Opinion Editorial Archive May, 2020: Weaving Wisdom

opinion editorial
Any opinions expressed do not necessarily represent the policies of The Peoples of the World Foundation. Unless otherwise noted, the author and photographer is Dr. Ray Waddington.

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In indigenous villages around the world one of the most common sights is weaving. The exact scene varies by region, but it almost always comprises women weaving cloth from the hair of local, domestic animals using a traditional loom. So it was in a Padaung village the first time I visited Burma (Myanmar) and took this month's photo. Weaving cloth is one thing but indigenous people weaving wisdom is surely a concept that belongs firmly in the realm of poetry.

Around 350 years ago a small village in northern England became known as the Plague Village. The residents of Eyam voluntarily isolated themselves from the outside world to stop the spread of the last major epidemic of bubonic plague in their country. Their isolation lasted fourteen months and many of them died. Some of the descendants of the survivors still live in the village today. Now once again they are isolated; Eyam recorded its first case of novel coronavirus last month. Also recorded last month was the youngest death from coronavirus of an indigenous Amazonian. The victim was a fifteen-year-old Yanomami boy in Brazil (he was the first known Yanomami to contract the disease).

The residents of Eyam have something in common with the Yanomami — they retain wisdom handed down from their ancestors. Another commonality they share is the desirability of their location. Eyam has been a tourist attraction for a long time because of its historical connection to the Great Plague. It is one of many small settlements situated in the country's national parks that together contain thousands of hiking trails. Residents in many of these settlements have had to request that outsiders stay away due to the health risk from people violating the government's lockdown order — often abusing police in protest while doing so. The Yanomami are one of many indigenous groups situated on land that contains natural resources. From the Amazon to northern Scandinavia to Borneo, illegal loggers, hunters, miners and farmers are encroaching on their land forcing them to seek isolation from coronavirus further from mainstream society.

Last month, on Earth Day, a group called Wisdom Weavers of the World released a short film with the same title. Recorded during a four-day meeting led by thirteen indigenous elders from around the world, the film documents their discussions about indigenous perspectives on contemporary world problems. Only fourteen minutes long, the film covers many topics. Unsurprisingly, climate change is among them. What you may find surprising is the perspective that global crises should be tackled together holistically. Although wise people have been saying the same about climate change and the coronavirus pandemic for the past three months, the film was made two-and-a-half years ago!

It is ironic that many non-indigenous people began protesting their isolation last month at the same time that most indigenous people were insisting on theirs. We have known for some time that tackling climate change will involve permanent lifestyle changes. Last month suggested we may not be ready to make them. Weaving wisdom is not poetry. Instead it is the legacy left us from hundreds of generations of indigenous knowledge. It is also possibly the only way to learn what indigenous knowledge can teach us.

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