|Prospects - Quarterly Review of Education, Vol. 25, No. 4, 1995 (Issue 96) - Education and Culture (UNESCO, 1995, 264 p.)|
|OPEN FILE: EDUCATION AND CULTURE|
Sheila Aikman (United Kingdom)
Has carried out field work at different periods over the last fifteen years with the Harakmbut of South-eastern Peru. Since 1984 she has worked with the International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs in Copenhagen and Oxford, in particular with indigenous self-development projects in Latin America. In 1994 she completed a Ph.D. at the University of London on intercultural and bilingual education, and since then has been working with the Reading (UK)-based non-governmental organization, Education for Development.
Indigenous peoples are the inhabitants of a particular territory stretching back to before the establishment of the nation-State. They define themselves as distinct from other groups or minorities within the nation-State through their relation to the land and their culture. 'Indigenous' is a term now widely accepted nationally and internationally to refer to the colonized peoples of the world who are prevented from controlling their own lives, resources and cultures (see ICIHI, 1987; Burger, 1987). Indigenous peoples hold a special relationship to their territory which is a fundamental aspect of their identity, and one which distinguishes them from 'ethnic minorities' who do not necessarily have close ties to a particular area. For indigenous peoples, the term territory denotes much more than a piece of landit encompasses all features of the physical environment and its resources; it is also a space where the collective experience and memory of a people is sacred and intimately interrelated with the rest of living beings; it encompasses freedom of religious and cultural expression and political control (Chirif, Garcia & Chase Smith, 1991, p. 27-28; Gray, 1994).
Indigenous peoples consider their traditional territory to be the foundation of their indigenous cultures:
Our spiritual and cultural relationship to our environmentthe land, seas, air and natural resourcesis the foundation of our native cultures (International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs, 1994a, p. 50).
Other indigenous peoples have expressed this as follows:
The spiritual aspect of our people has it origin and foundation in our relation with the land and environment and finds its maximum expression in the distinct philosophical and religious ceremonies which we have practised through the ages (International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs, 1994b, p. 57).
Territory is, therefore, fundamental in indigenous peoples' desire to maintain their cultural and spiritual practices. The interdependence of land, philosophy and cultural creativity is expressed in the daily lives and cultural practices of each group of indigenous people. Land is not just valued for its economic potential but also as the foundation of cultural knowledge and the source of different indigenous philosophies. It is the source of indigenous history, the focus of the practical use of all learning and the source of growth and well-being.
This intimate relationship between indigenous peoples and their territories means that, for many, ensuring territorial rights is a question of providing for the future maintenance of their identity. Here we understand identity as the internalized cultural consciousness and identification with a distinct concept of reality accepted by virtue of participation in it (Brock & Tulasiewicz, 1985, p. 4). The meaningfulness of indigenous peoples' cultural practices derive from their distinct perspectives of reality, which are related to their conceptualization of territory.
However, indigenous peoples' relationships with the land is constantly under threat. Some indigenous peoples are being forcibly relocated to make way for resource exploitation such as mining, oil exploration and logging; some have had their land flooded for hydro-electric dams; while others suffer unrestricted colonization and subsequent destruction of their territories (Erni & Geiger, 1994; Kidd, 1994). Indigenous peoples are searching for ways to guarantee their rights to their territories and protect their distinctive ways of life.
There are, however, many more subtle forces which threaten indigenous cultural maintenance such as national policies oriented towards the integration of indigenous peoples into the life of the nation at the expense of their cultural traditions. Cultural assimilation has been the main purpose of many educational programmes throughout the world over the twentieth century through the imposition of non-indigenous, dominant cultural and linguistic values in the classroom (Cornell, 1988; Osende, 1933).
Indigenous peoples are campaigning for the recognition of their rights to their territories, their freedom of cultural expression and their ways of life not only in law, both international and national (for example through the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples currently being debated at the United Nations), but also in policy and practice. Legal recognition of indigenous communal rights to land was enshrined in the International Labour Organisation Convention 107 of 1958 and reaffirmed in Convention 169. Indigenous peoples are also searching for means to participate in national societies in ways which do not jeopardize their identities.
Formal education and cultural maintenance
Over the last two decades many governments have changed their ideological orientation towards indigenous peoples and espoused a more positive approach to the cultural diversity within their borders. This can be seen in education policies which promote indigenous cultural maintenance. Consequently, many indigenous peoples today are campaigning for forms of schooling which are both bilingual and intercultural. Such an education aims at promoting cultural maintenance as well as facilitating indigenous peoples' participation in the national society on their own terms.
While schooling may be able to contribute towards the maintenance of indigenous values, beliefs and language practices, it alone cannot ensure their meaningfulness because this derives from indigenous philosophies and the different views of the world in which they are embedded. Cultural meaning has been sustained over generations through indigenous education practices and processes which the Western formal education system mostly ignores. These indigenous educational 'systems' are not focused on discrete units of space and time (the school building and the school day) but learning and teaching are integrated and indivisible parts of daily activities which take place throughout a people's territory. A people's territory, therefore, is not only important in terms of being the foundation of their conceptualization of the world, but as the meaningful context for learning and teaching; the flora, fauna, ecology, spirit world and other elements which comprise their territory are themselves the subject matter of the education.
There are many different school programmes designed to foster cultural and linguistic maintenance among indigenous peoples today. They differ greatly in terms of geographical factors, national education systems, demography, degrees of indigenous control, relations between the cultural traditions concerned, etc. but they also display a wide range of aims and practices. It is not the intention of this paper to discuss these differences but merely to note that cultural maintenance-oriented schooling is not a unified concept (Aikman, 1994). Furthermore, indigenous peoples' perception of the importance and usefulness of formal education for cultural maintenance varies according to, among other things, the extent to which other mechanisms for cultural maintenance, such as their own education system, have been eroded or are coming under pressure from their relations with surrounding national or other cultural traditions.
Another variable which is of considerable importance to indigenous peoples' perceptions of the usefulness of cultural maintenance-oriented schooling is pressure upon their territory. For some indigenous peoples their territory is under such threat that finding ways of ensuring its integrity is their foremost concern. The Cree of James Bay, Canada, faced the potential destruction of their land in the 1970s through the construction of a hydroelectric dam. They fought back and in doing so constituted their own system of local government and management of land and resources that guaranteed that their traditional way of life could continue:
With these basic matters dealt with, we felt we could deal with the question of education, knowing that our culture and society would continue to grow and prosper and that we could adapt an education and pedagogical system that would meet our demands (Diamond, 1987, p. 88).
A Kaxinawa from Brazil expresses the paramount consideration for territory and its relationship with formal education in terms of 'first things first':
The future is in [territorial] demarcation, because when our land is demarcated we have all our future for our schools, because within this territory we teach and learn what we know (J. Paulo Mana, cited in Lindenberg, 1989, p. 215).
The next section considers the example of the Arakmbut in the Amazon region of South-Eastern Peru where the Arakmbut communities' concerns for the future of their territory are very acute. Territorial defence is such a major preoccupation that it takes priority over change in the system of schooling which exists at present. The analysis of the Arakmbut situation is based on field work I carried out in Arakmbut communities between 1991 and 1992 and for three months over 1993/4.
The Arakmbut of the South-Eastern Peruvian rainforest
The Arakmbut have Spanish language schools located in each of their villages run by either the Ministry of Education or the Dominican Educational Network of the Southern Amazon (RESSOP). The Arakmbut value the school but take no part in running it. Attempts by teachers, RESSOP and the regional indigenous federation to promote qualitative changes and cultural relevance have fallen on deaf ears. However, this does not mean that the Arakmbut are not concerned for cultural maintenance. Concern for their territorial integrity is primarily a concern for cultural maintenance and the freedom to pass their distinctive way of life to future generations through their indigenous educational processes. The Arakmbut indigenous education system is embedded in their cosmological distinction between a visible world and a spirit world, which in turn are embedded in their territory.
The Arakmbut are a hunter/gatherer/agricultural people who live in an area of lowland tropical rainforest in the Peruvian department of Madre de Dios. They are the largest Harakmbut-speaking people and number approximately 1,000 persons of a total Harakmbut population of 1,500. Today they live in five communities, each with a village encircled by an area of land which has been officially demarcated and titled according to the Law of Native Communities in 1986 and the Political Constitution of Peru of 1979 which guaranteed the inalienable rights of the indigenous communities to their territories. These communities and their territories are situated in what was the much larger territory of the Harakmbut peoples until the end of the nineteenth century. Then they were subject to genocidal pressures from the exploitation of rubber for the international market and subsequent decimating diseases. They are estimated to have been reduced by 90-95% over the last 100 years (Gray, 1983).
The Arakmbut titled territories today can be understood in terms of a series of concentric circles (Gray, 1994). In the centre is the village which comprises small nuclear family huts interspersed with fruit trees, a football pitch, the school and chicken huts. In a wide circle around the village and up to half an hour's walk or punt by canoe are the slash and burn gardens which the women plant and tend. Extending beyond and between the gardens is an area of forest, rivers and streams where the women fish and gather fruits and firewood; beyond this is the area where the men hunt wild pig, tapir, monkeys and birds. Arakmbut extended families often leave the permanent village and set up temporary camps around their territory for fishing and hunting.
Each Arakmbut is a member of one of seven exogamous clans and political alliances in a community are often organized along clan lines whereby an extended family of brothers and their wives will work and live closely together and share meat from a hunt between them. Arakmbut social life is also organized around a person's kin (wambet) which comprises all of one's close non-affiance relatives (Gray, 1983). Gender is a fundamental aspect of the division of labor and men and women participate in activities, such as food production, preparation and consumption in a complementary way (Aikman, n.d.). While the men hunt and bring home raw meat, the women transform the raw meat, which is potentially dangerous because of the animal spirit matter which it contains, into food which sustains and nourishes the household. This hunted meat is considered vital for growth and physical and spiritual strength.
For the Arakmbut, the invisible world of the spirits is no less 'real' than the visible world. The larger forest animals have spirits which can be contacted through dreams. A curer (wamanoka'eri) is someone who can diagnose which animal spirit is attacking a sick person and cure that person by luring the spirit away from them. Dreams are important shamanic practices and a 'dreamer' (wayorokeri) is someone who has developed the art of dreaming and can travel throughout the invisible world conversing with the spirits and seeking advice (Gray, forthcoming).
As Teasdale notes for hunter-gatherer societies, existence is based on principles of co-operation and co-existence both with the natural world and with other people (Teasdale & Teasdale, 1994). The Arakmbut view of the way the world is organized is distinct from a Western world view which is promoted in Arakmbut communities through the school. It emphasizes a coherence and unity of knowledge. For example, the Arakmbut do not distinguish between practical knowledge and theoretical knowledge or between religious and secular knowledge but the spiritual dimension provides an inter-relatedness which runs like a thread through all knowledge.
This knowledge is structured according to such concepts as gender complementarity, clan affiliation, age, communal house affiliation, marital status and residence. For example, men and women have access to different bodies of knowledge: men develop an understanding of the forest and the river and hunting skills; women develop a body of knowledge and expertise in garden cultivation and edible forest plants and fruits. Arakmbut learning is oriented towards understanding this world, a world which is unpredictable, recalcitrant and constantly having to be reinterpreted through each members' experience and interaction. Education is not learning and continual striving for betterment, for 'progress' or for 'development' but learning in order to try to maintain a balance between the visible and invisible worlds of their territory, that is between the world of the Arakmbut and the world of the spirits which have control over both the person and the community's health and nutrition and the well-being of the flora and fauna within their territory.
An indigenous Arakmbut education system
Arakmbut learning and growth is directed towards gaining the knowledge and ability to manage several gardens with a diversity of crops or to acquire good hunting skills to bring in a regular supply of meat which will ensure both physical growth and good health. In order to do these things a man and woman must learn to manage their relations with the visible and the invisible world and, to do this, they need to be strong, both in body and in soul (nokiren). An adult who can combine physical strength, spiritual strength and knowledge and understanding of the Arakmbut universe and use it through caring for the well-being of the community is highly respected.
For the Arakmbut, learning is lifelong and knowledge is built up through experience and understanding. Growth from birth to death is punctuated by stages, each stage heralding a new phase of learning and a new ability to use knowledge for the benefit of the individual, the household and the community. As Arakmbut approach old age their ability to learn about the invisible world increases as their ability to use this knowledge decreases. This is because of the changing relationship between the body and the nokiren through life (see Figure 1).
When a baby is born its nokiren has only weak links with its body and it must remain in the village where it can be protected from spirits which would lure its nokiren away and cause death. The ability of children (wasipo) to know and explore Arakmbut territory increases as they grow and their nokiren becomes more strongly fixed to their body. Between 12 and 14 years of age a boy becomes a wambo. Prior to mission contact in the 1950s this was marked by a ceremony. As a wambo he can begin to learn in earnest how to hunt, sometimes accompanying his father on hunting trips and taking part in communal peccary hunts, travelling deeper into the forest to learn about hunting and the forest creatures.
FIGURE 1: Relationship between the nokiren and the growth of knowledge through life
By the time a wambo is 18 or 19 years old, he has gained considerable experience and knowledge of the forest and is ready to become a man and marry. This change in status from wambo to wambokerek (man), also formerly accompanied by a ceremony, means that he is now strong enough to hunt and provide meat for a family and to reproduce his clan through his children. This implies that he is strong in body and his nokiren (soul) is firmly tied to his body.
Unlike boys, girls have never had ceremonies to mark their growth and progress towards womanhood but physical maturity and menstruation heralds a girl's transformation into a muneyo (young woman). Pregnancy and childbirth signify the most important steps into adulthood for women and mark their change of status from muneyo to wetone (married woman who has given birth).
As mature men and women, Arakmbut are at the peak of their physical strength and their nokiren is most firmly attached to their bodies, which means they are in a position to defend themselves, their family and the community against dangers which can come from the visible world (for example encroachments on their territory) and the invisible world (such as illness). They accumulate knowledge about the forest and the river which helps them maintain the delicate balance with the invisible world and the spirits which inhabit it. They also learn not only an ever-widening vocabulary of words but also names which are important in the Arakmbut system of classification of things. Names encapsulate relations between the Arakmbut and the spirit world. Personal names are kept secret because others can use them to attract malevolent spirits and harm the person.
Adults and elders (watone) continue to form deeper understandings of, and closer relations with, the spirits and the invisible world. As their bodies begin to deteriorate physically, their nokiren becomes less firmly fixed to their bodies and their ability to cope with the potential danger of the invisible world decreases. Nevertheless, there is a certain irony about the position of the old, in that many old people have amassed a large amount of knowledge and understanding of the forest, river and the different species which they can use for curing purposes. Yet their efficacy in curing begins to wane as their nokiren becomes less secure.
This situation was exemplified in the Arakmbut community of San Jose when a boy fell ill and his grandfather knew several curing chants (chindign) with which the boy might be cured. However, the grandfather was elderly (watone) and, instead, the boy's father attempted the curing, though he was only beginning to learn the curing chant. The father's strength as a wambokerek (adult man), in terms of his ability to battle against the spirits which wished to harm the child and take its nokiren, outweighed the old man's knowledge of curing and of the spirit world. Because of the potential harm in the invisible world, the most dangerous activities in an Arakmbut person's life are only possible when that person is at his/her most resilient, that is, as an adult (wambokerek, wetone). Detailed knowledge of the spirits can only be gained after a lifetime of hunting and fishing and gardening so that a person is at less risk from the spirits at the time when he/she knows most about them.
Arakmbut learn and acquire knowledge through direct experience, through the spirit world, and from the elders and other adults and peers. This knowledge is organized and framed within the parameters which define the Arakmbut world view, such as the existence of the visible and invisible worlds and their relationship with the forest, the river, and the community. However, within this ontological framework a person has the possibility of developing his or her own understanding of the dynamic relationship between these worlds through their own learning and experiences. The greatest wayorokeri (dreamers) help the Arakmbut to interpret and define their relationship with the invisible world at any one time and help them interact safely with it. Thus, an Arakmbut world view is continually changing and being redefined within these parameters.
Through their own culturally and socially discrete education system the Arakmbut acquire knowledge and understanding of the world in which they live. The understanding defines and is defined by an individuals' sex, clan, age, group, residence and language, and the relations they have established with the invisible world of the spirits which inhabit the river and forest. Knowledge is private and belongs to the person, but a person is only recognized as knowledgeable and skilled when she/he uses that knowledge in a demonstrable way for the benefit of the community, such as in curing.
Consequently, for the Arakmbut, learning to hunt, fish, garden and collect in the forest is fundamentally related to learning about the spirits and the invisible world, and about how to make contact and use them beneficially. Moreover, it is from the world of the spirits themselves, through myths (for example, Serowe, Wainaron and others) that the Arakmbut learn how they should learn and about the guiding principles in acquiring skills and knowledge and how to apply them (Aikman, 1994, Chapter 6). In applying the principles found in the myths children, youths and adults acquire the knowledge that will enable them to be proficient, productive and strong Arakmbut for lifelong learning.
In summary, the preceding discussion has demonstrated that, for the Arakmbut, concern with the maintenance and protection of their territory is not simply a concern for their economic activities, but that these activities are embedded in the well-being of the territory and its resources, both physical and spiritual. For the Arakmbut, hunting, gathering and agriculture are not simply activities with economic significance but are at the heart of their philosophy of life and identity. Learning to hunt and garden, learning about the species within their territory, is learning about being Arakmbut.
The intercultural lives of the Arakmbut
The Arakmbut canon includes a long myth about their relations with non-Arakmbut, the 'Papas'. The Papas are cannibals who dress in white, carry machetes, attack the Arakmbut and capture their children. Versions of this myth vary from community to community and link the Papas with different groups of colonizers in the past (Gray, 1986). Today the Arakmbut say the Papas are non-Arakmbut gold-panners with whom they live in close proximity and have ambivalent relations.
The Arakmbut first entered into sustained contact with the national society in the 1950s through the concerted efforts of Dominican missionaries. After several years in the close confines of the Dominican mission of Shintuya, where they sought relief from yellow fever and internecine warfare, they left in groups through the 1960s and early 1970s and set up the five communities in which they live today (Boca Inambari, Barranco Chico, San José, Puerto Luz and Shintuya).
The early 1970s was a time of booming gold prices and the discovery of gold dust in some of the rivers in Arakmbut territory. In the 1960s two roads were built linking the highland city of Cusco with the rain forest of Madre de Dios. Through the 1970s and 1980s colonists from the highlands flooded down the roads and rivers to pan for small quantities of gold dust in the alluvial deposits of the rivers Karene, Inambari and Madre de Dios (see Figure 2). As the increasing presence of colonists and gold-panners made hunting more difficult, the Arakmbut began to pan gold using artisan methods to complement their other traditional activities. They were increasingly forced off beaches and fishing grounds within their own demarcated territories at gunpoint by gold patrones and even by foreign nationals. Arakmbut hunters encountered colonists' gold camps in the very heart of the forest on ancient river courses where the pounding of the motor pumps ensured that there was no longer any game there. They became concerned for their future and for their children's futures once the gold-panners had stripped their land of its resources:
I see the future full of problems for us Amarakaeri [Arakmbut]. Few people care about us and we are becoming more and more persecuted by the police and local patrons. There is less gold work and less hunting with animals frightened by colonists. One day the gold will run out. The colonists can leave, but we can't. And after the gold rush? What will be left for our people? (T. Quique, cited in Gray, 1986, p. 3).
FIGURE 2. Present Arakmbut settlements and gold-panning activities
By 1992 the amount of gold dust in the rivers was in decline but with widespread political unrest in other parts of Peru, and high unemployment and poverty, there were no incentives for the thousands of colonists to move on elsewhere. Instead, they turned to agriculture, cattle ranching and lumbering as alternatives. Large companies also began to move into the region clearing huge tracts of land for cattle-rearing.
Arakmbut legal rights to their territory are flouted by colonists and patrones and, since the early 1990s, they have been heavily outnumbered on their own territories. With the growth of settler communities both in and outside of Arakmbut demarcated territories there has been a growth in the demand for fresh meat and vegetables. Areas of Arakmbut traditional territory, formerly ignored by the gold prospectors because they do not have gold-bearing rivers, have become centres for hunting by colonists to meet the needs of the burgeoning population.
The disruption and destruction of the forest environment has depleted natural stocks of fauna and flora, making hunting harder for the Arakmbut. Hunters find very little game at the salt licks, where the animals used to gather. As we have noted, hunting and fishing are fundamental activities for the Arakmbut, not simply in terms of the source of food they provide, but in terms of the relations which the hunters and fishers establish with the animal species and, through them, with the invisible world of the spirits. Threats to the ability of the Arakmbut to hunt and fish have far-reaching consequences because meat is a vital element for physical growth and strength. It is also vital for the physical welfare of the community; relations with beneficial spirits are established through hunting and contribute towards maintaining a healthy community free from the sicknesses which the spirits can inflict.
As their subsistence base becomes threatened and hitherto complementary activities, such as gold panning, become less viable, the Arakmbut worry about how to protect their territory from complete destruction. As a young Arakmbut says:
Over and above [the migrants, the small Peruvian capitalists and large-scale companies] is also the structural aggression: racial discrimination, the destruction of our territories and the confiscation of our resources (Sueyo, 1994, p. 42).
The Arakmbut do not define their struggle against these problems as defending a philosophy of life, a spirituality, or in terms of cultural maintenance. However, their increasing concern for their future and that of their forest and rivers is, in essence, a concern for their cultural maintenance because it is the foundation of their distinctive way of life and view of the world where the visible and the invisible together determine sickness and health, life and death.
The contribution of formal education towards cultural maintenance
The primary schools in Arakmbut communities are run by non-indigenous Spanish-speaking teachers, some of them lay-missionaries. They teach according to a very prescribed national Spanish language curriculum which is almost entirely focused on the urban lives of middle class Peruvians living on the coast. The Arakmbut communities are very supportive of this schooling and value it for the Spanish language teaching it provides. For their participation in the life of the nation, Spanish is crucial and the Arakmbut want to be part of Peruvian society, not isolated from it. Moreover, in order to try to combat the problems facing them and defend their interests, they need to be proficient in Spanish. Only through Spanish can they gain access to the Peruvian legal system to fight for their legal territory; Spanish is the common means of communication within the regional indigenous multi-ethnic and multilingual federation; and Spanish is the language of commerce and the gold panning economy.
In the past the Arakmbut have rejected bilingual schooling, with mother-tongue literacy, as inappropriate for their pressing needs: lobbying through national official channels for recognition of their rights; verbal confrontations with illegal colonists on their territory; acquiring permits for using their canoes; complying with government gold mining regulations; and various other bureaucratic procedures which are forced upon them.
Meanwhile, they themselves have ensured the education of their children, the continued learning of adults, and the enriching of their own bodies of knowledge according to their own educational processes:
For the Harakmbut culture all is not lost; the people maintain their own ethnic traditions... In spite of many difficulties the young people still grow up with an indigenous identity and understand that it is founded in the maintenance of their language, knowledge of their territories and understanding of their beliefs and values which come from their traditional cosmology (Sueyo, 1994, p. 42).
Cultural maintenance focused on the school is a secondary consideration for the Arakmbut. Their first consideration is for the preservation of their territory which is the source and inspiration for their cultural practices and beliefs and the 'classroom' for their own educational practices. With their education system under their own control they believe that the school's main consideration must be as a learning ground for knowledge and skills from the national society and that representatives of the national society and its cultural traditions ought to provide it. Once their struggle for territorial integrity is won they may feel that the school can offer additional and new channels for strengthening their own indigenous cultural practices, including their indigenous education.
The Arakmbut are, nevertheless, receptive to changes which they consider will improve Spanish language learning, such as the use of the mother-tongue with the youngest children, but only if this is not seen to detract from their main project of securing their territory. Meanwhile, they are content to let others control and organize schooling for their children, a service from the national society providing teaching about that society which they consider extremely important.
Strengthening indigenous educational practices
As pressures on their territory have become almost intolerable over the past few years, the Arakmbut have begun to discuss a new vision for the future. At the heart of this vision is territorial defence. And, once their territory has been secured, they propose a strategy for strengthening their cultural practices with regard to the intercultural lives they lead today as both Arakmbut and citizens of the Peruvian state. They harbour no desire to recreate their lives as it was in pre-colonial times some fifty years ago before the missionaries 'contacted' them.
Territorial defence hinges on the official recognition and protection of an Amarakaeri (Arakmbut) Communal Reserve, an area of land under indigenous management. This Reserve is an area of Arakmbut traditional territory which lies outside the individual territories legally delimited for each community. It is an area of relatively little colonization to date, where all Arakmbut could continue to carry out their traditional subsistence practices and where Arakmbut educational practices could thrive:
In the Amarakaeri Communal Reserve, we could return to hunting and fishing as is our custom and also manage the forest without endangering it. In this way we could escape much of the effects of the market and economy and the savage capitalism which has arrived in the Amazon [...] it will permit us to recover our own economy and health system, to revalue our Harakmbut culture and education (Sueyo, ibid).
The physical presence of large numbers of non-Arakmbut in their territories has had an influence on Arakmbut educational practices. Rather than accompany their parents and siblings through the day, children are obliged to attend primary school. Nowadays, some of the older children also attend secondary boarding schools which take them away from their communities altogether. Although the Arakmbut want this schooling for their children they also want to ensure that they continue to learn from the elders despite spatial restraints (through the presence of colonists on their territory and in their villages) and temporal constrictions (the obligation to attend school).
In recent years, just as the forests have become the stamping ground of colonists and company employees, so the villages have become more frequented by gold-panners, tradesmen, missionaries and teachers. As the territory and its resources are being plundered, the Arakmbut knowledge base becomes in danger of being undermined. In the villages too, the presence of non-Arakmbut is threatening indigenous educational practices. Nowadays elders only rarely sit outside on a clear night and tell a myth for the enjoyment of the community and never in the presence of wahaipi (people from the highlands) for fear of being ridiculed.
The Arakmbut vision is based in a desire to ensure that at least a part of their villages remain uniquely theirs, away from the influence and control of the lay-missionary teachers and the Quechua gold-panners. To this end, the Arakmbut posit the construction of a traditional communal house (haktone), or 'culture centre'. Until the 1950s, the Arakmbut lived in communal long houses which served not only as sleeping quarters but as a meeting place and social focus for rituals, ceremonies, singing and dancing. Senior men and women and the elders (watone) told stories and myths, and supervised the education of the young. A new communal house would be Arakmbut in design and purpose and a place where the whole community would participate in traditional practices in creative and meaningful ways.
The communal house is intended also as a meeting place and a forum for a wide-ranging programme of non-formal education to be carried out with the collaboration of regional and national indigenous federations. The Arakmbut are becoming increasingly aware that there are aspects of their lives which are not being addressed by either the school or their traditional education system. The Arakmbut of today are hunters, gatherers and agriculturalists but also gold-panners, university students and carpenters. Yet, they remain distinctly and proudly Arakmbut. The Arakmbut are continually redefining their relations between the spirit world and the visible world and Arakmbut culture exhibits a dynamism and flexibility as the visible world undergoes profound changes through outside contact. But, as Sueyo (ibid.) states, Arakmbut identity has adapted and changed within its flexible parameters. Their vision for cultural maintenance illustrates the adaptability and flexibility of Arakmbut identity: on the one hand, the Communal Reserve will ensure the continuance of their traditional hunting and gathering; on the other hand, the communal house will host courses and workshops concerning, for example, self-sufficient crop cultivation, traditional crop recovery, selective and sustainable timber extraction, and alternative biodegradable gold-panning processes in each community territory. It will provide a focus for debate and discussion about indigenous rights, local government and measures for territorial defence.
The communal house is a strategy for helping maintain and nourish Arakmbut cultural practices so that they retain their meaningfulness and usefulness in a changing social and physical environment. It is also a strategy to ensure that the Arakmbut adapt with the changes taking place around them and can participate in the national society in the ways they themselves want. The Arakmbut value their cultural practices and their way of viewing the world because it is based on respect for the land, its resources and other beings. In contrast, they see around them people being exploited and in turn exploiting and destroying the environment, which is Arakmbut territory and the foundation of their lives.
The Arakmbut provide a vivid example of a people's own strategies for cultural maintenance based in the profound respect they hold for their environment as a source of their identity and way of life. It illustrates the shortcomings of the school as an exclusive focus for cultural maintenance because it does not conceptually encompass, and consequently ignores, the cornerstone of the education which is indigenous to the Arakmbut, that is, territory.
The Arakmbut take little active interest in the formal education which their children receive. However, this is not to suggest that education per se has a low priority for them. On the contrary, Arakmbut concern for their territory is a deep concern for their indigenous education system and its pivotal role in cultural maintenance. Furthermore, a lack of interest in schooling does not imply a lack of perceived usefulness and importance for it. The Arakmbut highly value the monolingual and monocultural schooling which the missionaries and non-indigenous teachers provide. They see it as a source of skills in Spanish and knowledge about the national society which they need to help them in their struggle to maintain their territory as well as in their daily contact and participation in the national society.
With the creation of an Amarakaeri Communal Reserve in Madre de Dios, the Arakmbut and other Harakmbut peoples will administer and protect an area of their traditional territory which will not only sustain their cultural practices but sustain the flora and fauna of the tropical rain forest. Commercial exploitation will be prohibited. The Reserve awaits final authorization from the President of Peru. In many parts of the Amazon today, indigenous peoples are intent on regaining custodial care of their traditional territories so that they can continue to look after it as they have done for centuries as guardians for future generations. The indigenous peoples of the Bolivian Amazon, for example, are implementing strategies for the management of the natural resources and sustainable development of the Mojos region as the 'owners of an ancestral knowledge about the diversified use of ecosystems' (Casanovas, 1994, p. 18).
This desire to regain control and care for their territories is echoed by indigenous peoples with very different cultural traditions in many parts of the world. For example, the Van Gujjars in Uttar Pradesh, India, are being denied access to forests which they have used sustainably over centuries and which have been declared the Rajiji National Park. Park administrators and environmentalists question the ability of an 'illiterate tribe' who use the forest for their own purposes to administer it properly (Gooch, 1994). However, the Van Gujjars stress that because they are totally dependent on the forest and its ecology for their subsistence they have an interest in preserving its resources and employing their own strategies for protecting them (ibid.). Such protection strategies derive from indigenous peoples' own educational practices oriented towards both long-term cultural maintenance and environmental sustainability. Australian Aboriginal peoples echo indigenous peoples in the Amazon and other parts of the world when they state that, rather than the land belonging to them, they somehow belong to the land (Christie, 1988).
Indigenous peoples' perceptions of the usefulness of formal education in contributing towards the maintenance of their knowledge, skills and language vary enormously, as do ways in which the school is being used to try to do this by both indigenous and non-indigenous people and organizations. Nevertheless, the school cannot replace an indigenous peoples' own educational practices and processes without threatening their indigenous identity which derives its meaning from a unique relationship with their territory.
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