in search of another perspective

One of the things I have been thinking about a lot, lately, is about Colonialism and indigenous cultures. This is not to attack and aportion blame, but to get a better understanding of the presumptions we (I) make, and where possible, to challenge them. Nor is this an attempt to suggest that the West/North is evil and the East/South is good- I think all cultures can learn from each other, and none have all the answers. With the caveats out of the way, look at these two examples.

1) 1) The Zo tribes (spread across Mizoram, Manipur, Assam and Myanmar) were head hunters- they would bring back the heads of their enemies as trophies. My grandfather’s ancestral village is called Samlukhai, quite literally ‘[place of] head hanging by hair’. We seem to have been taught to be ashamed of this part of our history, and most people speak of this time as ‘dark ages’ of a sort. Reuben, a filmmaker/songwriter friend, recently pointed out to me that the issue with head hunting was not so much the taking of the head, as the fact that one had to kill the person the head belonged to! The problem, he said, was the killing. While we no longer take heads, we still kill in war, though no longer with the chem (machete/dao). Killing has become a sophisticated business now. And is it any more acceptable because we do not take heads? Shouldn’t our shame be the killing, and not the head taking?

2) A large part of New Zealand European art between the 1860s and the 1970s has been of landscape. This is a beautiful country, and on the surface it seems reasonable that artists would devote so much energy to capturing it. Apparently though there was a bit of an agenda here- the landscapes were empty. This served the purpose of the New Zealand Company who wanted to attract European settlers here, conveniently leaving the Maori tribes out of the pictures to deliberately give the impression of a vast empty land that was just waiting for the settlers to come and take over. By leaving the Maori out of the paintings, they glossed over the fact that this land belonged to someone- the tribes! A predecessor of the modern tourist brouchere, I guess.

The connection? In both cases, it has been a dominant Western/Colonial perspective that was generally accepted as ‘fact’, even to the extent where, as in the case of the Zo tribes, we beleive the lies we have been told about ourselves! Happily for the Maori, they have managed to hold on to many of the things they find important, increasingly challenging the Euro-centric worldview with appeals to their own.

This is what I am asking: what will happen to my worldview if i take off the red spectacles I have always (unconsciously, sometimes) seen the world through, and try green spectacles instead? What will happen if I deliberately look at the world through 'tribal' value systems (if such exist)? Will I come to a very different understanding of the world? Will it be any better?

I'd be very glad for company, whether you are a tribal or not. Care to join me?


Anonymous said...

feddabonn.. i'm the anonymous poster who you got riled at over at cambodia blog.

bloomlady closed anonymous posting (or google tries to get you to sign up and i don't believe in that) over at her blog so i couldn't reply to you and i felt it was necessary to do so. i'll copy in here what i would've put there.

first off, right on feddabonn!

thanks for clarifying your position. you come from an actual tribe. i bow to you as i know you know more about these things then i ever could imagine. and i also apologize for making judgments about your artistic experience. you seem to bring a perspective that bears fruit and yet foreign to me. i'd be interested in hearing more about your tribe and what part of the world you are from (if you care to share).

i just want you to know that i normally don't waste my time posting on the web. (sorry for the stereotyping of this as a waste of time ;-)). i found this website and i liked the project and what bloomlady decided to do with her life. i like her bloom manifesto. so i decided to check in periodically.

my reason for posting is mostly that i hear so much generalization going on passed off as experience and fact (especially with the rise of the internet and access to *lots* of information, much of it suspect and opinion based) today that it bothers me. it often leads to false assumptions and bad decisions. people wind up embracing ideas / viewpoints that only tell half the picture. that picture is usually created and maintained with great energy to support one's own biases and preferences. no one is immune to this bias. i'm not. so i ask questions of myself the same way i'm asking them here.

in essence, clarifying. what did i or you just say? what does that really mean? give me an example?

i know what i know. more importantly i know what i don't know and when to defer to someone more qualified (assuming they're coming from a good place). i think i know the difference between an opinion and fact. but i'm not perfect either.

i think the reason i've spent so much time here is because i really thought it was important for bloomlady to explore this issue a little further. i *personally* think she was making a generalization about a topic she knows little about and still do.

as a result, from *my* perspective, i think it diminishes her manifesto a bit (especially points 5, 6, 7, 8) and the more she tries to defend her position on the topic of downloads, torrents, etc, i think it opens up more avenues for her to question what she *really* believes in. and explore the issue of why that manifesto only applies to the line of work she's in and her immediate sphere of influence.

in *my* version of the bloom manifesto, artists qualify under points 5,6,7,8. to exclude them by forgetting that downloads are created by a real breathing human being is hypocrisy.

to say that because songs and movies are in a digital format (often times illegally ripped to that format) and bags are not, doesn't give one a right to *steal* (not compensate an artist for the work) but have to still pay a bag producer for their bag. that is the main argument i made of which i still haven't gotten an answer on.

if one has a manifesto or a creed, they need to stand by it and live it. words are words. just like opinions are opinions. actions speak louder than words :-).

Anonymous said...


bloomlady actually got off her can and did something most people won't. she quit her cushy job to persue bloom. she's 99.9% further on the road in the actions department than most of us, myself included. i commend her from that.

but it doesn't make her immune to introspection or the questioning of her ideas.

in fact, having a publicly available manifesto only raises the bar higher for her :-). if you're going to make a statement like that back it up. explain to me why it's NOT ok to pay an artist for something they produced. something about eliminating artists and art from 5,6,7,8 among others, just smacks of hypocrisy to me.

i think i ask her some hard questions. but she hasn't answered any of them. she wrote an entire new post trying to justify her position, doing what she accused me of doing (which i don't think i really did but you'd be a better judge of that ;-))in my argument which was bringing a thousand different angles to the original topic which is simply this:

would you be ok if nobody payed you for 9 out of every 10 bags that left your shop?

it's called a dialogue. question / answer.

is my perspective any better than hers? i don't know. i think my perspective as an artist with 20 years of experience including a number of paid years centered around creating and making a living related to digital content definitely has relevant experience that someone who reads a blog post on torrents and formulates an opinion about the matter doesn't. of course, in the end it's just an opinion.

i'm sure she knows more about bags than i do. definitely more about running a shop in cambodia. i wouldn't try to tell her i knew what it's *really* like to do any of those things.

in the end, my opinion is no better than hers really :-).

if she disabled anonymous posting, i'm disappointed. b/c she cut off the discussion and limited the intergchange to her own beliefs.

fwiw, i just wanted to say that i appreciate the way you handled your last replies. you've got some tribe in you b/c most folks would have got right to the anger part and not used the approach you used ;-)

also sorry for using your space here if you didn't want it. i'll respect that going forward if you so desire.

now that i found your blog.. i'll have to give it a read

cheers back at you

Anonymous said...

just so you know.. points 4,5,6,7 of the manifesto come from her post here..

the ones on her front page sidebar are different????... and not what i refer to in the posts above.

Anonymous said...

last but not least.. this is to bloom and not you fedabonn.. sorry

i just read bloom's long post "when was the last time you've changed your mind"

i have no idea what she's talking about. after reading wikipedia and a businessweek article, she's now an expert on copyright, filesharing, open source software (which has nothing to do with the original topic) and the like as well as the socratic method and the entirety of greek philosophy. (this is from someone who is self-described in one of her earlier posts (i'm paraphrasing don't have the time to look it up but usually a warning sign) as someone who could literally wind up on the net all day long.. which from my perspective is symptomatic of the type of person that likes to proclaim themselves an expert on everything based on a few web searches and time spent with google. another virtual web expert living vicariously through internet land with little experience in self-proclaimed areas of expertise is not what we need.

bloom must also be vulcan. she proclaims she knows who i am and where i'm from (MA?) and is absolutely mistken about that. i guess she can add forensic expert to her many other titles... copyright lawyer, artist, doctorate in greek philosophy, open source software developer, blahty blah tee blah. get down on the knees and pray to the web and all things free / google.. they are the solutions to all your problems..

bloom still hasn't cited one example of a derivative work of music, writing or art (not software) to show she knows what she's talking about. not vague concepts but real life experience and examples of a derivative work. still conceptualizing her simplistic view of music downloads as confined to folks that buy a copy then making other copies only for themselves and never redistributing them to others that never pay for the privilege of making them part of their collections just like a hand bag is part of your collection and enjoyment in your closet. still missing the point. still digging in the heels. trying to build a case about what i do not understand. take me to your leader (said in robot voice) ;-)..

if you're bags could be digitized and stolen, you'd be up in arms. trust me on that one. b/c the point would become tangible and clear to you.

what bloom did get right was that i was out of line in my reply to fedabonn. spot on. i'm man enough to admit that and did so before she even posted about it.

that's the difference b/t you and i bloom. i actually do change my mind when it's appropriate and when i'm wrong :-).

here's what it boils down to. your opinions are your opinions. with respect to karma, if you can't understand the premise of my original point about compensation, i think you're manifesto is empty and meaningless... and your actions however well-intentioned they are, are somewhat tainted by that. that's my opinion and i'll stick to it.

final perspective on anonymous posting. it could be construed that those who feel strongly about having their names attached to posts on a meaningless free blog somehow are placing far more importance on their words and themselves than an anonymous poster who actually gave up probably 4 hours of their life to try to share their intimate knowledge on a subject they know a lot about with another to help expand that knowledge a bit (i guess that's debatable depending on how you look at this dialogue ;-)). i stand by my words. they're logically well thought out and full of conviction and honesty if you actually read them. imho, (there go those opinions again ;-) more so than yours by a large margin.

i'm a believer in privacy though. and that's valid. if i interviewed you and came across your post, i'd see you for the presumed authority you think you are on a myriad of topics and pass you by for your lack of following the socratic method ;-).

and i know one thing. i won't buy one of your bags now. too much righteous karma in that bag i wouldn't want to be carrying around.

best of wishes.

feddabonn said...

[for the roots of this discussion, go to]

@anon: thank you for taking the trouble to post a response here, i'm glad to continue the discussion. thanks also for a sincere apology, i truly appreciate the courage that takes.

i have a lot of respect for diana's work at bloom, and as you have pointed out, she has taken steps many of us don't dare to. having said that, i do not think i am in *any way qualified to respond on her behalf. i'm sure she has her reasons for withdrawing from this conversation, and i respect that. she is more than welcome to respond on my blog if she wishes to.

this whole discussion and your response has raised a few issues for me. as a caveat- i tend to do a lot of thinking aloud, and do not necessarilly have fully formed opinions when i discuss them. there will likely be inconsistencies which you are quite welcome to point out. 'discussion' seems to be my primary learning style!

"you come from an actual tribe. i bow to you as i know you know more about these things then i ever could imagine."

~i belong to the zo tribes, distributed over india and myanmar (burma). the geographical/cultural rallying point seems to be a indian state called mizoram. while i realise this seems to give me more credibility when talking of 'tribal' perspectives, i am not sure this is something i am completely comfortable with. i have spent a lot of energy struggling against 'experts' who shut down discussion because of that expertise. in fact, even though i am a tribal, i have spent a lot of my life living in non-tribal environments. many tribals may even (rightly) challenge my ability to speak for them. i understand and appreciate your suspicion of the internet as a credible source of information, and have personally been guilty of "so much generalization going on passed off as experience and fact", (though not in this discussion, yet :)). point being, personal credibility as a measure of accuracy is as shaky ground as internet sources!

feddabonn said...

"because songs and movies are in a digital format...doesn't give one a right to *steal* (not compensate an artist for the work)"

~in most discussions i have had about copyright/copyleft/piracy, this direct question is one i have avoided. this is the third time you have asked this, and it would be unfair for me to further duck it. the thing is, i don't know. i am still grappling with these questions:

1) is intellectual property the same as physical property? you say yes, diana says maybe not always. i am unsure. i have had strongly negative experiences of traditional knowledge being restricted from distribution and therefore being lost. i have seen communal ownership of land work, and am currently witness to communal ownership of intellectual property. on the other hand, is it possible to extract one or two elements from a system (tribal) and insert them into another (modern)? wouldn't our whole worldview need to change? the implications of these questions are huge, and one of the reasons i am glad that the pirate party is in european parliament is that maybe these will be asked.

2) what is stealing? the idea of stealing is very deeply tied in with the idea of ownership. many of our tribes, for instance, did not understand the concept of land ownership. the land cannot 'belong' to anyone, they said, and were quite willing to 'give' it away for a few bottles of liquor. they thought they had a very good deal. to further illustrate, it would be a lot like if someone walked up to me today and asked if s/he could take a few deep breaths, and offered me a $20 bill in exchange. i'd likely take the money. from this perspective, i now wonder, can something be 'stolen' if it is not 'owned'? when the tribes began accusing others of 'stealing' the land, they were appealing to an adopted value system, not originally their own. [the reference here is to the bodo tribes, not the zo]

3) is stealing always wrong? lets say we *have established ownership of some sort. now, is stealing wrong? what about stealing food? what about stealing money to buy food? is there a difference in stealing (out of hunger) from a rich person or a poor person? do we always know how rich/poor people are? (my wife pointed out how most of MJs estate will go to pay debt). how much of the guilt is on the thief, and how much on the system that failed to support a person so that they felt compelled to steal? in the old zo system, if a person was starving, the biggest shame was of the neighbour, who did not know what was happening next door. does this apply to intellectual property at all?

i am currently grappling with tribal vs. western thought, not out of any disrespect for the western perspective, but out of a desire to understand myself better. while we owe much to the west, there has also been a loss of perspectives, some of which i feel may be applicable in the discussions we are faced with today. thanks for listening and responding!


John Doe said...


About the headhunting bit. Ok, we do not hang out the heads to dry anymore, but we still do give out medals to war heroes.

The whole busines of tribal/not-tribal is fallicious, in my opinion. We are still a tribe or rather tribal in nature. It is just that our symbolism has changed. What is a tribe really?

Look at the stuff we have. Warriors get medals or strange markings on their uniforms according to their status in the army. Quite like war paint, tattoos or even ceremonial scars of yore.

We still like to wear the same kind of clothes (we do. go to any mall. everyone seems to look the same.) We still have distinct tribal apparel. (Tell me what practical use is a tie?) Just like the Injuns had feathers on their head.

What do you think?

feddabonn said...

@john: quite agree, there is little difference in the military trappings today and the tribal bones and feathers. war is the complete antithesis of creativity.

Anonymous said...


the questions i put in my post were really more for bloom to answer (b/c she never did ;-))

i know she'll never see them (unless of course you care to cross post a link to her site)

fwiw, i wasn't expecting you to answer them. and you've taken the discussion in a whole different direction which i'm not sure i have the energy to continue ;-). i have a feeling we'd likely share similar opinions on most of what you expressed.

fwiw, if i had it my way, there would be no such thing as ownership but i'm not sure how this would really work in practice. even animals "own" things. they own territory, they own partners, etc..

regardless of the paradigm, i guess i believe in applying equal criteria. that was why i replied to her post in the first place. i can't logically walk through it in my mind how it's considered stealing if you "steal" a bag but *not* stealing if you steal a song. i'm not asking to define what stealing is or if it's even right. basically, lets apply the same criteria across the board. the word stealing morphed from the word 'paying for something' because it's shorter to type.

to me there's no difference. i wasn't talking about software. i was talking about songs and movies, storytelling (and even images if you like).. [talking about derivative works imho has nothing to do with the issue i raised. it just helps cloud the issue]

another example (purely hypothetical) is this.

lets say one guy / google go on itunes to buy the hot single off of a new cd for 99 cents and then makes it available for free download. at that point nobody else ever buys the song from the artist but 3 million people go to google and download it for free. now there are 3 million and one different human beings on the planet that have the song in their collections. it's in their possession. they *own* it. they listen to it. they get enjoyment out of it. they never paid for it. the artist receives a total of 99 cents for their effort. 3 million people never paid for the product.

in *my* mind it doesn't matter what format the product is in or even what type of product it is. it's a product and should be treated like other products.

put another way, if you can't as a maker of bloom bags claim that it would be fair to produce 3 million and 1 bloom bags and only get paid for one of them, you can't claim it's ok for that to happen to a musician's digital song. it doesn't pass the test of fairness (read the bloom manifesto ;-)) or at least not in my book.

i agree with your notions on what i call "survival" stealing. b/c somebody wants and has a lot, other people are forced to "steal" to meet basic needs. the system is setup to make people suffer needlessly. but before i blame the system, people create and follow the system. each of us bears some responsibility for the inequalities that exist out there, myself included. that said, there is a minority of some extremely greedy people out there that own the majority of the world's wealth mostly through privilege, dubious means and frivolous / destructive enterprise and thereby bear the brunt of responsibility for a lot of that suffering.

to reiterate, my term 'stealing' as presented in comments became a shorthand for "not getting paid for whatever a person does for a days work".

Anonymous said...

you belong to the zo tribes.. i'm going to have to read your blog a bit and get back to about it. interesting..

are you in india now or somewhere else?

indian state called mizoram. while i realise this seems to give me more credibility when talking of 'tribal' perspectives, i am not sure this is something i am completely comfortable with. i have spent a lot of energy struggling against 'experts' who shut down discussion because of that expertise.

fully understood. *some* experts are too close minded in their fields. there were a whole lot of experts who thought the world was flat at one time. *however*, a dude that was both methodical and articulate was able to prove that it wasn't ;-).

i think truth bubbles up in simple ways. simple questions. sometimes it's in the heart or the eyes. the intent.

in fact, even though i am a tribal, i have spent a lot of my life living in non-tribal environments. many tribals may even (rightly) challenge my ability to speak for them.

hierarchy sucks doesn't it ;-)


Marty Mars said...

Nice post feddabonn. It is very interesting the lines that are recited so much that we end up believing them. Six or seven generations we ate people. Of course there is a lot more too it than that simple statement. But it is interesting to reflect on the way we view these things. I am a vegetarian, and have been since i was 16. I think my genes have eaten too much flesh over the generations and we are in a new world now. I think a big part of the colonisation process is to make the indigenous people feel ashamed. Certainly christianity as a footsoldier of colonisation deliberately tried to destroy all of the 'savage' culture here. From gods on down. Break them down and then we can rebuild them as we want them to be. The interesting aspect of the de-colonisation process is that the tables are turned in regards to who feels shame. It's not about blaming the people here today but rather it is about being truthful and accepting that what happened actually happened. Surprisingly even this small starting point is too far for many people.

The major difference I feel between the different worldviews of 'tribal' and our general 'western' model is the view of the individual. Generally, it seems to me, within western culture the indivdual is paramont.Within tribal culture the group or community is paramont. Here, the way they took the land was to take community title and convert it to individual title and then it could be bought and sold. But more often it was taken, confiscated, stolen and swindled. Once the people lost the land then communities break down. The western individual model kicks in and drives people further apart.

But there is a flaw in their thinking and that flaw is that no matter how far the connection stretches, it never breaks. Each individual member of the community is still connected to that community and over time they reconfirm and strengthen that connection. That process speeds up when events such as the eonomic tsunami occurs. Plus we have the overall empty feeling that many people have towards the exploitive, consumerist society we seem to live in. Whew! Sorry for going on.:)

Indigenous people have to work together to support each other towards self determination. We can show the way forward by looking back.

feddabonn said...

@anon: i think your position is (sorta) summed up in this: "in *my* mind it doesn't matter what format the product is in or even what type of product it is. it's a product and should be treated like other products."

i respect your position, though i am still uncertain about mine. i moved to aotearoa/new zealand a few months ago, and am learning much from the maori tribes here. thanks for the discussion, it has given me much to think about. do hang around, you are welcome!

feddabonn said...

@marty: much thanks. it is truly ironic that our colonisers would have us feel ashamed of our practices, when their cultures have done the same and worse. i agree, though, it is *not about blame. i have been trying to find out a bit about the south african truth and reconciliation commission, and am fascinated by the model of non-retributive justice. from what i understand so far, the model owes itself to both christ's principles and zulu tribal tradition.

in complete agreement about the individual vs. the community being the difference in worldview between the 'west' and the 'tribes'. in my own experience either direction can, however, go to extreme. community should not get so close as to induce claustraphobia.

Joe Pinto said...

My dear feddabonn,

The comments section of this particular post has got involved in a discussion that I can not relate to. So I will not get mixed up here.

I will comment separately to you on your email ID. And then if you feel, I can copy that comment out here for the record.

Peace and love,
- Joe.

feddabonn said...

ah joe, you're quite welcome to put your comment on here without my vetting it! am quite keen to hear your view on this.

John Doe said...


I read something interesting in a trashy novel years ago. The difference between the western mindset and the eastern mindset is this - in the west, it is "I think therefore I exist." In the east, "We think therefore I exist."

Marty Mars said...

@ John Doe


We need more community, more people thinking and acting for collective good, rather than individual good (IMO) and i think tribal societies can show us good models of how to do that.

But then I am a romantic and an idealist :)

Marty Mars said...

@ John Doe

Sorry just read your comment higher up in the thread again - I agree with you.

The medals and armies point is really interesting.

Perhaps the thin veneer of 'civilisation' is really an illusion after all and we are all down and dirty tribals - yee haa - hope so!