Indigenous Worldviews: A Comparative Study

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This report was written following a fourth month trip to the US and Canada in 2001. The purpose of the trip was to study ‘indigenous worldviews’ by visiting three key scholars of indigenous knowledge – Dr Manulani Meyer of Hawai’i, Dr Greg Cajete of New Mexico, and Dr Dawn Martin-Hill of Ontario, Canada.

The report commences with a description of the research proposal, methodology and report contents. The report contains interim responses to each of the following key goals of the research: 

  • to compare definitions of the concept of ‘worldview’ created by indigenous scholars
  • to form a view on the nature of ‘worldview’ in the indigenous context
  • to examine statements on various indigenous worldviews written and articulated by indigenous scholars
  • to discuss these statements with indigenous scholars, including those who have researched, written and published these statements
  • to present to indigenous scholars a number of research findings concerning the ‘Te Ao Mārama’ worldview (traditional Māori worldview) and to engage them in a discussion about this material
  • to come to an understanding of the nature and growth of the international trend toward the indigenous articulation of indigenous worldviews and perspectives on knowledge.

The report advocates for the rekindling of the spirit of ‘wānanga’ in Māori discourse and discussion on matters facing Māori society and culture. It laments the decline in this activity in recent times and looks to the ‘worldview’ project to foster a sense of ‘philosophic reflection’ in contemporary Māori culture.

It then moves to provide interim definitions of the terms ‘indigenous’ and ‘worldview’. The report adopts the definition of the late Rev. Māori Marsden with respect to ‘worldview’ which goes as follows: 

Cultures pattern perceptions of reality into conceptualisations of what they perceive reality to be; of what is to be regarded as actual, probable, possible or impossible.  These conceptualisations form what is termed the ‘world view’ of a culture.  The World view is the central systematisation of conceptions of reality to which members of its culture assent and from which stems their value system.  The world view lies at the very heart of the culture, touching, interacting with and strongly influencing every aspect of the culture.

The view taken in this report concerning ‘indigenous’ is as follows: 

‘Indigenous’ is taken to mean those cultures whose worldviews place special significance or weight behind the idea of the unification of the human community with the natural world. I believe that whilst colonisation is a reality for so-called ‘indigenous’ peoples, the ontological and epistemological concern of unification with the world is a better place for us to meet. There seems to be a general agreement among ‘indigenous’ peoples the world over, whether Māori, Hawaiian, African, Native American and so on, that unification with the world is the primary concern of the worldviews contained within their traditional knowledge.

The report threads these themes together by providing ideas concerning ‘The New Study of Indigenous Worldviews’. These ideas can be summarised as follows:

  • that ‘worldview’ is an attempt to foster philosophical reflection within indigenous peoples about the world and their experience of it
  • that it is concerned with what indigenous peoples themselves have to say about the world and encourages them to articulate their views. This, of course, involves the use of their own languages
  • that worldview is the principle ‘base’ upon which the values of these peoples flows forth. It provide the rationale for their values and ways of conducting their lives
  • that ‘worldview’ in the indigenous context is attempt to place indigenous philosophy on a world stage to be shared, considered and discussed in the context of world philosophy

The rest of the report contains entries from a research diary and extracts from conversations and interviews with two of the three indigenous scholars mentioned above. The broad thrust of the ideas contained in this report can be summarised briefly with the following comment:

The significance of this view for the world scene is that it presents another major cross-cultural worldview comparable in scope and significance to the ‘East’ and the ‘West’ worldviews of which we hear a great deal. This point can be illustrated in the following way: in the Judeo-Christian tradition, God tends to be located outside of the world in a place called ‘heaven’. Hence, this world, the one we inhabit, was ‘created’ by God and is not the equivalent of God, it is not God. Rather, it is simply a manifestation of God’s creative power. In the Eastern worldview, on other hand, great emphasis is placed upon the inward path, the finding of the divine within. Hence, the proliferation of meditative practices in the east, the disciplines of the ashram and so on. The indigenous worldview sees God in the world, particularly in the natural world of the forest, the desert, the sea and so on. Human identity is explainable by reference to the natural phenomena of the world as in the Māori expression ‘Ko mea te maunga, ko mea te awa, ko mea te tupuna’ (‘Such and such is the mountain, such and such is the river, such and such is the ancestor.’) Hence, indigenous worldviews give rise to a unique set of values and behaviours which seek to foster this sense of oneness and unity with the world.

Indigenous Worldviews: A Comparative Study
by Te Ahukaramū Charles Royal
An Unpublished Report, 2002
(c) C Royal 2002

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