Posts Tagged ‘tribe’

The Circles of Cultures and of Water

November 7, 2016

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By Alison Jones, Executive Director of No Water No Life

In the 1970’s my mother gave me Touch the Earth: A Self-Portrait of Indian Existence by T. C. McLuhan (1971). I was intrigued by the sepia photographs of Native Americans by Edward S. Curtis.

After reading Timothy Egan’s book on Curtis (The Short Nights of a Shadow Catcher, 2012), I pulled my mother’s book off the shelf. While its paper cover is somewhat raggedy, the photos and text inside again mesmerized me. These two books, when taken together, underline the significance of perpetual circles within Native American cultures, before and after their forced reservation existence.

Why write about this for No Water No Life?  I want to share the correlation of cyclical sustainability between water and indigenous cultures.  Many of thoughts in Touch the Earth I’ve heard in NWNL interviews with indigenous cultures in African and North American river basins.  Mandala-like spherical designs abound in the decor and life of the Chinook, Nez Perce, Colville, Choctaw, Okanagan, K’tunuxa and Californian tribes.

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Both the Hydrologic Cycle and Indian circular designs represent more than a graphic pattern and reflect NWNL’s search for clean fresh water for all, forever.  The Hydrologic Cycle illustrates replenishment.  Native Americans consider how impacts will roll outward from their circle – for at least for 7 generations –  before making decisions. Many of today’s water problems, induced by pollution, infrastructure and climate change, might not exist if “new” Americans were better at weighing eventual risks to our life cycles.

Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce:  “We were contented to let things remain as the Great Spirit made them. [The white men who moved the Nez Perce to Lapwai] were not.  They would change the rivers if they did not suit them.”

Going deeper, what grounded the Native American focus on circles?  While reading Native American commentaries in Touch the Earth, I noted many mentions of circular rhythms and constructions. Cycles are found in their prayers where the four seasons and four cardinal points on a compass are centered by their Great Spirit.

Black Elk, prayed at Harney Peak in The Black Hills in 1931 to the Great Spirit:  “From the west, you have given me the cup of living water… You have given me a sacred wind… of the cleansing power and the healing…. At the center of this sacred hoop you have said that I should make the tree to bloom and be filled with singing birds.”

For ten years No Water No Life has focused on the health of water’s hydrologic cycle as it passes from clouds, mountains and rivers, down to the sea and back up into clouds again. It seems Native Americans focus on that too as they design their circular tipis, drums, beaded jewelry and dances?

Chief Luther Standing Bear said, “The man — who sat on the ground in his tipi meditating on life and its meaning, accepting the kinship of all creatures and acknowledging unity with the universe of things — was infusing into his being the true essence of civilization.”

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Here are some more passages from Touch the Earth that I have enjoyed:

Chief Flying Hawk, Ogalala Sioux, born about full moon of March 1852: “The tipi is much better to live in: always clean, warm in winter, cool in summer; easy to move….  Nobody can be in good health if he does not have fresh air, sunshine and good water all the time.”

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Hehaka Sapa, the holy man of the Sioux:  “They have put us in these square boxes. Our power is gone and we are dying for the power is not in us any more. When we were living by the power of the circle, in the way we should, boys were men at 12 or 13. But now it takes them very much longer to mature.”

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Tatanga Mani, a Stoney Indian:  “I turn to the Great Spirit’s book, which is the whole of his creation. You can read a big part of that book if you study nature. …The Great Spirit has provided you and me with an opportunity for study in nature’s university, the forests, the rivers, the mountains and the animals, which include us.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Value of Water in a dry land – Photos from the Omo River Basin

October 24, 2014
Africa:  Kenya; Pokot Land, Orwa, CABESI Kitchen without Borders project, vegetable garden plot, seedlings

Africa: Kenya; Pokot Land, Orwa, CABESI Kitchen without Borders project, vegetable garden plot, seedlings

 

Ethiopia: Kundama Farm, a Duss tribal farming community, a 2-day-old Karo baby with its mother

Ethiopia: Kundama Farm, a Duss tribal farming community, a 2-day-old Karo baby with its mother

 

Ethiopia:  Omo Delta at low water stage, herders lead cattle to water

Ethiopia: Omo Delta at low water stage, herders lead cattle to water

 

Africa:  Kenya; Turkana Land, man pushing cart of gerry cans to be filled with water from the river outside of town

Africa: Kenya; Turkana Land, man pushing cart of gerry cans to be filled with water from the river outside of town

 

Africa:  Kenya; Karakol, dried tilapia headed to markets in Kisimu, Nairobi and elsewhere

Africa: Kenya; Karakol, dried tilapia headed to markets in Kisimu, Nairobi and elsewhere

 

Ethiopia:  Omo Delta, Dassenech village of Ilokelete, in low water season, woman carrying fodder for goats

Ethiopia: Omo Delta, Dassenech village of Ilokelete, in low water season, woman carrying fodder for goats

 

– Posted by Jasmine Graf, NWNL Associate Director

Can this baby hold onto its culture?

February 20, 2013
Ethiopia: Omo River Basin, Kundama Farm, a Duss tribal farming community, a 2-day-old Karo baby with its mother

Ethiopia: Omo River Basin, Kundama Farm, a Duss tribal farming community, a 2-day-old Karo baby with its mother.
© Alison M. Jones for NWNL.

Southwest Ethiopia is arid; but monsoon rains in Omo River highlands have sustained generations of indigenous people downstream. Over many millennia, stable cultural systems have emerged from patterns of interaction with the perennial Omo River. Here, Nyangatom men are fiercely proud; Karo children are playful and creative; Hamar women are strong; swaddled Mursi babies are loved; and Dassanech elders are wise.

Survival in the Omo Valley requires heavy workloads for men and women; but this is counter-balanced by plentiful water, fish and flood nutrients. Using the Omo as a case-study watershed, No Water No Life has documented environmental and cultural impacts of freshwater availability and usage. Men and boys herd livestock down dusty riverbanks for water. Maize, sorghum and beans are planted on inundated riverbanks and plains as annual floods recede. Women and children carry water to nearby villages. Riverside vegetation is collected as fodder for cattle and goats. Grains are winnowed and ground. To escape floods, homes are moved off the river – and returned when it’s time to plant a year’s worth of food on moist banks and floodplains.

These timeworn routines leave little need for the ubiquitous AK-47s handed down from the Derg Regime, other than to recapture stolen cattle or protect crops from marauding monkeys. Reliable resources have fostered creativity and festivity. Villagers paint elaborate patterns of river clay on their bodies. They celebrate successful harvests with dances and rites of passage such as bull jumping.

Annual floods and riverine forests sustain these communities. Omo Valley pastoralists and farmers have never stood in food-aid lines. Even though global climate disruptions threaten cultures elsewhere, the Omo practices of flood-recession agriculture and moving to higher ground during flooding mitigate effects of extreme water-level fluctuations.

It is other pressures that threaten the Omo cultures, cause anxiety and incite anger. Two of five proposed mega-hydro dams have been built upstream on the Gibe River tributary. If the third dam goes online, waters will be held back for two years to fill its reservoir; and thereafter, annual flooding will be ended. The environment and people around Kenya’s Lake Turkana, which is 90% filled by the Omo River, will also be devastated.

A highway to transport Sudanese oil to Kenyan ports will soon cross the Omo River. This will bring truckers’ needs and transient lifestyles into Omo communities, affecting their health and values. Additionally, as global food and cotton prices rise, Ethiopia is giving Omo lands to foreign investors and farmers. This takeover, like the dams, will destroy riverine forests and displace villages.

These irreparable changes are spawning local tensions and resentment over being ignored as development plans progress. Violence is increasing. If the upstream Gibe dams are built, 1-1/2 million people will lose their livelihoods. Guns will soon determine water access rights as river flows are reduced.

Omo cultures could probably survive the incursions of a highway and foreign farming; but hydro-dam reductions of Omo River and Lake Turkana water levels will be too great to overcome. Ethiopia’s government says it will move these people elsewhere. But history suggests people will be resettled in arid lands with few or no wells. No Water No Life interviews with “dam victims” in Canada’s Columbia River and Uganda’s Nile River tell of broken promises and resettlement to barren lands.

No Water No Life is collaborating with groups working to halt the Gibe Dams. American, European and African banks have withdrawn their funding; however China has stepped in. If the dams are built, then the world must hold Ethiopia accountable for guaranteeing these cultures access to clean fresh water and a means of sustaining themselves.

Check out NWNL’s Photo Set “Life in the Omo Valley” on Flickr.

The photograph above was nominated in the ‘People’ category of the Sixth Annual Photography Masters Cup, selected from 8,521 international entries.

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