Chapter 2- Indigenous Sacred Ways
Indigenous people are described as “descendants of the original inhabitants of lands now controlled by political systems in which they have little influence” (Fisher, 38). Despite the liberation of thoughts and cultural diversity, many indigenous people still maintain a sacred way of life that is distinctively unique from all other religion. These enduring ways of traditional lifestyle which they call “Original Instructions” on how to live “were almost lost because of genocidal colonization, conversion pressures from global religions, mechanistic materialism and destruction of their natural environments by the global economy of limitless consumption” (Fisher, 38). Most people in the world have heard of some of the global religions such as Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Judaism and Buddhism. But few are perhaps familiar with the sacred ways and religions of Native Americans, Eskimos and Australian Aborigines.
Many indigenous sacred ways endured often in secret because of repression. In many native areas like Buryats in Russia and aboriginal Australia, sacred traditions were blended with the influence of colonists and missionaries. Non natives like those people from research, science and anthropology have difficulties understanding traditional ways, as a result, these ways are often misinterpreted. Researchers of culture sometimes give wrong accounts towards sacred ways because they approach it from Western perspective and religious bias. Knowing that researchers of culture do not fully understand their sacred ways, indigenous people have at times given incorrect information “to protect the sanctity of their practices from the uninitiated” (Fisher, p. 40).
Their spirituality is the most distinct way of illustrating their sacred ways of lifestyle. Indigenous spirituality is a life way, a particular approach to all aspects of life (Fisher, p.41). They practice their spirituality through oral narratives and sharing of experience. They don’t have scriptures or written code of some sort unlike other known religions. Their life ways before however was only understood inside their community. Despite the hindrances to understand indigenous sacred ways of spirituality, contemporary world are now beginning to share their basic values. This is because of three reasons. First, traditional elders in the hope to prevent industrial societies to destroy the earth that will cause planetary disaster are becoming more expressive to raise their concerns. Second, those from other religions begin to recognize the value and profundity of sacred ways that were often suppressed and discouraged by the organized religion before. Third, many as well are attempting to embrace sacred ways because their own culture lacks certain qualities like love for the earth that they find meaningful in human existence. Indigenous people still fear though at times that outsiders may unconsciously disrupt or alter their indigenous practices. Since their sacred ways are all that they have, they are afraid that this maybe ruined.
Though different indigenous people have common practices, it is important to see that their religion are quite distinct form each other. Some indigenous culture like Australian Aborigines still embodies a basic strategy of survival. Others though have been highly developed so cultural diversity manifest. Cultural diversity happens when the location and areas where the indigenous people live is mix up with contemporary urban people. Cultural diversity varies in the degree of absorption and adaptation from the dominant religions and cultures in the area from which they live. While interaction with larger societies or colonial powers has been extremely detrimental to the indigenous people around the world, adaptation of the dominant religion have sometimes allowed the traditional people to survive (Fisher, p.42). It gives them the opportunity to be educated and to find job in urban areas. The adaptation of newer religion will give their sacred ways more life and meaning.
Indigenous religions however maintain common characteristics. Their ways and concept in approaching the universe are common to many of them. Many indigenous religions hold the belief that everything in the universe, all forms of life are interdependent and interrelated. Their often symbol for interrelationship or unity is circle where life has no form of beginning and no endpoint. It can illustrate the ongoing cycle of birth, youth, maturity and death. It can also symbolize the shape of the earth, continuous return of seasons and the cyclical movements of the planets and stars in the universe. Right relationships must be maintained to maintain the balance of existence within the circle of interdependence. To maintain circles one must develop right relationships with everything: spirits, people, creatures and the power within.
Many indigenous traditions worship a Supreme Being which they also believe that Creator is “All Powerful” yet too distant for humans to ask for help. Awareness of one’s relationship to the Great Power is thought to be essential but the Power itself remains unseen and mysterious (Fisher, p. 45). So they conform or rely to what they think is more immediate and accessible like nature powers, animal spirit helpers and their ancestors who passed away. The ancestors can be very important as many traditions believe that a person is a composition of many souls. Continued communication with their dead ancestors is extremely significant for the indigenous people specifically the Africans. They believe that these unseen creatures will act as a mediator between people and the Creator. Old teachings about the spirit help people understand how to live and approach life in the society.
Their kinship with all creation is best explained on how they view nature. For them all aspects of material and tangible world are instilled with spirit and so therefore spiritually connected (Fisher, p.46). Everything is experienced as a family. Since the earth abounds with living presences, everything on earth or earth as a whole is considered as a Being- that “being” then must be loved, embraced and respected. They considered Earth as a Mother. The land where you live, as they believe, is the Mother’s body and must be respected. Everybody has to some extent relationships with power. Everybody has the capacity to develop an appropriate relationship with spiritual energy. A person might experience this power from sacred sites where concentrated power spots were known. Power can be built up through continuous sacred practices (Fisher, p. 50). Although people can interact with the unseen, and the natural world, for them it is thought to be best left to specially trained. They have what they call shamans who offer themselves as a intermediary between the physical and non-physical world. Shamans can be the “healers” as well. Native Ways can be summarized as:
1. Everything for them is sacred.
2. Circle of right relationships
3. Native Mystical relationships
4. Humans are care takers of the Earth
5. Humans should consider their actions in light of seven generations in the future.
Since indigenous sacred ways is often oral tradition, indigenous people have the responsibility to preserve and tell the stories of the past from the future generations.
Unfortunately not all contemporary people appreciate sacred way of life. It is inevitable that the sacred practices will be ruined. Much traditional spiritual wisdom has been largely obliterated; slogan like “Kill the Indian and save the man” is a manifestation. Boarding schools initially tried to stop the native sacred ways specifically those of the American Indians, Alaska Indians, Australian Indians and Mexican Indians. Many traditions have been merged with the world religion. Indigenous people approach this with silence and temperament though afraid that their sacred ways will be totally ruined. They created secret societies that will continually preserve their traditions.
Fisher, Mary Pat. Living Religions: An Encyclopaedia of the World’s Faiths. Published by I.B.Tauris. 1997. pp.38-63