[Jakarta, LttW] Over a month ago, on July 4, United States celebrated its Independence Day. Just a few days ago, India and Pakistan celebrated theirs, and today is Indonesia’s turn to do the same. Celebration, and Independence are the two keywords that we need to look into, especially when the world has been struggling with so many disturbing issues, like terrorism, extremism, global warming, corruption, worsening education, social media phenomena, war, refugee, food shortage, etc. How should we celebrate our independence if we are yet to resolve these matters?
To celebrate is to be proud of what we have tangibly (like natural resources and people), and intangibly, such as values (integrity, work ethos, mutual respect, and solidarity), tradition, unity and so on. To celebrate also means to be grateful for what we have genuinely achieved, not bragging about the self-indulging praises that are full of exaggerations. Celebrating is also about contemplating and admitting not only what we have not achieved, but also what we have done wrongly.
How about independence itself? How should we perceive this word? Independence is about being independent in two main areas, self reliant in supporting ourselves, and having the freedom and/or sovereignty to decide our destiny as a nation. Being self-reliant and sovereign do not mean that we can live independently from the others because eventually we will be in need of the help from others. With this in mind, independence then also means interdependent. So celebration is not a mere partying, is more about getting mature in the making.
So, Happy Independence Day to the nations that have matured over the years, and will continue to mature in the future.
The Colorado River, one of the longest rivers in the United States, is gradually shrinking. This is partly a result of overuse by municipalities and seasonal drought. The other reason is global warming.
The decline in the river reservoir will have serious implications for large U.S. cities, such as Los Angeles, that depend on the Colorado River as their water source. In addition, this will also have an impact on the Native American tribes who view the Colorado River as sacred to their religions.
As Ka-Voka Jackson, a member of the Hualapai tribe and a graduate student working to address climate change on the Colorado River and restoring native plant species along its banks, stated,
“The Colorado River is so sacred not just to my tribe, but to so many others.”
As a scholar of Native American religions and the environment, I understand how indigenous people’s religions and sacred places are closely tied to their landscape. For the past 100 years, indigenous peoples have been forced to adapt to changes in their environments and modify their religious rituals in the United States. The U.S. government made certain Native American religious practices illegal in the 19th and early 20th century. Although these policies have since been rescinded, they led to changes in many indigenous practices.
Global warming, however, is different. The question is whether indigenous people will be able to adapt their beliefs all over again due to the impact of global warming on the natural world.
Adapting to change
The Blackfeet tribe in Montana brought changes in their relationship with the natural world as a result of the policies of the U.S. government from the 1880s to the 1930s.
For example, the Blackfeet purposefully moved religious ceremonies from one time on their liturgical calendar to completely different times to avoid the U.S. government penalizing native people for dancing or participating in religious ceremonies.
The Blackfeet moved their annual O’kan, or sundance festival, from late summer (usually held at the end of August) to the Fourth of July celebration. They avoided U.S. government punishment by masking their ceremonies within state-sanctioned public events.
Policies related to the mining of natural resources and damming of rivers on indigenous lands have also led to changes in Native Americans’ religious practices.
Historian David R. M. Beckinterviewed elders and researched how the Menominee tribe in Wisconsin adapted to the loss of their sacred fish, the sturgeon, after a paper mill built a dam across the Wolf River.
The sturgeon disappeared after the dam was built in 1892, because they could no longer swim upstream to spawn. For over 100 years, the Menominee tribal members continued to pray and conduct their annual “returning of the sturgeon” ceremony in the spring – even though there were no more sturgeon in the river. The Menominee ultimately won the right to return the sturgeon to the Wolf River in 1992 and the tribe revitalized the full ceremony and celebration of their sacred fish.
In all these situations, Native American tribes learned to adapt to the challenges placed before them, modify their religious practice and embrace a different relationship with the natural world.
Global warming and religion
When it comes to global climate change, it affects everyone, not just specific groups in specific places. But for many indigenous peoples, natural resources are closely linked to religious beliefs and practices.
Historically, indigenous peoples used the natural seasonal cycles of weather, plants and animals as part of their liturgical or religious calendar. The Blackfeet held their annual “beaver bundle ceremony” in the early spring as ice melted off rivers and beavers returned to the open waters. In Blackfeet mythology, a beaver served as a deity who taught humans how to cultivate tobacco, which the tribe used for important religious ceremonies and as a peace offering to their enemies.
There are signs, though, that beavers are now moving north due to global warming. Biologists are currently studying both beavers and the birch and alder shrubs that beavers eat, as both move north into new regions. Scientists worry that as a keystone species, the movement of beavers will change the northern ecosystems as they cut off waterways and build beaver dams. And shrubs will change the local waterways that they grow by. This will affect local animal species.
What will happen when there are no more beaver in Blackfeet territory? Will their religious traditions adapt similar to the Menominee when they faced the loss of their sacred sturgeon?
Religion and resiliency
From the arctic tundra to the American desert southwest, and places worldwide, indigenous peoples will be facing the impact of global climate change.
Regarding the shrinking of the Colorado River, researchers Brad Udall and Jonathan Overpeckhave concluded that, “Failing to act on climate change means accepting the very high risk that the Colorado River basin will continue to dry up into the future.”
If this river faces a drier future, it will likely affect the Mojave, a people indigenous to the Colorado River basin, who believe the river was created by their ancient deity Mastamho as part of their sacred landscape.
As the G-20 convenes in Germany this week to discuss global issues including climate change, indigenous scholars, such as myself, are wondering what the future holds for indigenous peoples, their environments and their religions.
Indigenous communities can be resilient and adapt their internal religious beliefs to outside challenges, as Native American tribes from the turn of the 20th century have proven. Climate change presents yet another challenge.
Democracy is a system attempting to accommodate and uphold fairness, equal opportunity, human rights (and responsibility), and justice within a community, society and nation. In Western modern democracy, at a state or governing level, democracy is a check and balance system implemented by Judicial (the Court), Legislative (the Congress/Parliament), and Executive (Government) bodies, while Election is the mechanism used to determine who the leaders will be. Have we been successful? Well, it depends on how we perceive democracy.
In the US, for example, the four essential elements (Court, Congress, Government, and Election) mentioned above are exercised according the rules. Does it make everyone happy? Obviously not. The number of people participate in Election keeps decreasing, not because of the system, but because of the output of the system, and political attitude of most politicians.
Democracy is not a perfect system, so we shouldn’t expect a perfect outcome. If the (economic) welfare of the people is the utmost importance, then democracy is not the only system that has the chance to deliver it. Qatar, for instance, is more democratic than Saudi Arabia, but it doesn’t run the Western modern democracy either. The good thing is that its annual income per capita reaches over U$ 80,000; not only the highest in the world, but also way above any affluent Western countries. China is definitely not a democratic country, but its economic growth has been the highest in the past twenty years.
So, how do we measure the practiced democracy as true, partial, false or even never exists? We have three options. First is whether the check and balance, and election are exercised in accordance to the rules, regardless of not only the corrupt attitude of the politicians but also the consequential result(s) of the system, good or bad. Second is the level of welfare of the people regardless whether the system is democratic or not. Third is all of the above, meaning that the system is democratic, and the people’s welfare is high.
Our perspective may not be amenable by some or most people, but we would like to urge people to use the right measuring tool(s) when evaluating the success and/or failure of something. On this closure, we would like to thank your participation by giving your questions, views, and opinions; it’s been nothing but enrichment to us all. Although we are already moving on to another subject, you are still welcome to continue giving comment on this matter.
Human Ego, a Friend or Foe? We are raising this issue because it may affect, influence, direct or even determine our future, particularly when involving individuals who we consider as the global “game changers”.
Our world is populated by 7 billions people, but when it comes to shaping the future, only a few who really matters. History tells us that global game changers are minorities consisting of prophets, philosopher, kings, presidents, scientists, artists, religious figures and so on. Jesus changed the course of humanity; Plato, Newton, and Einstein also among those who did, but so did Caligula, Genghis Khan, Hitler, Stalin, and ISIS. So, human ego does matter; how should we deal with it?
Last year, New York’s then police commissioner Willam Bratton was quick to blame rap music and the culture around it for a fatal backstage shooting at a concert by the rapper T.I. Ignoring wider issues of gun control, Bratton pointed at “the crazy world of the so-called rap artists” that “basically celebrates the violence”.
Hip Hop culture and rap (a method of vocal delivery popularised through hip hop music) have for more than four decades been bundled with a range of negative connotations, leading many like Bratton to equate them only with profanity, misogyny, violence and crime. Prosecutors in the US have labelled rap lyrics a criminal threat,
and numerous studies have been undertaken on the harmful influence of hip hop on kids.
There’s no denying that the lyrical content of hip hop is confronting, and in many instances, it includes the glorification of violence, substance use, and gender discrimination. But while many people struggle to look past the profanity, materialism, and high-risk messages often celebrated within mainstream rap music, hip hop culture at its core, is built on values of social justice, peace, respect, self-worth, community, and having fun. And because of these values, it’s increasingly being used as a therapeutic tool when working with young people.
School counsellors, psychologists, and social workers have helped to normalise the option of integrating hip hop within mental health strategies. Indeed it has become central to the work of one group of psychiatrists at Cambridge University, who under the banner of “hip hop pysch”, use it as a tool in promoting mental health. Some have even called rap “the perfect form for music therapy.”
A presentation from ‘hip hop psych’ on a Tupac song.
Born in New York City, hip hop culture is now a worldwide phenomenon. You’d be hard-pressed to find any country that doesn’t have some kind of hip hop scene. This new reality is driven by two factors. One is the commercialisation of the culture as a commodity, which has made it one of the most influential industries in the world with its own Forbes rich list.
The other is that hip hop remains accessible and grassroots. At its simplest, you can make a beat with your mouth – beatboxing – or on a school desk, and create or recite lyrics about anything without singing. The proliferation of cost-friendly, music-creating software and hardware puts more involved participation in reach, and allows flexibility in creativity and even pathways to entrepreneurship.
The beatboxer Tom Thum demonstrates his prowess.
Marginalised communities the world over resonate with the ethos of resisting exclusion or discrimination and fighting for equity and justice. Others just love the beats and lyrical flow. Beyond beats and rhymes, there’s also something for everyone: B-Girls and B-Boys dance, DJ’s scratch and mix, and graffiti artists draw and write. Combined with emceeing, or rapping, these are the four basic elements of hip hop, with the fifth being Knowledge of Self: the drive for self-awarness and social-consciousness.
Participants in the RMIT Link Bust A Groove Dance Competition. Photo supplied by Michelle Grace Hunder
This accessibility and inclusivity makes hip hop such an effective therapeutic tool for working with young people. It’s a style most feel comfortable with and it provides a way to build rapport between client and therapist. The lyrical content is a vehicle for building self reflection, learning, and growth. Whether analysing existing songs, or creating new content, the vast array of themes found in hip-hop songs enable therapists to access topics that may otherwise be hard to talk about.
The repetitive, predictable nature of hip hop beats is also said to provide a sense of safety, particularly during song writing, and lyrical and musical improvisation. Therapists suggest this provides a sense of dependability for those with little regularity or safety in their everyday lives; something supported by research linking music engagement and self-regulation.
Mantra is a Melbourne-based hip hop artist who works extensively in schools and the community to empower youth. Photo supplied by Michelle Grace Hunder
Results showed students were not only highly engaged in learning through the program, but exhibited positive self-expression, built significant rapport with facilitators, and strengthened social connection amongst each other.
Hip hop emerged as a reaction to the gang culture and violence of the South Bronx in the 1970s, and daily experiences of poverty, racism, exclusion, crime, violence, and neglect. It necessarily embodies and values resilience, understanding, community and social justice.
Yet, the hip hop project is not yet free from these difficult circumstances. Many communities around the world still battle the effects of discrimination, segregation, and injustice. Hip hop is often a potent voice to these lived experiences. One of its original, primary strengths was that it allowed young, creative Black and Latino youth to create art that reflected the reality of their lives, of the neighbourhoods around them, and of the wider social circumstances in which they found themselves. In the words of US artists N.W.A. they were making the most out their basic human right to “Express Yourself.”
We may be several decades on, but there are plenty of young people that still need to do the same.
Hip hop is neither a panacea nor a cure all. It is not perfect, but its promise is undeniable. It is a culture with complicated social and historical roots. And it should not be appropriated without acknowledging, respecting and addressing these, because it is precisely these origins that make is so important. Its complicated history enables us to critically reflect on our society, and forces us to face issues of race, privilege, class, and cultural appropriation.
Given the urgency of our need for equity, justice, tolerance and critical civic engagement in today’s society, we need to challenge our preconceptions about hip hop culture. It is perhaps one of the most important and generous movements in our world today.