In Stargate & the 7 Rules of European Progress, I presented the following quote from JM Blaut:
Since Europe is advanced and non-Europe is backward, any ideas that diffuse into Europe must be ancient, savage, atavistic, uncivilized, evil—black magic, vampires, plagues, “the bogeyman,” and the like.
He continued on to say, although European culture and rationality flows out of Europe into non-Europe,
conversely, there is the possibility that these ancient, atavistic, etc., traits will counterdiffuse back into the civilized core, in the form of ancient, magical, evil things like black magic, Dracula, etc. (From The Colonizer’s Model of the World, pp. 15-16.)
Yup, sounds just like the Mayan Apocalypse, doesn’t it? The Mayan Apocalypse is just the latest of European fads fetishizing the Aboriginal Other for its special “spiritual” qualities, meaning ancient, atavistic, non-rational, non-scientific. It’s a dreamcatcher for your calendar.
The basic notion is that real knowledge and understanding about practical matters can only flow one way. There is no acknowledgement that Aboriginal people can contribute to European understanding of anything except sometimes the spiritual. Similarly inconceivable is the idea that Aboriginal people can grow and develop their systems of knowledge using modern tools and scholarship. As far as the Eurocentric viewpoint is concerned, all Aboriginal knowledge is traditional knowledge, frozen in time, the product of another century.
Superstitions. Curses. Prophecies.
In this view, since science and scholarship are regarded as essentially European products, Aboriginal people when they are valued are valued essentially for their praying, not for their ability to acquire knowledge or think rationally or practically.
In Aboriginal society, elders were persons with special leadership qualities, who held high positions in society, who were possessors of impressive amounts of practical and traditional knowledge of various sorts. The definition would include religious leaders, but not to exclusion. In fact, the position of an elder was merely a continuation of a career, an acknowledgement that in an oral society where there is no written record the elders were a living library of cultural knowledge. They were the doctors, the astronomers, the historians, the professors, the knowledge-bearers, the leaders, the counselors. As elders they would continue their work as teachers, advisors and as part of a panel of judges when it was called for.
Some aspect of this has persisted within functioning Aboriginal communities. My brother tells of a discussion on a fish boat, raised by one of the younger members of the crew who wondered why, since he did no work, the elder who rode along was given a full share of the catch.
“Because he tells us where the fish are,” was the reply.
The example shows not only the practical utility of the kinds of knowledge elders mastered, but the adaptability of that knowledge to changing circumstances. There were no seine boats in the traditional Aboriginal fishery, after all, which tended to be conducted inshore.
In European society, though, almost inevitably, an Aboriginal elder is somebody who leads the prayer. Aside from crafts, virtually no other aspect of Aboriginal mastery or understanding is acknowledged.
If it doesn’t fit the mold or conform to the stereotype of Indigenous spirituality, it is mostly passed over.
Even many Aboriginal people, especially in the cities, have been convinced to think in this way.
But let’s be clear: it’s a racist stereotype, a Eurocentric construction. Just like the Mayan Apocalypse, an apocalypse having nothing to do with the Maya.
Just ask the Maya.