Monday, 12 March 2018

Wise Words: Culture Protects Nature

The forests have been tended (cultivated) for millennia by Amazonian people. (“The wild is not the opposite of the cultivated,” says Vandana Shiva. “It is the opposite of the captivated.”) Nature and culture may be distinct; a house and the garden are domestic spaces, and have a different quality from the wild forests, but it is not an opposition. Further, one can be “at home” not only in a house but in the natural world outside. For nature and culture find trysting places in the forests, interweaving and reflexive in a lovely gyre of mutuality. Swedish ethnographer Kaj Århem writes, “Among Amerindians of the Amazon, the notion of ‘nature’ is contiguous with that of ‘society’,” and he notes that “the same can be said of many, if not most, indigenous peoples of the world.” Sometimes, writes Århem, even animals “are attributed with ‘culture’—habits, rituals, songs, and dances of their own.”

For forest people, nature is defended by culture: many rules concerning hunting and the nonexploitative use of resources—blunt ecological truths—are encoded in the myths and magic, tales and enchantments that makes up a society’s culture. Shamans and thinkers of the forest know that the mind learns best this way. Myths, comments Århem, are “extremely efficient” for the purpose as they are “at once ecologically informed, emotionally charged and morally binding.” If you scrape off the magic, then the raw facts and laws are harder to recall and harder to impose. So culture protects nature.

(Jay Griffiths, Wild: An Elemental Journey, Penguin: London, 2006, p. 45)

2 comments:

  1. Replies
    1. Thank you. It's one of my favourite books. It changed everything for me.

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