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The New Tide

Seaweed Gatherers
Fisherfolk gathering seaweed, southern coast of Boso Peninsula, Chiba, Japan, 1977.

So many roiling emotions and thoughts lately about identity and the direction we need to take in the world today. The thoughts are rough and fleeting, like a cloud of bees, clarity alighting here and there, then flitting away into obfuscation, so that writing comes heavily and plodding. Several days ago I read the poem post by Madame Butterfly at Nehanda Dreams about the world’s tribes declaring pride and love in who they are, and then later her comment on my “Thunder” post, questioning the idea of race. It was a question that every non-white in the world, when subjected to the white world or other homogenous group, daily thinks about, in constant comparison to some amorphous image of perfection hovering over the psychic world.

Yesterday, as if on cue, I just happened to come across Barbara Kingsolver’s selection of essays “Small Wonder: Essays”, a last copy hidden in the corner of the bottom shelf of the tiny nature section of the Kinokuniya bookstore in downtown Tokyo. I thought the book was mainly about nature, since that is Kingsolver’s domain, but upon starting it, it became clear that this was her response to the New York tragedy, and, over time, an effort to comprehend what is happening in the world today. In the opening lines, her wounds are very fresh from the New York attack and still raw with grief and anger. I have to remind myself that her book appeared before much of what the United States is doing now took place, and that through the examples of her earlier work, I must remember that her mind is open to the minds of people in other places.

Then, today, I was watching yet another Discovery Channel documentary of one of our world’s smaller tribes, this time the Tauduram hunter gatherers of Palawan, the Philippines. In the last scene the narrator Phil Borges compares a shaman’s inability to heal a tribe member’s liver disease he had never encountered before, with the surrounding destruction of the forest. Borges wonders about the spiritual effect on these people, who until recently lived in intimate relationship with the mountain forests, of having suddenly to switch to a slash and burn economy and destroy the very forests that constituted the spirits of their ancestors.

It got me thinking about why it is that so many Native Americans lost the desire to live after the Indian Wars, and so many of them gave up after Wounded Knee, with alcoholism and domestic violence reaching epidemic proportions. I understood the sense of despair, but I couldn’t personally compare it to anything that I could empathize with. Until I thought of the New York tragedy and how Americans, and people all over the world, reacted to it. How the sense of the world coming to an end engulfed us all and wrought shock and despair. That must be how it felt, and still feels, to the Native Americans, their world toppled by an abrupt (if seen from their 10,000 or more years of history) and violent attack.

In addition the values that the Europeans brought with them, the very de-personification of the Land, of killing the spirits and gods as if the Land could be anything without them, must have shattered the foundations of what constituted their understanding of the world. What the Europeans brought forced them to adopt a world view in direct opposition to all that was true and right, in comparison almost as if a Christian were coerced into accepting the Antichrist as their god.

Madame Butterfly’s exclamation of “amandhla!” perhaps provides a glimmer of hope, a tiny first step for people around the world reclaiming their heritage and standing up to put the Christian god back in its place, as one among many in the pantheon. With her question of how we might understand race, I claim that we are now delving into something new. The old adages and proclamations need to be redefined, and a new understanding of what the human race is and how it needs to name itself demands discussion. People are mixing among themselves all around the world… the distances are foreshortened. It no longer means everything to claim you are American or I am German or she is Japanese or he is Nigerian. The borders are blurred.

So we are something new. The inability to clearly enunciate what this is illustrates just how new the changes are. Many people deny it and those who do recognize that all aspects of our relationship to ourselves, to each other, and to the planet are evolving, often react with anger and violence, out of fear.

But we are changing. And we must adapt. We must clear our minds of cobwebs and address the mounting problems that are overtaking the world. And we must learn to redefine what we are, once and for all ridding ourselves of the ignorance and intolerance that have plagued our history since we first formed societies. This is the new and fearsome frontier, blessed with peace and prosperity if we can truly learn from our mistakes.

Otherwise…