71 online
Most Popular Choices
Share on Facebook 16 Printer Friendly Page More Sharing
Life Arts    H2'ed 4/21/10


By       (Page 1 of 3 pages)   4 comments
Message robert wolff
Become a Fan
  (30 fans)


Inspired by watching daily reports on the WorldÊ s People Climate Conference, taking place in Cochabamba, Bolivia, this whole week (April 19-23, 2010), I add my plea for the "rights" of Mother Earth. This is a conference of people, indigenous people, not heads of state. In a way it is a continuation of the sad event in Copenhagen late last year, when the people were kept outside while Heads of State were basically agreeing not to do anything about the reality of climate change; maybe at the next meeting in Mexico this year. The President of Bolivia, the first Indigenous person to be president of any country, spoke at the opening of this conference: "Mother Earth lives, capitalism dies; but if capitalism lives, Mother Earth dies."

What do we think about when we say "the earth" nowadays? Many people think of the earth as a horn of plenty, a resource to be plundered by all who "own" a piece of the earth. Most of us, it seems, think that the earth belongs to us, humans.

Does anyone ever wonder why we think that? To indigenous peoples everywhere the earth was Mother Earth, the source of our being. We belong to the earth, we come from the earth and to the earth we return. All our molecules are earth molecules, the same molecules that make plants and animals and rocks and water and air. We are completely, utterly, part of all that is on this planet. We are of the planet.

It was always the EARTH and I and all of us. Until one day, for some people, it became I and the Earth. And then I own the earth.

Owning is a very peculiar concept. I've known tribes where owning was unknown. Unthinkable. They did not wear much clothing, but I imagine that a neighbor would not think of grabbing my loin cloth -- no more than a scrap of what at one time may have been a recognizable something. Some groups had a cast iron pot or pan, but that was never private property, not even thought of as property, something owned. And when (only once) I asked about owning land, there were first only questioning faces, uncertainty, until someone broke out in a laugh, and then they all roared, rolling on the ground. Never had they heard a crazier joke.

Early agriculture was a relationship between a place and a group of people. Not personal property, that came much later. A relationship is based on reciprocity: the land grows what nurtures us, and in return we take care to give back something to the earth. Our love, our gratitude, our work, and excrements that helps to make it possible for the earth to grow more for our sustenance. A relationship that was not only to the benefit of all, but above all sustainable.

In the west the reciprocity seems to have entirely disappeared. We take from the earth, and not only don't give much back, but we destroy the earth, biodiversity, the very life of the earth, while we plunder. We think we can own a piece of land and do with it what we damn well please. No requirements, no feeling of owing something to that land. As Ursula K. LeGuin wrote, "owning is owing, having is hoarding." We think -- we are taught -- that the money we paid someone for that piece of land is all the obligation I have. Or, in other words, my only obligation is to another person, or a bank -- never to the land.

We have not only divorced from Nature, but our so-called civilization has made all of us so alienated from the planet, from Nature, that we don't understand any more the first principle of being, of life. We have chosen to forget that owning anything means we owe for that privilege. Not just once when we pay a few dollars, but we owe what we own maintenance, nurture, protection, and most of all we must care for "our" land, as we care for our body. We must see to it that the land is healthy and sustainable, as we see to it that we ourselves are healthy. Buying land is not the same as buying a car, or a pair of jeans. Land is alive, it is what we come of. If we choose to pay for a piece of land we enter into a relationship with that land. And relationships are always two ways. We take, we must give; we give, we can take.

Many people are convinced that the house they bought and the land it sits on can be owned without any obligation. We can no longer understand that "land" is alive, it has a life, it is part of a larger ecology. Growing up we are not reminded that we cannot live without the land and the plants and animals of the earth. Growing up we see us build roads, houses, we plant endless rows of metal structures to carry the cables that bring our electricity and telephone, the internet. And all that without once considering that we are causing immense destruction all over the planet. We don't even think any more about what it means to own plants, or animals, or other people. Not just slavery, "working for" a person or a company, has become close to "being owned." The employer, the company, has the power to make us work, for an amount of money, some benefits perhaps, but our life is very literally in their hands. Isn't it more than clear that today the big corporations own our government, own the Congress. I cannot believe that the Founding Fathers had that in mind when they thought to make a country that was run for and by the people.

One of the several people who was interviewed on Democracy Now, in Cochabamba, professor Boaventura de Sousa Santos, Univ of Coimbra, Portugal, and Univ,of Wisconsin, Madison. made comments close to my heart. I've written about that for many years. He emphasized that "the life style of indigenous peoples we think something of the past on the contrary is the future." They have always known how to survive in their unique environment sustainably, without taking more than they could put back, without destroying, without stealing from Mother Earth. He also stressed the importance of biodiversity, which is what makes indigenous cultures thrive, and which all too often is what is destroyed first by our immense interference in sometimes fragile local ecologies.

Next Page  1  |  2  |  3

(Note: You can view every article as one long page if you sign up as an Advocate Member, or higher).

Well Said 1   Valuable 1  
Rate It | View Ratings

Robert Wolff Social Media Pages: Facebook page url on login Profile not filled in       Twitter page url on login Profile not filled in       Linkedin page url on login Profile not filled in       Instagram page url on login Profile not filled in

robert wolff lived on the Big Island, called Hawai'i

his website is wildwolff.com He passed away in late 2015. He was born in 1925, was Dutch, spoke, Dutch, Malay, English and spent time living and getting to know Malaysian Aborigines. He authored numerous books including What it Is To Be Human, (more...)

Go To Commenting
The views expressed herein are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of this website or its editors.
Writers Guidelines

Contact AuthorContact Author Contact EditorContact Editor Author PageView Authors' Articles
Support OpEdNews

OpEdNews depends upon can't survive without your help.

If you value this article and the work of OpEdNews, please either Donate or Purchase a premium membership.

If you've enjoyed this, sign up for our daily or weekly newsletter to get lots of great progressive content.
Daily Weekly     OpEd News Newsletter
   (Opens new browser window)

Most Popular Articles by this Author:     (View All Most Popular Articles by this Author)

Have We Lost Our Humanity?


Have We Lost Our Humanity?

Is there an alternative to constant economic growth?

Strange, very strange, dangerously strange

Money - and why we must learn to do without

To View Comments or Join the Conversation:

Tell A Friend