Barbara says, she is a humanitarian, not an anthropologist. Her work has brought great solace to tribal communities. Tribal Trust Foundation is a community of people who feel that the loss of ancient cultures would be a loss for our whole world.
1. What interested in you learning about tribal culture?
I became interested in learning about tribal cultures only after I met with the indigenous people. I am a humanitarian, not an anthropologist. So, I intentionally do not research their way of life until after the tribes request support for a grass roots sustainable cultural preservation project. Then I learn more about their way of life so I can be culturally sensitive and learn from them.
My interest began on a journey to Nepal when I met the Tharu, the original people of Chitwan. This was after a dramatic personal crisis in 1996. It was a death of sorts. I had just turned forty when I asked for a divorce. An astrologer in New Delhi looked at my chart and said I was supposed to die in the marriage. I had married the “wolf in sheep’s clothing”. I could relate to the indigenous people of Chitwan because I too was disenfranchised, displaced and threatened after the divorce.
Yet, the Tharu opened my heart and mind to realise I was rich in other ways. Even though I had given up my material wealth, I could still make a difference in the world. I began to appreciate how fortunate I was in my life and started looking at the glass as half full instead of half empty. I was inspired to bring hope, honour and awareness to the Tharu by helping them preserve their ancient culture. I continue to be interested in tribal culture primarily because I see these people as living treasures. Their ancient cultures hold valuable indigenous knowledge that could benefit all of humanity.
2. Which position/job experience before founding Tribal Trust Foundation helped you the most in your current position as TTF’s executive director?
There wasn’t a job before I founded the Tribal Trust twenty years ago that prepared me for this volunteer position. Rather, I feel I have grown into being the Executive Director through my dedication of time, energy, expertise, and resources furthering the foundation’s mission. However, furthering my education by getting my Master of Arts degree Program in Organisational Management helped me think about how to grow the TTF as a nonprofit business more strategically.
3. Amongst the various tribes that Tribal Trust Foundation has conducted projects on, which one has helped you learn the most from?
I believe the Ju/’hoansi (Bushman) in Namibia. I spent the most time with this indigenous community and learned about shape shifting and the healing power of their trance dancing. I co-produced a documentary film, “Vanishing Cultures” as a humanitarian global awareness initiative to bring honour, awareness and spiritual renewal to this Bushman community.
4. What can the capitalised ‘modern’ world learn from tribal culture? Especially on their connection with nature ?
We can learn how to live in harmony with nature and each other, as they have for thousands of years.
5. Is there an anecdote you can share from your travels studying various cultures, that has impacted you the most?
The medicine people of indigenous communities connect with me through the dreamtime, meditation, and signs. I find the spiritual callings profound. At first I found it inconceivable how those who contacted me live without electricity and cell phones, yet have another kind of technology that serves to protect them. I always feel honoured to respond, knowing that this is my destiny. All I need to do is show up!
6. Which tribe or culture are you eager to learn more about?
The tropical forest indigenous Shipibo. They live in traditional settlements in the Calleria River Basin, and work together to protect their forests along the border of the Sierra del Divisor National Park in Peru. I’m participating in the pre-conference trip to visit with them before attending the Latin America Indigenous Funders Conference.
7.What would you suggest to anthropology students eager to learn and research more on tribal culture?
As the San Bushman taught me, “Think with your heart”. Become an activist and champion the rights of the indigenous people you are studying.
8.What according to you is the greatest resource?
Our greatest resource is mother earth. As a global community, we need to remember that we are not separate from her. Our survival will depend upon a shifting of consciousness back to embracing the feminine values of nurturing, sustainability and reciprocity.