Indigenous The term ‘indigenous’ means originating or occurring
Indigenous Religions of the World What is an ‘indigenous’ religion or belief system? When we hear the term ‘indigenous religion’, what comes to our minds? How do we react internally when those words are mentioned? How do adherents of indigenous religions feel about those outside of their social and cultural circles, who know very little of their beliefs and who understand them even less.
And how did the term ‘indigenous’ become associated with various belief systems that, in many cases, preceded most modern religions being practiced today? The term ‘indigenous’ means originating or occurring naturally in a country, region, etc.Indigenous religions do not constitute a “world religion” in the same way as, Buddhism, Islam or Christianity does. Therefore, an indigenous religion would be loosely defined as a spiritual or religious belief system that originated or began in a certain geographic region, and was inherently native to its inhabitants. In exploring these various beliefs, Fisher points out that “Indigenous spirituality is a lifeway, a particular approach to all of life.
It is NOT a separate experience, like meditating or going to church. Rather, it ideally pervades all moments. (Fisher) Armed with that concept in mind, I will examine three major characteristics of indigenous religions, describe the historical relationship between dominant and indigenous religions, and take a look at the different issues between the two that are being faced as we enter the 21st century. One major characteristic of an indigenous religion is the overall belief or viewpoint that practically EVERYTHING is spiritually connected, related or somehow dependent on one another. Many indigenous peoples view the circle as the perfect symbol of interconnectedness, as it is seen as having no end.It also symbolizes aspects of ones’ life: birth, youth, maturation and death.
Some see it as foretelling of the cyclical nature of the universe and the seasons since they all repeat annually. But within the belief in the circle lies the understanding that if we aren’t living in correctly, or rightly, that balance will cease to exist. The belief in kinship with creation is widely supported within most indigenous religions. In this way of thinking, there is more importance placed on the concept of “we” than there is on the concept of “I”.Here, the family or village is where strong emphasis lies. In many indigenous traditions, developing and maintaining a respectful relationship with spiritual energy is paramount. This concept doesn’t only apply to humans, but also, in many cases to the immediate natural environment as well.
The oneness of the body and the land is vital. Many think of themselves as mere ‘caretakers’ of the earth, and nothing more, who has a duty to nurture and preserve it for future generations. Certain animals are seen as spiritual conduits, just as certain trees are seen to impart herbal healing secrets.
Another characteristic of an indigenous religion deals with the emphasis placed on the spiritual specialists. The general consensus is that anyone can have personal or direct access to spirits or that which is unseen, yet felt (democratized shamanism). There is no special requirement in most indigenous systems that stipulate ‘who’ can commune or interact with spirits, however, as a general rule, many feel that it is best to leave interactions with spirits to those that have been taught or trained through ritual or purification of some sort.
Most indigenous religions are not written down, but based on oral traditions that have been memorized and passed down through generations. In this way, tribal storytellers play vitally important roles in preserving history and tradition. Memorizing an entire history can be tedious, as some oral traditions are complex and extremely long. The importance of these storytellers should not be understated. For example, present-day tribes, who dwell deep within the rainforest, would heavily rely on their ancestral storytelling, for clues or instructions on how to survive and hunt in their surroundings.This information must be passed down in most circumstances, or how else would the people know what to do or what is expected of them within their tribes? In some cultures, spiritual specialists are called ‘shamans’ or ‘medicine men’ and are generally viewed as being divinely guided in healing matters but of spiritual and psychological issues as well.
Although the various roles may vary from belief to belief, there is a strong, united understanding that these ‘specialist’ do not operate, cure or heal themselves, but rather through the spirit that is working within them.Most view shamans or medicine men/women as divinely selected and that the spirit enters whomever it ‘chooses’. Great emphasis is placed in the spiritual training of potential intermediaries, whereas, if the spirits do not find them acceptable, then that person is unable to carry the role or title as shaman/medicine person. Great importance is placed on group observances within the indigenous religious structure. The concept of ‘community’ is common place among most other indigenous beliefs.Group rituals are commonplace and are utilized for a variety of different circumstances, such as purification or spiritual renewal of certain individuals. Often, entire villages will make long journeys, or pilgrimages to places that they deem ‘sacred’, to commune.
It is strongly believed among most indigenous people that if the group broke up or was otherwise separated, that they would ultimately lose any cohesion that they possessed as a group. For example, in many cases, certain villages have ‘sacred places’ that they routinely perform prayers or rituals at.Many indigenous adherents hold the belief that these locations hold special cultural significance, and as such, MUST be respected and protected at all costs. However, more and more often, these sacred areas are being upset and/or destroyed by the encroachment of modern civilization, thus irreparably damaging the spiritual presence, cohesiveness and connection forever. This has a devastating effect on them, as in many cases, the sacredness of such locations may have been in their village for centuries. Historically, the relationship between indigenous and dominant religions has been horrible.
In most cases, where the two have crossed paths, the latter of the two has tried to A) Uproot or destroy it, B) Convert them outright or B) Co-opt it into their belief system, thus watering it down, and quite possibly forcing them to abandon it altogether. The history is full of glaring displays of disrespect and ignorance, in that the presumption of most dominant religions is that their way is ‘right’ and any other belief is ‘wrong’. This refusal to accept others’ belief system or allow it to exist as is, is troublesome and leads to bitterness and cultural angst.Lastly, indigenous peoples are often the target of external economic domination by corporations which seek to exploit indigenous homelands, often with the help of the nation-state in which indigenous peoples reside. These corporations or other interests are often times motivated by one thing: Avarice! The love of money is the root of all evil. In the cases of many indigenous people, this statement is overwhelmingly true. The sacredness or cultural relevance of the indigenous are often overlooked, as these companies plunder and pillage the lands for various profitable resources.
Today, there is a considerable effort on behalf of many indigenous sects, to push back against this corporate tyranny, through educating the public to the importance of respecting cultural and religious traditions or sacred places, and through seeking relief in various judicial systems. It is heartening to see the progress being made towards certain indigenous cultures and the horrendous policies that some of them have been put through. One such example is in Australia, where for virtually 100 years, there was an acculturation attempt with the Aboriginal children to erase their own history and replace it with that of the white mans.Australia’s citizens officially attempted to apologize for this dreadful attempt in 1998, through church ceremonies, schools, cities and in ‘Sorry books’. In many cases, the tensions between the dominant religions and indigenous ones aren’t thought to be improving. If anything, indigenous religions, in some cases are being commercialized or politicized for financial gain, i.
e. casino gambling, government-subsidies, etc. There is a long way to go and a great deal of work left to do, to preserve the rights of millions of indigenous religions worldwide.