Posts Tagged ‘wisdom’

Wade Davis Massey Lectures

I have been listening to, and enjoying immensely, this years Massey Lectures by Wade Davis. Actually, the first lecture I did not enjoy so much, as it seemed to be put in as a nod to western science–it focuses largely on, I think the term was, genetic anthropology. Apparently, using information fromĀ  human genes, scientists can trace the broad migration patterns out of Africa of all peoples of the Earth. Anyhow, the lectures are great, and I am looking forward to hearing the fifth and final part.

Iroqouis Confederacy, Black Elk, and Keith Basso

In the course on Indigenous history/philosophy that I am taking we have read in three different areas so far. The first week, we read about the Iroquois (Haudenosaunee) system of government, also known as the great binding law. Some scholars trace the founding document of their Confederacy (between 5 nations, now 6) back to the year 1142. I’m not sure what I have to say about the document itself, other than that it is very detailed, and contains a number of checks and balances to ensure smooth and equitable relations between the nations of the confederacy.

That week we also read about Handsome Lake, a Seneca religious figure from the late 18th/early 19th century. After a life of alcohol abuse lack of personal fulfilment, near death, he had a vision, which inspired a new religion called Gaiwiio. This religion was/is basically Christian in content, though it sees European Christians as corrupted largely as a result of the evils that they brought to and encouraged in the “New World.” The movement helped to ensure the survival of Iroquois traditions and values (albeit with a new Christian dimension) in the face of increasing alcoholism linked to the pressures of expanding white settlement. The religion is still prominent within several six nations communities to this day.

More interesting, to me at least on a personal level, was the reading from this week (now last week), a book called Wisdom Sits in Places, by Keith Basso. Where to begin…Basically Basso is a white ethnographer (anthropologist) who spent many years living with the Western Apaches around a town called Cibecue. Over the course of his time there he discovered that the Apaches some different ideas about wisdom and its relationship to “the land.” I want to get this post done now, so I will summarize. Basically the Apache’s attach descriptive names to specific places. These names evoke a story, and this story will have some moral wieght to it. So, if someone is acting out and the community needs to remind him or her of the community’s values, they would just say the name of a place to that person, for example, Tree-by-water-over-rocks. Then that person will think of the story attached to that place, and hopefully remedy his/her actions appropriately. Not only this, but whenever the person is near Tree-by-water-over-rocks in the future she will remember her previous indiscretion. An interesting aspect though is that the stories of places are believed to be sacred in a way because when you tell a story you are imagining yourself in the place where ancestors would have experienced the story originally and using the words that they would have used to describe the event, thus you are in a way channeling the ancestors. Also, because if you are reprimanded by a place-name-story you see it there for the rest of your life, and so they refer to stories as “stalking” or hunting people, because they follow you around for the rest of your life. Also, the title of the book “wisdom sits in places” refers to the way in which community members can achieve wisdom, namely by learning the names-stories of many many places and being able to call up appropriate stories, and thus the wisdom of the ancestors. This can give wise people predictive abilities. More importantly, the connection between place-name-stories and wisdom, shows the literal connection between community knowledge and physical places. I am not capturing very well the essence of the concept, but people can borrow the book from me if they want to learn more…