I am just finishing the first book by Laurens van der Post that I have ever read. It won’t be the last. The book is called A Story Like the Wind and it follows the life of a 13 year old European boy, Francois, living on a remote farm in a country in Africa. His father, a former school superintendent who left public service because he disagreed with the public policy of inferior education for native peoples, home schools Francois. But the true education of this child of the frontier is derived from the native people who help to raise him, principally Matabele and Bushmen. The respect that van der Post paints of the tribal cultures is profound. Laurens was raised in Africa in the early 1900s in a family with 15 children and he grew up immersed in the stories of the original African cultures. Many of these stories are no longer told. These people had a profound awareness of their connection with the natural world. It is this awareness that we in the West need to foster and expand.Marlo Morgan’s Mutant Message Down Under explores the almost unbelievable powers and practical wisdom of an aboriginal nation during a walk the author shared with them across the vast outback of Australia.Forest Carter’s The Education of Little Tree only became part of my literary milieu in recent years while reading with my children. I continue to pick up the book from time to time and delight in its humour and perception of a native wisdom dying out in the Appalachians.
As Europeans colonised the rest of the world they did their utter best, based on a dangerous mix of ignorance and arrogance, to eliminate all vestiges of tribal culture and wisdom that they could not understand. The European mind, post-Descartes, has been fragmented. Anything that could not be scientifically proven was discarded as primitive nonsense. But the science used to disprove or approve new ideas was flawed. It became increasingly specialized and compartmentalized and reflected the vast collective ‘forgetting’ of the supposedly superior colonisers. Only today with the huge growth in concepts such as ‘The Law of Attraction’ are we beginning to tap into an awareness that pre-existed ours in the wisdom of the ancients. But we colour this new awareness with our culture’s seemingly insatiable need for ‘more’.
I cannot too highly recommend several books that have helped to reawaken in me a respect for the First Nation peoples who have preceded the onslaught of my forebears.. These books have reinforced lessons I have learned while working intimately with nature. I hope you can gain as much pleasure and insight in their reading as I have:
First Light by Carol O’Biso covers the journey from America to New Zealand and back of the author, who was the conservator of Te Maori, an exhibit that toured the States in the 80s. It is a celebration of Maori culture and the magic it imbues.
Finally, I must mention Millennium: Tribal Wisdom for the Modern World, the compendium of anthropologist David Maybury-Lewis, based on his ground-breaking PBS television series. I continue to dip into its vast wisdom when I feel the need to enhance my awareness of humanity’s oneness.
May this awareness grow in each of us daily.
By the way, the touching 1993 film set in Africa called A Far Off Place is based on two Laurens van der Post books.
John Haines is the author of In Search of Simplicity: A True Story that Changes Lives.
In Search of Simplicity is a startlingly poignant real-life endorsement of the power of thought, belief and synchronicity in one’s life. John Haines hosts a popular weekly interview program, Voices from the North, from his place in paradise in New Zealand’s subtropical far north, and leads what he calls ‘playshops’ in voice, sound and communication. Visit his website at: