There is a saying, ‘a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing’, it is derived from English poet Alexander Pope’s poem “A Little Learning”. The earliest known printing of the poem is 1709. For the full poem click here: https://www.poetsgraves.co.uk/Classic%20Poems/Pope/a_little_learning.htm. I think of this after reading the CBC Massey Lectures, a collection of five lectures entitled “The Wayfinders” by Canadian Anthropologist and explorer-in-residence of National Geographic Wade Davis.
I am reminded of this while reading the Wayfinder lectures because Davis seems to acknowledge that the knowledge of the “new world” is at the heart of the demise of many of the earths longest known peoples. The Africans – where the migration of people started and spread across the earth, Australian Aboriginals, the tribes of the rain forests, the Polynesian sea navigators and the First Nations of the Sacred Headwaters of BC and others have been walking this earth ten’s of thousands of years before the Europeans of the new world spread their ‘knowledge’ and ‘truth’ across lands and waters.
Does, as Davis alludes to, learned knowledge undermine intuitive knowledge? The knowledge of our souls is like a family history, it can only be learned through the telling of stories and family experiences. The terms of an oral history and generational transmission of knowledge is used to describe how generations of the earth’s first inhabitants shared knowledge. Davis provides a great example of learned through intuitive knowledge describing the different experiences of Spanish sailors compared to the navigation of the Polynesians. The Polynesians, told through the life training of a modern day sea navigator, learned about tides, the sea movements under the boats, winds and using the stars without the tools that the new world explorers had at their disposal. It is a fascinating experience of learning of an old world craft in a modern time.
As much we marvel at the tools and innovation that new knowledge bring, we must acknowledge that there is prejudice that learned knowledge is greater than that which is transmitted generationally. In the fourth lecture “Sacred Geography” Davis not only talks about the lands of British Columbia, but also how 50,000 years of living by Australian Aboriginals is almost wiped out within a generation because of their only way of living a ‘savage lifestyle’ was noticed by the civil people that arrived in Australia hundreds of generations after some of the Africans walked to Australia. The newbies in the land considered themselves better. Through laws and actions of the newcomers, about only 500 Australian Aboriginals now speak in 18 languages; Before the invasion, there were over 270 languages and more than 500 dialects spoken. Today one language is lost each year. It is a theme that is visited in greater detail in the book – the newcomers impose new world values over generations of native inhabitants.
There are peoples and ways of life that have existed since the beginning of time that never reach our consciousness unless we purposely put it there. I’ll end with something from the initial lecture that really left an impression on me that demonstrates the loss of the richness of our world; today there are 7000 languages spoken today around the world. Half of them are not being taught to children, the effect is that every two weeks a tribal elder dies and takes with them an ancient language. Since the expansion of the new world over a recent few hundred years, the English language has become the major language spoken. The science and tools of a new world has erased the practice of intuition and a connectedness the earth for movement and sustainable living.
Have we reached an impasse? Is there a hope we can regain some of that connection to the earth? Can we utilize modern innovation and technology to record, save and revive lost and soon to be lost languages? Can we better marry the use of technology and intuition to live on this earth and live more sustainably both personally and commercially?
For tens of thousands of years people migrated, navigated and lived in a natural harmony with each other, animals, vegetation on the earth and its spirits. While we have learned many things and been able to innovate at a speed that in a hundred years can erase what took thousands of years to understand why can’t we look back and connect to each other and the past and become a modern Wayfinder?
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