After my trip to Kaniakapupu, I started thinking about the nose flutes (pu`ohe) and their beauty in that you use the breath from your nose because it comes from a pure place (unlike the breath from your mouth, the breath from your nose cannot tell a lie), how when you blow them you call your ancestors — and for me, not even just our human ancestors, but our natural ones. The earth itself, the stars themselves, gave us life. With the mountains, rivers, plants, etc., we evolved together as family. And art forms like the pu`ohe survive “like little islands of wilderness saved to show us where we came from,” as Anthropologist Claude Levi-Stauss described. So, my interest is in calling on one’s ancestors in the search to restore personal and environmental balance, the idea of being honest with one’s self in progressing toward that point. This means we need to stop lying to ourselves that we are truly happy within our current economic and social systems, or that the way we are living can and will continue forever. Our disconnect from and lack of deep understanding of our environment, ourselves, and each other creates the social and environmental problems we see today. The way to restore balance is to in fact return to the source. We are the earth; imbalance in the earth is imbalance in ourselves.
“The teachings of the seven prophets,” or “the seven fires” of the Anishinabe people have been fulfilled but the seventh, which follows:
“The Seventh Prophet was younger than the others who had come and there was a glowing light from his eyes. He said that there would come a time when the waters had been so poisoned that the animals and plants that lived there would fall sick and begin to die. Much of the forests and prairies would be gone so the air would begin to lose the power of life. The way of the mind brought to the red, black, and yellow nation by the white nation would bring danger to the whole earth. In this time there will arise Osh-ki-bi-ma-di-zeeg, a new people who will emerge from the clouds of illusion. They will retrace their steps to find the treasures that had been left by the trail. The stories that had been lost will be returned to them. They will remember the Original Instructions and find strength in the way of the circle. Their search will take them to the elders and the new people will ask for guidance. But many of the elders will have walked the Path of the Souls to the Star Web. Many elders will have forgotten their wisdom and they will not be able to help. Some of the elders will point in the wrong direction and others will remain silent because of their fear. Some of the elders will be silent because no one has asked them for their wisdom.
“If the New People will find trust in the way of all things, in the circle, they will no longer need the selfish voice of the ego and they can begin to trust their inner voice. Wisdom will be once again be found in dreams of the night and of the day. The sacred fire will once again be lit. The Light-skinned People will be given a choice between two paths. If they choose the right path the Seventh Fire will light the Eighth Fire and final fire of brotherhood and sisterhood. If they choose the wrong path, remaining on the path of the mind, then the destruction they brought with them will come back to destroy them. The people of the earth will experience much suffering and death.”
We are the New People of the seventh prophecy. We have a critical choice to make to either listen to our elders and ancestors, or pretend that we know what we’re doing is best. The earth is giving us loud warnings, our very societies themselves are giving us loud warnings (increasing rates of suicides, depression, substance abuse, etc.). We must change something before it’s too late to turn it all back; we’ll see a lot of serious loss if we don’t.
In the book Black Elk Speaks, he talks a lot about circles, everything in the power of the world is done is circles, the wind whirls, birds build their nests in circles, the sun and moon move in circles, the seasons are in constant circles coming back to where they stared, a man’s life is a circle from childhood and back to childhood. We have the ability to move forward and experience, and we have to learn to use the circles to move back and relearn.
Every human being began as indigenous people to someplace, we all have histories of sustainable and beautiful cultural practice that placed us in an intimate relationship with the earth. If I look to my Swedish ancestors, for example, they had a strong relationship and knowledge of the sea and celestial navigation. There were essentially no arrogant notions of dominance. Their mythology and spirituality illustrated the basic understanding of the need to respect, be humbled by, in communication with nature.
Animals, plants, and other natural phenomena, have prominent roles in these kinds of stories. We are in kinship-based interconnection with them. Everything in the environment – plants, animals, elements, mountains, etc. – has an intelligent spirit and is central to Tsalagi practices. Healers will ask and listen to a plant to learn what illness she might cure. A hunter will offer words or intention to the spirits of animals for guidance and forgiveness.
Balance is important to maintain within ourselves and between the plants, animals, and other people. At the root of Tsalagi culture is duyuktv, similar to the Hawaiian concept of pono, meaning balance, the right way, truth, justice. Balance in social interaction, balance between the individual and communal good, etc. So, for example, whatever one takes from the forests, one must ask permission and also leave a gift. This duyuktv was maintained through ceremony and customs.
Even when we were removing invasive bamboo from Kaniakapupu, I was a little disturbed by the aggressiveness of it. Especially from the men who, it seemed, were perhaps consciously or subconsciously trying to demonstrate their “manliness” by stomping, chopping, and breaking bamboo as hard as they could, and throwing it as dismissively as they could. While the bamboo is invasive, it is still alive. It did not ask to be planted there, and I feel like some reverence, even a bit of ceremony before chopping and tossing it into a pile of “unwantedness,” would have been appropriate – ceremony to maintain the balance. In a sense, the way it was done can damage the integrity of the energy, the mana, in that place. Much like the concept behind the intention experiment or Emoto’s water crystal experiments, the negative nature of the emotions used to handle the bamboo has a physiological effect. There is a way to acknowledge our need to get rid of the bamboo from a historically and culturally significant site without slipping into what was described in the book Ishmael as the arrogant mindset of being the deciders of what should die and what shouldn’t die. We need to maintain relationship. Whether we like it or not, things are interconnected, even the invasive. (Aside: This can then, as it so happens, also be applied to the struggles of those in the Hawaiian sovereignty movement and the resentment toward the “invasive peoples” who live in occupied Hawai`i today. The question then becomes how to establish cooperation and support the healing of the harm that’s been done.)
Ultimately, it really is incredible to listen to peoples’ stories and read texts about how one’s people developed, how all of this knowledge, history, and culture is contained in our very bodies, in our own genes. Study this well, use your body, allow yourself to be open and honest because your body will not lie, your life breath (your ancestors through the pu`ohe) will not lie when you call. It will give you the insights you need to solve whatever problems are ahead and show you the right path to follow. And own it. Say it is my heritage, my history, sustainability and harmony is in me. Even as European decedents and direct inheritors of destructive practices, it is still ours. Ours to re-define and transform. It is not a hopeless burden imposed on us. This is part of the positive story we need to offer ourselves to enact in place of the self-destructive one we are enacting in the world today.