Managing "Thought" in Colombia’s Forests

Forest Custodians Manage "Thought"

One of the articles in Making It Happen (IC#28)
Originally published in Spring 1991 on page 7
Copyright (c)1991, 1996 by Context Institute

More and more of Colombia’s Amazon rainforests are being turned over to those who truly know how to care for them – the indigenous peoples. Writing in the British bimonthly Resurgence (Sept./Oct. 1990), Peter Bunyard reports that there is good news in Colombia and asks, "Who else will follow suit?"

Over 18 million hectares of land – an area three-fourths the size of Great Britain – has been ceded over to tribal peoples by the Colombian government. These lands are held communally by the indigenous peoples, and cannot be sold without the consent of more than 75% of the adults in a community. Nor can the State easily change its mind, since it recognized the validity of centuries-old Colonial law to reinstate these indigenous rights. To reverse itself would violate the Colombian Constitution.

The program’s architect is Martin von Hildebrand, an anthropologist who now serves as head of Indigenous Affairs. In researching the Tanimuca Indians, von Hildebrand found that they view the forms of nature as "the external manifestation of an entity which can be described as thought, essence, or energy. According to the Indians, the amount of thought is limited and it therefore has to be recycled among the different species, each having its right quota."

The elaborate culture the Indians live by is a system of managing this "thought" – which, in their belief, emanates from the Sun or "from a place in the East where the Sun rises and everything in the world originated." Dietary habits, cultural taboos, and shamanic practices all contribute, for Bunyard notes that "Taken together these [cultural] activities lead to effective control over the communal demand for natural resources." The Tanimuca have firmly embraced their now-official role as caretakers of the rainforest.

The Colombian program does not stop at the rainforest. The government is also slowly repurchasing some mountain land, where settlers of European descent have lived for almost 200 years, and returning the titles to indigenous peoples. Altogether, some 26 million hectares of Colombian land are now in Indian hands – to the great benefit of the Indians, Colombian society, and the land itself.

The success of the program has prompted Bolivia to consider duplicating it. Isn’t this a form of "thought management" we could all use?

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