Tag Archive | Christianity

Ethiopia: Selling the Sacred

Gamo People and Sacred Forests of EthiopiaEthiopia: Selling the Sacred

By Hwaa Irfan


We are at a time in global governance, when pretty much each minister does as he pleases. This can be observed in the U.S. whereby ministers outside of the jurisdiction of  President Obama have been meeting lobbyists, undermining any overall step in favor of the greater good. One looks to Africa, and Africanize what has been learnt from the colonialists, the exact same practice of self interest in the name of the people.

In Ethiopia, President Girma Wolde-Giogis was not involved in this process, but it happened anyway, the sale of sacred forests as part of the landgrab pandemic that has been hitting the continent of Africa. Landgrab is the branch of neocolonialism that for a price over a leased period, land is acquired to increase food security for other countries, decreasing food security for Africa. The leaseholder is an Indian company, Verdanta Harvests, and the aim to turn the land into tea plantations – not exactly a food security issue! That will involve clearing the land of all that is sacred to the Mazenger in order to turn the land into profit.

Struggling to Maintain Traditions

The Mazenger of Gambella, an indigenous people of Ethiopia have been struggling to hold to what is a part of their traditions going back to the pre-Christian era. Like most indigenous peoples that tradition involves land, the very land they have been marginalized on. The land concerned covers the ancient forest of the tributaries of the White Nile. The Solidarity Movement of Ethiopia uncovered a series of documents that come out of the text book of globalizing colonialists, full of double-speak, manipulation, and intimidation in order to take control that land. It was not until last year, 2010, that it became known to the Mazenger that their sacred forests were up for lease. Ignored is the fact that like the uncontacted tribes of South America, the sacred forests of the Mazenger is their livelihood from which they are able to eat, to hunt, to gather, to nurture, and to heal with when sick. By depriving them of the sacred forests, the problems of the Mazenger will become the problem of the state, even when the state chooses to ignore the needs of the people.

The Mazenger did try to address the issue, and sent a team of representatives to the capital, Addis Ababa. They met with the President Girma Wolde-Giogis whose power is representative.  President Girma did pursue the issue, and sent a letter to the local Environmental Protection Agency demanding for the lease to be canceled. The letter was sent to the Ethiopian Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development stating that the short term benefits do not outweigh the long term benefits.  However, the Governor of Gambella Region had other ideas. Governor Omot Obang Olum declared that the 5,000 hectares of sacred forests had been leased to Verdanta for 50 years of which U.S.$19,000 had already been paid, and the roads, employment and income from the plantations would be to their benefit. Why would they need something they already have, a means to provide for themselves without external influences under conditions that were suitable to them with honor – the honor that peoples around the world from the Middle East to Wisconsin, U.S. have been rising up to reclaim.

The Mazenger approached President Girma Wolde-Giogis again in December 2010, who wrote to both the Minister of Agriculture, and the much disliked Prime Minister Meles Zenawi ordering the Ministers to stop in virtue of the abundance of the rainforests, but the President was ignored! Instead, Prime Minister Zenawi who treats the people with disregard told them to change their leaders. The sacred forests are now under the control of Verdanta. If one’s body, mind and soul has been sold to the devil for a price, one might mistakenly believe that this is all in the name of progress, and Africans cannot manage their affairs anyway, but what does know of Africa, other than the racist perception inculcated by a system that seeks to perpetuate itself by any means – serving only the global elite, local capitalists who inflate prices impoverishing the rest of the world.

Why the Forests are Sacred

Before this question is explored, it must be noted that the biodiversity of the Ethiopian forests are as important as that of the Amazon, which has received much attention. This biodiversity remains within our life time, because of the indigenous peoples who protect and live by it.  A study by the Ethiopian Wildlife and Natural History Society has found that the level of biodiversity is greater in the sacred forests than in non-sacred forests providing a refuge for certain plant species which have disappeared elsewhere. The religious believes indigenous to the region have played a strong role in that protection, a protection that has been supported by religions introduced to the region, i.e. Christianity, and Islam.  However, given that Christianity has become the dominant religion of the highlands, the protection of the sacred forests has mainly fallen under Christian jurisdiction. However, this relationship has no always been an easy one.

For the Gamo who largely have held onto their traditional beliefs, they have often come into clashes with the fundamentalists of the Orthodox Christian church. Their highlands and sacred places, sits above the volatile East African Rift Valley. Many of their shrines have been destroyed, and churches have been built on their sacred grounds including the forests compromising the symbiotic relationship between the people and their forests – to them by looking after the sacred forests, the sacred forests will look after them understanding that it is the mutual respect between land and the people that sustains the people.

“When all the trees have been cut down,
when all the animals have been hunted,
when all the waters are polluted,
when all the air is unsafe to breathe,
only then will you discover you cannot eat money.”  – Cree Prophecy

What can replace the multi ecosystem of Afroalpine grasslands, the rare bamboo forests, evergreen Afromontane forests, the lands made fertile by monsoonal rains, and deep aquifers that feed into many lowland areas – the wetlands,, the highlands, the 792 plant species, and variety of birds, and animals. Can Zenawi in his love of power replace all of this? When they have all gone, and the country can feed itself no longer, shelter from the burning sun or find clean water to drink, what will the offspring of Zenawi do then?

Cultural Value

The plants of the forests, have played an important socio-economic role in the lives of the people. These sacred forests have provided a communal gathering place uniting different groups/tribes/clans. In acknowledgment of this God given gift, the Oromo for example have a prayer ceremony called Irreessa before the harvest. Irreessa is carried out under the big trees in the meadows of the river in the forest. Likewise, the Gurage, and the Amhara have similar practices. To the Oromo, the forests cannot be exploited, and exploitation includes the felling of trees. In a region that has suffered great deforestation, the importance of this exploitation is all important to the benefit of the common good, just as the British have experienced in recent times with the threat of a biomass economy i.e. plants to replace fossil fuels. However, in the sacred forests harvesting of trees does take place.

For the Omotic speaking Gamo, who are the main tribe of the highlands, they protect the forests, the burial grounds, and the communal meeting places across Ethiopia’s southwest plateau – 1,600 square miles. They live off small holdings, and live by communal grazing for their sheep and cattle. They cultivate cereals, fruit trees, applying organic practices, using a form of cultivation that is based on terracing like in some parts of the Philippines. This terracing has prevented soil erosion, and controlled water pollution. It has also allowed them to cultivate 91% of their land. They live in traditional huts pleasing to the eye in small family groups. They recognize the human dependence on the earth that sustains us, and practice rainmaking, rainstopping, and thanks giving ceremonies. The strict laws that govern their relationship to the sacred forests are called wagaa, the basis of which is that all things are connected and sits in a delicate balance. As Gamoan elder Abera Ogato describes:

“Here we know that sacred forests protect waters. The pastureland is for the livestock. The livestock make the manure to fertilize the crops. Without manure there is not enough fertilizer for the highland soil. So to maintain productivity from a plot of land you must have all these things in balance.”

Community gathering in the Dorbo sacred pasture land to get blessing from indigenous religious leaders (sitting in the front row) by  Desalegn DesissaMany of the sacred forests protected by the Gamo are burial grounds, and the grasslands that surround the burial grounds are off limits to grazing, but on limit for mourning. There are 12 types of sacred places, and they include:

  • Kashaa (forest)
  • Dubushaa ( outdoor communal meeting places)
  • Boncho zummaa (mountains)
  • Boncho shafaa (rivers)
  • Kalloo (pasture lands)
  • Bonchetida fultoo (springs)

Each sacred forest or grove, has an eqaa a spiritual leader/shaman who is responsible for leading the community ceremonies. The eqaa is considered as the custodian of all traditions that includes the well-being of the lands, and the waters, which is transmitted to members of the young generation. The eqaa is a part of a system of authority which constitutes the:

  • Kawo (King)
  • Halaqa (Chief)
  • Korafnae (Clan head)
  • Maaka (Ritual priest)
  • Adento (Family Head)

However, all of this has been undermined by the growth of the state and the population. Church members of the evangelical Protestant Church do not hold the same values, and tend to overgraze, and cut the trees. Also, in the throes of proselytizing, sacred forests have been targeted, demanding that new converts cut trees in order to prove their Christianity.  St. Francis of Assisi would surely have something to say about that paternalistic interpretation of his faith. This interpretation is the basis of capitalism, which presumes itself to be superior to nature, however it was this nature that has protected the Gamo from famine, when the rest of the country was prey to it!

The researchers of the Ethiopian Wildlife and Natural History Society have done much to catalog all species, and sacred places, and develop, implement a public awareness campaign, bringing together governmental administrators and traditional custodians, and donating seeds to local farmers who in turn have established indigenous tree nurseries to reforest and expand the sacred forests. There are extremely important lessons to be learned from the Gamo not only for the whole of Africa, but for a world that is eating away at the earth.

“The people of the Gamo have developed the ability to conserve crop genetic resources while practising highly productive farming strategies. Globally, we are down to two or three viable strains of our most important food crops; whereas, in the Gamo, they have more than 65 varieties of barley, more than 12 varieties of wheat and more than 100 varieties of enset and dozens of varieties of cassava, taro and yam. The Gamo defies the common assumption that agricultural intensification decreases biodiversity.


“Furthermore, in UNEP’s analysis of 114 organic projects across 24 countries, researchers found that not only did financial stability and quality of life improve, but yields increased by up to 116%, out-performing conventional industrial agriculture.


“The Gamo people and culture are embedded in an ecosystem that is intensively managed and yet, unlike ours, includes an astounding amount of diversity, stability and resilience. Over thousands of years they have evolved a way of being in the world that has ensured their long-term survival. Their management of everything; from water tables, soil nutrient cycles to their social infrastructure stems from a view of the world as sacred, alive and entirely interconnected.” – Emmanuel Vaughan-Lee and Alan Zulch

The clearing of the 5,000 of hectares has begun. The sacred forest concerned is in Godere District, which is located at the headwaters of the five rivers which are important to downstream Sudan, and Egypt, as the five rivers are the major tributaries of the White Nile. This would increase the process of desertification sending less clean water, then less water downstream.


What You Can Do

To support the work of the Ethiopian Wildlife and Natural History Society, write them at ewnhs.ble@ethionet.et or visit their website.

Here is the link of the petition website….




“Ethiopia ‘Sacred Forests’ Sold to Indian Tea Producer.”  http://farmlandgrab.org/post/view/18190

Desissa, D. And Binggeli, P. “Sacred Groves.” http://www.terralingua.org/bcdconservation/?p=62


Desissa, D et al. “Conservation of Ethiopian Sacred Groves.”


“Gamo Highlands.” http://www.sacredland.org/gamo-highlands/

Vaughan-Lee, E. And Zulch, A. “A Thousand Suns: The View from Ethiopia’s Gamo Highlands.” http://ourworld.unu.edu/en/a-thousand-suns-the-view-from-ethiopia%E2%80%99s-gamo-highlands/

Related Topic:

All Things Are Linked!

300 Year Old Vietnamese Forest Food System

Reclaiming Nature’s Knowledge Base

Our Africa: Europe’s Debt Pt.1

Increasing Food Insecurity for Short Term Gain

The Lesson That Cannot Be Taught!

Nature Helps Our Brain Connect!

A Food Revolution!

Finding a Global Balance

Can’t See the British Woods Without the Trees

After Cancun: Fair Trade for Africa!?

Restoring Nature: The Craft of the Town Planner

Eating Away at Our Earth Pt2.

When the Greed of the Few Starves the Many


Islam is Not a Religion

The imagination can be a dangerous thing when left to the corruption of poisonous tongues. So much misperception, so much misunderstanding, and so much is killed to prove a point. All that is common is annihilated, because one fears to breathe. Instead we use words in a way that distorts the truth, and what is beautiful, what is full of life and giving is made barren. At all levels this pattern is repeated from the public to the personal…

The Pope and the Threat of a New Evangelism

The Pope and the Threat of a New Evangelism

By Hwaa Irfan

I thought it was getting a little bit too quiet. Probably overwhelmed by the countless cases of pedophilia against Catholic priests around the world, but Pope Benedict XVI (Joseph Alois Ratzinger (Latin: Iosephus Ratzinger) after all is no ordinary man. An active intellectual at the age of 83, Pope Benedict XVI, apparently an accomplished pianist, spends every day playing a classical piece by Schubert, Schumann or Brahms – hmm, an interesting combination. One may wonder what goes through his mind of such a conservative Christian who was:

• A member of Hitler Youth at 14
• Professor at the University of Bonn (1959 – 1963)
• Dean and vice-president of University of Regensburg
• Chief theological expert of the Second Vatican Council (1962–1965)
• Co-founder of the theological journal Communio in 1972, now an important journal in Catholic thought
• Archbishop of Munich and Freising
• Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, ( the Holy Office of the Inquisition)
• Cardinal-bishop of Velletri-Segni in 1993,
• Vice-dean of the College of Cardinals in 1998, Dean in 2002,
• Titular bishop of Ostia.
• Close friend of former Pope John Paul II

As his fingers ripple over the keys of the piano, does he take strength from Johannes Brahms infamous sharp tongue, being well known for his own forthright speech. Is there a parallel between Pope Benedict XVI’s recent declaration: “a grave crisis in the sense of the Christian faith and the role of the Church,” and Brahms attitude towards his contemporaries when he declared “everything is in a state of ruin… Learning nothing is to blame… Neither Schumann, nor Wagner, nor I had a proper education. Talent, however, was decisive…” Both Brahms and Pope Benedict XVI were dissatisfied, and Pope Benedict XVI has repeated often his concerns with the Christendom. Unlike many Muslims who compromise and give into the notions espoused by various wings of secularism Pope Benedict XVI as Ratzinger declared at a religious gathering in St. Peter’s Basilica that:

    “We are moving toward a dictatorship of relativism which does not recognize anything as definitive and has as its highest value one’s own ego and one’s own desires.”

But as an intellectual is Pope Benedict XVI in touch with his flock, most of whom who do not attend church, that some of the reasons are to do with the Catholic Church itself? Where are the noble pure role models in the Catholic Church, noble and pure being the adjectives Schumann used after the death of Schubert. There are many pure and devout Christians outside of the Church who take their faith so seriously so as to explore it further through other means as in the many forms of modern day Gnosticism. Because they do not attend Church does it mean they do not take their faith any less seriously? The Church as in the Mosque represents a communality, an imperative in Islam that strenghthens the social fabric of the faithful, but whereas Islam in more inclusive of the kaleidescope of different levels of faith, and knowledge of that faith, can the same be said of Catholicism which imposes a a particular view of the world, becuase when Muslims take on that same narrow vision, it tends to alienate rather than enjoin.

Schubert, Schumann and Brahms turned to each other for musical inspiration and composition, and this is the nature of all those who seek excellence in their field. But seeking excellence which may have more to do with the institution of the Church as power on earth has less to do with faith and more to do with the problem that is plaguing most countries today, which are governments whose concern is for maintaining power and position, and not the needs of the people — the voters whom they are supposed to serve. Austria, the vanguard of Catholicism is pushing for a more liberal Church. With 6, 000.000 Catholics, Britain has a weekly church attendance of approximately a million. While Islam has been the battering ram with which to squelch any idea of faith and practice in favor of “…one’s own ego and one’s own desires,” relativism has indeed become the scourge that governments and international bodies like the U.N. have schemed to make manifest because it serves in their interests to do so. The people believing that this is what freedom is about are not going to uphold the tenants of Catholicism or Islam until they realize the mess they have gotten themselves and the rest of the world into. Prince Charles of Wales contextualized the problem so well that there is a clear dismembering of man from nature ignoring the fact that man is an intrinsic part of nature. This schism has been coming for a long time it is not new, even renowned psychotherapist, Carl Jung, recognized this at the turn of the 20th century when he said:

    “The individual who is not anchored in God can offer no resistance on his own resources to the physical and moral blandishments of the world. For this he needs the evidence of inner transcendent experience which alone can protect him from the otherwise inevitable submersion in the mass. Merely intellectual or even moral insight into the stultification and moral irresponsibility of the mass man is a negative recognition only and amounts to not much more than a wavering on the road to the atomization of the individual.”

Evangelism and the New Agenda

So here we are worse off than we were at the time Carl Jung said the above. American Catholics had hoped for more conservative action from Pope Benedict XVI when he first became Pope. He certainly seemed to live up to his nickname “God’s Rottweiler” when he disparaged liberalism within the Church, argued against Turkey being allowed into the E.U., Islam and Buddhism with the one exception being his relationship with Judaism:

    “I have expressed my own firm determination to walk in the footsteps traced by my beloved predecessor Pope John Paul II. The Jewish-Christian dialogue must continue to enrich and deepen the bonds of friendship which have developed.”

In the “The Jewish People and the Holy Scriptures,” prepared by the Pontifical Biblical Commission approved by Pope Benedict XVI it states:

    “…the Jewish messianic wait is not in vain” and that Jews and Christians share their wait for the Messiah, although Jews are waiting for the first coming and Christians for the second”.

These same sentiments were expressed by the scholars of the religious right who formed the Fundamentalism Project of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences who sort to counter the same fears of Pope Benedict XVI, that of the growing secularism through a militarism that aimed to stem the tidal loss of religious identity. Militant white Protestants in the South met their criteria as well as the radicals amongst Israeli Jews joining with George W. Bush in 2000 as the political vanguard of the Religious Right. George W. Bush won the election because of the evangelical vote, and the rest we know culminating in the so-called war on terrorism. Of those voters 71% were evangelical Protestants who believed in Armageddon, and approximately 55% of those who voted for Bush believed in Armageddon. Author of The End of Days:
Fundamentalism and the Struggle for the Temple Mount,
Gershom Gorenburg who moved to Israel wrote:

    “If there is any place in the world where belief in the End is a powerful force in real-life events, it’s the Holy Land. The territory today shared and contested by Jews and Palestinians is the stage of myth in Christianity, Judaism and even Islam… The impact of such belief on a complex national and religious struggle had received too little attention. It underlies the apocalyptic foreign policy promoted by many on the American religious right: support for Israel based on certainty that the Jewish state plays a crucial role in a fundamentalist Christian script for the End. In Israel, belief in final redemption has driven the most dedicated opponents of peace agreements. Among Muslims, expectation of the final Hour feed exaggerated fears about Israel’s actions in Jerusalem. Belief in the approaching End has influenced crucial events in the Arab-Israeli conflict. Time and again, it has been the rationale behind apparently irrational bloodshed.”

So when Pope Benedict XVI speaks of:

    “… creating a new body with the aim of promoting a renewed evangelism,” in countries that are going through “progressive secularization of society”

It is with trepidation given the level of insecurity that exists in the world currently, given the steps that Israel and the U.S. are taking to provoke Iran, and the region in general, I ask what kind of evangelism. The Catholic Church still has a legacy in massacres like the one which took place in Rwanda in their evangelical zeal, and I doubt very much that this is the best way to increase faith and devotion.

We all have dreams, but when they concern other people, and those dreams do not have the conditions to make those well intended dreams manifest, that it is best to remember that both Prophet Muhammad and Prophet Issa (Jesus) began with a handful of believers, and left the faith to do the rest; but no:

In the 2007 Doctrinal Note on Some Aspects of Evangelization laid down by the body Pope Benedict VII was responsible for prior to becoming Pope (the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, it states:

“Jesus Christ was sent by the Father to proclaim the Gospel, calling all people to conversion and faith (cf. Mk 1:14-15). After his resurrection, he entrusted the continuation of his mission of evangelization to the Apostles (cf. Mt 28:19-20; Mk 16:15; Lk 24:4-7; Acts 1:3): “As the Father has sent me, so I send you” (Jn 20:21, cf. 17:18). By means of the Church, Christ wants to be present in every historical epoch, every place on earth and every sector of society, in order to reach every person, so that there may be one flock and one shepherd (cf. Jn 10:16): “Go out into the whole world and preach the Gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized will be saved, but he who does not believe will be condemned” (Mk 16:15-16)”.

Pope Boniface VIII – Unum Sanctum
November 18, 1302

This Papal Bull brought forth by Boniface VIII stated the Papal Throne’s power over all men and the Divine origins of that very same power. It was somewhat a response to Philip le Bel’s refusal to accept Boniface VIII Papal supremecy.

Unam Sanctam

Urged by faith, we are obliged to believe and to maintain that the Church is one, holy, catholic, and also apostolic. We believe in her firmly and we confess with simplicity that outside of her there is neither salvation nor the remission of sins, as the Spouse in the Canticles proclaims: “One is my dove, my perfect one. She is the only one, the chosen of her who bore her,” and she represents one sole mystical body whose Head is Christ and the head of Christ is God.

In her then is one Lord, one faith, one baptism . There had been at the time of the deluge only one ark of Noah, prefiguring the one Church, which ark, having been finished to a single cubit, had only one pilot and guide, i.e., Noah, and we read that, outside of this ark, all that subsisted on the earth was destroyed.

We venerate this Church as one, the Lord having said by the mouth of the prophet: “Deliver, O God, my soul from the sword and my only one from the hand of the dog.” He has prayed for his soul, that is for himself, heart and body; and this body, that is to say, the Church, He has called one because of the unity of the Spouse, of the faith, of the sacraments, and of the charity of the Church.

This is the tunic of the Lord, the seamless tunic, which was not rent but which was cast by lot . Therefore, of the one and only Church there is one body and one head, not two heads like a monster; that is, Christ and the Vicar of Christ, Peter and the successor of Peter, since the Lord speaking to Peter Himself said: “Feed my sheep” [Jn 21:17], meaning, my sheep in general, not these, nor those in particular, whence we understand that He entrusted all to him . Therefore, if the Greeks or others should say that they are not confided to Peter and to his successors, they must confess not bei ng the sheep of Christ, since Our Lord says in John “there is one sheepfold and one shepherd.”

We are informed by the texts of the gospels that in this Church and in its power are two swords; namely, the spiritual and the temporal. For when the Apostles say: “Behold, here are two swords” that is to say, in the Church, since the Apostles were speaking, the Lord did not reply that there were too many, but sufficient. Certainly the one who denies that the temporal sword is in the power of Peter has not listened well to the word of the Lord commanding: “Put up thy sword into thy scabbard”. Both, therefore, are in the power of the Church, that is to say, the spiritual and the material sword, but the former is to be administered for the Church but the latter by the Church; the former in the hands of the priest; the latter by the hands of kings and soldiers, but at the will and sufferance of the priest.

However, one sword ought to be subordinated to the other and temporal authority, subjected to spiritual power. For since the Apostle said: “There is no power except from God and the things that are, are ordained of God”, but they would not be ordained if one sword were not subordinated to the other and if the inferior one, as it were, were not led upwards by the other.

For, according to the Blessed Dionysius, it is a law of the divinity that the lowest things reach the highest place by intermediaries. Then, according to the order of the universe, all things are not led back to order equally and immediately, but the lowest by the intermediary, and the inferior by the superior. Hence we must recognize the more clearly that spiritual power surpasses in dignity and in nobility any temporal power whatever, as spiritual things surpass the temporal.

This we see very clearly also by the payment, benediction, and consecration of the tithes, but the acceptance of power itself and by the government even of things. For with truth as our witness, it belongs to spiritual power to establish the terrestrial power and to pass judgment if it has not been good. Thus is accomplished the prophecy of Jeremias concerning the Church and the ecclesiastical power: “Behold today I have placed you over nations, and over kingdoms” and the rest.

Therefore, if the terrestrial power err, it will be judged by the spiritual power; but if a minor spiritual power err, it will be judged by a superior spiritual power; but if the highest power of all err, it can be judged only by God, and not by man, according to the testimony of the Apostle: “The spiritual man judgeth of all things and he himself is judged by no man”.

This authority, however, (though it has been given to man and is exercised by man), is not human but rather divine, granted to Peter by a divine word and reaffirmed to him (Peter) and his successors by the One Whom Peter confessed, the Lord saying to Peter himself, “Whatsoever you shall bind on earth, shall be bound also in Heaven” etc., [Mt 16:19]. Therefore whoever resists this power thus ordained by God, resists the ordinance of God, unless he invent like Manicheus two beginnings, which is false and judged by us heretical, since according to the testimony of Moses, it is not in the beginnings but in the beginning that God created heaven and earth.

Furthermore, we declare, we proclaim, we define that it is absolutely necessary for salvation that every human creature be subject to the Roman Pontiff.

Farndale, B. What Happened to God’s Rottweiler

Phillips, K. “American Dynasty“. Penguin Books, U.S. 2004

Pope Launches Team to ‘Re-Evangelize’ the West

Pope Benedict XVI

Vatican. Doctrinal Note on Some Aspects of Evangelization http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_20071203_nota-evangelizzazione_en.html

Related Topics:
Facing Armageddon
The Great Flood & Noah’s Ark
The Doctrine of Discovery
U.S. Set to Destabilize the Rest of the World
Rabbis on the Sin That is Zionism
Islamophobia: From the Spanish Inquisition to the Western Inquisition
Prince Charles on Islam and the Environment

The Doctrine of Discovery

The Doctrine of Discovery

By Hwaa Irfan

You can always tell the state of a nation, when an ethnic/religious group have to have their own media in order for their voice to be heard. It was in one such media outlet Indian Country Today that I discovered that a female Native American had presented a report/study on the “Doctrine of Discovery”. Tonya Gonnella Frichner is her name, and founder of the American Indian Law Alliance, but my mind stalled at the “Doctrine of Discovery” which sounded serious given the degree of “silence” that surrounds the occupation of the U.S. Many around the world want a better world on many levels, but sometimes the extent of the harm caused by one group of people upon another requires redress in order for there to be reconciliation. To my alarm, the study focuses on an agreement between the Catholic Church, and State Heads that gave European sovereignty the right to claim, conquer, and rule a land, and to enslave if not convert Africa, The Americas, and Asia as subjects of the Christian kingdom.

Frichner a lawyer presented what is considered a “preliminary study” on the “Doctrine of Discovery” using the example of its impact on Native Americans in April 2010 at the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.

    “Clearly, (we) have joined the debate by declaring definitively that we are human beings. However, for more than five centuries, the doctrines of discovery and dehumanization have been institutionalized, and this is the context of the work we are doing on the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples,” Frichner said to Indian Country Today.

Various Christian sects are up in arms, and are denying responsibility at one level or another. So what is the fuss about!

The fuss is the Catholic church on behalf of Christendom 5 centuries ago made it official for certain Western powers to plunder, occupy, dehumanize and convert entire peoples from the continents of Africa, Asia, and the Americas as well as rape those lands of their natural resources for the benefit of the Christian empire on the basis that Christians are superior and everyone else was heathen. One recalls a series of “ one-to-one meetings that took place with Pope John Paul II and presidents like G.W. Bush junior. Strange how it occurred out of the blue!

The study as presented by Frichner demands on behalf of indigenous peoples everywhere a thorough investigation into the impact of what was essentially colonialism on those peoples. The study explained its purpose as follows:

U.N. Document E/C.19/2010/13
Ninth Session
New York, 19 – 30 April 2010

Impact on Indigenous Peoples of the International Legal Construct Known as the Doctrine of Discovery, which has Served as the Foundation of the Violation of Their Human Rights

In the language that the Native Americans are governed by, the study focuses on the centuries (5) of destruction that has without limit extracted the natural resources from the “traditional territories of indigenous peoples, which has resulted in dispossessing, and impoverishing a people, and that the legal framework for the “Doctrine of Discovery” is still considered legal by the U.S. government. Even though the study focuses on the U.S., it is as an example for indigenous peoples everywhere on the following premise:
“We maintain, that the principle declared in the fifteenth century as the law of Christendom, that discovery gave title to assume sovereignty over, and to govern the unconverted natives of Africa, Asia, and North and South America, has been recognized as a part of the national law [Law of Nations], for nearly four centuries, and that it is now so recognized by every Christian power, in its political department and its judicial.” Judge John Catron for the Supreme Court of Tennessee in the case State v. Foreman (USA)
The hope is that all countries with indigenous peoples will be investigated under the terms of the Doctrine of Discovery and the Framework of Dominance recognizing the differences from one people to another.

International Law
Looking at international law, which derived from the Law of Nations, and prior to that “the law of Christendom” according to the study, reference here is made to a Judge John Catron (1786 – 1865) who whilst on the Supreme Court of the State of Tennessee:

    “… officially identified “a principle” as part of the “law of Christendom”, specifically, “that discovery gave title to assume sovereignty over, and to govern the unconverted [non-Christian] peoples of Africa, Asia, North and South America” Catron had declared that this principle had been recognized as part of the Law of Nations “for nearly four centuries, and that it is now so recognized by every Christian power, in its political department and its judicial”

From the mid-15th century, we find many documents from the Vatican known as the “papal bulls”, which are decrees claiming right of conquest , sovereignty, and dominance by Christian European monarchies. For example the papal bull Dum diversas was issued by Pope Nicholas V, in 1452.

The papal bull Romanus Pontifex was also issued by Pope Nicholas V, in 1455 also to Alphonso. However it was the papal bull Dum diversas which ushered in the West African Slave Trade, to conquer the people and to put them in indefinite slavery. The irony is that the bull that lays the foundation is Dum diversas, of which a copy does not even exists within the Pope’s encyclical library online. Romanus Pontifex yes, but not Dum diversas. From the Romanus Pontifex we discover the manner of procurement of Africa, The Americas, and Asia was to and does take place as directed by the Pope Nicholas V:

    “We [therefore] weighing all and singular the premises with due meditation, and noting that since we had formerly by other letters of ours granted among other things free and ample faculty to the aforesaid King Alfonso — to invade, search out, capture, vanquish, and subdue all Saracens and pagans whatsoever, and other enemies of Christ wheresoever placed, and the kingdoms, dukedoms, principalities, dominions, possessions, and all movable and immovable goods whatsoever held and possessed by them and to reduce their persons to perpetual slavery, and to apply and appropriate to himself and his successors the kingdoms, dukedoms, counties, principalities, dominions, possessions, and goods, and to convert them to his and their use and profit — by having secured the said faculty, the said King Alfonso, or, by his authority, the aforesaid infante, justly and lawfully has acquired and possessed, and doth possess, these islands, lands, harbors, and seas, and they do of right belong and pertain to the said King Alfonso and his successors, nor without special license from King Alfonso and his successors themselves has any other even of the faithful of Christ been entitled hitherto, nor is he by any means now entitled lawfully to meddle therewith — in order that King Alfonso himself and his successors and the infante may be able the more zealously to pursue and may pursue this most pious and noble work, and most worthy of perpetual remembrance (which, since the salvation of souls, increase of the faith, and overthrow of its enemies may be procured thereby, we regard as a work wherein the glory of God, and faith in Him, and His commonwealth, the Universal Church, are concerned) in proportion as they, having been relieved of all the greater obstacles, shall find themselves supported by us and by the Apostolic See with favors and graces…

Some of the decrees issued in this context were:

Rex Regum, 1436, issued by Eugene IV gave the Portuguese king the right to wage war against “enemies of Christianity, but enjoined other Christian kings to do so as well. Lands appropriated would then come under the sovereignty of Portugal with Brazil as the standing legacy to successful colonization .

Dum Diversas 1432, According to A.J. R. Russell-Wood, demonstrated Papal authority and support “to attack, conquer and subdue Saracens, pagans, and enemies of Christianity; to reduce them to perpetual slavery for the purpose of converting them to Christianity; to capture their lands and possessions; and to transfer their lands and properties to the crown of Portugal”.

Romanus Pontifex, reaffirmed the previous papal bulls, but this time included control of the seas, and fishing rights, and prevented any other country from interfering in the “rights” of Portugal whether that was through discovery or conquest

Inter Caetera, 1456 issued by Calixtus III, set the scene for global balkanization in 1493. It was issued after Christopher Columbus returned from his discoveries granting by request of Ferdinand and Isobel of Spain the right to claim lands founded by Columbus, and any land Spaim might find in the future. According to Russell-Wood this:

“granted to the Order of Christ “all power, dominion and spiritual jurisdiction” over lands conquered and to be conquered from “Cape Bojador and Cape Nun to the Indies”

The Treaty of Alcacovas 1479 and 1480 with Portugal acknowledging the rights of Spain over the Canaries, which was later extended to include the Caribbean and the Americas, whilst Spain acknowledged the rights of Portugal over the Madeiras, Azores, Cape Verdes and Africa with exclusivity over Guinea. This was recognized by the papal bull Aeterni Regis Clementia, 1481, which provided the groundwork for the Treaty of Tordesillas.

Here, we will only focus on one of the papal bulls, the Inter Caetera. It praises Christopher Columbus for the “discovery” of lands, and peoples for the propagation of the Catholic faith (on the premise of fulfilling a divine duty in the name of Christendom) with the gold, spices and others “precious things” found in these lands to be befitting of “Catholic kings and princes”. In terms of balkanization the Inter Caetera states:

    “Almighty God conferred upon us in blessed Peter and of the vicarship of Jesus Christ, which we hold on earth, do by tenor of these presents, should any of said islands have been found by your heirs and successors, kings of Castille and Leon, forever, together with all their dominions, cities, camos, places, and villages, and all rights, jurisdictions, and appurtenances, all islands and mainlands found and to be found, discovered and to be discovered towards the west and south, by drawing and establishing a line from the Arctic pole, namely the north, to the Antarctic pole, namely the south, no matter whether the said mainlands, and islands are found and to be found in the direction of India or towards any other quarter, the said line to be distant one hundred leagues towards the west, and south from any of the islands commonly known as the Azores and Cape Verde…”

The Inter Caetera was incorporated into European Treaties, and in 1823, the Christian initiative, the Doctrine of Discovery was adopted by American law by the Supreme Court. The vehicle for this adoption was the case Johnson v. McIntosh in 1823, which was presided over by Chief Justice John Marshall. Since 1984, advocates of American natives have been campaigning for Pope John Paul II to revoke the Christian Doctrine of Discovery as follows:

1984, a letter to Pope John Paul II via the Secretary of State to the Vatican got a response commenting on the employment of the authors, the Anasazi Alliance.

1992, the Indigenous Law Institute begin a global campaign calling for Pope John Paul II to revoke the Christian Doctrine of Discovery

1993, 60 indigenous representatives submit a draft resolution to the Parliament of World Religions, Australia calling for Pope John Paul II to revoke the Christian Doctrine of Discovery. There is concensus, but the Parliament of World Religions overturn the vote the next day.

1993, via the UN Human Rights Center to the Observer Mission of the Holy See to the U.N, send a letter to Pope John Paul II calling for him to revoke the Christian Doctrine of Discovery. There was no response.

1993, a resolution is passed by the Indigenous Intellectual Property Conference, calling for the papal bulls to be revoked.

1994, a call to revoke the papal bulls the Romanus Pontifex, and the Inter Caetera at the conference of the Parliament of World Religions, U.S., by the Indigenous Law Institute.

1999, the United Church of Christ sponsor a UCC resolution passed by the Pacific Islander and Asian American Ministries calling upon those of conscience within the Catholic church to persuade Pope John Paul II to revoke papal bulls Dum diversas and Inter Caetera by 2000.

2000 a delegation of indigenous peoples meet with the Vatican Council for Peace and Justice

2005, the Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the U.N. sends a letter to Steven Newcomb of the Indigenous Law Institute ask for information on the work of the Pontifical Committee for Historical Sciences pertaining to the papal bull Inter Caetera. The letter states that:

    “… taken from the context of the political climate at the time, the notion of international law and the geographical notions then extant, the bull Inter Caetera, like other documents of that era, has become ipso facto, obsolete and with no effect”

2005, the International Council of Thirteen Indigenous Grandmothers send a letter to the Vatican calling for Pope Benedict XVI to revoke the papal bulls Dum diversas, Romanus Pontifex, and the Inter Caetera. There was no response. The International Council of Thirteen Indigenous Grandmothers go to the Vatican in 2008 calling for Pope Benedict XVI to revoke the 3 previously mentioned papal bulls.

Null and Void
If in reality the papal bulls that we are concerned with here had become “ipso facto” i.e. obsolete, when did this happen?

In the case of Johnson vs. M’Intosh, in Illinois claim by Johnson and Graham was made to land bought from the Piankeshaw Indians given as grant to these Indians by the U.S. 1823 the Doctrine of Discovery was referred to as follows:

    “On the part of the defendants, it was insisted, that the uniform understanding and practice of European nations, and the settled law, as laid down by the tribunals of civilized states, denied the right of the Indians to be considered as independent communities, having a permanent property in the soil, capable of alienation to private individuals. They remain in a state of nature, and have never been admitted into the general society of nations. Footnote All the treaties and negotiations between the civilized powers of Europe and of this continent, from the treaty of Utrecht, in 1713, to that of Ghent, in 1814, have uniformly disregarded their supposed right to the territory included within the jurisdictional limits of those powers. Footnote Not only has the practice of all civilized nations been in conformity with this doctrine, but the whole theory of their titles to lands in America, rests upon the hypothesis, that the Indians had no right of soil as sovereign, independent states. Discovery is the foundation of title, in European nations, and this overlooks all proprietary rights in the natives”.

In the case of the Cherokee Nation vs. Georgia where the Cherokee Nation claimed non-allegiance to the U.S., and to be the original land owners reference to the Doctrine of Discovery was made as follows:

    “The bill states the grant, by a charter in 1732, of the country on this continent lying between the Savannah and Alatahama rivers, by George the Second, “monarch of several islands on the eastern coast of the Atlantic,” the same country being then in the ownership of several distinct, sovereign, and independent nations of Indians, and amongst them the Cherokee Nation.

    “The foundation of this charter, the bill states, is asserted to be the right of discovery to the territory granted; a ship manned by the subjects of the king having, about two centuries and a half before, sailed along the coast of the western hemisphere, from the fifty-sixth to the thirty-eighth degree of north latitude, and looked upon the face of that coast without even landing on any part of it”.

    “This right, as affecting the right of the Indian nation, the bill denies, and asserts that the whole length to which the right of discovery is claimed to extend among European nations is to give to the first discoverer the prior and exclusive right to purchase these lands from the Indian proprietors, against all other European sovereigns, to which principle the Indians have never assented, and which they deny to be a principle of the natural law of nations or obligatory on them”.

In 1985 in the case of the County of Oneida, New York vs. Oneida Indian Nation.

“[D]iscovery gave title to the government by whose subjects, or by whose authority, it was made, against all other European governments, which title might be consummated by possession.

    “The exclusion of all other Europeans, necessarily gave to the nation making the discovery the sole right of acquiring the soil from the natives, and establishing settlements upon it. . . .

    “The rights thus acquired being exclusive, no other power could interpose between [the discoverer and the natives].

    “In the establishment of these relations, the rights of the original inhabitants were, in no instance, entirely disregarded; but were necessarily, to a considerable extent, impaired. They were admitted to be the rightful occupants of the soil, with a legal as well as just claim to retain possession of it, and to use it according to their own discretion; but their rights to complete sovereignty, as independent nations, were necessarily diminished, and their power to dispose of the soil at their own will, to whomsoever they pleased, was denied by the original fundamental principle, that discovery gave exclusive title to those who made it.”

In the more recent 2005 case of City of Sherill, New York vs. the Oneida Indian Nation of New York.

Under the “doctrine of discovery:

    ” County of Oneida v. Oneida Indian Nation of N. Y., 470 U. S. 226, 234 (1985) (Oneida II), “fee title to the lands occupied by Indians when the colonists arrived became vested in the sovereign–first the discovering European nation and later the original States and the United States,” Oneida Indian Nation of N. Y. v. County of Oneida, 414 U. S. 661, 667 (1974) (Oneida I). In the original 13 States, “fee title to Indian lands,” or “the pre-emptive right to purchase from the Indians, was in the State.”

In Their Own Voice

An Indigenous Peoples’ Statement to the World
Delivered at The Parliament of the World’s Religions
Convened at Melbourne, Australia
on the Traditional Lands of the Wurundjeri People of the Kulin Nation
December 9, 2009

    “In keeping with the theme of this year’s Parliament: “Make a World of Difference: Hearing each other, Healing the earth,” We, the Indigenous Peoples participating in this Parliament hereby issue this statement:

    “We are Indigenous Peoples and Nations who honor our ancestors and care for our future generations by preserving our lands and cultures. For thousands of years, Indigenous peoples have maintained a fundamental and sacred relationship with Mother Earth. As peoples of the land, we declare our inherent rights to our present and continuing survival within our sacred homelands and territories throughout the world.

    “We commend the Australian government’s recent support for the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples adopted on September 13, 2007. We call on all governments to support and implementthe provisions of the UN Declaration, particularly the right of self-determination.

    “Since time immemorial we have lived in keeping with our sacred laws, principles, and spiritual values, given by the Creator. Our ways of life are based on thousands of years of accumulated ecological knowledge, a great respect for our Mother Earth, a reverence and respect for all our Natural World relations and the survival of our languages, cultures, and traditions;

    “The Indigenous instructions of sharing and the responsibility of leadership to future generations are wise and enduring. As the traditional nations of our lands we affirm the right to educate our children in our earth-based education systems in order to maintain our indigenous knowledge systems and cultures. These have also contributed to our spiritual, physical and mental health;

    “Indigenous people’s concept of health and survival is holistic, collective and individual. It encompasses the spiritual, the intellectual, the physical and the emotional. Expressions of culture relevant to health and survival of Indigenous Peoples includes relationships, families, and kinship, social institutions, traditional laws, music, dances, songs and songlines, reindeer and caribou, ceremonies and dreamtime, our ritual performances and practices, games, sports, language, mythologies, names, lands, sea, water, every life forms, and all documented forms and aspects of culture, including burial and sacred sites, human genetic materials, ancestral remains so often stolen, and our artifacts;

    “Unfortunately, certain doctrines have been threatening to the survival of our cultures, our languages, and our peoples, and devastating to our ways of life. These are found in particular colonizing documents such as the Inter Caetera papal bull of 1493, which called for the subjugation of non-Christian nations and peoples and “the propagation of the Christian empire.” This is the root of the Doctrine of Christian Discovery that is still interwoven into laws and policies today that must be changed. The principles of subjugation contained in this and other such documents, and in the religious texts and documents of other religions, have been and continue to be destructive to our ways of life (religions), cultures, and the survival of our Indigenous nations and peoples. This oppressive tradition is what led to the boarding schools, the residential schools, and the Stolen Generation, resulting in the trauma of Indigenous peoples being cut off from their languages and cultures, resulting in language death and loss of family integrity from the actions of churches and governments. We call on those churches and governments to put as much time, effort, energy and money into assisting with the revitalization of our languages and cultures as they put into attempting to destroy

    “The doctrines of colonization and dominion have laid the groundwork for contemporary problems of racism and dispossession. These problems include the industrial processes of resource exploitation and extraction by governments and corporations that has consistently meant the use of imposed laws to force the removal of Indigenous peoples from our traditional territories, and to desecrate and destroy our sacred sites and places. The result is a great depletion of biodiversity and the loss of our traditional ways of life, as well as the depletion and contamination of the waters of Mother Earth from mining and colonization.

    “Such policies and practices do not take into account that water is the first law of life and a gift from the Creator for all beings. Clean, healthy, safe, and free water is necessary for the continuity and well being of all living things. The commercialization and poisoning of water is a crime against life.

    “The negative ethics of contemporary society, discovery, conquest, dominion, exploitation, extraction, and industrialization, have brought us to today’s crisis of global warming. Climate change is now our most urgent issue and affecting the lives of indigenous peoples at an alarming rate. Many of our people’s lives are in crisis due to the rapid global warming. The ice melt in the north and rapid sea rise continue to accelerate, and the time for action is brief.

    “The Earth’s resources are finite and the present global consumption levels are unsustainable and continue to affect our peoples and all peoples. Therefore, we join the other members of the Parliament in calling for prompt, immediate, and effective action at Copenhagen to combat climate change;

    “In July 2009, the Episcopal Church in the United States adopted a resolution at its 76th General Convention, repudiating and disavowing the dehumanizing Doctrine of Christian Discovery. By doing so, the Church took particular note of the charter issued by King Henry VII of England to John Cabot and his sons, which authorized the colonizing of North America.

    “It was by this ‘boss over’ tradition of Christian discovery that the British crown eventually laid claim to the traditional territories of the Aboriginal nations of the continent now called Australia, under terra nullius and terra nullus. This step by the Episcopal Church was an act of conscience and moral leadership by one of the world’s major religions. Religious bodies of Quakers and Unitarians have taken similar supportive actions.

    “In Conclusion, we appeal to all people of conscience to join with us in support of the
    following issues:

    “1) Climate Change and its far-reaching impacts on our Peoples and homelands—for this we
    need immediate action.

    2) The protection Indigenous peoples significant and sacred sites within their traditional
    homelands and territories and working to eradicate discrimination and intolerance against earth based Indigenous spiritual and ceremonial traditions.

    3) Protection of Sacred Places used for prayer and ceremonies. At these special places we
    Minister to the earth and heal her sacred soul.

    4) The critical need to strengthen and continue our unique cultures and languages,
    particularly by bringing together elder cultural and wisdom keepers and Indigenous youth.

    5) The return of the bones of our ancestors and our sacred items.

    6) The immediate support and implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

    8) To call upon Pope Benedict XVI and the Vatican to publicly acknowledge and repudiate the papal decrees that legitimized the original activities that have evolved into the dehumanizing Doctrine of Christian Discovery and dominion in laws and policies”.


An Indigenous Peoples’ Statement to the World http://www.doctrineofdiscovery.org/

Findlaw. The County of Oneida vs. The Oneida Indian Nation

Findlaw. City of Sherill vs. Oneida Indian Nation of N.Y.

Grandmothers Council. Timeline of the Efforts by Indigenous Nations and Peoples Calling upon the Vatican to Revoke the Inter Caetera Papal Bull of 1493 http://www.grandmotherscouncil.com/docs/timeline.pdf

Johnson vs. M’Intosh http://www.doctrineofdiscovery.org/johnvmac.htm

Legal Information Institute. “Cherokee Nation v. Georgia” http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/historics/USSC_CR_0030_0001_ZS.html

Newcomb, S. “Five Hundred Years of Injustice: The Legacy of 15th Century Religious Prejudice – Origins of the Doctrine of Discovery” http://ili.nativeweb.org/sdrm_art.html

Pope Alexander VI “The Inter Caetera” http://www.kwabs.com/bull_of_1493.html

Pope Nicholas V “The Bull Romanus Pontifex (Nicholas V), January 8, 1455” http://www.nativeweb.org/pages/legal/indig-romanus-pontifex.html

Popes for Slavery http://www.romancatholicism.org/popes-slavery.htm

Talliman, V. “Christian ‘Doctrine’ Fueled Dehumanization: UNPFII Report

Talliman, V. “Revoke the Inter Cetera Bull http://ili.nativeweb.org/ricb.html

Wood-Russell, A. J.R. “Settlement, Colonization, and Integration in the Portuguese-Influenced World, 1415-1570”. Portuguese Studies Review 15: 1-2 (2007) 1 – 35. John Hopkins University

Related Topic:
The Flowering Tree