I acknowledge the ancestors of this mighty land, called Australia by the colonisers. I pay my respects to the elders past and present and the emerging leaders of the future. The ancestors of this land have cared for and formed deep relationships with this land for many many thousands of years.
Tyson Yunkaporta belongs to the Apalech Clan from
Western Cape York, and is a senior lecturer in Indigenous Knowledges at Deakin
University. His recently published book,
Sand Talk,1 draws on the
knowledge and traditions of those ancestors, elders, and emerging leaders, to
expose global (primarily western) ways of thinking to a lens of Indigenous
Knowledge. Without saying so directly,
Yunkaporta finds western knowledge systems lacking.
It doesn’t take much looking around to agree with
him. The world is in a mess and that is
largely because of western thinking.
But, don’t read this book to discover the jewels or nuggets that exist
in Indigenous Knowledge that can be used to save
the world (as the sub-title suggests.)
Yunkaporta warns that using Indigenous Knowledge in this way has for
centuries been how western colonisers have treated such knowledge. Colonisers have plundered and stolen
knowledge and used it (often in ways it is not meant to be) to further the
exploitative and destructive process of colonisation.
Yunkaporta would prefer that non-Indigenous peoples
acknowledged and learnt from the processes of Indigenous Thinking. And here is where this book is of profound
importance – it sheds a light on the different thinking processes used by
Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples to arrive at Knowledge.
Indeed, Yunkaporta goes further. He insists that non-Indigenous people do not
need to acquire Indigenous Knowledge, but rather, need assistance in
remembering our own thinking processes.
He is right. We do have thinking
and knowledge systems based in patterns, holism, and complexity. We have forgotten them, or have had them stolen
from us. Yunkaporta reminds us to go
look for them again.
Yunkaporta uses the customary technique of drawing
images in sand to illustrate and assist in passing on knowledge. Each chapter uses a sand drawing for this
purpose, as well as a yarn2 with many Aboriginal people to add to
Yunkaporta’s own ideas and thoughts. These
techniques give this book a holistic and grounded feeling. A sense of ancient wisdom comes through in
the images, the yarns, and almost every sentence of the book.
For readers of this blog who, like me, come from a
western-styled, non-Indigenous, culture, this book can be challenging. Not in a linguistic sense – Yunkaporta has a
very engaging writing style – but in the ideas presented, especially as the
ideas challenge many of the fundamental thinking patterns we have been
taught. So, if you find you have to
stop, go back, and re-read sections (as I did) then don’t get disparaged. Stop, go back, re-read.
Perhaps the most challenging thinking process
presented within the book comes just four pages before the end. In one of his yarns he quotes an Aboriginal
woman who describes a way of thinking that begins with Respect, followed on by
Connect, then Reflect, and ends with Direct.
She insists on this being the appropriate order and then notes that “non-Aboriginal people seemed to work
through the same steps but in reverse.”
Think about that.
It is appropriate that this comes almost as the final comment, as in
many ways it sums up the whole book.
For non-Aboriginal people this is an engaging and
challenging book, one that should be read by all.
1. 1. Tyson
Yunkaporta, sand talk: How Indigenous
Thinking Can Save the World, Text Publishing, Melbourne, Australia, 2019.
2. 2. English
speakers will recognise the noun yarn
as meaning a story or tale.
In Australia, and particularly so within Aboriginal settings, the word
has become a verb also, as in to tell a
story, to talk.