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mercredi 2 janvier 2013


When I was reading Anthropology at London, had a chance to visit the San people of Tsumkwe on four different occasions. Having intimate knowledge of some other ancient peoples of this earth, I could see great parallels, but those parallels were mainly about oppression, Christianisation, coco-colonization and poverty: didn't matter who was perpetuating it, whether White, Black or people claiming to be indigenous.
I have been fortunate enough to spend long periods of time with American Indians whose ancient knowledge is given to you as if by osmosis. No formal teaching, but they convey the message to you. I was lucky that my first teacher from Meskwakia had warned me and I had taken her warning to heart:
Show Respect to each and every Indian, if you can love them, it would be even better.
Air Namibia’s lone, ageing 747 takes off from London and makes its way south to Windhoek. The book with me on that trip was one by Laurence van der Post. Never before or after have I found a write with such an understanding of the Indigenous mind and ways of thinking

Benedict Allen had written:
his appeal as a writer amounted to more than his achievement in depicting a defunct lifestyle. "We need primitive nature, the First Man in ourselves, it seems, as the lungs need air and the body food and water," he had written, and we saw in the Bushmen evidence that the widening gap between modern, western man and his primitive past was a cause of our spiritual and moral decay. Van der Post's friendship with the psychoanalyst Carl Jung explains another element of his thinking. "Men had lost their capacity to dream ..." he reflected after the second world war. "I knew that somehow the world had to be set dreaming again." For Van der Post, the Bushmen were gatekeepers to the unconscious: "I sought to understand imaginatively the primitive in ourselves, and in this search the Bushman has always been for me a kind of frontier guide."
I remember a line ..Why do the outsiders so dislike and hate the Indigenous people?
After many years of travel among many Indigenous groups, I realized that question to be universal.. Why do others hate this innocent man-child?
LvdP provided the answer.. They resent the loss of the innocence of beginning, this closeness to the original creation of God…and then he added, Only when the outsiders begin to show respect for the Indigenous peoples, and understand that they have something to contribute, will the welfare of them get better.
On the last day of December, I was overcome with nostalgia for Jhu/Hoansi San whom I had visited. The Clinic, the Kavango policemen, children doing the tsamma melon dance, Nisa, the middle aged lady who had been filmed since her birth, now turned into an alcoholic. The Peace Corps men and women with their Christian zeal and coca cola bottles.
Soon I was watching a documentary on the very same people I had contacted, and two of the academics appeared also: Meagan Biesele and Robert Hitchcock, both of whom I had the pleasure of meeting in the USA.
Dr Biesele was echoing what LvdP had said very many years earlier (she had worked more than 30 years with San). when the western world realize that the San has some knowledge that is valuable to them, the self esteem of the San would increase.
Following the Australian model of Papunya, the San artists have begun to put down on paper their symbolic stories, and the project seems to be headed for similar success.

My favourite museum in Paris, for obvious reasons is Musee Quai d Branley, one of the nicest anthropological museums in the world.. (In Mexico city, the magnificent collections are about Los Indios, in Kuching, the Sarawak Museum has excellent displays of life in Borneo, Heard Museum has Native American artefacts, even went to one in San Juan, in Argentina!)
And it cannot be a coincidence the special display was about Papunya and the aboriginal paintings… that began only in the 1970s and 1980s and now has brought them respect, self-government and cash flow and tribal prosperity.
It was amazing to see the paintings with clarity of a bird’s eye view of the landscape. American Indians always remind me, Eagle flies high and has a good vision of what is underneath.
Look what Lame Deer of the Lakota had to say:

"I believe that being a medicine man, more than anything else, is a state of mind, a way of looking at and understanding this earth, a sense of what it is all about."

-- Lame Deer, LAKOTA

The Medicine Wheel explains different ways of looking at the world. The four directions are the East, the South, the West, and the North. In the East is the view of the eagle. The eagle flies high and sees the earth from that point of view. The South is the direction of the mouse. Moving on the earth, the mouse will not see what the eagle sees. Both the eagle and the mouse see the truth. The West is the direction of the bear. The bear will see different from the mouse and the eagle. From the North comes the point of view of the bison. To be a Medicine Man you must journey through all points of view and develop the mind to see the interconnectedness of all four directions. This takes time, patience, and an open mind. Eventually, you understand there is only love.

I am forever grateful that I had a chance to know American Indians. Australian Aboriginals and San Bushmen. And visit many others in India, Malaysia, Finland, and most of the Americas (warao, macusi, mapuche etc etc).
I am preparing to leave for the American Indians via London (Bar Italia where once I sat reading Laurence Van der Post)… I miss their physical presence in my life…

(the above picture taken, just before giving a presentation to the HoCank Indians : Learning from our Ancestors, which is available as a slide show on the top right hand side of this blog)
For the San, hope I can re connect with Bob Hitchcock and Meagan Biesele and who knows it would be nice to drivE east from Grootefontein towards Tsumkwe and the Botswana border.