retreat) -- 
their stories are that the people EMERGED where they are now, rather than 
traveled to them

* they have a profound respect for individual decisions; after sharing of 
knowledge, if there is no consensus on action each individual is trusted to do 
what he or she thinks is right and responsible, and there are no recriminations 
for not conforming to what others (or some designated or self-styled 'leader') 
think is appropriate

* advice is rendered by the telling of stories and the answering of questions 
when asked, not by proffering instruction or unsolicited opinions -- this is a 
consultative process, not a hierarchical one (elders, chiefs, shamans are 
respected, but they do not have or seek power or authority over others the way 
the 'leaders' in our culture do)

* because of the vast amount of detailed information that is needed to thrive in
a complex environment, people in these cultures do not depend entirely on the 
conscious mind to process that information -- they appreciate how the 
subconscious, dreams, and instincts play into and enrich our understanding, and 
allow these elements to play an important part in their decision-making process

* generosity (both with knowledge and material possessions) and egalitarianism 
are essential elements of these cultures, and produces an environment of great 
reciprocality and trust

* much of the activity of these cultures enables the building of great 
self-confidence, freedom from anxiety (fear of the unknown), freedom from 
depression, and high self-esteem: the acquired respect and trust of others, the 
respect for individual decisions, the granting of individual responsibility, the
learning and practice and recognition of finely-honed skills, a culture of 
collaboration and consultation -- contrast this with our culture where so much 
activity has the effect of battering self-confidence and self-esteem, and 
stressing helplessness and dependence

* in many cases, these cultures carefully space the birth of children at least 
three years apart, in part for practical reasons but also in part to allow 
parents and adults to spend enough time and attention on each child to equip 
them with the important capacities and learnings they need to succeed; in some 
cases infanticide has historically been practiced when necessary to ensure this 
space and opportunity for each child, and in that case can be seen as an 
embracing rather than an abrogation of responsibility

* these cultures show profound respect for women as full equals, with roles 
determined by strength, stamina, skill and capacity rather than assigned 
automatically by gender, and many roles shared and alternating; the prevalence 
of men as hunters and of women as gatherers reflects only the biological fact of
greater strength of most males and greater stamina of most females, and roles 
are changeable without shame for those whose biological qualities are 

* there is a deliberate attention to uncertainty, unpredictability, 
qualification and imprecision in indigenous languages, with any declaration of 
absolute certainty seen as evidence of oversimplification, arrogance, or poor 
judgement; likewise, there is much less propensity in these languages to raise 
and dwell on dichotomies, the simplistic black-or-white contrasts that leave no 
room for subtlety, imprecision, nuance, change and uncertainty

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