The best teachers are those who show you where to look but don’t tell you what to see. This quote by Alexendar K. Trenfor sounds true for students of nature and land.
For Papua New Guinea it is by watching how a village woman carefully lays her bilum down on the ground and gracefully sets herself down on a patch of garden tells us she is not alone. Sitting a few meters away and in eye shot one can see she is saying something.
In the end she speaks up. “The land is alive. It has many virtues and one of them - an archive of knowledge. ”
Not many people see land as an archive of knowledge or as a teacher but it has been one of our silent teachers for many centuries. Many indigenous communities understand this and respect land the way it respects all others that exist with it.
Papua New Guineans found meaning to their existence as a people, and discovered and designed some of the most complicated systems in this world that many thousands of years on they are still very much part of their lives today.
From it their ancestors learnt about the food system, life cycle systems, relationships and many more and from it came kastoms and rituals that protected the land and celebrated the gifts; not only food but knowledge, health, the gift of life and more.
Kastom ways have intricately woven many systems into a way of life that today it is difficult for many to understand. Still in many urban communities there is the question, ‘how did a woman in a remote rural community know about gardening, birth control, rains and contentment? In search of this understanding many have returned to the natural archives of the land; to live with it so that it will open up a different world of knowledge and learning.
This natural way of knowledge acquisition is under threat as many individuals choose lifestyles dictated by commercials in the airwaves and everywhere in urban centers. For a few dollars, a trip overseas and a few cartons of beer some are willing to give up their life support system. In Papua New Guinea already 5.2 million hectares were lost under a land grab scheme and despite a government order to cancel these deals, not much has progressed.
Throughout the human journey artistic forms of creations have been seen and many recorded as some of the most sophisticated. Imagine, back then the number of learnings going on in those thick jungles or out on the reefs or down on the kunai planes of their mighty rivers. Some people argue that land is idle and not doing anything but to see food come from land and to feel the healing powers of the sea or the Sepik river or the green hills of Madang one could only wonder how did our ancestors know about various types of food, the transport system or the healing powers of the trees and the sea and the land? How did they acquire their knowledge systems?
It is by gently touching the soil and listening to the sound of birds and the rivers that knowledge pours out of it into the human person.
To be dependent on western knowledge is erasing bit by bit from the indigenous knowledge base. To combine both is world class. To grab land from indigenous communities is doing injustice to humanity.