Cultural Structures of Indigenous People

Cultural Structures of Indigenous People:

Indigenous communities, peoples & nations are those which, containing a historical continuity with pre-colonial and pre-invasion societies which developed on their territories, assume themselves distinct from other sectors of the societies prevailing now on those territories, or parts of them. At present they form non-dominant sectors of society and determined to develop, preserve and transmit to future generations their ancestral territories, and their ethnic identity, as the basis of their continued existence such as peoples, in accordance with their own social institutions, cultural patterns, and legal system.

It is predictable that there are more than 370 million indigenous people spread across 70 countries worldwide. Practicing unique traditions, they hold cultural, social economic and political characteristics that are different from those of the dominant societies whereby they live. Spread across the world from the Arctic to South Pacific, they are descendants - according to a common description - of those who inhabited a geographical region or a country at the time while people of distinct cultures or ethnic origins arrived. The new arrivals later on became dominant through conquest, settlement, occupation or other means.

This historical continuity may contain the continuation, for an extended period attainment into the present of one or more of the following factors:

  • Occupation of ancestral lands, or as a minimum of part of them
  • Common ancestry along with the original occupants of these lands
  • In general Culture, or in specific manifestations (like religion, living under a tribal system, dress, means of livelihood, membership of an indigenous community, lifestyle, etc.)
  • Language (whether employed as the only language, as mother-tongue, as the habitual communication at home or in the family, or as the preferred, main ,habitual, general or normal language)
  • Residence in certain regions of the world or in certain parts of the country other relevant factors.

On specific basis, an indigenous person is one who linked to these indigenous populations through self-identification as indigenous (group consciousness) and is identified and accepted by these populations as one of its members (acceptance through the group). This preserves for these communities the sovereign right and power to select who associate to them, without external interference.

Indigenous Peoples and the Environment:

Indigenous Peoples are frequently thought of as the prime stewards of the planet’s biological resources. Their customs of life have and cosmovisions have contributed to the defense of the natural environment on which they depend on. It is no coincidence that while the World Wildlife Fund listed the top 200 areas along with the highest and most threatened biodiversity; they found that 95 % are on Indigenous territories. Indigenous communities and the environments they maintain are enhancing under assault from oil, mining, dam building, logging, & agro-industrial projects.

Indigenous communities resist this invasion along with marvelous courage and skill, but their protests are too often avoided by corporations and governments.

Culture of Indigenous People:

Indigenous peoples represent more than 4,000 different kinds of languages and culture each containing their own unique merits. In spite of this enormous diversity, we highlight some features which indigenous peoples from a more general perspective, and to varying degrees, have commonly.

Land is Life:

Even though today several indigenous people have moved to urban areas, because of loss of land and poor living conditions, still many live more or less traditional life styles on their own territories. We can generally distinguish three different life styles:

A) Pastoralists: who are dependent mainly on keeping cattle for own, clothing, consumption and shelter, but also to barter or trade. These peoples frequently lead a nomadic or semi-nomadic life. A lot of nomadic people in Africa, like the Tuareg are pastoralists.

B) Hunter-gatherers: who hunt for fish, game and bird and collect fruits and insects from the forest for own clothing, consumption and shelter, but who also trade and barter. The non-timber forest manufactured is also used for stimulants, medicine poison and pesticides. Many indigenous peoples of the Amazone, the Ogiek in Kenya  and the Penan in Malaysia are hunter-gathers.

C) Farmers: who farm on a small scale and the so called  as 'shifting cultivators', to provide for the fundamental needs of the family, with frequently nothing left to trade. Usually the farming is complemented with fishing, hunting and gathering. The indigenous peoples of the highlands of South America, like Aymara are subsistence farmers.

Culture and Knowledge:

Indigenous peoples are the owner of knowledge systems, unique languages and beliefs and possess invaluable knowledge of practices for the sustainable management of natural resources. They contain special relation to and use of their traditional land. Their ancestral land has a basic importance for their collective cultural and physical survival such as peoples. Indigenous peoples hold their own diverse concepts of development; depend on their traditional values, needs, visions and priorities.

Political participation:

Indigenous peoples frequently have much in common along with other neglected segments of societies, that mean lack of participation and political representation, economic marginalization and poverty, lack of access to social services & discrimination. In spite of differences between their cultural, the diverse indigenous peoples share common troubles also associated to the protection of their rights. They attempt for recognition of their identities, their ways of living life and their right to territories, traditional lands, and natural resources.

Cultural expressions & sacred sites:

For indigenous peoples spirituality and cultural identity can’t be separated from the natural environment. Their ceremonies not only confirm and regulate the relationship among individuals, societies, clans and nations, but also among all lives on earth. They are also practiced for the transmission of values and norms and in educating the youth. Cultural objects can be physical objects, which play vital role in these ceremonies, but they can also be a part of a landscape like a waterfall or mountain. That is why the dispossession of several of these objects, through private collectors or museums, or loss of land, has eroded indigenous cultures significantly.

Development with culture and identity:

Indigenous peoples frequently have a distinct vision on development than the western, dominant vision. The western vision is based on economic raised by exploiting labor, capital and natural resources. Indigenous peoples value more a healthy balance and good life among man and nature. It does not mean that indigenous cultures do not modify, or reject the western lifestyle completely. They only want to have the freedom to select their own path of development, depend on their own values.

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