Thursday, June 15, 2017

The Meaning of Land

Traditional societies around the world understood land in ways different from the modern interpretation. In many countries, especially the “developed” ones, land is considered to be a commodity—in other words, something having economic value.

Yet, such a definition of land is quite a modern phenomenon. A look back at the epics, whether the Odyssey or the Iliad in Greece, or the Mahabharata or the Ramayana in India, shows the landscape to be dotted with sacred spaces—whether mountains, rivers or groves. These sacred places, where the individual could connect with the spiritual, became celebrated in literature, in festivals and in the cultural lives of the people.

In aboriginal cultures throughout the world, this understanding survives. They show a much more nuanced view of land than the dominant culture’s; one which includes spiritual, physical, social and cultural connections. Indeed, if there is one singular, distinguishing feature to all aboriginal religions, whether in America, Australia or Brazil, it is this relationship to the land.

Autrailian Aboriginal (Palyku) woman Ambelin Kwaymullina explains: “For Aboriginal peoples, country is much more than a place. Rock, tree, river, hill, animal, human – all were formed of the same substance by the Ancestors who continue to live in land, water, sky. Country is filled with relations speaking language and following Law, no matter whether the shape of that relation is human, rock, crow, wattle. Country is loved, needed, and cared for, and country loves, needs, and cares for her peoples in turn. Country is family, culture, identity. Country is self.” [1]
With the arrival of colonialism and now globalization, this relationship is being damaged. An increasingly global free market has meant disappearing borders, skyrocketing corporate profits and an increase in wealth for some. But not everyone has shared in the benefits of globalization. In every corner of the world, the traditional lands of Indigenous peoples are under threat as governments and corporations seek to dispossess the people and exploit their abundant natural resources.

Linda Bull, a Cree from Goodfish Lake First Nation says the problem of globalization is not new. According to her, Native people in Canada have been fighting it for generations under another word - assimilation. Globalization and assimilation both seek to separate indigenous people from the land, to make them disappear. The Cree people have not forgotten their connection to the place. Protection of the land is crucial for Native people because, according to her: "when our lands disappear, we too all will disappear." [2]


Mohan Ashtakala is author of "The Yoga Zapper." published by Books We Love.