“Since the beginning of time,” as [David] Kopenawa says of the Yanomami demiurge [Omama] and while giving an account of his life of political struggle against the expropriation of their forestland:
Omama has been the center of what the white people call ecology. It’s true! Long before these words existed among them and they started to speak about them so much, they were already in us, though we did not name them the same way [ . . . ] In the rest, we human beings are the “ecology.” But it is equally the xapiri [spirits] , the game, the trees, the rivers, the fish, the sky, the rain, the wind, and the sun…. The white people who once ignored all these things are starting to hear them a little [and] now they call themselves the “people of the ecology.”*
This is why perhaps, some of us have begun to see, through eyes like Kopenawa’s, that “the tapirs, the peccaries, the macaws that we hunt in the forest were once also humans” and “this is why today we are still the same kind.” It is also why, realizing that such a myth necessarily transforms our concepts, we who recently became “people of the ecology” had better strain to elaborate another understanding – panpsychic, transpecific, metamorphic – of “human” perspective. – Peter Skafish, from his introduction to Eduardo Viveiros de Castro’s Cannibal Metaphysics, 33.
If we are to truly be “people of the ecology” we have a lot of work to do. A lot of digging around in the roots, a lot of time to spend in the dark.
Richard said to me on the phone the other day: “That post sent me to a dark place for a while, that post with the buffalo skulls.” I thought to myself: good. Not that I want him or anyone to suffer, but good. We have to go into the dark – into scary, uncomfortable places, into places of uncertainty and doubt. We have to be able to say, from a very deep place: maybe we were wrong. Yes, it was wrong, what we did. Because we could not see. We were blinded, we were ignorant. We did not have the words to understand. To see what was right in front of us. The world in all its splendor – the prairie and the buffalo, the forests and the waters. We thought it was ours for the taking. We thought it was our God-given right. But we were wrong. Our myth was powerful but it was wrong – the myth of the God-ordained, the chosen ones, the crusaders, the jihadis, the conquistadors, the missionaries, the colonists, the soldier-farmer-settlers, the entrepreneurs, the real estate developers. Our myth is the myth of the conquerors who do not see what is broken in the conquering.
Not that anything can be undone, not that we need to feel guilty for what was done. It’s not about guilt, it is about constructing words in the darkness, words that are blasphemous and strange. Traitorous, some would say. Romantic and impractical, others would say. Words that blur the borders, Words of the un-conquerors. Every word is a myth so let us choose them carefully.
It is not enough anymore to be human. At least in the way that we are accustomed to thinking of ourselves – as separate and distinct, as the pinnacle of evolution, as a species apart from all others. But that is not who we are. That science of “the ecology” tells us so, that are interwoven with other species – the bacteria in our bodies, the food we eat. We could make words that would let us see with the eyes of the buffalo, with the eyes of the coyote, with the eyes of the dung beetle, with the eyes of the owl. Words that let them in. Words that blur the borders. Words that let us feel the “ecology” in our bodies and in our bones. Yes, this is what we love – the web of all lives, the green wind in our nostrils. Yes, our words would be “scientific” but it would be the science of the “people of the ecology.” Pan-psychic, transpecific, metamorphic. No, our words would not be scientific, because our science is not big enough for these myths. Not yet.
*David Kopenawa and Bruce Albert, The Falling Sky: Words of a Yanomami Shaman, (Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2013), 393.