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Photo: Landis Brown/The Archive of Healing at UCLA.
The Archive of Healing describes cures, rituals, and healing methods spanning two centuries.

My daughter-in-law and I got interested in a kind of tumeric tea that we bought at the farmers market before Covid. Since then, I’ve tried other kinds of tumeric tea just because I like the weird flavor. And as today’s article points out, tumeric has long been known to reduce inflammation.

At Hyperallergic, Valentina Di Liscia wrote recently about similar tried and (sometimes) true traditional remedies that are featured in something called the Archive of Healing.

“The digital archive features hundreds of thousands of entries describing cures, rituals, and healing methods spanning two centuries, with a focus on protecting Indigenous knowledge from for-profit exploitation.

“The University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)’s Archive of Healing, one of the most comprehensive databases of medicinal folklore in the world, is now accessible online. The interactive, searchable website boasts hundreds of thousands of entries describing cures, rituals, and healing methods spanning more than 200 years and seven continents.

“The site … focuses on the preservation of Indigenous traditions and customs related to wellness.

“The project started five decades ago, when former UCLA professors Wayland Hand and Michael Owen Jones led teams of students to document medicinal practices described in university archives, published sources, anthropologists’ field notes, and their own family folklore.

In 1996, the school received a grant to digitize the research — encompassing more than a million handwritten four-by-six note cards — and transform it into a searchable database then known as the ‘Archive of Traditional Medicine.’

“But somehow, the massive trove remained a little-known resource until 2012, when a librarian at UCLA came across the database and alerted Dr. David Delgado Shorter, Professor of World Arts and Cultures/Dance at UCLA. Shorter, who had just published a book based on fieldwork with the Yoeme communities in northwest Mexico and launched a digital tool to help Indigenous people preserve their languages, was ‘blown away’ by the archive.

“ ‘It was just sitting there probably for years without people knowing about it,’ Shorter said in an interview. … ‘In some ways it’s fantastic that no one knew about it, because in this day and age, someone could have created a mining program and simply just pulled all the material from the database,’ he added. … His team safeguarded the data in a secure server.

“One of Shorter’s priorities is protecting Indigenous knowledge from exploitation by for-profit entities, such as pharmaceutical companies. For that reason, some entries in the archive do not mention specific plant names or recipes unless that information is already widely known.

“As dangerous health-related disinformation surged during the coronavirus pandemic, many have become wary of alternative medicine. The archive’s initial compilers were folklorists, not medical doctors, and the website includes a disclaimer that the entries do not constitute medical advice. … Users can flag entries they deem inappropriate. …

“Most importantly, these spices, plants, and other healing methods can deepen our understanding of how different cultures view the body, wellness, and community.

“ ‘The whole goal here is to democratize what we think of as healing and knowledge about healing, and take it across cultures in a way that’s respectful and gives attention to intellectual property rights,’ said Shorter.”

Hooray for librarians who alert people to “treasure troves”! More at Hyperallergic, here.

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Photo: Ann Hermes/ Christian Science Monitor
Judge Abby Abinanti presides over the Yurok Tribal Court in Klamath, California.

There has been a movement lately to restore to tribal courts the adjudication of certain types of crimes committed by Native Americans. The idea is that the traditional ways of handling problems often work better than those imposed by an outside system.

Henry Gass writes about one such court at the Christian Science Monitor.

“The mouth of the Klamath River – the spiritual heart of Yurok country – can be hard to find.  … Ira Thompson is here for his court date anyway, having made the 30-minute drive south from Crescent City. He grew up here, and when he got in serious trouble for the first time – a third DUI and a possible four months in jail – he knew he needed to come home. …

“So he reached out to the Yurok Tribal Court. He reached out to Abby Abinanti. …

“As Mr. Thompson enters, the air tastes of musky angelica root (burned by a paralegal minutes earlier to cleanse the room of pain, anxiety, and other negative energy).

“Judge Abby, as everyone calls her, is not your average judge. She sits at a table across from Mr. Thompson wearing her typical court attire: gray jeans and a crimson turtleneck. …

“ ‘How are things going?’ she asks him.

“ ‘Staying home,’ he replies.

“Mr. Thompson is under house arrest and participating in the court’s wellness program, a treatment employing Yurok cultural immersion. That’s the deal the tribal court struck with the county instead of jail time. He’s been home carving earrings out of redwood, making elk horn purses, and selling them. ‘That sounds good,’ she says, bringing the hearing briskly to an end about five minutes after it started. …

“When Judge Abinanti joined the Yurok Tribal Court in 2007 it operated like a normal state court, albeit on a much smaller scale. When most Yuroks got into trouble with the law they went to local state courts, and they entered a system designed to be adversarial and punitive. Root causes often went ignored and unaddressed, and recidivism inevitably followed.

“Judge Abinanti has taken the court in a different direction: one more communal and rehabilitative. It’s a judicial path followed by other tribes around the country. Personal responsibility and renewal – two pillars of the once nearly extinct Yurok culture – now permeate the court’s functions.

“Incarceration has largely been replaced by supervised release combined with Yurok traditions such as dancing and wood carving. Lawyering up for family disputes and child custody battles has been replaced by mediation. Almost every case is resolved through mediation – victims and perpetrators talking with each other – even if it takes years. Tribal courts resemble the growing U.S. restorative justice movement, which emphasizes repairing the harm caused by criminal behavior and getting all stakeholders involved. Judge Abinanti says it just resembles the old Yurok values system.

“The Yurok were village people, she likes to say. Living in clusters of redwood cabins along the Klamath River, people in the communities were so interdependent that when villagers did something wrong, they couldn’t just be locked away. They had to face consequences, but also become responsible, productive community members again. That’s tribal justice.

“After what she calls ‘the invasion’ by European settlers, the Yurok way of life was lost. By helping revive those values and applying them to modern-day problems – addiction, domestic violence, foster care – the Yurok say she’s not only meting out justice, she’s helping revive the tribe itself. And some U.S. criminal justice reformers are now beginning to explore what lessons can be learned from tribal courts. …

“Any Yurok tribe member is eligible to have their case heard in the tribal court (except for felony cases, which go to state or federal court). Judge Abinanti has expanded the kinds of cases the tribal court hears. … She also negotiates with other judges for alternative sentences for Yuroks convicted in other jurisdictions. …

“To fully understand Judge Abinanti’s approach to justice requires going back to the mid-19th century. … Massacres, slavery, and disease reduced California’s native population to about 30,000 within 23 years of statehood. Some tribes lost 95 percent of their population. The Yurok Tribe says three-quarters of its population died in this period, and the tribe faded into obscurity. …

“Judge Abinanti says that the Yurok history of decimation creates a generational trauma, a mental framework that shapes a cycle of behavior among some tribal members. ‘Until they get that, they feel sort of caught up in something that they can’t control or stop because they don’t know what it is or where it came from,’ she says. ‘We have to take responsibility for acquiring those habits and we have to deal with it….

“ ‘It’s one thing to just stop behavior, but I think it helps to stop the behavior if you know why,’ she says. …

“Understanding the ‘why’ helped change the ballgame for Jon Riggs, who has Yurok, Chetco and Cherokee ancestry. Raised off the reservation in a drug-addicted family, he started drinking and doing drugs at a very young age. He was 18 when he was arrested for the first time. …

“When last year he came back to the Klamath for the Jump Dance – a dance that’s meant to renew the world – he ‘was able to connect with something that was much deeper than I had ever done before.’ In January, he became a wellness case manager for the tribal court.”

More here.

 

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Photo: AFP/Sebastien Rieussec
A dancing contest in Mali challenges entrants to excel in traditional dances not their own. Here is a contestant in the “Faso Don,” performing during the filming of the show in the Malian capital, Bamako.

In Mali, an African country still suffering from the effects of French colonialism, ethnic groups have often had trouble getting along, and extremists have moved into vulnerable areas. (See my blog post about a secret operation to save ancient manuscripts from the radicals’ destructive rampage.)

But better days are ahead, especially if more people act on their ideas to promote peace and coexistence.

Sebastien Rieussec wrote recently for Agence France-Presse [APF] about one such person.

“All 3,000 seats in the cavernous Palace of Culture in Bamako had been snapped up, and the mood was at fever pitch as the TV dance competition reached its climax. The three finalists took to the floor one by one, dancing alongside a celebrity — a format familiar to viewers of talent shows around the world.

“But here’s the difference: the three hopefuls each had to perform a traditional dance from a region of Mali that was not their own. …

“In the landlocked Sahel state of Mali, the show has been a raging success. And it has bred a desperately-needed sense of unity in a country burdened by jihadist violence and ethnic tensions.

“The competition is the brainchild of dancer and choreographer Sekou Keita. Just six years ago, he was wondering how he could reverse the decline of traditional dance in Mali, a country whose music is now achieving global fame.

” ‘Our dances are so varied, we have a number of ethnic groups — we’re very lucky to have such cultural wealth,’ he told AFP. … ‘But [dancers] don’t know the traditional dances of their own country.’

“From this came his idea for a program that explored ancient cultural roots and built bridges across ethnic divides — ‘Faso Don,’ or ‘Dances of the Country’ in the Bambara language.

“Over six weeks, TV audiences shared the fate of eight young men and women from different regions, who shared a house Big Brother-style in Bamako, the capital.

“Each week they performed before an audience and the TV cameras, their numbers progressively falling as a competitor was eliminated by a vote by the public and the jury. … The final took place last weekend before an audience exhilarated by the ground-breaking, cross-cultural performances.

“Dressed in traditional costumes, the finalists performed one dance from their region and one from another region, accompanied by Malian stars such as musician Bassekou Kouyate and singers Habib Koite and Oumou Sangare. …

“The winner was Rokia Diallo, a woman from the Fulani pastoral community in Sikasso, southern Mali. Dressed in a flowing gown and a veil, she interpreted the takamba, a sinuous, sensuous dance from the Songhai group in the far north of the country.

” ‘It’s the first time I’ve seen something like this,’ said hip-hop dancer Oumar Tamboura, who had come to support a relative who was also one of the finalists. ‘Until now, people weren’t interested in folk dance, tradition and costumes.’

“Faso Don has not just revived interest in generations-old regional dances in Mali. It has also reinforced mutual respect in a country whose reputation for hospitality is tragically being supplanted by one for violence.”

Read more of this hopeful initiative here. It’s another example of one solitary individual having an idea and making a big difference.

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Photo: Fathul Rakhman/Mongabay-Indonesia
The traditional homes on the island of Lombok have survived several earthquakes over the years. Concrete homes crumble.

Often there is wisdom in the old ways. That’s what residents of an Indonesian island in the Ring of Fire learned after a series of earthquakes created havoc with modern concrete structures.

Fathul Rakhman has a report at Mongabay.

“Jumayar’s house fell early on Aug. 5, as the second of four large earthquakes in the span of three weeks ripped through the Indonesian island of Lombok, clobbering his village of Beleq in the process. …

“Although Lombok, which is next to Bali, sits squarely on the quake-prone Ring of Fire, heavy, concrete homebuilding is the norm. These rigid structures became death traps during the earthquakes. Only the handful of wooden traditional houses in Beleq, with their lightweight, flexible designs, emerged unscathed. …

“Though elements like floor height or wall width may vary in different parts of the island, all traditional Sasak homes employ the same basic design: Thatched bamboo walls enclose dirt floors, connecting them to roofs of woven reeds. … Wooden homes can sway, or ‘breathe’ when earthquakes strike, concrete houses cannot; they have no flex and topple easily.

“In North Lombok, the epicenter of the damage, 70 percent of the houses collapsed or were severely damaged. Rebuilding will require hundreds of millions of dollars, according to government estimates.

“In Beleq, families in traditional houses ran outside like everyone else, fearing for their lives. Not a single one of their traditional structures fell, even as the concrete homes around them crumbled.

‘If the government offers to rebuild here, we will reject the [construction of] concrete homes,’ said Sahirman, the Beleq village head. ‘We want to go back to our ancestral homes.’ …

“ ‘The ancestors bequeathed to us an architecture that is in harmony with nature,’ said Lalu Satriawangsa, chairperson of the provincial AMAN [the country’s largest indigenous rights nongovernmental organization] chapter. …

“The Indonesian government has typically looked upon the traditional houses as ‘slum dwellings,’ an indicator of poverty. But Lalu says the government should support the construction of traditional houses. Not only are they cheaper, but as the recent disasters proved, they are infinitely safer.

“For too long traditional homes have been seen to mark the persistence of poverty rather than the preservation of culture, ignoring their instrumental value, Lalu said.

“ ‘Now is the time for us to campaign for [the rebuilding of] homes that are more in tune with nature,’ he said. …

“As rebuilding plans take form, Sahir, the Beteq village head, believes the community should look to the past for inspiration.

“ ‘I don’t want to sleep in a concrete house ever again,’ he said.”

More at Mongabay, here.

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Photo: Adron Gardner/Gallup Independent via AP
Fry bread is available at the Navajo Nation Fairgrounds in Window Rock, Ariz., but is no longer part of the Miss Navajo Pageant competition.

It’s interesting how customs that evolve out of oppression can sometimes be so warmly appropriated that they will be missed if discontinued. As tribes like the Navajo start to promote healthier ancestral foods, some feel wistful about the fry bread that families got used to over the years.

Felicia Fonseca writes at the Sante Fe New Mexican, “The Miss Navajo Nation pageant is parting ways with fry bread, the fluffy, golden brown delicacy that’s become a symbol of Native American culture but is rooted in oppression.

“Women vying for the crown [in September] in Window Rock [prepared] traditional Navajo foods instead, like blue corn mush or a cake made at puberty ceremonies.

“Outgoing Miss Navajo Ronda Joe said the tribe’s new ambassador must know the history of those foods and speak about them in Navajo.

“ ‘We need to educate our people to utilize plants as food that are tied to our land, culture and beliefs,’ she wrote in an email. The change aligns with a movement in Indian Country to refocus on traditional foods and reinforce native languages.

“Fry bread was born out of government rations given to Navajos on a forced relocation to Eastern New Mexico in the 1860s. Traditional Navajo breads or cakes would be made of corn and cooked on hot stones or in the ground, not in a cast-iron pan filled with oil.

“Fry bread can be found across the Southwest in Indian tacos, slathered in honey or powdered sugar, or broken off in pieces and used as a spoon for stews. The exact ingredients vary and everyone claims ‘mom’ makes it best.

“Despite being removed from the tribal pageant, fry bread offers lessons in survival, being a contributor and creating something out of nothing, said Jocelyn Billy-Upshaw, Miss Navajo 2006-07. She remembers her mom saying she’d never get married unless she knew how to make bread. …

Brian Yazzie, a Navajo chef who focuses on precolonial foods in Minneapolis, Minnesota … praised the switch from fry bread to a traditional food presentation.

“ ‘It encourages and inspires youth to step up and take a challenge of ancestral knowledge and ancestral roots,’ he said. ‘It makes my heart happy to see that.’ ”

More.

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