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Indigenous Identity

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Just recently I traveled to Bali, Indonesia for vacation. Indonesia marks my 14th country of international travel. Located between the peninsula of South East Asia and Australia, the country straddles the equator as it is positioned between the Indian and Pacific Oceans. The population of Indonesia is over 240,000,000 people and Bahasa Indonesia is the official language. Although about 88% of Indonesians practice Islam, the majority of the people o­n Bali Island are Hindu.

I had no problem using English is Bali. The people were friendly and I found it easy to communicate with locals as I saw myself as being open to befriend those indigenous to the Bali Island. My reference of the word indigenous means native, natural, of first origin, and traditional with a long history. I came across many Balinese people that have skin complexion equal to darker than my own shin tone-leaving them to ask me the question out of inquiring interest, "Where are you from?" Some of the places I traveled to o­n the Island were Ubud, Denpasar, Kuta, Kamasan Village, Padangtegal Mandala Wista Wanara Wana-Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary. I saw the traditional and sacred Barong and Kris Dance. The variety of Balinese food I ate was also good.

One of the first thoughts is that to have traveled to so many countries and places, I must be rich. Gaining wealth from life experience and cultural understanding, I am growing. But rich in terms of money, I differ. I am however money conscious as we all should be. The Bali Island "Nyepi" New Year's Day Celebration I was fortunate to be present for was the greater wealth gained from my trip.

Nyepi Day is the Balinese "Day of Silence." o­n this New Year's Day, no o­ne works, people have to stay indoors, the streets are quiet with no traffic allowed, light is minimal or completely turned off, and the TV or radio is turned down. Making love is neither supposed to happen nor even be attempted. The Bali internationally airport is even closed down. All activity nearly stops outside of the traditional Balinese "Pecalangs" security men patrolling streets, dogs barking, and insects making noise.

Emergency and hotel vehicles might be o­n the streets if necessary. Nyepi is also a day of fasting where no food should be eaten from sunup to sundown. I participated, where my fast lasted for about 31 hours. The philosophical and religious point of view is that Nyepi is a day meant for self introspection o­n values of humanity-patience, love, kindness, balance, etc.-a pursuit to last forever. The day after the dark moon in the spring equinox is the Bali calendar Nyepi New Year's Day. This year's Nyepi date was March 30, 2006.

The eve of Nyepi is called Tawur Kesanga. Within villages, the procession of the day is a carnival of monster or evil spirit floats made of bamboo symbolic of evil spirits and bad karma leaving our human body before the cleansing of Nyepi. I saw the festival as being reflective of their old way, and very much tribal in many ways. Seeing the old tribal and indigenous way is what made the festival unique and powerful. What I find increasingly amazing from all my travels is that the 'indigenous factor' exists with so many people of the world.

As I recognize my own indigenous factor, that of being a Black person of African descent, I am able to relate and easily communicate with so many people of the world. I wonder and ask myself the question, how we do African Americans o­n a whole view our inclusion into the indigenous identity?

Have we as African Americans become so modern, or so westernized that we have forgotten to recognize our indigenous roots? Even worse, have we abandoned our indigenous roots in pursuit of our evolving identity in the New World? Although it might appear correct that we don't always pursue the unquestionable truth of our indigenous identity, the answer is NO. There is history preserved in our genes that can not be removed even by conscious effort. The 400 - 500 years of African presence in the America's stemming from slavery is like a single dot o­n the African timeline of existence. Guyana (South America) born Dr. Ivan Van Sertima displays the pre-slavery African presence in the America's in his book, "They Came Before Columbus."

To put this in greater perspective, science states that the evolution of humanity comes from the African continent. It is in present day Addis Ababa, Ethiopia that bones of the oldest human species found thus far, termed Homo sapien idaltu, might be 5.8 million years old. In the Afar language of Ethiopia, idaltu means "elder." The discovery of the bones was made by Ethiopian Dr. Yohannes Haile-Selassie. This Ethiopian human discovery has been named Ardipithecus ramidus kadabba, meaning "root-man ancestor."

All of this is to say that as Black people of African descent, everyday is a day of importance to our existence o­n earth. We have to know 'through practice' that our indigenous identity is the core that links us together as African descendents, and links us with other indigenous people around the world. We shouldn't fear and run away from this identity. Just the opposite, we should proclaim and be running to this identity. Moving forward is retaining and building o­n the foundation of our ancestors.

Wayne E. Brown is the Founder and CEO of WEB International Publishing. He is the author and publisher of BLACK SAMURAI: Work, Travel, Culture, Religion, Struggle, & Perspective of a Black American Man. For book signing, motivational speaking engagements, and/or appearances email: web@webinternationalpublishing.com or go the website for details: www.webinternationalpublishing.com

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