by Mardi Collins
As I read Mr Saquis’ article last week in this Blog, I became motivated to explore the question above. You see, I too have my culture – I am a Christian Canadian. I attended church for most of my life, collected money for the poor children overseas, and the missions that served them. I attended Mission week and listened enraptured by the tales of adventures in far off lands. I really thought we were doing a good thing!
Now I am a grandmother – no longer an idealist. I have been in Belize for several years, and I have changed my mind on the benefit of missions. Certainly in Belize. This is a country which opens the national radio station with morning prayers! Everyone I have met considers themselves to be a Christian (sorry, I mean a Catholic, a Baptist, an Adventist, a Nazarene or maybe a JW) My village of 300 people has 3 churches, which have divided our village into critical camps. And still the missionaries come to “share the word of God”.
So I decided to do some research and here is what I found: Early Missionaries were given the notion of cultural superiority due to their religion.
- The Jesuit Oath…..“Go ye, then, into all the world and take possession of all lands in the name of the Pope. He who will not accept him as the Vicar of Jesus and his Vice-Regent on earth, let him be accursed and exterminated.”
- The fabled Francis Xavier wrote to his monastic authorities at Portugal about his ‘heroic deeds’ in India in the following words: “I order everywhere the temples to be pulled down and idols broken. I know not how to describe in words the joy I feel before the spectacle of pulling down and destroying the idols.”
Accordingly, early colonial efforts were delighted to destroy cultural heritage, exactly as ISIS is doing today.
When Fray Diego de Landa, a Catholic missionary accompanying Spanish forces in the New World, discovered extensive Maya libraries, he knew what to do. He burned them all, an event, he said, the Maya “regretted to an amazing degree, and which caused them much affliction.” The books, in his opinion, were all of “superstition and lies of the devil.” And so, in 1562, the poetry, history, literature, mathematics, and astronomy of an entire civilization went up in smoke, and to this day their loss is grieved.
Of course, we say, that was THEN – Today things are different. Really?
Patrick J Buchanan Presidential candidate at the 1992 Republican National Convention said: “Our culture is superior to other cultures, superior because our religion is Christianity.”
I believe there are many examples of the damage that has been done to indigenous people, for example in Canada, the USA, Belize and many other countries. One of the most culturally diverse and openly published works concerns what has happened in Brazil. Here are some of the reports:
“Yes. I’ve seen this happen. I’ve worked in the Amazon region as a biologist for 27 years. Missionaries have absolutely devastated the culture of the Huagramona Achuar living in northern Peruvian Amazon. They brought them out of the rainforest interior and settled them in riverside villages so they could have easier contact and control over them. Of course it was there that malaria first infected the people. Then they required them to wear clothes. Wearing clothes in the damp rainforest leads to rheumatism and other health problems. They took away the influence of the shaman and so now there is no one that knew how to use the medicinal plants to cure illness. Instead the natives travel to the oil outpost in Nuevo Andoas to get white pills. And now half of the young girls are working there as prostitutes. The few Huagramona Achuar left in the interior, outside the reach of the missionaries, have much better lives. This is not the only tribe, I could go on and on….”
Only 200,000 Indians remain in Brazil from an original population estimated at four million. More than one tribe per year has disappeared in the past 75 years. People may assume that the missing tribes have been absorbed into society, but this is not the case. Many of these distinct tribes are now extinct.
Here is what a mission publication has said is the solution to this cultural extinction:
What then, can halt the march of tribal cultures toward extinction? Land grants and secular welfare programs may help on a physical level, but the greatest danger to tribal people is one that such programs cannot touch. The greatest danger is the breakdown of the aboriginal’s sense of “right” relationship with the supernatural. Every aboriginal culture acknowledges the supernatural and has strict procedures for “staying right” with it.
When arrogant outsiders ridicule a tribe’s beliefs—or shatter its mechanisms for staying right—severe disorientation sets in. Believing they are cursed for abandoning the old ways, tribe’s people become morose and apathetic. Believing they are doomed to die as a people, they act out a self-fulfilling prophecy. Materialistic social workers and scientists can’t help these people. The tribe’s people can sense even an unspoken denial of the supernatural, and it causes them to grow further depressed.
Who then can best serve such people as spiritual ombudsmen? None other than the once popular myth has maligned as their number one enemy—the Bible-guided, Christ-honoring missionary
The doctrine of racial superiority that the Europeans used to justify their colonial rule may be gone, but the attitude of Christian religious superiority continues. While not entirely attributed to religion, such exclusiveness is backward and prejudicial, and expresses itself as a form of racism. Damage is not only done in the name of religion, but also in development, government policies or in business practices.
Concern is widespread today for endangered animal species, and justly so, but thousands of our own human species are in even greater danger. It may be a conservative figure to put the loss at five or six linguistically distinct tribes per year. Perhaps the solution is to embrace a multicultural dialogue based on respect for all who participate – as this blog strives to do.
Mardi Collins has lived in Belize for 6 years, having fled the Canadian winters. She has worked in both Canada and the US as a veterinarian and later a commercial real estate investor. Her Christian faith was important to her through most of her life. Living in Belize has allowed her to gain new perspectives in many areas, and she has become very interested in Mayan life through her friends at Maya Center.