Home Commentary How reconnecting with ancestral wisdom could reshape and save our world

How reconnecting with ancestral wisdom could reshape and save our world

Fr. Niphot Thianwihan, a dedicated Thai priest from the Diocese of Chiang Mai, has devoted over half a century to supporting indigenous communities. His enduring commitment has been marked by fostering a dialogue of faith and understanding with ancestral cultures. He has been a steadfast ally in their efforts to preserve their unique identities and improve their living conditions.

The journey has been challenging. Fr. Niphot recounts numerous stories illustrating how indigenous peoples become vulnerable to discrimination when they are unprepared for a world dominated by industrialization, markets, and materialism. Particularly in this era of technocracy—a term frequently referenced by Pope Francis, notably in his encyclical “Laudato Si”—he critiques the “technocratic paradigm.”

This paradigm glorifies the notion of a subject who, through logical and rational processes, increasingly asserts control over an external object. It also questions the “dominant technocratic paradigm” concerning both human and natural ecology, prompting reflections on humanity’s role and actions in the world.

For Fr. Niphot, the concept of a Synodal Church represents a groundbreaking initiative by the Pope and the modern Church. It symbolizes a commitment to inclusivity, opening the doors to voices that have traditionally been marginalized, such as those of indigenous peoples who have often faced exploitation.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Pakakayor Karen people from Pang Hin Fon, Mae Chaem, trucked tons of goods, including over three tons of rice and various vegetables, to help those in need in the city.

The Pwo Karen villagers from Ban Mae Tun and Ban Na Keiyn in Om Koi District donated thousands of bags of organic rice, vegetables, fruit, and vitamins to the residents of Chiang Mai, which was transported by the Thai military to the Phra Chao Kawila Monument Square. These actions attracted a lot of attention, where indigenous communities became the donors and not the targets of humanitarian help.

The initiatives in Chiang Mai showcase a dynamic process of community organization, rooted in a philosophy and theology of life, with Fr. Niphot serving as a guiding educator. “Being an ‘Organic Intellectual’ transcends the mere establishment of a school for children; it is about embracing the ways of our ancestors and heeding the ancestral wisdom of our indigenous peoples,” he articulated during the Training of Trainers (ToT) event, hosted by the Circle of the Sacred Rice (CSR) at the Asian School of Wisdom in Chiang Mai from June 2 to 7, 2024.

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Fr. Niphot reflects on the rich history of indigenous peoples, noting that their past is far from void. “In 1979, a mere five years after our arrival in Karen territories, a staggering 80 percent of the populace faced rice shortages. Amidst a global dry spell lasting three years, opportunists exploited the crisis, speculating with rice,” he recalls.

It was the resolve and leadership of Karen individuals that galvanized the communities to cultivate a sustainable, rice-based local economy. This collective effort, grounded in their identity and cultural values, aimed to ensure sufficiency for all. “Presently, the same Karen communities are self-reliant, supporting their widows and orphans, setting a commendable example,” the priest concludes.

However, the forces of globalization and technocracy present new challenges for indigenous and rural communities worldwide, with Asia being no exception. Influenced by mass media and the digital realm, the youth are adopting standardized notions of “civilization,” lured by the allure of urban life and the pursuit of modernity, which often equates to materialism and individualism. Fr. Niphot poses a critical question: How can we engage the new generations to value their cultural heritage and ancestral wisdom? “We do not reject technology or modernity; rather, we must assign them their rightful place as tools at our disposal,” asserts Fr. Niphot. “We must return to the ancestral pathways, the rhythms of nature, and the values of our indigenous communities—this is the essence of what we deem ‘ORGANIC’: organic agriculture, organic intellectuals, and organic wisdom.”

Fr. Niphot’s insights also draw from global experiences, such as those in Latin America, where the concept of the organic intellectual has flourished for decades, particularly post-Second Vatican Council. “Paulo Freire speaks to the essence of education, advocating a methodology that shapes our youth in these values, as outlined in his seminal work ‘Pedagogy of the Oppressed’ (1969). This approach encourages self-awareness through a cycle of Action, Reflection, Contemplation, and Action. Unlike other theories, this method initiates with action that is deeply rooted in our identity. Within the indigenous context, this signifies our collective history and the wisdom of our cultures.”

Father Albeiro Rodas Inca Moyachoque, SDB, serves as the rector of Don Bosco Technical School in Kep province, Cambodia, and fulfills the role of Social Communication Delegate at the Don Bosco Foundation of Cambodia. Being a Native South American, Father Albeiro embarked on his missionary journey to Asia in 1999.

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