Sacred Knowledge: The Zuni and Globalization
An interesting piece from the Smithsonian Magazine on the Zuni people of Western New Mexico ties into our interview with Allison Davis-White Eyes on Native Americans and the National Geographic Society's DNA project. The Zuni are a small, but cohesive society that can boast of having many of their tribal members choose to stay or return to the pueblo.
What I found most interesting in the article is the view by one Zuni that their sacred wisdom is not something they think is important to share with people. Instead, it is the responsibility of elders to protect the sacred knowledge and guard it against being shared widely with people who might exploit it or misunderstand it.
This kind of attitude, if held by different Native American peoples, would explain the hesitancy to participate in the DNA mapping project. Yet, it also seems to point to a deep difference between Native and Western European ideas of knowledge.
At least since the Enlightenment, Western societies have held onto the idea of knowledge as a kind of power that sweeps away myth, religious dogmatism, and other forms of superstition, literally "illuminating" the world and dispelling darkness. Knowledge is something to be shared as part of humanity's journey toward progress and ever increasing amounts of social freedom (or so says Hegel) Under this kind of interpretive lens, it is easy to see why some people would categorize Native American sacred knowledge as folklore, myth, and superstition.
So is knowledge of the world something that ought to be shared with all of humanity? Is there something wrong with the Zuni way? For instance, what if Zuni sacred knowledge included knowledge of medicinal plants that could be used for treatment or cure of serious diseases? Would they have an obligation, in a globalized world, to share that?