Please correct me if I am mistaken, but there seems to be a surge of people making a conscious effort to spend more time outdoors: whether it is extreme exploration or simply going for a picnic or a walk, there is something that draws us beyond the confinements of the spaces we created to live and work in. Perhaps ironically, the rapid exchange of information and visual media currently available has helped to draw out our innate, primordial connection with nature.

The race to the moon was preceded by the race to colonies, centuries before: wealthy countries claimed lands and it did not matter whether these were inhabited or not. In the year 1800, the brilliant Prussian naturalist Alexander van Humboldt travelled through South America, crossing between the invisible borders of Spanish colonists and indigenous tribesmen. This highly intellectual, passionate, and educated man trudged and paddled through jungles and rivers, climbed high above cloud base, and suffered the discomfort of all sorts of unfamiliar sensations, just so that he could study every aspect of the land in great detail. He came to the conclusion that everything in this world was connected. It was a concept that seems so familiar today, yet was so far from what was accepted as reality back then.

…all forces of nature are interlaced and interwoven… – Humboldt 1790s (Source: The Invention of Nature by Andrea Wulf)

Subsistence Fishing: Tagbanua People of Coron (KDLR 2013)

During his exploration, he witnessed the destruction that colonisation brought forth – not only to peoples’ ways of life, but also to the immediate environment. He was an advocate of freedom and equality, and stated that the actions of colonisers had long-term effects on the overall health of the ecosystem. Yet despite becoming one of the most influential people in both the science and social circles of that era – no one listened to him. Greed engulfed the colonisers, pushing the native people further into the margins of the land.

As agriculture flourished in the valley…They felled trees to clear land, and with it the forest’s undergrowth had disappeared…leaving the soils beneath exposed to the elements and incapable of water retention…The soil was ‘being exploited like a mine’…cash crops had replaced ‘those vegetables which supply nourishment’ – Humboldt 1800s (Source: The Invention of Nature by Andrea Wulf)

Earlier this year, I had the privilege to join Land is Life during their global team meeting held in Panay, Philippines. I met indigenous leaders and advocates from Kenya, the Congo, Ecuador, Chile, Northeastern India, and the Philippines. Over the week, they shared current victories, accomplishments, and struggles. Nearly 220 years after Humboldt walked the forests of South America, his warnings are repeated by different voices. Although the Age of Colonisation has now passed, today it bears different masks: Dam Construction, Mining, Poor Waste Management, Oil and Natural Gas Extraction, the list goes on. History indeed, repeats itself…because we let it.

 

Land is Life team surveys mysterious landslides in a heavily farmed area of Panay (KDLR 2017)

…the action of humankind across the globe…could affect future generations…Everything is interaction and reciprocal. – Humboldt 1800s (Source: The Invention of Nature by Andrea Wulf)

Yet many of us feel we are far removed from this reality…it’s not our backyards that are being devastated, not our streets that are flooding…not our seas that are choked in plastic. Having listened to several speak during the group meetings and through spending a day with the Tumandok people of Panay, it became clear that Indigenous People’s ancient knowledge is the key to a sustainable futureForget GDP and growth – the economy no longer needs to grow. The true measure for success should be how we can sustain ourselves in balance: in compassion with each other and our environment. Perhaps closer to home, the recent floods in Manila, Philippines and Florida, USA brought by severe tropical storms are waking us up ever so slowly…but our memories are reduced to the flick of a thumb across a touchscreen.

If we just stepped back to listen, or allowed the wisdom of the people of the land and sea to teach us their ways, we would have such an abundance of food and resources – and perhaps even a more balanced climate. The techniques taught to us during our Permaculture Design Course at the KulKul Farm in Bali last April were essentially rooted from indigenous knowledge. Moreover, Namaste Messerschmidt demonstrates a number of solutions to land regeneration and biodiverse productivity during his agroforestry workshops every month. Even in first-world countries, this desire to connect to land is evident as observed during my recent travels to north and central Vermont in the USA; it was somewhat comforting to see individuals, couples, and families growing their own food and creating a supportive localised economy.

 

Genetically modified corn has replaced the more diverse native species: a danger to the future of diverse food sources in the Philippines (KDLR 2017)

Land is Life team advises on current issues of the Tumandok tribe (KDLR 2017)

In a previous blog post, I wrote about being less of a spectator to our environment and more a part of it. It is who we are, in essence. The people of the land and of the sea are not only the indigenous, but they are you and me. Their knowledge bridges the gap between us and our planet – to which we are physically and spiritually connected.

Together the myriad of cultures makes up an intellectual and spiritual web of life that envelopes the planet… (Source: Wayfinders by Wade Davis)

So how do the people of the land and sea navigate their way back into directly affecting the course of our future? Each of us has the answer within ourselves. Let us welcome back their wisdom. It is called ancient because it has stood the test of time – not because it is redundant and does not apply to our current state of affairs. Besides, we all share the same basic needs for shelter, nourishment, love, and belief…

 

Tumandok Leaders dance the eagle courtship in a solidarity ceremony (KDLR 2017)

A local farmer’s market in the town of Worcester, Vermont brings the community together every week over the summer months – this particular time, graced by a bunch of tourists (KDLR 2017)