COMMENTARY | summer 2003
In a time- indeed, for nearly all the time that human beings have walked the earth-- you and I would have been living very differently: in small bands, raising our children together as if each child were the future of all of us, and migrating with the sun and seasons.
There were no nations, no lines drawn in the sand. Instead, there were paths and watering places, with trade and cultures blossoming wherever these paths came together in a pattern that spread like lace over the continents.
This was far from a primitive way of life. Indeed, inner space was explored and understood by the many, just as outer space is now explored and understood by the few.
If you and I had lived on what is now called Australia, disputes over paths and watering places would have been settled by who could “sing” the land the best, who knew the cliff that looked like a lizard or the hill the crouched like an animal, and who knew the length of the song it took to get there.
|Gloria Steinem (Photo by Jenny Warburg)
If you and I had lived here on this continent that the ancients called Turtle Island, we would have had talking circles, so each person could speak and listen until consensus was reached.
Yes, there were male chiefs, but they were chosen and advised by female elders. Yes, there were hard decisions, but they were made with seven future generations in mind.
In all of this, the goal was balance: between females and males, between each person, and the community between nature and humans-- if, indeed, those things were thought of separately at all. As the Cherokee wisewoman Rayna Green says “On this continent, feminism-- which also means womanism, mujerista-ism- is memory.”
In ancient Africa, from which all of us came, no one had the deeds to children- and certainly not to women. Each of us belonged to ourselves and also to the community.
Women had two or three children two or three years apart, no more than their health and mobility would allow, because women knew the power of herbs and timing, as women still do among the Kwei or San, the few so-called Bushpeople who still live in the original way the Kalahari.
The goal of ancient games was cooperation, not competition. The most respected art was healing, not wounding. Violence was present, but only in self-defense.
I say all this because these are the things that have been programmed into our cells-- for millennia. These are the true things for which our cellular memory still longs.
We cannot backward, but we can go forward with our whole selves and our whole memory.
What we have been raised to think of as inevitable-division and hierarchy, monotheism and nation states-actually accounts for less than 10 percent of human history.
Ancient places…say, the Nubian temples of the Nile…depict God as all living things. As the great Egyptology Henry Breasted said, “Monotheism is but imperialism in religion.” We see this now as each side acts in the name of a god who looks like their rulers, a god who pretends that life after death is more honorable than life itself.
We must keep resisting and creating our way out of the recent hierarchical past in any way we can, but we will be stronger if each of us here begins with our own bodies. They were not born to hurt or be hurt, and we can pledge never to use our bodies--or allow them to be used-- in that way. We can create laws that say, The power of the state stops at our skin.
As we face a chief who was not chosen by wisewomen-- or by the majority of anyone here on Turtle Island-- we will be stronger if we remember our own power.
As we are told that the end justifies the means-- when we know that the means are the ends-- we will all be stronger if we remember: There was another way. There is another way.