So I lived in their midst, always on the fringes, insignificant, and they spoke freely in my presence.
I saw how little regard they had for us, how much they held us in low esteem. They did not know us, and were not really interested in knowing us either. By virtue of their faith, their mission, and their biases, they did not have to: they knew better than us, both what we needed and how we should live.
I cannot discount the unparalleled work they did in education and healthcare. I would not have had a formal education had it not been part of their plan. The free dispensary was always full, rolling back childhood diseases in the region. I saw them clean the most putrid wounds with a straight face. Yet, their mission required locals to forfeit ancestral practices, including our indigenous languages, which we were forbidden from using in their presence. The essence of our being in the world, its core tenet, ingrained in us across generations, was being violently questioned. Their work demanded allegiance, utter surrender, from us.
I did not realise this then, but these demands threw us off balance, divided us, made us doubt ourselves and weakened us. They birthed a cruel conflict in us, putting our loyalty to the test. We were inhabited by this childish and conflicting desire to please and resist them all at the same time.
Our people claimed neither detachment from the world nor dominion over it. We did not have the universe and its mysteries, meant to be conquered, subjugated on one side, and humankind, the mighty owner of it all, on the other.
We were the world and the world was us: water, wind, sand, the past, the future, the living, the dead... we were all woven into the fabric of the world. They, however, had appropriated it, simplified it to make it intelligible and malleable. They had invented words and concepts that dismissed our more complex and comprehensive intuitive understanding of reality. There is no denying that, seen through their eyes, conceptualised in their terms, the world was unmistakeably coherent, logical. For those of us who embraced the mysteries of the world, the encounter was a matter of course, and a tragedy. I doubt we will ever fully grasp the exact extent of our distress.
Today, I believe Western knowledge is both simple and despotic. There is only one God and he is present in church. Education is found only in textbooks. Art is separate from spirituality, confined to specific spaces. The law applies equally to everyone and all values have a price.
The sole measure of success is material. Our paths in life are already charted, marked out, and you can choose to follow... the path assigned to you. A promise of comfort, a ready-made life so enticing it warrants universalisation; a dream no human should be denied. Masters, gurus travel the world to guide lost peoples towards this path of salvation, readily resorting to violence to crush every resistance, driven by the firm conviction that their philosophy is the philosophy and their religion the religion.
Perhaps it spread so far and wide due to the active proselytism inherent to the Western vision of the world, or maybe it was so easy to replicate because it was the most simplistic doctrine ever developed by humans—it did a better job of dismissing our diversity and disregarding the complexity of our being. Our material realities would become more bearable, that was the promise. It mattered not that this would devastate nature and leave our inner beings shuddering with anxiety.