Monday, November 5, 2012

Holistic Living: What Can Indigenous Cultures Teach Us?

One of my avenues of exploration for arguing for biophilia for Pagans, as well as the world at large, is going back to ancient sources. Much of Western society has been slowly built up over the ages on ideas and architecture that find its wellspring first in the ancient Greeks and then the Romans. However, hundreds and thousands of other cultures existed in the same time period, some that are much older than the Greeks, and some that still (barely) survive today. In every continent today, there are indigenous peoples whose way of life often (if not always) depended on an intimate relationship with the natural environment, building up their cultures, societies, and belief systems around that. I don't want to suggest a Noble Savage scenario, as that is just as disingenuous as it is racist, but rather that each culture survived (and in a few cases, still do) due to this interdependence. In those cases where indigenous peoples are dying out (and there are shamefully many of these), the reason why can usually be traced back to dispossession from the lands traditionally inhabited, whether physically (actual removal from said lands) or socially (active discouragement from retaining traditional ways of life in attempts to "civilize").

What I propose is not simply obtaining justice for indigenous people and restoring land to them - in some cases, this would also dispossess people currently inhabiting these lands. Rather, I think ways can be found for holistic integration. In fact, I believe this is imperative.

I have to stress that I don't think we should throw the baby out with the bathwater: we have many technological advances that can and should be utilized. Ideologies, as well. However, in helping restore native ways of life, I strongly believe we also uncover ways to save ourselves from a natural destruction. We relearn modalities that reknit families, societies, cultures, and our relationship with our natural environment. We help heal some of the spiritual and mental ennui (sometimes even despair or anhedonia) individuals of our societies sometimes feel.

I will begin with examining aboriginal domestic structures from all over the world. I propose that, where native cultures had a societal and spiritual, as well as biological, interdependence with their land, similar structural forms and spatial organizations can be found. These rely on recognizing a land's characteristics and building in relation to the site as well as the clan/family/tribe/cultural group's biological needs. I am hoping that, in finding some of these similarities and analyzing their sources, we can utilize the information to inform modern forms of biophilic design that are thoughtful and responsive to our individual as well as societal needs.