Indigenous Wisdom Can Help Save Nature: Dr Abba Pulu

Dr. Abba Pulu, an Assistant Professor at IGGC, Tezu, focuses on tribal culture and conservation. Speaking about tribal life and global conservation of the Idu Mishmi community hailing from Arunachal Pradesh, he said the tribal people are better at sustaining the environment because of the various codes and taboos that their way of life is shaped on and they play a crucial role in conservation. “When there is an absence of the tribe, the environment is affected just like how the poaching increased at the Ngorongoro crater in Tanzania after the Masai were removed in 1974 and eviction of indigenous tribes from Yellowstone Park in the United Stated led to overgrazing of plants by elk and bison which are endemic to the region are some of the examples.”

Dr Pulu pointed out how the Idu Mishmi people believe in animalistic and forest spirits that form the main part of their religion and by doing so they follow a code of conduct and behavior that leads them to respect nature so that they get the blessings and success in farming, hunting and other resource activities. The tribe regards hunting as a serious activity and many restrictions are observed during hunting and trapping, Like killing of the tiger is prohibited, they do not hunt Hoolock Gibbons. Therefore, these codes function as an intricate conservation device. In the tribes there are many rituals associated with birth and death ceremonies that include taking into consideration the prohibitory use of animal and forest products that help in the well being of the environment.

As conclusion Dr. Abba reiterated that tribal knowledge and concept of restrictions or taboos can be used as a conservative action plan and this is critical for protecting the planet’s biodiversity and overall health of the ecosystems. Priority in respect to conservation of human rights of the indigenous people occupying such areas should be given. And all of the above are faced by challenges such as conversion of tribal members into popular religions like Christianity and also the lands are being affected due to the mushrooming of dams.

Becky Big Canoe is a mother of two and a grandmother of two and a member of the Chippewas of Georgina Island and lives on the island in the straw-bale home she helped build. Becky has owned her own business on the island in the past but after closing it in 2009 she pursued education in sustainable building. Since then she has also embarked on the path of an activist, taking up the cause of missing and murdered Aboriginal women and, more recently, her people’s connection to and responsibility for the health of the water.

At Srishti Sambhrama, Becky spoke about how it’s the time of the wild rice harvest in the island and also the story that is believed to be the creation of their islands called the Turtle Islands. According to Iroquois oral tradition, "the Earth was the thought of a ruler of a great island which floats in space and is a place of eternal peace." Sky Woman fell down to the earth when it was covered with water, or more specifically, when there was a "great cloud sea". Various animals tried to swim to the bottom of the ocean to bring back dirt to create land. Muskrat succeeded in gathering dirt, which was placed on the back of a turtle. This dirt began to multiply and also caused the turtle to grow bigger. The turtle continued to grow bigger and bigger and the dirt continued to multiply until it became a huge expanse of land. Thus, when Iroquois cultures refer to the earth, they often call it Turtle Island.

In India, Kurma, the tortoise avatar of Lord Vishnu, is associated with the legend of the churning of the Ocean of Milk, referred to as the Samudra manthan.

Becky says many traditions were lost during colonialism and during this time and age people are slowly reclaiming the traditional knowledge of harvesting and agriculture. It is important to include the future generations and children in imparting traditional knowledge and there have been teachers who are emerging to bring back this knowing. They concentrate on the seven grandfathers teachings.

Among the Anishinaabe people, the Seven Grandfather Teachings form the foundation of an indigenous way of life;

Nibwaakaawin—Wisdom: Animal representation is the Beaver.  Wisdom, a gift from the Creator, is to be used for the good of the people. The term “wisdom” can also be interpreted to mean “prudence” or “intelligence.” This means that we must use good judgment or common sense when dealing with important matters.

Zaagi’idiwin—Love: Animal representation is the Eagle. Love is one of the greatest teachers. It is one of the hardest teachings to demonstrate especially if we are hurt.“To know Love is to know peace.” Being able to demonstrate love means that we must first love ourselves before we can show love to someone else.

Minaadendamowin—Respect: Animal representation is the Buffalo. One of the teachings around respect is that in order to have respect from someone or something, we must get to know that other entity at a deeper level. This concept of respect extends to all of creation. Again, like love, respect is mutual and reciprocal – in order to receive respect one must give respect.

Aakode’ewin—Bravery: Animal representation is the Bear. “Bravery is to face the foe with integrity.” This simply means that we need to be brave in order to do the right thing even if the consequences are unpleasant.

Gwayakwaadiziwin—Honesty: Animal representation is the Bigfoot.  It takes bravery to be honest in our words and actions. One needs to be honest first and foremost with oneself. Practicing honesty with oneself makes it easier to be honest with others.

Dabaadendiziwin—Humility: Animal representation is the Wolf. As Indigenous people we understand our relationship to all of creation. Humility is to know your place within Creation and to know that all forms of life are equally important. We need to show compassion (care and concern) for all of creation.

Debwewin—Truth: Animal representation is the Turtle. “Truth is to know all of these things”. We must always speak from a truthful place. It is important not to deceive yourself or others.

Prof. Gauri Mahulikar, the Gurudev Tagore Chair of Comparative Literature Professor and former head of department of Sanskrit at the Mumbai University quoted a Sanskrit verse: “Listen you, all the children of immortality let noble thoughts come from all directions”. She shared Vedic descriptions from Atharva Veda and Rig Veda of how Bhoomisuth or Jagatha Prathishta is the substratum of all movable things. Traditionally people were nature worshippers and compared the Vedic gods to the elements of nature and they all had animal representations like the elephants and hawks. She conveyed that we need to coexist with nature and make it a way of life and gave examples of how we can learn many positive attributes from different animals. She stressed that wise people need to plant more trees, we need to help others to help oneself and glorify Mother Earth by respecting all its creatures (Srishti Sambhrama).

Grandmother Elisabeth Araujo Elizabeth is a warm, compassionate person manifesting a discernment that crosses cultural boundaries. She travels extensively throughout the world to wherever she is called to conduct ceremonies and hold council with elders in the process of bringing unification, balance and harmony to Mother Earth.

The Maya is a tradition not a religion, it comes from the beginnings of time and has been transmitted orally. The Mayas have always honored and respect Mother Earth and all if nature. In the Sacred Mayan Calendar there is a day dedicated to the Earth, it is called IX. Likewise there are days dedicated to air, fire and water, the four elements that support all life. During the discussion she highlighted that it was the day of the air and by praying to air we can remove the contagious illness that infect the beings of the Earth.

She says that in Guatemala there are more than 5,000 altars, made by nature, and most of them are in the mountains. She said that in Guatemala there are two worlds one is the western world and the other is the indigenous world and they both go parallel to each other. She focused on Mayan calendars and spoke how agriculture and harvesting of plants is done by conducting various rituals and ceremonies, grandmother Elisabeth also said that most of the harvesting especially of medicinal plants is done during the full moon taking into consideration the cycles of the moon and it’s scientific factor that helps the soil to reach the optimum condition before the next harvest.

Grandmother Elisabeth says, “this is a time for creativity and revival of the Earth and there is no reason for us to be afraid. An Inca prophesy says, “Together we will see the place where we have come from, we were the ones of yesterday, we are the ones of today and we will be the ones of tomorrow”.


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