Cultures Live On Through Indigenous Crafts

Indigenous crafts

Indigenous crafts may ultimately be all that survive of many cultural traditions. As I discussed in my last blog post Can Indigenous Societies Survive?, Indigenous Societies are in peril. In researching the photos to use in this post, I was struck by the amazing beauty in the everyday lives of Indigenous peoples.

I did not see art as we know Art, the kind that hangs in museums that can’t be touched. I saw creativity and extraordinary beauty in things that related to their everyday lives in Indigenous Crafts. Since I did not focus on this in my other blog post, I would remiss not to emphasize it here.

It is apparent from these photos that the people take great pride in their creativity. They may not see art as we do but they clearly express talents that must be preserved. They appreciate and make things of beauty as part of their daily lives; such as a horse with blue eyes and the set up for making their cheese. Their crafts speak to their cultures, to what is important to them and what they treasure in their lives.

I realized this when I saw the picture of a horse’s saddle created by someone from the Mongolian Nomads. These photos are part of a photo essay about the Mongolian Nomads made by Taylor Weidman done for the Global Oneness Project.

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The feature photo at the beginning of this post and the one at the end are from a story by Unnikrishnan Raveendranathan. They demonstrate the craft of basket weaving. It is a lost art that has been revived, in this case by Edward Willie, so that he could teach it to his daughter. He also said, “I teach weaving to others so that I can share the connection to the earth that it gives us.”

Indigenous cultures and their crafts are what connect all of us to the earth. This is why we treasure them even as our technology destroys their way of life. Noam Chomsky said it best in this quote, “It’s pretty ironic that the so-called ‘least advanced’ people are the ones taking the lead in trying to protect all of us, while the richest and most powerful among us are the ones who are trying to drive the society to destruction.”

The irony is that as we destroy the cultures of the Indigenous peoples, we grow to treasure their art. We stick it in museums or buy it at great cost at auction. Somehow that is how we ‘technologically advanced’ peoples know how to appreciate nature’s beauty. We put it in cages, we hang it on walls, we frame it in museums. We bemoan the loss of these Indigenous Societies but only know how to keep them alive through their Indigenous Crafts.

Indigenous crafts
Edward Willie Basket weaving photographed by Unnikrishnan Raveendranathan


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Can Indigenous Societies Survive?

indigenous societies

I have done a fair amount of research on Indigenous Societies around the world. They fascinate me. Most Indigenous Societies that still exist seem to be in peril. I wonder, ‘how much longer can they survive’?

Many of the stories I have read are from The Global Oneness Project. Amazingly brave and talented artists, photographers and writers travel throughout the world to study Indigenous Peoples. Their stories and the photos taken may become the last tangible proof that Indigenous Societies still exist somewhere on the planet. It seems that only in the remotes places where nature fortifies its children against invasion do societies continue intact. This is the case with the Mustangs, monks living in an isolated corner of Nepal surrounded by high mountains which separate and protect them from the outside world.

a group of monks on horse back.
The Mustangs, monks of Nepal photographed by Taylor Weidman

    Besides wondering if Indigenous Tribes can survive is the question, ‘Why Are They Disappearing’? This is what I would like to focus on. Indigenous people are intimate with their natural environment. As more of nature is usurped by ‘civilized’ men for other uses, thrown out of balance by ‘climate change’ or outright destroyed by technological advancements’, the people whose land is a physical extension of themselves die as a culture. They individually may survive as the ‘American Indians’ did. But they were confined to reservations, raped of their culture, their dignity, their identity, their land and their spiritual connection to the earth and their natural world.
how the Indians were treated
Native American Tribe Policy from

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    The Mongolian Nomads, studied and photographed by Taylor Weidman, co-founder of the Vanishing Cultures Project. In both cases either man’s interference, climate change, desertification and the lure of a modern world are eating away at not only their cultural integrity but also their very survival. The damming of the Omo River is destroying the livelihood of half a million Africans. Climate change, desertification and the awareness of a modern life are transforming the Mongolian landscape.
    But there is some hope on the horizon. It is unlikely that many or any of the Indigenous Societies will survive as they have historically or geographically. But there is a strong desire to keep their rich cultural heritages alive and if possible, their way of living alive as well. In the case of a Yup’ik Eskimo town on the Western coast of Alaska, families are struggling to maintain the subsistence lifestyle of their ancestors.
    This story is one of destruction, devastation and at the same time an indominable spirit to keep some of the richest cultures on our planet alive. Whatever these people can do on their own or what others are doing to help, all of these Indigenous Societies will survive in our own hearts and minds as we connect to the Mother Earth Spirit that birthed us all.
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