Listen. I have a story to tell. How do you measure happiness, is my story. There are many roads, all well-travelled, that have carried this question like luggage, till it weighed too much to take any further. But I have a secret formula; I won’t try to give the answer, only ask the right questions.
My story is therefore a quest, to find the right questions to ask. In our ‘Western world’ we know how to measure wealth, and we use the same yardstick to measure the amount of happiness we have been allocated. And we have mainstream media who always reassures us by informing us how terrible life is outside our Western ‘sphere’, our cocoon.
Not everyone in our mutual societies clings to the same belief, but most do suckle to it. Most, but not all. I know. I have lived and traveled with Europe’s biggest minority, the Romany Gypsies, and now I am learning at the university of nature among the Saami reindeer herders in Lappland. There is a lot to learn.
The first thing one learns is to try to toss the concept of’Noble Savage’ out of the window, the literary stock character that expresses the concept of an idealized indigene, the ‘Indian’ or ‘aboriginal’ outsider, or “other” who has not been “corrupted” by civilization, and therefore symbolises humanity’s innate goodness. This may seem a pure and pleasant thought, but it is not. One person who often embodied the Noble Savage concept in England was the Scottish poet Robbie Burns. Yes, this Highlander was able to write poetry.
But undeniably, the Gypsies, or Saami people I have lived with or met do not aspire for our aspirations. Granted, we have destroyed most of theirs, but their core values are not ours and ours are not as good as we like to pretend they are. We have a lot to learn, and indigenous peoples do have innate knowledge we do not have, or refuse to have.
When my friend Dr Agnieszka Wojtecka travelled to Namibia, she lived among the Himba people, and photographed her life with them. Poorer people she had never seen in her travels. More peaceful, calmer, or connected to the rhythm of nature either. She asked permission for each photograph she took, and explained to the Himba she would be using the photos for lectures and presentations. They were happy to oblige. And yes, were able to understand those concepts.
As I recently received a strident email, critisising my choice of prompt photo for the Ligo Haibun Challenge this week, I decide to include more photos in this haibun post. I am European. Perhaps that goes part of the way to explaining why nudity does not quote ‘offend’ me. Perhaps if I was quote ‘North American’ I might not have the same values, who knows. Well, I do. This is the way Himba tribal people live and dress. They do not feel uncomfortable knowing others know, nor are they Noble Savages some subconsciously attribute them to be. My self-titled ‘North American’ emailer has stated that if she writes a haibun she will not include the photograph. You are then giving a proverbial slap on the face of the subject photographed, my friend, nothing else, and showing that you consider her values lower than yours. That is unacceptable.
in a dusty village
happiness among the trees
echoes not felt here – why?