Cosmology

Indigenous groups today consider the cosmos to be a body that is inhabited by a single, integrated society, in which a series of human, animal, vegetable and spiritual communities relate with each other under the same set of rules of conduct. Men, animals, plants, rivers and stars thus make up one single, great cosmic society, and they are joined by links of mutual belonging and dependence: just as people depend on animal food for their survival, so animals need people to dance if they are to reproduce.

This view of the world concerns itself with defining which beings inhabit the different worlds (people, animals, plants, rivers, stars, deities, the dead, etc.), what belongs to them, and the way in which they relate to each other. It also includes a definition of cultural activities and artefacts (the home, utensils used in everyday life, ritual objects, agriculture, etc.), and notions about time and space, life and death, etc. Every view of the world contains classification systems which establish order for people and their surroundings. No society can exist in a state of chaos and disorder. Classification principles and methods vary from one view of the world to another, but something they all have in common is that they are the result of complex knowledge and reasoning processes.

A view of the world imposes social, economic and ritual behaviour on the different communities; far from being just a framework of ideas and values or theories, it determines a course of action, and practices. It resembles a navigation chart which enables each person or group to find its place in the world and to understand the right way to act and to relate with its surroundings, wherever they are and at every moment. Indigenous cosmologies have been classified as "eco-cosmologies", because of the sophisticated and systematic environmental knowledge inherent in them and the efficient ecological management that this entails, and also as "ecosophies", due to the way in which nature and practices involving the use of resources impose a moral compulsoriness and emotional power; they assign human society responsibility for watching over and ensuring equilibrium or balance in the whole system.

Cosmology is a historical product that is continuously being transformed. These transformations seek to interpret and re-contextualise things like events in history, cultural innovations and environmental changes, so that they can be appropriated and made understandable and manageable for people. The history of contact with the white man, relationships with new settlers in their surroundings, and foreign objects and practices that are adopted from an outside world that is not only strange and distant but also dangerous and often hostile, are converted into known "products", products that are safe and familiar, by incorporating them into their cosmology. The basic structures remain, but the content is updated.

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Cosmological Symbols

The Symbolism of Power

The Body-Apparel and Transformation

Cannibal Gods, the Renewal of Life


Death and Rebirth: Funerary Urns

Myths about the Organisation of the Cosmos