Indigenous communities offer such simple and profound wisdoms to the world. We would be wise to listen, to find the ears to listen.
Many, many moons ago, in the ‘world travel missionary’ chapter of me own story, I lived for months at a time in little isolated communities from Alaska to Mexico and Guatemala to Peru and Venezuela. ‘Third World’ villages with close to 200 people (and their compliment of four-legged critters) nestled in the most extraordinary places.
I went to these places with the idea of ‘helping’ them. Ha! Who was helping who?
One of the things you couldn’t help but notice in all the villages was a system of ‘child care’ that comes from a deep well of indigenous wisdom.
For example, the numerous children of San Vicente de Azpitia, Peru were part of an ancient child care system that proved to be not only nurturing and educational but also very safe. At first glance though, it seemed that the Azpitian youth (ranging from ages 4 to 14) were simply running recklessly around the village like a pack of wild dogs! They would appear here, there and everywhere – scruffy little urchins roaming the village in gangs.
It seemed chaotic and dangerous. But after several months being there, I found the eyes to see just how beautifully ordered, disciplined and safe this ‘system’ was.
The children essentially spent all their days gallivanting around the village in groups of up to 25 altogether. It was a multiage organization where the little ones were looked after by the older ones who were in turn answerable to the teens who ultimately answered to the village adults, always nearby.
They would rove the countryside playing games, being told stories under a tree, exploring the river and the ancient irrigation canals, visiting the many farmers, doing domestic chores whenever needed, chasing those pesky llamas, getting fed by this or that relative. They knew every plant and tree and the habits and habitats of all the animals and insects…in subtle detail. They could tell you what the weather was going to do based on the lunar phase, the cocking of roosters and the behavior of the village burros…
It was a highly ordered system of learning that involved the senses and intuitive faculties… quite beautiful to witness! Within it there was a kind of safety and security that was completely foreign to my suburban upbringing.
- Within this kind of safety, children could be children! They were able and encouraged to run free within ‘boundaries’ that were at first imperceptible to me. This was indigenous ‘schooling’ at its roots; “Injun School” as my Nez Perce friend would say, tongue in cheek, “That’s schoolin’ indigenous style bro!”
- It was true in every village! The expressions varied but the same principles applied:
- 1. There is
- . Every single person belongs, in one way or another, to the community.
- 2. Every child is part of an
integrated multi age structure.
- (The idea of sticking kids of the same age together in groups all day long seemed absurd to the elders.)
All values, ethics and morality education
- came through living examples expressed spontaneously with alacrity and electrifying firmness; and expressed more formally through a multitude of stories, anecdotes and songs.
Everything is shared
- , generosity abounds! And there is always enough to go around (even in utterly sparse circumstances)!
- 5. Every child knew they were being looked after. There was a
collective instinct for protection
- that extended its cover to every single life, within which was 100% participation, no exceptions.
The irony for me was that so many of the teenagers and young adults wanted to abandon this way of life and move to the city where most of them would end up indentured servants in ramshackle barrios.
Most of 7 billion people now live in urban environments. ‘Roving the countryside’ is not an option. But those 5 principles can still apply. We humans are hard wired for connectedness, for schooling “indigenous style!