We live in a small world. Thanks to blurring international borders and intertwined economies, it is as if the world has shrunk to fit into the palm of our hands. Social scientists call this phenomenon globalisation and it certainly has a long list of pros. But on the flipside, this phenomenon is diluting cultures and traditions. Even as the world faces a gradual but irrevocable loss of cultural diversity, the brunt of it is being borne by the indigenous communities.
In the name of economic development, their homes are encroached upon and their forests destroyed. Alongside fighting a losing battle to sustain their livelihood, indigenous communities struggle against discrimination, marginalisation and dire poverty in their day-to-day lives. That is not all. For a long time, the heritage of such communities has been taken for granted. Their rituals and practices have been brushed aside as superstitious and irrelevant. The intellect and wisdom of these tribes have been undermined by modern societies, even if inadvertently so. And now, several of their traditions, languages and ways of life are already lost or facing the threat of extinction.
On the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, Soulveda lists out lesser known contributions of indigenous communities to the world. We bring to the limelight their dying traditional wisdom that could be key to the sustainable future of mankind.
Perhaps, a major difference between a good majority of us and the people of indigenous communities is in our relationship with nature. While we destroy forests to erect corporate jungles, these tribes derive holistic wellbeing from living in the lap of nature.
Maybe that is why over 400 tribal communities, especially the Kayapo Warriors in the Amazon rainforest, vehemently defend their land from unregulated deforestation and logging. Ironically, until a decade ago, several studies portrayed these people as obstacles to conserving forests. One study titled Rethinking tropical forest conservation by the US-based The Woods Hole Research Centre now reveals satellite images that prove otherwise. Apparently, if it weren’t for these tribes, reckless clearing of forests would not have been halted. The images show that a good portion of forestland outside the tribe’s perimeter has been cleared out. But the Kayapo Warriors managed to defend and protect 14 million hectares of the Brazilian Amazon rainforest.
Yet another study conducted by Guatemala-based Asociación de Comunidades Forestales de Petén (ACOFOP), an organisation that strives to preserve the Mayan Biosphere, shows that allocating forestland to the Guatemala Mayan tribe has significantly helped decrease episodes of forest fires. It seems that these folks’ experiential knowledge of how to effectively prevent forest fires is better than what scientists and environmentalists claim to know!