Cover art ”Ancestral Breath” by Irish artist Lar Dooley
What is it to be in relationship with the Land? The core centre of almost all Indigenous belief systems is rooted in the belief of the importance of being in relationship with the Earth.
Humanity has strayed far from being in right relationship with the Earth, and the times we are in call us to return to the Land. The ‘’Land’’ being all that is of this earthly plane, animals, plants, trees. rocks, mountains, rivers, etc.
Beyond the tribe of people’s we identify with or country we are Indigenous to, we are simply, of the Earth. We are a living, breathing, organism in this web of life. The Earth is simply who we are. I believe it is our responsibility to remember how to engage with our environment in reciprocity and reverence.
Belonging and rootedness.
I believe our relationship with the Land is fite-fuaite (interwoven) and inseperable with our connection to our ancestors.
In Éire, we have a couple of hundred years of colonial legacy and trauma which has been imbued into our connection with Land. Many of our ancestors were pushed off of their native land, their homes taken away, or they were forced to emigrate due to poverty.
This is why many of our diaspora dwell in the many corners of the Earth, and despite the decision of our ancestors to leave home, the essence of ‘’Irishness’’ and cultural identity/yearning, never really left their predecessors. Many of you reading this may understand, as you live on another land, yet still feel the call to rekindle your connection to your ancestral roots.
How do we replenish what was lost, forgotten and taken away? Why should we undertake such a journey?
A people’s without ancestors, is like a tree without roots. The origin of which we come from is the foundation of who we are. As Gaeilge we have a phrase ”Tír gan teanga, tír gan anam” meaning, ”a country without its language, is a country without soul”. I believe it to be the same for our connection to our ancestors, without this relationship, a part of us is missing.
Ancestral reclamation and decolonisation can be a challenging path to undertake. Along this journey we may encounter parts of ourselves which feel lost, painful, disconnected or fragmented. Many of us have not had Elders pass down their wisdom, stories and traditions through our lineages. Many of us don’t know the stories of our families gifts and struggles. Some of us may even come from a background of war, cultural dissociation and ancestral trauma. This can bring up a lot of grief for us, as we being to process and mourn the pain of our ancestors, and all that we may have missed out on.
Despite all of these potentialities, here we are, with a desire to grow and reclaim a part of ourselves that perhaps our ancestors didn’t have the freedom or access to.
Decolonisation is the act of reclaiming what was lost, or taken by colonial reign. It requires us to move away from a state of blame and victimhood for what has occurred in the past, and in doing so- we practice and celebrate what still exists within our culture and Indigenous heritage.
Decolonising our lives is a journey which truly begins within. Firstly, we must admit to being the coloniser, aswell as the colonised. None of us have a completely clean and innocent ancestry and ultimately the modern society we live in is based on a colonial system which most of us were born into. The real healing comes from studying our past whilst coming to a place of acceptance and forgiveness for what has been. From this place we can move forward and no longer live in victimhood. It is true that a lot has been taken from us, lost and forgotten, however there are still so many traditions in Gaelic and Indo-European culture that are rich, and very much so alive and well.
There are many routes we can follow in order to repair our ancestral relationship, below are some suggestions which may be helpful on our journey of ancestral & cultural reclamation.
1. Find out who your ancestors are.
One of the most important steps in ancestral repair is tracking where we have come from. Knowing our ancestors through asking questions as to where they were born, and tracking migration patterns within our lineage is very helpful in order to understand the challenges our ancestors faced, and perhaps may assist us in learning about the patterns we have inherited too.
Practically speaking this can be done by asking parents or relatives about your ancestors, aswell as using online platforms to track your ancestry via your inherited names. If you are adopted or your parents are unknown to you, then you can track back via whatever information is known to you.
2. Learn the language of your ancestors.
If your ancestors come from Éire, learn some words as Gaeilge. If your ancestors spoke German, learn some German. The language of our ancestors is encoded in our DNA and we can experience them more intimately by making an effort to speak their language. English is a great tool for communication however the language of a particular land reflects the psyche and understanding of its people. For example, in the language of Ireland, we do not say ‘’I own the land” we say ‘’Is liomsa an pháirc’’ which means, ‘’The field is with me’’. This reflects a very different relationship to the Earth which is non-possessive.
By speaking and learning our native languages we can commune more with the essence of the people and lands of our origin.
3. Experience the culture of your ancestors.
Educate yourself on the ways your ancestors lived. It is helpful to ask ourselves, what kind of food did our ancestors eat? What songs did they sing? What stories did they tell? We live in the age of information and there is a wealth of resources which share the stories, songs, music and lives of those who came before us. It is up to us to ignite the spark and passion to re-learn and rekindle the relationship with these ways. One of the foundational aspects of our Gaelic ancestry in Éire is our relationship with the seasons. Living with and celebrating the fire festivals and cyclical journey which begins at Samhain(modern day Halloween) is a great way to engage with and participate in a very ancient ancestral tradition.
4. Get to know the native plants and trees.
The land has keys of wisdom and information for us, if we open ourselves to listen and receive from them. The plants and trees have been on this earth witnessing our journey since the beginning of time. Our Indigenous plants and trees are an integral part of building a relationship with the land and our ancestry. Find a tree that is near to your home and befriend it, get to know its medicine and ask it for guidance. If you were born on a different land to your ancestors I would also suggest planning a visit to your ancestral homeland- a part of your soul will really thank you for taking that journey.
6. Learn ancestral skills.
Not so long ago, we lived a much simpler existence. People had less objects, and were more in union with the elements and natural world. It was commonplace to keep animals, make butter, bake bread, weave, sow, stitch and craft the things that we use day-to-day. I have found it very empowering to learn and practice the art of ancestral skills. Learning to create with what comes from the land and our environment like our ancestors did is an amazing way to reclaim a way of life that understands and relates to the Earth in a very intimate way. You can learn to process animal skins, weave baskets, spin wool, felt, or make your own clothes. It can also be as simple as learning to forage or growing a garden.
”Fill ar do dhúchas” get back to your roots.
The Earth is calling us,
To return to our natural-selves.
Our Ancestors are by our sides,
With all of the wisdom required,
Ready to be heard.