The Wayfinders, by Wade Davis

The Wayfinders is the written incarnation of the 2009 Massey Lecture series, one of which I saw Wade Davis give.  I thought it was interesting but I am always more engaged by the written word over the spoken. I finished the book almost two weeks ago and have been thinking about it ever since.  Lately I’ve been in experiencing to some degree what you might call an existential crisis: struggling to figure out where I fit in the world and what makes me happy.  Wade Davis, while not exactly offering up solutions to my problems, did provide some fascinating indigenous creation stories and  insights into a different way of living for me to mull over.  I’ve decided that I loved this book primarily because of the imagination it evokes.  An example will demonstrate what I mean.  There’s no point in paraphrasing because Davis is a brilliant writer, so here is one of my favourite bits:

“In the Aboriginal universe, there is no past, present, or future.  In not one of the hundreds of dialects spoken at the moment of contact was there a word for time.  There is no notion of linear progression, no goal of improvement, no idealization of the possibility of change. […] The entire purpose of humanity is not to improve anything.  It is to engage in the ritual and ceremonial activities deemed to be essential for the maintenance of the world precisely as it was at the moment of creation.”

Just close your eyes and try to erase any understanding you have of what the word ‘time’ means.  I guarantee you won’t be able to.  This is my new meditation: closing my eyes and imagining there is no such thing as a past, present, or future.  Problems start to seem just a bit less significant.  Imagine that the present is all that matters (or indeed exists) and according to your culture the purpose of your life is to maintain the world around you.  It’s simply staggering for me to consider.  The Wayfinders is full of similar indigenous conceptualizations of the world and although I have taken indigenous studies courses at university, I have never been so enthralled by indigenous cultures as when I read The Wayfinders.  Luckily for me, Wade Davis has written several books, which I will be getting my paws on as soon as I plough through a few other books on my shelf first…


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