Sunday, January 18, 2009

The hunter’s broken heart

I have just returned to Nanaimo from a weekend visit to Victoria, two and a half hours away by train. While I was there, I spent half a day at the Royal British Columbia Museum.

The museum has excellent exhibits that depict the traditional hunting and gathering (or, in some cases, fishing and gathering) lifestyles of the First Nations people of British Columbia.

I also was lucky enough to have a personal tour with a docent (volunteer guide) who was knowledgeable and passionate about the collection. Under normal circumstances the docent would have led a group through the museum. However, one of the advantages of visiting in winter, as I did, was that it was a slow day at the museum.

Although in many cases Europeans did not deliberately set out to be evil, the effect of their contact with the Aboriginal peoples of British Columbia was brutal.

To understand a museum's collection, it is not enough to look at the display cases, and say, "Isn't that lovely?" To make sense of a collection, the visitor needs context.

In the case of this museum, for example, it was relevant that only a tiny percentage of Aboriginal artefacts had survived European contact. Well intentioned missionaries had encouraged Aboriginal people to demonstrate their conversion to Christianity by burning their "heathen" artefacts.

The visitor is more equipped to understand the implications if he or she has witnessed the effects of the cash economy on hunter gatherers in another time and place.

My friend, Andy, who spent a couple of decades in Canada’s Far North, has described the devastating loss of identity and purpose that Aboriginal men suffered when they were denied their traditional role as hunters.

The same tragedy unfolded in Swaziland, where I grew up. Consummate hunters and trackers were reduced to shadows of their former selves when their traditional lands were sold from under them, and survival meant working for wages on a plantation or in a mine.

Contemplating the consequences of imperialism, capitalism and globalization used to have a crippling effect on me.

Fortunately, I now have carved out a way of life that feels supportive, but that still is nested within a conventional setting. It does not involve raging against the machine (to paraphrase the name of a well known rap metal band).

In my next few posts, I will share some strategies that I am employing in mending my heart. Hmmm ....... well, come to think of it, perhaps that's what this entire blog, down to the last post, is about.

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