Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Indigenous sustainability

The religious beliefs of some Australian aborigines, along with those of many of their cousins in Tasmania and New Guinea, incorporate the idea of “story places,” or sacred regions that are generally off limits to humans.  Several of these places—incidentally or by design—have served as preserves for preferred game animals.  Tree kangaroos, for example, have often been hunted to the point where the only substantial populations that remained were those inhabiting these story places.  The story places thus served as Kangaroo population incubation centers, with Kangaroos spilling out of these areas over time in numbers that ensured a limited but steady supply for the people to hunt generation after generation.

I recently came across an account of a story place in New Guinea that had served for centuries and perhaps millennia as a preserve for a rare species of furry black tree kangaroo.   In the center of this sacred region there was a lake that was said to be inhabited by magical sleeping eels.  The lake was surrounded by frogs that would croak loudly if anyone entered whose face they didn’t recognize.  Their croaking would wake up the eels, who would express their discontent about being awakened by causing horrible and destructive weather events.  Only the oldest of the local elders could enter this place because he had been around so long that he was the only face the frogs could recognize.

Sometime in the early 1990s, the locals convinced the elder to take a Catholic priest who was doing missionary work in the area to the lake to exorcise the evil eels.  After a lengthy exorcism in which the evil eels were pacified, the local people started to go into the once sacred place and hunt the kangaroos, which are now apparently extinct.         

No comments:

Post a Comment