Student - 13 september 2012

Talking to the ancestors

He does not see himself as an irrational new-agey type. But Jordi's aim is to help indigenous people defend their beliefs about the world. He is in South Korea this week to run workshops about and for spiritual leaders. 'Who are we to say that their worldview world doesn't make sense?'

Jordi van Oort is attending the IUCN World Conservation Congress on the South Korean island of Jeju. The conference is about nature conservation and quality of life. Jordi, an MSc student of Forest and Nature Policy is doing an internship with the Sacred Natural Sites Initiative, where he is researching ways of defending the interests of local indigenous peoples. 'In Russia the government wants to lay down oil and gas pipelines, and the local population has to make way for those. Or take north-west Ghana, where the Dagara tribe lives. They maintain contact with their ancestors through the natural world, and have done so for generations. Now they have to make way for gold-mining.' It amazes Jordi that such things are happening all around the globe. 'They are often areas where there are mineral resources in the ground, or strategically desirable places.'
Jordi has mixed feelings about nature religions. 'In Africa many different groups talk to their ancestors and make decisions based on what they tell them. I find that very interesting but when a tribal chief told me they could teach me to do it too, I was not sure I really wanted that. To be honest I find it a bit spooky. It is a whole different world to the one I was used to at the university. Recently I often find myself thinking, why shouldn't these people's way of thinking be allowed? They've been thinking that way for years and who are we to say that their worldview doesn't make sense?'