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Scholarship from an Aboriginal Perspective

by Diana Rose Yoka

published in Bahá'í Studies in Australasia vol. 3
Rosebery: Association for Baha'i Studies Australia, 1996
An article by Dr Peter Khan mentioned that, in the Bahá'í Faith, "Everyone has the capacity to be a scholar." [1] The point that is made here is: "What qualifies someone to have 'scholarship'"? Secondly, is it the non-Aboriginal Academic view alone, that determines who or who not has scholarship.

In Aboriginal Learning the Universe and World in which we live is our teacher. Our Ancestor-Law Makers gave us laws to live by. Not only laws for Social Interaction (Kinship System), but laws which taught us respect for the Creator and the Creation.

In the Bahá'í Writings, Bahá'u'lláh talks about 'self' and the need to overcome the material self of greed, desires, lies and wrongful thinking which causes harmful actions.

In Aboriginal culture, the child is taught not only respect for the Elders and the Environment, but is expected to learn responsible behaviour in a system of Experiential Learning, that puts the welfare of the whole group above the selfish desires of the individual. Aboriginal people were given Spiritual Laws that are universal and timeless. The spirit of that law is reflected in the Teachings of Bahá'u'lláh, because He does not imply in any way that the Spiritual Knowledge of the Ancestor Law Makers is inferior compared to other Manifestations of God. He honours the ancient Wisdom of Indigenous peoples. [2]

Aboriginal Scholarship is based on Experiential Learning, and their capacity to live in a manner conducive to sustainable development and bio-diversity has its equal with other first peoples of the world. Aboriginal Culture which includes our Religious and Spiritual Belief systems, is labelled by many non-Aboriginal people as Heathen, Pagan and Demonic, as well as being called Stone Age.

I have replied to this misinformation with the following poem:

WHO IS STONE AGE?

I was talking to a friend the other fine day
We commented on many things
And then she had her say:
'Aboriginal people are coming out of
Stone age' she finally said to me.
Her mis-perceptions white man's view
Now let's take a look and see.
Why is it that
WHITE MAN'S VIEW IS ALWAYS TAKEN AS TRUTH?!!!
Who are they to label 'stone age'
When they've forgotten God's Laws
Forsooth!
Before 200 years ago
We had an affluent society
We knew our place in the scheme of things
We enjoyed the many varieties.
We knew and know the geography of our land
Our soul identity
Animals, Birds, Trees and Flowers
With whom we live
In total Harmony.
And then 'they' came to this fair land
To rape, pillage and plunder
They tore the sacred land apart
And made the stock exchange instead
Their sacred site and wonder.
They used only the intellect
And in their rapacious greed
They pitted science against religion
And knew not their lack or need.
They change the laws every year
For some new fancy whim
Is it Tom, Dick or Harry
Or Mary Joe or Jim?
So who is 'stone age'
Now, my friend
Or is white man pre-historic?
He doesn't know the answers yet
Because he lives only in RHETORIC.

In labelling Aboriginal people as 'stone age' and 'heathen', by what academic standards of 'measurement' are those conclusions reached? Non-Aboriginal Scientists and Physicists are realising the wisdom and scholarship of Indigenous peoples. As Bahá'u'lláh's new world order of Justice and Creativity comes into being, the old world order of exploitation and wrongful 'labelling' of various cultures also needs to die.

In conclusion, scholarship can be demonstrated in our daily lives, through how we interact with each other, and put Bahá'u'lláh's admonitions into action. Scholarship therefore, is not limited to the written word. To have meaning for Aboriginal Australians, it needs to include Experiential Learning.

Notes:

[1] Hassall, K., "Notes from the talk by Dr. Peter Khan on Bahá'í Scholarship 16 September 1995", in Association for Bahá'í Studies - Australia, "Newsletter", No.33, Oct/Nov, 1995.

[2] This is reinforced by the 'Abdu'l-Bahá, the authorised interpreter of Bahá'u'lláh's teachings: "Thus there have been many holy Manifestations of God. One thousand years ago, two hundred thousand years ago, one million years ago the bounty of God was flowing, the radiance of God was shining, the dominion of God was existing." 'Abdu'l-Bahá, "Foundations of World Unity", Bahá'í Publishing Trust, Wilmette, Illinois, 1972, p.108.

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