Healing Journeys of Indigenous People

Urgent Call for International TRC – Special Heritage Month focus

At the Castle of Good Hope people gathered to launch a language revival programme. Elsewhere in the Mother City groups explored the obstacles to healing the wounds of indigenous people around the world. This month The Journalist looks at our rich Heritage, starting with these initiatives to restore dignity of Indigenous People and redress injustice.

It was only after I voted for the first time that I entered the Castle of Good Hope built by Dutch Settlers. Before that, politics dictated that we boycott such places. This weekend as I sat listening to people praying in this 17th Century symbol of colonial dispossession, it felt as if we had finally come full circle.

The occasion was the Aba Te Open Day – a language revival initiative – organised by the Khoi & San Active Awareness Group (KSAAG).

It’s only recently that I have realised how much of the words in the Khoekhoe family of languages we use every day without even knowing it and how much of it is to be found in the Nguni languages. For starters Aba means to carry so this event was named Carry Me.

Says Bradley van Sitters one of the organisers:

“This forms part of the initiative to decolonise the Castle and localise it within indigenous cultural expressions. The theme of this initiative is called Aba Te, which means, “Carry Me” in Khoekhoegowab. Aba is a common word on the Cape Flats today, widely used by especially children. This word holds ancestral memory as it is a linguistic remnant still used on the Cape Flats of the first inhabitants of the Cape, the Khoekhoe and the San Boesman.”

The Aba Te Open Day was a precursor to a Workshop Series that will be run every Saturday at the Castle. The three-part workshop series will comprise:

  1. Indigenous Language (Khoekhoegowab) hosted by Bradley van Sitters
  2. Indigenous Music (Mouth-Bow) presented by Collin Meyer
  3. Indigenous Medicinal Plants facilitated by Carlo Randall

“Everyone is welcome to participate in this language revival programme which will be closely monitored by first language speakers from Northern Cape and Namibia. This is a continuation from last year’s programme at the Castle which attracted both young and old from different walks of life,” says Van Sitters.

Khoekhoegowab means language of the Khoikhoi.

Elsewhere in the Mother City the renowned priest and former political activist, Father Michael Lapsley, arranged a Healing Journeys of Indigenous Peoples Conference.

Delegates heard the stories of Indigenous people from South Africa, Canada, Columbia, New Zealand, the Kurds, Australia, Philippines and Hawaii.

“While each story was unique, the commonality includes genocide, decimation, loss of land, language and religion AND extraordinary resilience,” says Father Lapsley.

The keynote address at the conference was delivered by Bishop Mark MacDonald, North American President of World Council of Churches. He said:

“A communal moral wound can be exported and replicated again and again. The exploitation of the colonial economic system, a system that ran on the wide scale theft of the resources of others, creates an economic culture that continues to exploit till it destroys the very world humanity inhabits. In pursuit of the massive and concentrated wealth of colonial economics cultural patterns of domination and intimidation of other peoples, especially indigenous peoples, are inflicted on other areas, as is so often seen in the way extractive industries operate globally. The morally wounded society and culture magnifies misery of others while never addressing the insatiable hunger in its own painful universe of moral diminishment.”

The role of the Ancestors is key to the belief systems of Indigenous people around the world. Talking about the survivors of the notorious Indian Residential Schools (IRS) of North America, Bishop MacDonald said:

“As the survivors often said, the presence of the ancestors, the elders, was always guiding them and sustaining them. Further, they often pointed to the presence of Spirit, of the divine being, in their acts of courage. They traced their hope, wisdom, and courage to the foundation of life placed in their hearts and minds by Spirit and those who had gone before. Their attitude, their sense of relationship to their relatives, and their humour was almost miraculously present; broadly speaking, these things could not be taken away, even in the worst of experiences. It was something that was a part of them, a part of the structure of their being. They often spoke of Spirit’s help, animated through the wisdom and faith of the elders of long ago.”

Some of the key topics of the conference sessions included:

  • How ancient, old and recent wounds manifest in violent conflict today. For example The Kurds and ISIS
  • Obstacles to healing the intergenerational wounds of Indigenous people. For example ‘The Stolen Generation’ in Australia and the residential schools in Canada
  • The challenges, especially for young indigenous people to live meaningful lives in advanced technological societies, as minority groups.
  • Identifying the spiritual and other resources indigenous people have within and outside their cultures to help their healing journey
  • Exploring the unique contribution of Indigenous people in restoring mother earth and restoring humanity.
    On the final day of the conference the delegates enacted powerful healing ceremonies and adopted the Durbanville

Declaration on Indigenous Healing. It states:

“We make an urgent call on the Nations of the World to restore truth and together rebuild the human family by recognising the pain and trauma that the world’s oldest foundational nations have suffered.

“In confronting the destruction of the past and the present, we urgently invite the nations of the world to convene an international Truth and Reconciliation Commission that will examine grave abuses of human rights committed against indigenous peoples worldwide, where the story can be told and appropriate action taken to redress the grave injustices and to bring healing and new hope.”

For more information about the Castle Aba Te Indigenous Language Revival Programme go to www.khoekhoegowab.wordpress.com