Biodegradable Culture

Tribal culture is traditional based on a biodegradable way of life. Now it’s no secret in our culture that we have some issues with our non-biodegradable waste. We have so much garage in our culture that billions of dollars are spent trying to manage all that we don’t consume! The classic example is the plastic bag. We use these and discard these on a daily basis. We have other plastic waste issues and my least favorite is what I call the “duck trap”. You know, the plastic deal around Coke bottles that’s really handy… until you drink all your Coke and your left with a plastic ring that’s thrown in the garbage. I always cut the things up before I toss them.

Tribal culture has a lot to offer us about waste management because their culture is completely biodegradable. Whether it’s housing materials or what they wrap their food in, when discarded everything is biodegradable. The people make a durable long lasting bag which is woven from a particular tree bark in their forest. What they do is strip off the tree bark and then peel off the inside fibers of the bark. When they have stripped off what they need, they roll the fibers together into string. From there they weave bags that are used to carry everything from babies to firewood and anything else they need to carry. When the bags become worn out and need to be discarded, the people will either throw them away or first use them to rub down a new canoe in order to water seal it. Which ever they decide, the bags will break down and become biodegradable. This is just one example of everything in their culture being biodegradable.

Now, back to the plastic bag issue. Today in the ocean there is a ginormous problem with plastic waste. I believe the reason for this is that many developing nations that now have access to plastic for carrying food or other store-bought items don’t realize that the plastic isn’t like their traditional items that are truly biodegradable. In their minds when they throw something like a plastic bag away, it’s just the same as a leaf wrapping on their food that they used to throw away. Unfortunately, the plastic doesn’t break down and disappear and therefore our oceans are full of non-biodegradable waste!! It’s really that simple.

Tribal kinship can be very confusing at times to an outsider. I imagine part of the reason for this confusion is the fact that western cultures have many relationships that are not part of our family line. In tradition tribal culture every connection was a relative of some sort. Before contact with the outside world, the only connections tribes had were with family or relatives; outside of those connections were enemies – that would eat you, literally. It always amazed me when a visitor showed up in the village, people knew exactly what to call the individual. It was either father, uncle, cousin, grandfather or my favorite Hamaru (two men that  married sisters would call each other this). We were adopted into a family line and soon were addressed by a kinship term in accordance with the family line that adopted us. I was addressed as yeti (brother), owai (grandfather), ofei (cousin), eite (father) and neise (brother-in-law). We learned in our language and culture acquisition that the tribe didn’t even have a word for “friend” because they knew how they were related to everyone they ever came in contact with. As the tribe’s horizons began to expand to the outside world, they had to build a word for friend in order for others to understand that the relationship was not through kin, but just a friend. The term they came up with is nati feni feni a’i or “our grandfathers were brothers two sides removed”!! When a non-relative would come visit us in the village, it took time for the tribal people to understand the concept of friend because in their culture they were literally related to everyone they ever knew!