Traditional Culture and Land Ethics

从传统文化学习 自然之道

One of the most significant challenges of modernisation for an indigenous villager is the loss of confidence in one’s own culture. This lack of confidence easily drives people to adopt mainstream ideas that human beings are entitled to master nature – ideas that are often the source of current ecological crises. Young people in villages, who often have interactions with the outside world, are prone to having a confused cultural identity: mainstream values often conflict with traditional ones. Rediscovering the wisdom of how to live with one’s own culture thus becomes a return to one’s own roots. It becomes a basis for a future way of life.

In order to encourage young people to explore how to apply traditional ecological culture in their daily lives, we supported rural youth in Guizhou Province to join a workshop in the autumn of 2017 led by Cheng Ting-Ping from Taiwan. Brother Ping – as he is usually called – deeply believes that indigenous villages surviving for millennia is a testament that the people have mastered the skills, knowledge, and ethical rules of living harmoniously with the land, animals and plants – or land ethics, as he terms it. Fifteen years ago, Brother Ping set up Atayal Hunters’ School in Taiwan with members of the Atayal ethnic group. His personal experiences, together with his familiarity with eco-psychology, natural healing, Leave No Trace (leave no inorganic waste behind) and many other disciplines, make him an appropriate person to explore local culture with the youth.

In 2018, Guizhou Qianren Ecological Conservation Centre and PCD jointly invited Brother Ping to southeastern Guizhou Province to hold a five-day workshop on land ethics with more than 20 village youth and rural community workers. The local facilitating team was familiar with local cultural customs, and Brother Ping contributed his perspective of land ethics. Together, they designed an outdoor experiential route, allowing participants to learn as they explored it. First,they learned about their traditional culture,through the blessings made by the village elders at the start of the workshop, indigenous ceremonies such as the buffalo funeral, and through village monuments. He explained in detail how these practices manifest respect and awe for all beings. Secondly, participants learned from nature. They were led to open their body and soul, listening to the teachings from nature by spending the night outdoors alone, walking barefoot, and observing the natural world from multiple perspectives. Thirdly, they learned from each other. Participants were divided into groups to prepare their outdoor camps and to prepare meals over a fire, learning how to leave the least possible impact on nature from selecting appropriate food, dealing with food scraps, and handling the fire.

After the workshop, many participants felt a sense of homecoming. One youth said, “I had the chance to exchange with Mother Earth, I felt her warmth and hardships. She is the common home for all living things. She nurtures us.” After joining the outdoor experiential workshops, the Guizhou facilitation team also led village youth to explore land ethics in their own villages; for instance, gathering only larger plants and leaving the small ones, practicing ecological farming methods, and following forest protection principles of the village belief system. These practices echo Brother Ping, who said, “those that cannot be seen, cannot be heard, and cannot be touched, still exist” and “just enough is good”.

The bond between Brother Ping and Guizhou Province will not end here. In the future, he will work with local training teams to explore more cases of local applications of land ethics in villages, and helping young people to discover land ethics as manifested in different dimensions of traditional daily life. In order to cultivate local trainers, previous participants are becoming course assistants – they will learn as they teach.

(from Annual Report 2017-2018