What About Traditional Villages?

One of the articles in Living Together (IC#29)
Originally published in Summer 1991 on page 12
Copyright (c)1991, 1996 by Context Institute

The term "village" is usually applied to the millions of traditional agricultural or pastoral human aggregations scattered throughout the world. Billions of your fellow humans are doing things in ways that would be immediately recognizable to their ancestors from centuries ago. Are their villages not, then, by definition, sustainable? Aren’t most humans today living in eco-villages?

It is easy to romanticize what we imagine to be traditional village life, but – as we argue in the accompanying article – that way of life is often far from ideal. It would be difficult indeed to find many traditional villages that truly qualify as eco-villages.

We want to be quick to acknowledge, however, that a major reason for this failure to meet the criteria of environmental sustainability and opportunity for human development is that traditional villages have – for at least the past 5,000 years or so – been at the bottom of the power ladder in society. They have been oppressed and exploited by the empires and war lords of the past, by modern governments and civil warriors today, and they struggle now, in addition, under the heavy demands the industrialized world – our world – has placed on the resources surrounding them.

Furthermore, the "community" First World eco-villagers prize and strive toward is something traditional villagers have. Life for villagers throughout Asia, the Middle East, Africa, and Latin America is driven by considerations of personal and familial survival, not " global sustainability." For most people in the Third World, community is a method for existence, not an enriching ideal.

Today, more and more villagers are developing their expertise in community to organize successfully against the forces emanating from modern governmental power and the requisites of industrialism. In some cases they are also organizing to defend their own sense of what constitutes harmony among humans.

Perhaps the most exciting aspect of the eco-village vision – and of the whole sustainability movement – is the potential for putting an end to the chronic exploitation of both people and resources. We all share a common destiny, and traditional villagers have much to teach us – from their deeply rooted understanding of community to their tenacity in the face of adversity. By taking the best from what are now called the First and Third Worlds, we have the potential for developing a world in which these sad distinctions no longer apply.


Carla Cole is an assistant editor of IN CONTEXT.

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