Ten myths that keep us colonised
Until a couple of hundred years ago, most human population lived nomadic lives.
This changed for most of us when our lands were stolen and/or our elders compromised by deceit, subjugation, and physical as well as socio-semiotic violence by a handful of European powers.
With the introduction of land ownership, humans could no longer freely move around their Indigenous lands. Instead, they were forced to move to settlements (of various sizes).
Today, while humans are sold dreams of “development”, Mother Earth and all her children – including most humans – are suffering.
This pain was first created by stealing our lands; then, for many, intensified by passing total control of everyone and everything to dependent and corrupt governments. Ironically, many celebrate these governments as their Independence.
Today, colonial control is largely maintained through a set of beliefs established and perpetuated through “education”, endorsed and marketed as a universal human right.
Formal education through schooling (including madrassahs and most convents/Grammar Schools) is either a 19th or 20th century practice in most parts of the world and was introduced during colonisation. Before that, nomadic and Indigenous “education” had different practices and philosophies.
While it is impossible (because of their systemic eradication) to know what all the various ways of “education” were in the nomadic worlds, we can identify some principles. Most importantly, children learnt from people who performed things that were of value and use to the community.
What children learnt and the “knowledge” they developed was geographically relevant. In order for humans to thrive in a natural environment, they developed understandings of things and patterns in their regions. This knowledge, often encoded in language, dance, song, and art, guided humans in their life and interaction with their environments.
Most – BUT NOT ALL – of this knowledge is now lost. And, it is possible to identify myths established through colonial and corporate practices, which contribute to the ongoing exploitation of peoples and the natural world.
This essay shares ten of those myths.
Knowledge is gradable
Universities and individual academics tout their rankings pretty much all over the world today. These recognitions are based on how certain knowledge is graded as being better than the rest.
However, knowledge is infinite. This implies that it cannot be graded or ranked.
Our lived experience of knowledge being ranked is a colonial tool to create legitimacy for only knowledges that are sanctioned by them and serve their interests.
Observe how most of modern education is devoid of local and does not train the people in skills needed in their communities. Instead, it empowers State approved institutions, beliefs, and corporate practices.
The myth of knowledge being gradable is a socio-semiotic trick through which the colonials create and maintain their own superiority and loot our biological right to land, food, and integrity.
Humans evolved from nomads to farmers to settlers
Nomads were (and remain) hunter-gatherers and roamed the lands to find a variety of food, which is available in different regions in different seasons. There was little reason for them to stay in one place and farm for only certain types of food. The variety of food sources they consumed along with regular physical activity helped people maintain their health and well-being.
Languages of Indigenous peoples show how their songs and idioms, often based on readings of other living things, guided their movement from one part of the country to another in different seasons. This could be for various reasons, e.g., to get types of food or to find safety from the weather. For example, the peoples of the Gold River (Cape York, Pajinka, Aboriginia) say “when the wattle is red, the turtle is fat”. These idioms guide locals to move to different regions to get their preferred food as well as avoid the worse of weather.
In reading signs from the environment and relating them to different experiences, Indigenous people created locally relevant sciences. Such sciences were not recognised by colonial scientists, who insisted on their own “superior” knowledge.
In moving through the lands in cycles (of varying durations), nomads farmed the whole forest and not just a patch of land. They did not destroy life in order to create food just for themselves.
Farming as practiced today, at the minimal, requires land clearing. Land clearing implies that the existing life on land is removed and/or killed. This is against nomadic principles.
On the other hand, settlements require year-round food in a single location. This creates a need for farming. And, as settlements grow, they require more food, which requires more land clearing and killing of life.
A lack of archaeological evidence of regular settlements across vast parts of the world indicate that people lived nomadic lives in those regions. These nomadic communities were disrupted when a few European colonial powers invaded the lands and took ownership of pretty much everything that existed on, under, or above these lands.
The invaders failed or refused to recognise local Indigenous food sources and practices. Instead, as in the case of Australia, they replaced Indigenous life by clearing the lands to grow their own foods (both animals and plants) and then trade in them.
The myth that farming is a natural evolution from being nomadic enables colonial and corporate practices. Not only does it naturalise land clearing and aggressive farming, it also shifts the responsibility for the destruction of Mother Earth to human evolution – instead of colonial greed.
Money is finite
While money may be finite in our lives; money, as a concept based on numbers, is infinite because there is no end to counting.
And, in today’s world of credit cards and online transactions, money is no more than a number: a socio-semiotic concept with no materiality – not even printed paper and coins.
Like with knowledge, the colonial and corporate powers manage this infinite and turn it into a finite in our lives. And, this finite is required to fulfil our daily needs and wants.
For example, the State takes away our biological right to exist on land and to nourishment. The State does this by establishing economic and political systems that require us to pay rent and buy food. To earn this money, we need to work.
In addition, corporations market all sorts of products – with little regard to human and environmental costs – to create wants and desires in us. To fulfil these desires, one needs to give up their time (present) to earn money.
Nomadic communities did not need money. To exist in harmony with each other and in wilderness, nomads need integrity. Integrity requires sharing with and enabling others. And this integrity allowed humans to thrive in harsh conditions.
Money today is managed by the elites and used as a tool of oppression and exploitation. Imagine this, the State sanctions and prints money; and, at the same time, it charges us tax on the money that we have worked for!
Language is spoken and written
Linguists consider it an honour to create and/or help establish new writing systems for languages that were not written. The very need to establish these writing systems tell us that literacy is not a universal human ability, and that language is only spoken.
Writing is a visual representation of meaning. This can be done in different ways. For example, we can have scripts based on sounds. Within this, we can have scripts that have symbols for each unique sound (called phonetic script); and, we can have scripts that capture a group of sounds (e.g. syllabic scripts). In addition, we can have writing systems that are not dependent on sounds, but meanings (e.g. Chinese). Of these, linguists tend to prefer phonetic based scripts, which are arguably the weakest approach to writing. Accents vary across groups of people and these variations cannot be taken into account in a standardised spelling system; this leads to further marginalisation of people from non-elite backgrounds.
Indigenous people, in rare circumstances that they needed and chose to develop a script, used a variety of approaches – and, often, not phonetic ones. Notice, for example, how Sequoyah chose to develop a syllabic script.
Literacy (like numeracy) is a tool for traders and a luxury of settlements. Nomadic people don’t have the need or the luxury of being displaced from their present through a visual sub-system.
Nomadic life and education were oral in tradition and were based on practice and performance. Making education, governance, religion, law and economy dependent on literacy (which is modelled on elite colonial practices) serves the interests of the elites and disadvantages the rest; and it is a threat to the diversity of human practices.
The myth that language is both written and oral permits those in power to create and use literacy as a weapon against the masses.
Religion is belief
As European colonial powers expanded their geographical boundaries, they came across diverse belief systems. In order to study these, they created a category called “religion” and used it to divide people into groups. Evidence of this can be found in a lack of Indigenous words for ‘religion’; instead of having an equivalent of ‘religion’, most languages either borrow or loosely translate the word (which can impact their language and socio-semiotics in multiple ways). With each grouping and name came a division that was not necessarily recognised before; and with each divisions came real or threat of conflict.
In order to create the category “religion”, the colonials used literacy and the printing press as weapons. Religion today is learnt from books and preachers, instead of elders whose practices and performance provided models for others to observe and follow.
Oral traditions, by definition, are performed and dynamic. Printed text is static. Furthermore, people’s interpretations of the same written text vary across time, space, and purpose. Shifting people’s focus from practice to printed text created the possibility for people to disagree on interpretations. These disagreements on interpretations lead to further divisions within a “religion”.
By believing in print-based religions, people started worrying about the sanctity of printed words and their interpretations instead of observing and carrying out practices that maintain harmony, the goal of all “religions”.
In nomadic communities, the key practice that maintains harmony is integrity. When this is maintained, differences in beliefs don’t matter. However, once the practice of integrity is replaced with belief in a printed text, a “religion” becomes a problem instead of a solution.
The myth of religion and the social disruptions caused by it allow the colonial and corporate elites to continue their divide-and-rule practices.
Time is measurable
From childhood we are sold the myth of past–present–future. In addition to the clocks and calendars, our grammar books teach us how to construct these tenses.
However, contrary to what we are taught, observe that in English, there are only two tenses marked by a sound change: present (walk) and past (walked). To refer to future, we need to add more words to a sentence (will walk; may walk). In boli (the oral language I grew up with), there is only one tense: present (chal) – we always live in the present. In order to refer to either past or future, we need to add more words.
Ignoring these observations, colonial and corporate education naturalises a sense of past and future – not just in/through English, but through studying and teaching any/all languages as well as other subjects. Once this is done, the colonial exploiters use ‘past’ to teach histories of violence. These histories of violence both justify colonial aggression as well as enable violence within communities. And, they use the ‘future’ to market products and lifestyles where people dream about a future while giving up their present.
For many nomadic communities, time was understood in relation to seasons and availability of different food (as in the example of the wattles blooming in Gold Rivers). There was no need to measure time in clocks and days and weeks and months.
Solar calendars are a need and an invention of traders. This is because some traders travel long distances and need to be able to predict weather patterns to ensure safety. A solar calendar, which is aligned with seasons, gives one a better sense of when to travel through which part of the world.
A fact little known is that the most reliable of solar calendars was developed by a group of Musalman scholars and is known as the Jalali calendar: the Gregorian calendar needs a leap year every four years; the Jalali calendar does not need a leap year for over 125 years.
The Jalali calendar was adopted as the calendar by the network of Musalman traders around the globe over a thousand years ago. This calendar is what enabled Musalman traders to trade across vast parts of the world, including Australia.
The Jalali calendar was replaced with the current lunar Muslim calendar, which has no alignment with weather and can be of no use for traders, when a handful of European powers broke up the Ottoman Networks and created new countries after World War 1. This included the creation of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA). The KSA government, tricked by their European manipulators, replaced the Jalali calendar with a lunar calendar. The Jalali calendar, known by different names, continues to be the official calendar of Afghanistan and Iran.
A manipulation of the concept of time can trick people and can disable them to relate to their environment. Corporate greed uses the concept to enslave people. What we need to realise and remember – something embedded in my boli – is that time is only and always present.
Science is objective
Through school and media we are taught to trust in science and its objectivity.
At the same time, observation tells us that people in different parts of the world developed different sciences, which served their needs and purposes.
Furthermore, science is a form of knowledge, knowledge is infinite, and there can be no hierarchy within an infinite system, including a hierarchy of objectivity.
Modern science – on the back of global conquest and exploitation – tends to explain things that are beyond a particular context. In doing so, it challenges and replaces local sciences and practices. This is done with disregard to how local sciences enable people in their contexts and maintain environmental harmony.
By creating a myth that science is objective, the colonials ridicule Indigenous practices and alter the knowledge and beliefs of the masses. And, by projecting colonial and exploitative sciences as being objective and progress oriented, they influence and change local socio-semiotic practices that results in a destabilisation of the colonies, its peoples, and its environment.
Colonial education and knowledge making tools make a primary distinction between mind and matter (body). They then study the mind (and associated disciplines) in social sciences & humanities; and study matter/body in hard sciences & medicine. This is why one goes to a psychologist (social science) for mental health and goes to a doctor (medical/material science) for other illnesses.
The separation between mind and matter has been naturalised to a degree where sayings like “mind over matter” have become everyday idioms.
The colonials draw this distinction from a French philosopher, René Descartes’ work. The Cartesian duality of mind and matter (body) is based on philosophical and theoretical arguments and is not supported by observational evidence.
On the contrary, observation tells us that one’s mind and body are integrated; the mind is part of the body; and the mind is made of matter/body.
The Cartesian duality is a trick that allowed colonials to design social, political, and education policies and practices that split a person’s mind from their body and allows for the manipulation of their minds. The colonials continue to promote this duality and study the world through it. To do this, they rank knowledge.
A naturalisation of the mind-body duality leads people into accepting beliefs and practices that are not the best for them. This leads to individual and social illnesses and problems.
Nomadic people did not have such a division, nor did they need one. They always existed in the present and their mind and body were aligned. This is one reason why most Indigenous communities did not recognise or have names for psychological problems – they didn’t exist (and neither did psychology).
The myth that our minds and bodies are separate weakens us, makes us lose our connection with our surroundings, and allows for our minds to be influenced by greedy colonials.
Development is typically measured through numbers. Numbers are infinite. And, so, there is no theoretical endpoint for what we call development.
The myth of development enables colonial and corporate powers to project their own beliefs and practices as “developed” and those of others as “underdeveloped” or “developing”. And, they keep shifting the targets of “development” to keep themselves in position of power.
Most definitions of development are based on arbitrary social measures created and enabled through colonial research. And, often, a group of people are deemed more developed based on how different they are from other biological creatures.
Development myth is supported through pretty much all the other myths included in this essay. For example, ‘time’ is used to suggests that humans have evolved and developed and that we should continue this “development” into the future. This is done with disregard to environmental and human costs.
In order to achieve “development”, the colonials index their own knowledge and science as superior and a model for others. And, in trying to achieve these coloniality-enabling targets, the colonised peoples open themselves and their lands up to exploitation.
To meet the insatiable demand for development, corporations and colonial governments mine the lands for resources that they can use in industry and make money out of. This, again, is done with disregard to environmental and human costs.
Humans are sold dreams of a future through media, literacy, and marketing. They are then made to work in particular ways to achieve that version of the future. But, as observation and experience teach us, those dreams are often never realised, and the majority of the human population continues to suffer and be exploited.
The concept of ‘human rights’ is an anthropo-centric (human-centric) one. All creatures on earth have rights – and these are the same.
The three biological rights are:
1) right to exist on earth,
2) right to nourishment, and
3) right to receive integrity.
Observe that the greedy colonials usurp all these three rights. Humans have to pay to live and eat, while other creatures continue to be captured, killed, or have their lands taken. And, we receive little integrity in life.
Once these three rights are taken away, life becomes oppressive and results in conflict, violence, crime and other problems.
Instead of addressing the root problems, the colonials espouse and promote an anthropocentric concept of human rights. Observation will tell us that not only are our human rights not fulfilled, but there is little visible action or policy in place that will bring these rights to us. This is because human rights cannot be achieved until all three biological rights are achieved for every creature and part of Mother Earth.
One day, as we were watching humans
Auntie Brumby said to me
“Don’t ever accept a division!”
What do you mean, I asked Auntie
“Look at those humans, they divide themselves
Look at how they treat each other and us”
You mean, don’t divide into species or tribes or fences?
“Not only; don’t divide your mind and body
Your mind is a part of your body,
Not outside it.”
What do you mean, Auntie?
“If you divide your mind and body,
Others can learn to trick your mind
And then you will become sick and weak
Like humans; and, kill your own Mother Earth.”
Sunny Boy Brumby