A constant aspiration for development and improvement characterize the modern western society and explain its indisputable expansion and global influence. Modern industrial society, scarcely 300 years old, is proof for the radical and ubiquitous impact of Western values. Whether identified by the monikers westernization, globalization, capitalism, democracy or free trade, Modernity has grown into something so global, so expansive, that it often seems as the only possible direction. The right way. Yet, it is the expression of a set of values, rather than the absolute wave of history.
Granted, modern achievements involving technological innovations and scientific research encompass some of the greatest of human endeavors. Nonetheless, these accomplishments do not suggest that the Western paradigm ought to have a monopoly on the path of the future. Especially as the economic model of production and consumption, guiding our modern values, compromises the life support of our planet. On a scale not seen on earth since the disappearance of dinosaurs, our civilization drives plants and animals to extinction. The damming of rivers, pollution of water, extraction of soil, deforestation and overfishing is all entailed into an industrial process that threatens to transform the chemistry and physics of the atmosphere.
Upsettingly, this destruction and appropriation is often justified as it fosters development and improvement of Modern life. This does not only sacrifice the environment, but likewise our people and cultures. Once a society inhabits or occupies a territory that is of interest to the modern economic model, other cultures and habits are seen as rivals. Evident in history, imperialism and colonialism, the base for the global spread of the Western world and modern civilization, have for centuries forced indigenous people across the globe to surrender to colonial powers. Today, the imperial power has been replaced by private ventures and corporations that extract natural resources on an industrial scale from territories that have long been occupied by indigenous peoples. Disturbingly, this disenfranchisement and deterritorialization of indigenous people is considered as appropriate policy of development. We thrive in a civilization that rationalizes ethnocide, being the destruction of a person’s way of life, for the sake of modernization, or rather the extraction of capital. In depth, the conflict is not between ancient or modern, it is the crude idea of domination. Within the scientific practice and consequently the education of Western Civilization roots a feeling of superiority over peoples who follow different parameters. Somehow the other is destined to fade away, as if they are failed attempts of ‘being modern.’ Caught up in our individual pursuit of happiness and prosperity, we risk failing to recognize the richness and diversity of life that we will lose, once every component of life follows the same valuation system. The diversity of ethnicities, languages and cultures is a gift that allows us to continue experiencing, learning and thriving. Culture is not trivial, it is a body of knowledge that allows the individuals to make sense of the infinite sensations of consciousness. To find meaning and order in a universe that ultimately has neither.
Diversity – cultural, economical or ecological – has the ability to sustain balance on this earth. We have to trust in this organic rhythm of life, change perspective and not fear interdependence. Ecosystems exist symbiotically in confined spaces, each species serving a crucial role in the larger puzzle. Whereas a monoculture, the cultivation of a single crop, is beneficial for a few years, before the soil turns arid and the look of the same fruit becomes boresome.
What if humanity will be confined within the limits of a single intellectual and spiritual ideal? What if we are laying the foundation for a generic modern culture that will have no opponents?
Water, in various forms and shapes, flows through the streams of this world, creating and sustaining life of all species. In the cracks of the surface, where the reflection breaks, you see that the water is filled with cloudy particles, threatening to soon seize the entire stream. This gray cloudy water will be flooding every river bed, every current, flux, every creek. Trickling down to the roots of the oldest tree. Turning its branches into dead wood and its fruit into hollow shrouds.
The San, also known as Bushmen, have hunted and gathered on our planet for over 40,000 years, making them the oldest population of humans on Earth. Their ancestors laid the base of human and cultural diversity. Once inhabiting the entire African subcontinent, today the San live a life far removed from that of their nomadic ancestors. They survive the harsh conditions of the Kalahari Desert, scattered across Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and southern Angola in gated conservancies.
Still, even within these designated territories, the Bushmen face eviction, discrimination and legal disadvantages. The San also carry with them an arduous past, tainted with slavery, genocide, resettlement, and victimization. For centuries, the San were victims of slavery and genocide by colonial settlers, who declared the hunting of Bushmen as a sport. Throughout the entire 20th century, the already dwindling San population experienced evictions from their ancestral territories in order to make way for private property acquisitions and game hunting reserves. Still today, the game is sold to paying visitors from foreign countries, while the San themselves are restricted from hunting for their survival. Instead, the San are turned into tourist attractions. ‘Bushmen-experiences’ are sold to tourists, while the reality shows a community of hunters and gatherers, exploited by private landowners, that control their water supply and prevent them from hunting.
The group of San native to the Namibian Kalahari Desert is called the Ju/‘hoansi. In the 1960s, anthropologists described their population as “completely untouched from the outside world.” By the 1970s, this was no longer the case. The South African Administration under Apartheid created Bushmenland, a conservancy in the Kalahari Desert. Its capital Tsumkwe hosts a school, administration camp, and church. Introducing a catholic church in their capital was part of the governmental political program and contradicted the San’s spiritual belief. At church, the San were told to refrain from practicing their culture as it was deemed to be haunted by evil spirits. Hence, the consequences of the forced resettlement of the Ju/’hoansi proved disastrous. The injection of modern structures and monetary systems into their daily lifestyle resulted in identity loss, substance abuse and complete nutritional shift from plants and game to cornflour pap and sugar. Having lost the freedom of their nomadic culture, the Ju/’́hoansi found themselves vulnerable to any form of power that would enter into the Bushmenland conservancy. The traditional culture of the San was being oppressed and similarly their access to modern life advantages denied: leaving them in a vacuum between their traditional identity and the modernization of the life around them.
In addition to the problems of resettlement and encroachment, is the necessity of money as a means to survive in our modern economy. Although contradicting the traditions and culture of the San, legislation nowadays imposes the need for money, whether that be for access to medical services or for legally mandatory burials. Hence, the value of their genius, regarding nature and survival, is enshrouded by labels like ‘poor,’ ‘uneducated,’ and ‘unemployed.’ In a community where sharing replaces the need of money, currency has no function but a destructive one. Once a member of the group makes an income, he is expected to share it, just as members of a community used to share their caught game. There is an understanding and a sense of solidarity which is impossible to replicate in our current
multiaxial urban society, merely because of our vast population size. If the San’s way of living had remained pristine and untainted, they could ensure their survival and richness of their life themselves.What is failed to be celebrated and cherished is the San’s presence as teachers: teachers of nature, spirits, and balance of life. Aside from their impressive mastery in archery and expert knowledge of flora and fauna, is their peaceful and respectful interaction with our planet. They hunt as little as they need to survive and replenish the land with new seeds when roots are consumed. The San’s precise and vast knowledge of their surroundings allows them to thrive in what most consider one of the most forbidding areas on Earth. They follow the virtue of the elements, communicate with the animals of the bush, read the healing power of the plants, enchant the rain and fear the sun.
Tracks written in the sand by wild animals are being read by the Bushmen like we read news headlines. They know when, why, and which animal went where and at what speed. Hunters carry a short bow and a quiver of arrows with an efficiency range of 25 meters. The arrow is tipped in deadly toxin which is derived from a beetle. The perfect blend of poison counts as the highest achievement of San technology. The arrows are a forge of solidarity, a sign of being able to sustain your own community, rather than a sign of power or superiority. Once a child is able to hunt or carry his siblings on his back, he is considered a grown up and acts as a constitutive member of the community. Age doesn’t exist, neither does time. Knowledge is not transcribed, just remembered. By virtue of their complex language, the San have an astonishing capacity for memory. The Klick language contains 141 different sounds, while the English language includes only 31.
Culture and moral education is delivered through stories told by the elderly. As the elderly prevail as the keepers of culture and wisdom, they are also the most respected in the families. Each group of people is led by one traditional healer, who stands as a connection between the spiritual and actual world. During traditional healing ceremonies, dances and songs are celebrated whilst the healer summons the spirits of the ancestors from the earth into his feet and then releases them through his hands into the world, and towards the ill person. A healer’s spiritual power constitutes the San’s belief. The belief that one can call on the spirits of the ancestors and they will come to guide you in the medium of dreams.
Guarding a culture so peaceful, self-sufficient and respectful of nature and all forms of life, the San are a fragile force compared to the harsh power of modern civilization. Their survival is threatened by the growth-orientated world we live in today. The prevailing accumulation and mono agricultural use of land in our civilization is a factor that proves the instability and unsustainability of the economical model in the long term, as modern development will always remain in the need of new land, a source of capital, ultimately resulting in the banishment of the San – the carriers of the beginnings of evolution and diversity, who protect and share their environment as their sole supply of food and life. The pure beauty of the customs and interconnection between the San and their environment is a reminder of the diversity of our planet. And at the same time it confronts the modern strive for quantity and improvement, consuming all its resources and homogenizing diversity, that is slowly but surely compromising the variety of life.
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