The Earth as Mother

Land and Spirituality in Africa

Articles in this series:

Land: Breaking bonds and cementing ties by Edmore Mufema

Spirituality, land and land reform in South Africa by Mr Z. Nkosi, South Africa

The case of the Maasai in Tanzania, by Mr O. Karyongi

Women and Land by Ms Nancy Kireu, Kenya

Those who do not know the village they come from ..., by Rev. Rupert Hambira

In 1996, Indigenous People met during the Conference on World Mission and Evangelism held in Salvador Bahia Brazil. One year later, the World Council of Churches’ Indigenous Peoples’ Programme (WCC/IPP) in cooperation with the Botswana Christian Council also held a workshop under the theme "Spirituality, Land and the Role of the Churches in the Struggle for the Indigenous Peoples’ Rights" in Gabarone. From that meeting came a call to continue building spiritual,cultural and political identities within the churches in the countries where Indigenous Peoples are located. The areas of critical concern identified were land, protection of rights under international law, preservation/promotion of culture, decision making processes, advocacy, spirituality and networking.

In February 1998, some Indigenous Peoples participants who had been at the Gabarone workshop and other representatives from Africa, attended a consultation on "Land and Spirituality" in Karasjok, Norway. Here the world-wide Indigenous Peoples community exchanged ways in which their spiritualities and lands were threatened. From this sharing, ideas of cooperation and responsibilities were discussed. The Indigenous meeting and the statement of Karasjok became a strong challenge to convene in Harare to identify the critical issues affecting African Indigenous Peoples in general. Before the WCC’s eighth Assembly in Harare, "Land and Spirituality: The African Context" was the theme chosen for the workshop -- the same theme used in Karasjok, Norway. It showed the connectedness between the spiritualities of the Indigenous Peoples and the land on which they originated.

© WCC photo, Peter Williams

In Africa agriculture is the main economic activity for the majority of people.

© WCC photo, Peter Williams

Benon Mugarura, Batwa

Land: Breaking bonds and cementing ties

By Edmore Mufeme, Universtiy of Zimbabwe

The complex interplay of land both as an economic resource and as a basis of the political superstructure cemented, tied and broke bonds among nations, ethnic groups, religions, genders and classes in the pre-colonial and independent periods.

Land as a socio-economic resource

The centrality of land to economic development and social welfare is unquestionable. Land has been used from time immemorial to promote economic growth and human development. More than half of the world’s population live and earn their living out of tilling the land as farmers. In Africa, even in countries such as Egypt which are more than 90% desert, agriculture is the mainstay of economic activity for the majority of people. Despite the development of large-scale, capital intensive farming, the majority of Africans are small-scale and peasant farmers. The majority of these peasant farmers use family labour -- mainly women and children to work on the land and to produce both cash crops and food crops. The use of family labour has tended to strengthen some of the traditional patrilineal systems -- African women do not have legal right to ownership of family farms and plots in a communal area. I would submit that African post-colonial states have not done enough to change both the traditional and colonial heritages with regard to land and gender inequality.

The centrality of land to African economic development has been tied to the significance of land resources to cultural and traditional practices. Rituals related to rain-making, thanksgiving and prayer have historically been tied to the land in Africa. Control of land was thus linked to the complex interplay of economic, social and political power. The coming of foreign religions such as Islam and Christianity to Africa further complicated an already complex framework.

Land as a political tool

Ownership, control, distribution and access to land have historically been used to dominate and empower different nations, races, genders and classes in Africa. Even during the pre-colonial era, land was used to create and destroy empires and nations. The Bantu migrations from the western and central parts of Africa downward, more than a thousand years ago, were in part necessitated by conflict over the control of agricultural, grazing and hunting lands. The same can be said of the Mfecane period in Southern African history in the 19th Century.

We can point out many other examples, but the important point here is that the struggle for control and ownership of land in the pre-colonial period left a political legacy of large and dominant states such as the Buganda Kingdom in Eastern Africa and the Zulu nation in Southern Africa. Alongside these dominant political entities there are numerous small ethnic groups and small states. The relations between these ethnic groups and nations have not always been smooth. During the colonial period contestation over land increased. The land question became emeshed in the race, colour and ethnic divisions within Africa. European settler economic and political systems were built on the acquisition of African land. European settler colonization in many African countries led to the expropriation of land. There are numerous examples of such struggles over land -- the Shire highlands in Malawi, the Kenyan Highlands, the land question in South Africa and Zimbabwe -- while the Algerian land struggle against French colonization led to one of the longest and most gruesome wars of independence.

During the colonial era, contention and conflict over land tended to assume more than just racial undercurrents. Religious institutions and the Church acquired vast land holdings and added a complex dimension to the land question. The Church benefited from the colonial inequalities, and the promotion of Christianity went a long way toward the undermining of African traditional cultures and beliefs. I will propose that the colonial domination of land by the settler governments and Christian religious institutions undermined the local economic and cultural traditions which were centred on the ownership, control and production from land. Some African chiefs and ethnic groups which supported the dominant colonial superstructure and those that readily accepted Christianity also benefited from generous land grants during the colonial period while the majority of African peasants were forced into reserves or Bantustans. Thus we may want to evaluate the benefits and costs of the colonial intrusions, westernization and the grafting of Christian civilization onto African soils so that we can build on the strengths and learn from the mistakes of the past.

Land and the post-colonial crisis in Africa

Land was one of the pillars of the liberation movement in Africa. The post-colonial regimes have not adequately addressed the land question. There is a general failure to equitably redistribute land. In this regard, disputes and contestation over the control of land have occurred between and within states.

Inter-state contests over land resources are mainly the result of the failure of colonial boundaries to adequately address and meet the needs and goals of the African people. In Eastern Africa, for instance, the movement of Maasai cattle herders across borders has often created border disputes between Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, while cementing social and economic ties within one ethnic group living in different countries.

Perhaps the majority of the post-independence land conflicts in Africa have been intra-state struggles. One of the fundamental causes has been the failure of the post-colonial regimes to redress the land inequalities and structural deformations inherited from the colonial periods. Despite the political changes, there has been more continuity than change in the racial and class nature of land ownership, distribution and control in Africa.

Political independence without corresponding economic and social transformation has caused socio-economic and political clashes over land. Population growth and developmental needs have also exacerbated the struggle over land. The genocide in Rwanda and Burundi between the Hutus and the Tutsi can be traced to conflict over the control of political and economic resources, of which land is a central feature. In Sudan, the control of land and economic resources is also tied to the political, religious and ethic conflict between the Northern Arabs, who are mainly Muslim, and the Southern Africans, who are predominantly a Christian people. In many other African countries including Zimbabwe, South Africa and Algeria, failure to redress the colonial land and economic resource maldistribution could potentially wreak havoc, and has indeed caused some confrontation among the different racial and ethnic groups and classes of people.

Former residents of the Elandskloof farm in West Cape Province near Citrusdal. These residents are now facing a second forced removal in three decades.

Martines Fransman and Alette Tities showing the document which they hope will bring themselves and other 26 families back to Elandskloof farm which they were forced to leave in 1961.

Spirituality, Land and Land Reform in South Africa

by Mr Z. Nkosi, South Africa

Land ownership in South Africa is still racially skewed. About 80% of land is still in the hands of the white minority. Africans used to occupy, not own, only 3% of South African land before I994. Since 1994 an ambitious Land Reform Programme is attempting to address the land question. The reason the Black South Africans continue to suffer is that all three components of this programme continue to have serious limitations. For example, the Land Restitution Component, meant to help the previously evicted communities to reclaim their ancestral land, get an alternative piece of land and/or get compensated, is seen as a disaster. Out of about 25,000 claims, six have been finalized and only about 20 are in the Land Claims Court for further negotiation, settlement or ratification. In land redistribution only about 50,000 people have benefited. The Tenure Security Reform element has had dismal failures because the farm dwellers and other tenants continue to be evicted from the land of their ancestors in big numbers despite the government’s attempts to secure the rights of the victims.

History of Land Acquisition and Spirituality

While land is a birthright of every African Indigenous person, it has a communal dimension whereby all members of the community are expec-ted to share its resources, especially in the rural areas, under some form of traditional authority. Traditional authority from an African point of view is very central and important because, despite the fact that it is a uniting force, the community leader is seen as a steward with divine authority over land.

The colonizers acquired land in an insensitive manner, driven by greed, and the process was intended to vanquish and dehumanize the original owners. This was achieved through military subjugation. The Zulu-Anglo War of I879 and the Anglo-Boer War of the early I9th Century can be traced back to the struggles for land. A number of massacres of Black South Africans were nothing other than an insensitive, greedy and cruel method for dispossessing Blacks of the land. Land was acquired with total disregard of traditional beliefs and cultures underpining our spirituality as Black Africans. Indigenous communities were stripped of their dignity, many lost their identity, languages, cultures and spiritualities. In this sense, land was acquired and used as a political tool.

After acquiring land, the colonizers commercialized it and later inflated its price. That left us with no land we could call our own. We soon found ourselves in exile in our own country. It is painful to note that churches, especially those that own land, were involved in the process which left Africans with nothing except ‘ubuntu’, a confused culture and a hope that God and their ancestors were still with them in their pain and happiness.

Belief and the Importance of Land in the African Context

Our belief that land is a gift from God and from our ancestors has not left us. We continue to see ourselves as stewards of God’s resources, especially of communally owned land. Even though land ownership has been men’s domain, it is interesting that many women, with support from our constitution, beginning to access or acquire land in spite of traditional prejudices.

In many African families the umbilical cord of a new born baby is buried. In other communities when a boy is circumcized, the foreskin and blood is also buried. The sacredness of land in Africa is further linked to the fact that our ancestors are buried in it. Without land, we would not have a home for a dead body. That is why we kneel barefooted next to the grave when we want to communicate anything to our ancestors, showing a lot of respect for the land on which they lie. When death strikes in a family, no one is allowed to till the land. We mourn until that person is buried. After a funeral, in some cultures, we do not touch the soil with a hoe, do not plough or till the land until a ritual of cleansing the family is performed. Some communities like the AmaZulu, do not till the land for a year when a member of a royal family has passed away. The Zulu tribe believes that the elders and young men must go to hunt so that a sacrifice can be made to the ancestors before the land where a leader is to be buried is touched.

Land is valued as a resource of livelihood. The land produces food and water, which give life to all living things. When people go hunting or looking for herbs in the bush especially in KwaZulu, they burn incense and request their ancestors to give blessings to their foray and pray for the land to be dug. The custom of asking for rain or making rain through the help of the ancestors and God still features strongly in some communities. People either go to the mountain as a community, or a rainmaker coordinates the process. Climbing the mountain to pray also happens when a certain disaster has befallen a community and there is a feeling that God has left or turned against them. The mountain on which they pray is always valued, respected and reserved as a sacred or a holy place. A few communities continue to make sacrifices before they eat from the year’s harvest to thank God and their ancestors. Every time the South African Council of Churches (SACC) meets with communities which struggle for ancestral land, we start with prayer under a shelter or in ancestral graveyards.

Factional fighting and political violence can often be traced back to the struggle for land. Many South Africans are still in exile in their own country or outside because they were pushed into homelands or ‘reserves’ where most of them were impoverished, overcrowded and unemployed. People were evicted and replaced by trees and animals. It is shameful that, in some cases, the churches that own vast tracts of land were among those who dispossessed people of their ancestral land. The barriers to free movement imposed by the previous regime met with a lot of resistance because territorial borders were an important factor in peoples beliefs regarding land. For example, the BaTswana believe that God gave them the North West while the AmaZulu believe that the KwaZulu Natal Province is theirs and the place where their cultural beliefs should be maintained.

Challenges and Lessons Learnt

Policy changes, legislative and constitutional reforms are not solutions without the commitment of decision-makers to the process. Resistance to change by directly affected stakeholders, especially the present owners of land, poses a serious challenge and threat to peace. The continued evictions and deaths of farm-dwellers/tenants, and the deaths of many white farmers -- which is seen as retaliation on one hand, and a way of deliberately getting the white farmers off the land on the other -- creates uncertainty about the future of the Land Reform. Loss of a sense of community and further destruction of moral fibre in our society raises more questions than answers about land and our spirituality as Africans. A growing tendency towards greed and commercialization of land, even by Africans and especially in urban areas, gradually destroys the sense of ‘Ubuntu’ which is the basis of our spirituality. Failure to provide answers to the land question through Land Reform has led to a number of invasions by frustra-ted and desperate communities who desperately want to return to their land.

The feeling of despondency and confusion about the existence of God and his presence amongst the victims of landlessness poses a challenge to the Church and to society. The fast-growing number of poor people exacerbates the problem because, in the African context, it is attributed to dispossession, and preventing of Black Africans from acquiring land. Since land is life, there is no life for many. What is needed is a concerted effort by government to solve land struggles in a peaceful way.

From left, Salau Ole Koros, Marry Simat, Kenny Matampash, Rose Kudate, Maasais from Kenya attending the 15th session of the UN Working Group on Indigenous Peoples in Geneva, 1997 and celebrating the 20th anniversary of the first international NGO conference on Indigenous Peoples of the Americas in 1977.
© WCC photo, Catherine Alt

The case of the Maasai in Tanzania

by Mr O. Karyongi

The Maasai believe that land is the basis for livelihood, given that:

  • The earth provides grass, other plants and water on which their livestock depend for survival.
  • The earth provides the water and air which keep human beings alive.
  • That on the earth (land) grow plants which provide them with materials for house-building and shade; energy for food preparation and other uses; utensils (guards, bowls, etc.); sacred plants (oreteti), used for meetings, rituals and medicines.
  • Sacred mountains, hills and other lands -- the ‘endoinyoormorwak’, where age groups graduate to eldership, and the ‘mukulat’, where age groups begin -- constitute a vital element in rituals which must be performed regularly.
In the Arusha region, some non-Maasai tribes -- the Sonjo, the Ndorobo (closely related to the Maasai), the Wahadzabe and the Banbaig -- have spiritual attachments to land, though in different ways than the Maasai.

In general therefore, the Maasai and these other tribes are strongly attached to land spiritually. Should the situation of the land they occupy or use for their rituals and living be tempered with, they will be spiritually disturbed.

The lands lost by the Tanzanian Maasai

The highlands of West Kilimanjaro, of Mount Meru, of Ngorongoro, the Ngorongoro Crater and the Serengeti plains was originally Maasai land. None is today occupied by the Maasai. Some were taken from the 1940s onwards by the colonial rulers and given to white settlers on 99-year leases. Some were taken by the colonial rulers, and later by the post-independence government for national parks and conservation areas. As a result, the Maasai were pushed aside to the marginal lands on which their survival has been nomadic and full of uncertainty.

It is surprising to note that over the last twenty years, the government of Tanzania has again been allocating land from the Maasai Districts to large-scale export bean farmers (mostly foreigners), game reserves, military camps and recreational facilities. The Maasai people have had enough of being pushed around and have gone to courts of law to petition against some of these allocations, while in some cases physical confrontation has been preferred.

There is also serious dispute between the Maasai and the Chagga tribe because the latter began cultivating part of the land of Endoinyoormorwak hill which is used for worship by the Maasai. The Maasai have pleaded with government to remove intruders and have also applied for ownership of the hill. A legal body has been formed as a Maasai Trust and its constitution submitted to the government for official registration.

Maasai woman from Tanzania
© WCC photo, Peter Williams

Women and land

by Ms Nancy Kireu, Kenya

The Maasai never owned land -- people lived on and used the land. Men are the heads of the household (in the sense that they lead, although women are the ones who deal with real ‘issues’). When the government embarked on land distribution programmes, it was men who were given land. The land was not fertile land. When the land was first divided, people did not understand they would own it. It was given to many outsiders, and women were not permitted to participate in discussions on the land issue. Currently widows and single women do not have the right to own land.

The Maasai culture discriminates greatly against women. Men can sell land without consulting women. Women and children suffer most from these acts.

Boys are sent to school while girls are not. They are seen as a source of wealth when they are ready to be married off. During colonization the few who went to school were sent by education commissioners, who forced people to send their sons to school. Maasai girls received their education at boarding schools before independence. The education provided to Maasai girls by churches is standard education which is given to both sexes. In addition though, girls are kept in touch with their cultures through story-telling and being taught about their cultures. After primary school, children go back and are integrated into their societies. At the age of between 18 and 21, children finish school and most girls get married.

Because of sub-divisions, women have to walk far to fetch water and to water their animals. They cannot get into nearby ranches to fetch wood and water as they are mostly privately owned. Because of the difficulties they face at home, some Maasai women have resorted to going into towns and getting themselves involved with men, some of whom have AIDS. Maasai women are generally very conservative and hardly involve themselves with women from urban areas.

A farmer attends his vegetable garden in Waka Tiyo, a small village in Ethipia.
© WCC photo, Peter Williams

Hunting also serves other purposes than just being a subsisetence activity.
© WCC photo, Peter Williams

Clotilde Masbeyezu, Batwa
Line Skum, Sami
Paul Neshangwe, Shona

Those who do not know the village they come from, will not find the village they are looking for ...

by Rev. Rupert Hambira, Botswana Christian Council

It seems to me there has always been a very close link between people’s faith and their status or relationship to the land. One does not have to look far for an example of this relationship. The Bible itself, particularly the book of Exodus, starts with a story of a people, of a community in transit, a community in search of a promised land, a community in motion on a journey that has been prompted by a promise, a community with a goal, a goal that has taken precedence over everything else in their lives: the search for land they could call their own, a piece of land they could call home.

These people’s journey is not merely a product of their intellectual genius or innovation. It is a process in which God is involved, a process in which the role and presence of God is paramount. Thus the journey in which these people are involved is not just physical but also spiritual. It is a spiritual process undertaken in obedience to God’s calling. It is an exercise undertaken in trust to the promise that God has made. The spirituality that motivates, drives and even propels this people is therefore, at least primarily, a spirituality of possessing their own land. A piece of land in their own name, a piece of land to which their identity as a people is linked or a piece of land from which their identity can be traced. It seems to me as if these people were unable to think of someone being human if they did not have a piece of land that they could call their own.

This link between spirituality and the land seems to apply not only to ancient Israel. Rather, it seems to be a common denominator in the life and faith of all traditional religious communities. An abstract spirituality that does not spring from the people’s daily lives, work and experiences seems to be alien and inconsistent with the biblical tradition. Spirituality seems to be always socially, culturally and even economically conditioned, determined and shaped.

In dealing with the challenges that are raised by Indigenous communities with particular reference to their land claims, we are not pulling the church into an area which it should not be involved, or into politics. We are, rather, dealing with genuinely spiritual concerns that have always shaped the spiritual journey of the people of God. The question of land, which is the primary source and sustainer of human life, cannot but be central to the spirituality of all the Indigenous communities.

Let me now attempt to illustrate in a little more detail why the question of access to land and a harmonious relationship to it is so central not only for the spirituality but the overall world-view of Indigenous communities in general, but even more particularly the San of Southern Africa.

I have read many stories and folk tales about the origins of human life, and the most striking common characteristic of all these stories, including the one we find in the Bible at the beginning of the book of Genesis, is that they all point to the earth, literally to the soil, as the place, as the substance from which human life first emerged, or the substance from which human life was created. Examined from a Christian theological perspective, this may mean that:

  • quite apart from just being the source of human sustenance, the earth is even more primarily and fundamentally the raw material, the basis without which creation -- or at least human creation -- could not have been possible in the first place;
  • dignified, meaningful, human life is not possible without access, without one being connected to the mother earth; and
  • one is even tempted to go a little further to suggest that violation of peoples’ rights to land is tantamount to violating the very image of God in which they were created.
It seems to me that it may not be possible to conceptualise how one has been created in the image of God in a situation in which one is dispossessed of the land. I can push this argument a little further to say that I cannot imagine how anyone can be human in a situation in which he/she is denied free access, use and life on a piece of land that he/she deems their own ancestral home. I conclude that denying people access and custody of the land is destroying the image and likeness of God in which they are created. This seems the most fundamental and elementary human right, access to the God-given earth out of whose dust we were created, on whose life-giving energy our lives are sustained and to which we return upon our death for our final test. No policy of development therefore, no matter how good or well-meant its intentions, that forcefully removes the people from the land they consider their ancestral home can ever be either theologically or morally justifiable.

Land is the Source of Food

Food is one of the most basic human needs, as we all know. Food, its sources, generation and security have always been the most primary preoccupation of all human communities. We first ensure food security before we turn to any other activity in life. This was the case with the ancient world and has remained so right up to our own time in contemporary technological societies. No wonder the concern with food and the protection of its sources permeates all human thought and activity. Anyone who takes the Judeo-Christian scriptures seriously will know that food was very central to the spiritual formation and direction of this community. The Passover meal for example and the Christian celebration of the Eucharist are at the very heart of these two faiths. Whatever, therefore, threatens the people’s source of livelihood, whatever threatens their source of food threatens their very existence. It threatens everything they are, it threatens them not only socially, economically and morally, but such a threat is actually a spiritual threat at the same time. Whatever threatens the people’s primary source of livelihood is a spiritual threat. Whatever deals with the people and the circumstances under which they live their life on earth is always a spiritual concern. In other words, it always either directly or indirectly shapes their view of God, or the kind of God they would like to follow. Whatever therefore threatens the people’s sources of livelihood can never be justifiable either morally or theologically.

Land is a Hunting Ground

While hunting is basically a subsistence activity, and while San communities basically hunt for their immediate day-to-day food needs, it is essential not to lose sight of the fact that in these communities hunting also serves other purposes. Some such other important functions of hunting include:

  • its role in the development of life and survival skills in an ever-harsh environment. In other words hunting is an exercise or a process of informal learning.
  • as a means whereby essential survival skills were passed from one generation to another.
  • as a means whereby parents helped to prepare their children for the challenges and responsibilities of adult life.
  • as a way in which leadership could be identified. Future community leaders were identified according to the skills, courage, strength, wisdom, perceptivity in the service of others and the wider community, demonstrated during hunting.
Far from just being a consumption-based activity, hunting was and is still a social community-building and leadership capacity-building exercise. Leisure, recreation, the building of team spirit, group dynamic skills acquisition have always been essential components for the building of a healthy well-rounded community life. Whatever threatens and or curtails this process, no matter what the justification, interferes with very essential processes of socialising of the youths of San communities into responsible and well-rounded adults.

Source of Shelter

Everyone needs a place we can refer to as home. A place where we are in control, a place where we have our roots, a place where we can be ourselves away from the many pretences of our hectic daily life. No one rests unless they are at home. In removing the Indigenous Peoples from their ancestral homes for the sake of building dams, tourism, mining and all such other economic activities (which are no doubt very essential for the life of our nation), we are all the same depriving them of a place of their own, a place they could call home. In being moved from their ancestral home to live under the jurisdiction of other groups in differently organized and structured communities, the San communities are denied their very essential God-given dignity. Anything that takes away a community’s ability to determine its own destiny and direction is evil, whether or not the one that takes away such ability is kind and benevolent, or cruel and harsh.

Source of Tools

I have often wondered if we realize how much the tools, the implements and the technology that a person has at his disposal will influence and even shape his outlook and spirituality. In the biblical tradition, for example, when a community was struck by some hardship like a human epidemic or one that affects livestock or crops, (or even natural phenomenon like drought, floods, volcanic eruption and so on) the cause was always traceable to the possibility of human sin. With the advances (in the last century) in science and technology such events are interpreted differently. Technology has helped to identify other causes, and our understanding of God and God’s place has changed. Technology -- the kind of tools that the people have at their disposal -- is power, and depriving people of the basic source of their tools is the most crude form of dis-empowering them. Alienating the people from the land is therefore really and truly a political as well as spiritual alienation.

Their Burial Ground

Not only for the San but also for the entire African world-view, life is a continuum that links people including the yet unborn, the living and the departed. It is an unbroken cycle. There is and has always been a sense of community, fellowship, communication and even mutual counsel that embraces all these levels of our existence. The place and places at which people down the centuries have buried their dead are therefore of great historical as well as cultural significance to the life journey. They are an important link with the life behind and at the same time serve as important signposts for the journey that still lies ahead of us. Signs, symbols and shrines have always had a very important religious value. They have always been regarded as a holy ground of some kind. They cannot and should not be either spoiled or violated. This is among others one of the major reasons why the sites where people have buried generations of their forebears are actually revered as nothing less than sacred. Removing these people or just denying them access to such important landmarks in their world-view is a terrible misunderstanding of their cultural roots as well as a denial of a fundamental spiritual and religious right.

Source of Health

Concern for and with good health is probably the second-most fundamental human preoccupation after food security. No one can deny the fact that each human community has some share in the great wisdom of healing. It is still true that more people have access to the traditional forms of healing than to modern scientific forms. This wisdom is a sacred gift to humanity that flows from God, mother earth and the collective life of the society. A lot of what I have already said when dealing with the land as the source of our tools applies here also. Yet it is here where the relationship and, at times, entire dependence of Indigenous spirituality on the land is most evident. The wisdom of the San communities always points them to certain roots that can be used to cure disease. This is why a familiar piece of land is essential. Pushing them off such land for whatever reason is denying and depriving them of the life-sustaining wisdom without which they find it very difficult to subsist. Health, like food, is not only a physical or a psychological concern. It also has everything to do with the spiritual welfare of the people. Dislocating people from the primary source of their health and well-being is, therefore, in every sense a spiritual concern.

Concluding Remarks

I have yet to find an African who can convincingly argue that there is no link between a people’s spirituality and their status or relationship to the land. All the major wars of liberation on this sub-continent were to liberate the land. The source of our bitterness against colonialism was the stolen land. I therefore find it difficult to understand why we find it so difficult when Indigenous communities like the San people, in exactly the same way, register their land-related claims as a spiritual and human right without which a dignified life is not possible. People are the subject of development. It is supposed to be aimed at the betterment of the quality of life of every citizen of the world. Development is supposed to follow the people, not the other way around. Development is supposed to suit the people and not the people to suit development. If Africa does not learn this lesson now, all our efforts at development will be in vain, because Africa is ultimately only as strong as its communities.

Table of Contents // Editorial // Education in the International decade of Indigenous People // Two major headaches for Indigenous People // Harare and Indigenous Peoples // Land and spirituality in Africa // Land: Breaking bonds and cementing ties // Spirituality, land and land reform in South Africa // The case of the Maasai in Tanzania // Women and Land // Those who do not know the village they come from ... // What does being Indigenous mean? // Is five hundred and seven years too long for justice? // Indigenous Spirituality // Letter to the WCC member churches on the WTO // Concrete Proposals regarding the third Ministerial Round of the WTO

© 1999 world council of churches | remarks to webeditor