Indigenous peoples: our masters and doctors

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By LEONARDO BOFF*

They are the original guests of these lands that are being invaded and stolen

With the recent murder of the indigenist Bruno Pereira and that of the English journalist Dom Phillips in the Amazonian Jari valley and, above all, the abandonment they suffered by the current government, with a genocidal bias, for a long time, during the Covid-19 pandemic that , in all, it must have cost the lives of about a thousand indigenous people, the issue of indigenous peoples made national and international headlines.

Surprising, albeit belated, was Pope Francis' apology on his visit to Canada in July, to the families of indigenous children, torn from their midst and interned in Catholic schools with many deaths. They were not content with this papal excuse. One of the leaders courageously told the Pope: stop making us overcome this tragedy, we want you to understand us, to respect our ancestral wisdom, to favor our healing and let us live according to our traditions. Something similar was said by the indigenous Bolivians on the occasion of Pope John Paul II's visit: the Bible they give us, hand it over to the Europeans, because they need it more than we do because they were the ones who colonized us in a dehumanizing way and almost decimated us.

We have never paid the centuries-old debt we owe to the original Brazilian, Latin American and Caribbean peoples. They are the original guests of these lands that are being invaded and stolen from them due to the voracity of loggers, gold and mining.

 

Care for everything that exists and lives

Now that we are under a planetary ecological alarm, not knowing what solutions to find in the face of increasing global warming, we finally discover how they wisely treat nature, care for forests and Mother Earth. They are our masters and doctors in the feeling of belonging, brotherhood and respect for everything that exists and lives. They nurture a profound harmony among themselves and with the community of life, something that we lost centuries ago. We are suffering the irremediable damage of our devastation. We still haven't learned the lessons that Gaia, the Pacha Mama and Mother Earth are giving us with the intrusion of Covid-19. We seek to return to the previous order, precisely the one that led to the outbreak of countless viruses, the last one, monkeypox. Let's list some values ​​of their way of being in this natural world.

 

Symphonic integration with nature

The Indian feels part of nature and not a stranger within it. That is why, in their myths, human beings and other living beings live together and intermarry. They intuited what we know from empirical science that we all form a unique and sacred chain of life. They are outstanding ecologists. The Amazon, for example, is not untouchable land. Over thousands of years, the dozens of indigenous nations that live there have wisely interacted with it. Almost 12% of the entire Amazon forest on terra firme was managed by them, creating “islands of resources”, developing useful plant species or forests with a high density of chestnut trees and fruits of all kinds. They were planted and taken care of for themselves and for those who, by chance, passed by.

The Yanomami know how to take advantage of 78% of the tree species in their territories, taking into account the immense biodiversity of the region, in the order of 1200 species per area the size of a football field.

For them, the Earth is the Mother of the Indian. She is alive and therefore produces all kinds of living beings. She should be treated with the reverence and respect due to mothers. Animals, fish or trees should never be slaughtered for pure pleasure, but only to meet human needs. Even so, when trees are cut down or hunting and fishing is carried out, rites of apology are organized so as not to violate the alliance of friendship between all beings.

This symphonic relationship with the community of life is essential to guarantee the common future of life itself and that of the human species.

 

ancestral wisdom

Knowing a little about the different indigenous cultures, we identify in them a deep capacity for observing nature with its strengths and life with its vicissitudes. Their wisdom was woven through fine tuning with the universe and attentive listening to the Earth's language. They know better than us how to marry heaven and earth, integrate life and death, reconcile work and fun, fraternize human beings with nature. In that sense they are highly civilized although their technology is very fine but not contemporary.

Intuitively, they hit on the fundamental vocation of our ephemeral passage through this world, which is to capture the majesty of the universe, savor the beauty of the Earth and bring out of anonymity that Being who makes all beings exist, calling him by a thousand names Palop, Tupã, Ñmandu and others. Everything exists to shine. And the human being exists to dance and celebrate this brightness.

This wisdom needs to be rescued by our secularist and disrespectful culture for the various forms of life. Without it, we will hardly put limits to the power that could destroy our smiling living Planet.

 

Attitude of veneration and respect

For indigenous peoples, as well as for some contemporaries, such as the recently deceased James Lovelock, the formulator of the Earth as Gaia theory, everything is alive and everything is loaded with messages that are important to decipher. The tree is not just a tree. She communicates through her scents. It has arms that are its branches, it has a thousand tongues that are its leaves, it unites Heaven and Earth by its roots and by the crown. They manage, naturally, to capture the thread that connects and reconnects all things with each other and with Divinity. When they dance and drink ritual drinks, they experience the encounter with the Divine and with the world of elders and sages who are alive on the other side of life. For them, the invisible is part of the visible. That lesson is important to learn from them.

 

Freedom, the essence of indigenous life

Nowadays, the lack of freedom torments us. The complexity of life, the sophistication of social relations, generate feelings of imprisonment and anguish. Indigenous peoples give us the testimony of immeasurable freedom. The testimony of the great indigenists, the brothers Orlando and Cláudio Villas Boas, is enough for us: “Indians are totally free, without needing to explain their acts to anyone… If a person shouts in the center of São Paulo, a radio patrol can take you to jail. If an Indian lets out a tremendous scream in the middle of the village, no one will look at him or ask why he screamed. The Indian is a free man”. That freedom is so showcased by Krenak's extraordinary leadership and writings by him, Ailton Krenak.

 

Authority, power as a service and detachment

The freedom experienced by the indigenous gives a unique mark to the authority of their chiefs. These never have power of command over the others. Its function is to animate and articulate common things, always respecting the supreme gift of individual freedom. Especially, among the Guarani, this high sense of authority is experienced, whose essential attribute is generosity. The cacique must give everything that is asked of him and must not keep anything for himself. In some tabas you can recognize the leader in the person who brings the poorest ornaments, because the rest was donated.

We Westerners define power in its authoritarian form: “the ability to get others to do what I want”. Due to this conception, societies are permanently torn apart by conflicts of authority. Let's imagine the following scenario: if Christianity had been incarnated in the Guarani social culture and not in that Greco-Roman one, then we would have poor priests, miserable bishops and the Pope a true beggar. But his hallmark would be generosity and humble service to all. Then, yes, they could be witnesses of the One who said: “I am among you as one who serves”. The natives would have captured this message as co-natural with their culture and, who knows, freely adhered to the Christian faith.

As can be seen, in many ways, I reaffirm, the natives can be our masters and our doctors, as was said of the poor in the early Church.

*Leonardo Boff, philosopher and theologian, is the author, among other books of The Marriage of Heaven and Earth – Tales of Brazilian Indigenous People (Planet).

 

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