There are various ways to speak about indigenous cultures, for example we could speak from the perspective of our so called ‘civilisation’ but how do we know that this perception is not contrary to the truth.
We could speak on the basis of our traditional religious concepts but again these concepts may in reality be the opposite of what we believe. If we speak about the indigenous from the point of view of an anthropologist we arrive at a cold and empty language, a study that only pays attention to external and superficial matters, in the same way an anatomist analyses our inner organs or our bones but is still a long way from knowing the reality.
We believe that it is better to speak about indigenous cultures on the basis of their own reality, in relation to how they were as much as how they are now because in the course of time from yesterday to today many things have happened that are worthy of examination. The shock of our technical civilisation with the natural civilisation of the indigenous has brought about many changes for them that, rather than being beneficial, have been devastating to their natural culture, to its depths and essence. On the other hand, for us this cultural shock has only provoked isolated changes in the thoughts and way of life for some small groups of people.
We now know from studies that have been carried out that indigenous peoples, prior to having contact with our civilisation, lived completely happily in their way of life without that which we suppose to be the ‘greatness of technology’ even though with this technology we find ourselves a long way from an epoch of happiness and true peace.
The Jibaras Indians are an Amazonian tribe that still exist in spite of the advance of colonisation and evangelisation, although they are suffering drastically from the cultural shock.
The governments of South American countries have the indigenous as part of their popular folklore, like a tourist attraction, like a national treasure, like a clay figure of a distant culture that we look at with curiosity but it is rare that people realise that for many capitalist governments the indigenous are an obstacle to the interests of the destruction of the Amazon and the exploitation of its natural resources. Now, there are Amazonian Indians that live within our culture but that want to retain their authentic cultural values but it is evident that much damage has been caused to their psyches and their way of thinking if we look at the world and the society amongst these Indians. It is very difficult for them to return to their true cultural purity.
The Indian has been impacted by the society of consumerism and he too wants to consume, although he knows that this is difficult because money is a new article in his life and he does not know the value of it or how to manage it. We have discovered that we can exploit the role of the Indian and take advantage of his situation and so we have converted him into a clay figure that we know is commercialising his culture, exporting him to other countries and presenting him as an exotic figure from the jungles of South America. Everyone wants to look but few can understand and comprehend. Our culture encourages the Indian to make money from his own image but in doing this he damages the very essence of what he is.
From the moment that the society of consumerism knocks at the doors of the remaining isolated indigenous civilisations things will never be the same.
For this reason we believe that it is important not to speak about Amazonian Indians in an exterior form. We are dedicated to speaking about their culture and their form of life as we see it presented before our own eyes, and to transform with our minds any erroneous concepts that are based on theories and not on the reality that the Amazonian Indians had and have in their interior, that which the elders call wisdom. In reality it is only through the warmth of human contact that it is possible to know how the different indigenous cultures really feel nowadays. Even when they live in protection, in communities or tribes it is difficult for them to withstand the merest contact with evangelisers, capitalist society, and modern technology.
All is a matter of the focus of the mind, interior interests and the significance of life itself, of the world and nature. And so what is the wisdom that seems to be the occult link to penetrate into the kingdom of comprehension of the indigenous world? It is difficult to respond to this question in words because the indigenous themselves have in general lost the profound and esoteric contact with this wisdom due to the contact with and contamination of our “civilisation”.
But if we are trying to translate into words the “something” that is the wisdom of the wise Indian we should try to understand that the shamans say the reason for this is that “The whites think that we humans are physical machines that learn to think but they don’t realise that in truth we are thoughts that learn to create physical machines”.
Shamanism is a very important part of the essence of the wisdom of the Indian. If we truly want to understand what it consists of to know our indigenous peoples we should learn to look beyond the simple phenomena that is produced by the customs, artistic expressions and cultures of a people that belong to another time and that are desperately fighting to survive and to avoid extinction and the acculturation that threatens their beliefs and natural way of life.
The recovery of the native cultures should be more than just simple exhibitionism of their customs and art; it requires a profound study about the philosophy that includes the rituals, customs, traditions and forms of authentic indigenous life.
The tradition of our ancestors conforms to a way of life, a conception of man and nature as a whole, and to start from here is to realise all the rest. All that the wise indigenous do and say has a profound reason because they know how to be, how to live simply and they conceive life in a natural way that goes beyond the intellectual parameters and reasoning that the western culture has imposed since the conquest of the pre-Colombian world.
When we learn to value the knowledge of shamanism in its essence, when we discover the secrets that the indigenous have found over many generations of life in Pachamama, when we really understand from the feeling and cause of the religious customs and rituals we will be nearer to the truth of the BEING of the indigenous and the special idiosyncrasies of the indigenous cultures.
From the first moment that the European countries set foot in these lands seeking the wealth of the new world, they believed that the inhabitants of this world were inferior and uncivilised. They initiated the most horrifying barbarism of extermination and acculturation with the standard bearer of the church and the imposition of another culture that believed it was superior. Before the superiority of arms the indigenous people began to succumb in spite of their valiant resistance. With a cross in one hand and a sword in the other the conquerors destroyed thousands of natives that had lived together for thousands of years on their own land and with an original and profound knowledge that nature itself had given.
In spite of not knowing the Christian God or any other of the beliefs of the white man, the Indians had their own beliefs and religious rituals that should never be considered as inferior or pagan. But this was their destiny and even today after 500 years of domination we are still at the same point.
Reprinted with permission from Don Vasudev
The Shamanic and Ecological Association of Colombia