Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Dances with Dayaks

Azly Rahman Nov 24, 08

"We did not ask you white men to come here. The Great Spirit gave us this country as a home. You had yours. We did not interfere with you. The Great Spirit gave us plenty of land to live on, and buffalo, deer, antelope and other game. But you have come here, you are taking my land from me, you are killing off our game, so it is hard for us to live. Now, you tell us to work for a living, but the Great Spirit did not make us to work, but to live by hunting. You white men can work if you want to. We do not interfere with you, and again you say why do you not become civilized? We do not want your civilization! We would live as our fathers did, and their fathers before them." - Crazy Horse of the Sioux tribe

I was just thinking that of all the trails in this life there is one that matters most. It is the trail of a true human being - Kickin Bird, (quote from the movie Dances With Wolves)

The recent happenings in Sarawak interest me; something West Malaysians must learn from. A new era is dawning – of culture and consciousness in the face of state-sponsored corporate crony capitalism. The Sarawakians are dancing to reclaim ownership of their sacred land.

Eco-feminism and ecosophical thinking of Rachel Carson, Anais Nin, and even of the "Lakei Penan" or "Penan Man" Bruno Manser is resurfacing amongst the indigenous peoples of Sarawak and hopefully Sabah too. For too long, Mother Earth has been subjugated by those who do not understand what "development" means. For too long the Sarawakians and the Sabahans have been colonised by emperors in newer clothes who go into the land of the Orang Asal and install individuals, ideologies, and institutions alien to the natives and call it "progress". In the classic play "Kisah Perjuangan Suku Naga" (The Struggle of the Naga Tribe". The Javanese poet WS Rendra called these outsiders "ogres" from Tanah Seberang.

This brings us to the bigger and global question: are we environmentally doomed? Are we at the eleventh hour of total environmental destruction? How devastating has the impact of carbon dioxide emissions been? How serious is the depletion of the ozone layer? How much of the rainforests of the world have been destroyed? How fast are the polar ice caps melting, speeding up the looming disaster of Armageddon/ Qiamat of humankind? How many more frequent, major flash floods must we endure?

The Chinese philosopher and mystic Lao Tzu once said, 'Man should not have carved the stone' meaning man should not have invented things for, '... as Man began carving the stone, the process of destruction begins'. Light bulbs, automobiles, power-plants, factories, telephone lines, bombs and computers are inventions that have historically transformed nature. Human beings 'carve the stone' and build structures of power and wealth which transform or even rape Nature in the process.

Ancient philosophies and the teachings of 'revealed religion' (of the Judeo-Christian tradition) warned against the exploitation of the physical environment so that humanity would continue to be close to Nature and closer to the realisation of the Natural Self. Buddhism, Hinduism, Confucianism, and probably the most extreme of all Hindu sects, Jainism, teach human beings to respect living things as part of the great chain of beings.

But Western scientific ideology has taught Man to be free from not only thinking about spirits and spirituality, nature and the natural self, religion and deep reflection, but has also 'enlightened' human beings into mastering Nature and using its resources for the 'progress' of mankind. Progress, measured linearly and scientifically, is then equated with 'civilisation'.

What price progress?

Civilisation carries with it the necessity for technological progress and more inventions. But if Nature is destroyed in the process of creating 'civilisations', what does being 'civilised' mean? Would 'going back to Nature' and 'destroying civilisations' be a better way to conceive the meaning of human progress? Must human beings de-evolve, de-urbanise, de-technologise and de-construct themselves in order to save Humanity from its environmental doom?

Industrialisation is a process of transforming nature to culture by the state's appropriation of natural resources. The resources are transformed into technology and techniques and applications derived from the use of science help fuel inventions. Inventions are products/artifacts of the activities of the human mind, activities that are fueled by the need to master man's destiny and the environment. But these inventions contain 'inert capital’ in them, transforming human labour into technologies.

Technologies are then used to further transform nature into culture. Culture in this sense means the culture that comes into being as a result of human beings' economic activities. Modern governments, such as those installed in Sabah and Sarawak, are the necessary evil – they use the state apparatuses and transform the environment by collaborating with powerful multinational corporations in speeding up the use of natural resources, leaving the land barren and human beings in famine and poverty-stricken. Enlightened citizens must collectively revolt against governments that systematically destroy the environment in the name of 'civilisation' and 'progress'.

Citizens must raise the consciousness on the power of these post-modern multinational corporation in that the power these primarily Western-industrialised corporations have are used to bring destruction to the peoples of this Earth as evident in the refusal of powerful nations to ratify the Kyoto Protocol and other global treaties that are enforced to save planet Earth.

Eco-philosophical thinking

Thinking of the Penans and of the blockades against logging, I think of a world inspired by ecological security as a paradigm of a post-global Depression Obamanomics era.

"Ecosophy" or the paradigm of thinking that synthesizes "ecological security" and "natural philosophy" ought to be explored if we are to honor Mother Earth and tame Father Hell. We need to engage in a form of thinking that takes preservation of the environment as a philosophy of development.

Amongst this is to "reuse" and not "recycle". Recycling takes a lot more energy. We need to explore what paradigm of thinking to "reuse" and what to avoid "recycling".

We should not even "recycle" politicians who are corrupted or has a record of destroying the environment. We should not even reuse them.

To engage in an "ecosophical" thinking means to go back to the drawing board of everything and rethink even the way we think. It is going even beyond metacognition; beyond even understanding the way we think about how we think about the world around us.

This might be a mentally paralysing notion even for the thinkers in our government ministries but it is worth exploring. "Ecosophy" takes into consideration not only the environment but the radical ideas about the self itself.

I believe the Orang Asli of Malaysia - the "un-modernized" Temuans, Senoi, Semang, Jakun, Sakai, etc. - can explain this idea of human development better than any expert in any international development bank or in the Ministry of the Environment. I believe too that the Orang Asal of Sabah and Sarawak, the different tribes of the Dayaks, can teach the modern "civilized" man how not to plunder and rape ancestral lands. I believe these natives can teach us in Putrajaya what "ecosophical" thinking means.

"Ecosopohy", independence, and freedom are not a slogans but an existential state of mind and a condition of 'lived democracy', one in which citizens are aware of how oppressive systems that destroys the environment are cultivated. From ecosophy we might learn how to "revilligize" and relearn what "kampong-ism" means, a form of economic thinking that values pastoralism.

Philosophy of "kampong-ism"

We must embrace pastoralism or what we may call "kampongism". For too long the word "kampong" has taken a wrong semiotic turn to connote "backwardness". For too long the word "progress" has been equated with development projects coming from the top and dictated by people who make decisions in four or five star hotels far away from the lives of the natives.

For too long "development" and "national progress" has become meaningless mantra shoved into the minds of the natives, be they of the Orang Asal or the Orang Asli. What interests these "ogres from tanah seberang" is logging and plundering at the expense of the lives of the natives. The history of the Penan for example is a classic example of an ongoing saga of the displacement of the natives under the shibboleth of developmentalism.

Kampong-ism brings the human mind away from complex theories, complex systems, competitive and cutthroat economic philosophies, and combative male-female relationships. Kampong-ism is driven by the philosophy of Eastern existentialism, sound metaphysical construct, harmonious conception of kinship, a good balance of patriarchy and matriarchy, and an economic production system based on the good old farming system that is not "bio- technologically" driven. It is not a philosophy that kow-tows to the dictates of Wall Street, World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund.

Kampong-ism is not race-based, ethnicity-based, gender-based, greed-based, sexual-preference- based or ideology-based philosophy of human liberation and organisation. It has the potential of reorganising societies based on the themes Rousseau, Reason, and Revolution in Human Consciousness. More than that it can be inspired by the philosophy of ecological sustainability and closeness to Nature as embodied by the Orang Asli and Orang Asal.

If there is a revolution of spiritual consciousness emerging out of the awakening of the Dayak Spirit, we in the "modern world plagued by the disease of corporate crony capitalism" ought to rejoice. We ought to learn what the new dance of the Dayaks mean. No longer will this dance be one exploited for Malaysia's tourist and hospitality industry to showcase "shallow and meaningless Malaysian multiculturalism", but a new dance for a new era grounded in Mother Earth, inspired by the Great Spirit of Dayak Awakening.

Will this dance with the Dayaks displace despotic regimes and dying demagogues? The answer lies in the way the dancers becoming the dance.

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