in search of another perspective

One of the things I have been thinking about a lot, lately, is about Colonialism and indigenous cultures. This is not to attack and aportion blame, but to get a better understanding of the presumptions we (I) make, and where possible, to challenge them. Nor is this an attempt to suggest that the West/North is evil and the East/South is good- I think all cultures can learn from each other, and none have all the answers. With the caveats out of the way, look at these two examples.

1) 1) The Zo tribes (spread across Mizoram, Manipur, Assam and Myanmar) were head hunters- they would bring back the heads of their enemies as trophies. My grandfather’s ancestral village is called Samlukhai, quite literally ‘[place of] head hanging by hair’. We seem to have been taught to be ashamed of this part of our history, and most people speak of this time as ‘dark ages’ of a sort. Reuben, a filmmaker/songwriter friend, recently pointed out to me that the issue with head hunting was not so much the taking of the head, as the fact that one had to kill the person the head belonged to! The problem, he said, was the killing. While we no longer take heads, we still kill in war, though no longer with the chem (machete/dao). Killing has become a sophisticated business now. And is it any more acceptable because we do not take heads? Shouldn’t our shame be the killing, and not the head taking?

2) A large part of New Zealand European art between the 1860s and the 1970s has been of landscape. This is a beautiful country, and on the surface it seems reasonable that artists would devote so much energy to capturing it. Apparently though there was a bit of an agenda here- the landscapes were empty. This served the purpose of the New Zealand Company who wanted to attract European settlers here, conveniently leaving the Maori tribes out of the pictures to deliberately give the impression of a vast empty land that was just waiting for the settlers to come and take over. By leaving the Maori out of the paintings, they glossed over the fact that this land belonged to someone- the tribes! A predecessor of the modern tourist brouchere, I guess.

The connection? In both cases, it has been a dominant Western/Colonial perspective that was generally accepted as ‘fact’, even to the extent where, as in the case of the Zo tribes, we beleive the lies we have been told about ourselves! Happily for the Maori, they have managed to hold on to many of the things they find important, increasingly challenging the Euro-centric worldview with appeals to their own.

This is what I am asking: what will happen to my worldview if i take off the red spectacles I have always (unconsciously, sometimes) seen the world through, and try green spectacles instead? What will happen if I deliberately look at the world through ‘tribal’ value systems (if such exist)? Will I come to a very different understanding of the world? Will it be any better?

I’d be very glad for company, whether you are a tribal or not. Care to join me?

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