THERE WAS A TIME WHEN TREES SPOKE...
What we now refer to as ecology and an eco life system was once a habitual lifestyle of various world indigenous cultures, and amongst the native Circassians, up until half of the 19th century, this structure was the standard architype system (Bashmakov, I. 2015). According to the indigenous Circassian psyche and their Xabze, one must live in accord with the principle of reasonable sufficiency in relation with all living things, with the emphasis on: never taking from nature more than what is necessary. Nature was not perceived as a resource to maintain human life, rather, as part of oneself which demanded to live in accord with nature’s own laws and intellect.
The dominant psyche prevailed in being partners to nature rather than the governors, and this awareness is still animate within the conscience of some people residing in Circassian territories in the North Caucasus. Medin Khusht a Shapsigh elder resident of Kishmai village stated in a report, conducted by Moscow based photographer Stanislava Novgorodtseva on the subject of trees: “Our pantheon of gods is tied to this ecosystem, and my people are part of it. The number of people was determined by the amount of food resources…my religion is my home, my river and my forest” (Novgorodtseva, S. 2017). This may be taken as a sample of the age-old inherited philosophy. Hence, in a system as such, trees, forests and the environment unsurprisingly occupied a principal place.
The indigenous Circassians were skillful in agriculture, cattle breeding and gardening. They were also engaged in beekeeping, fishing, hunting and various crafts. In addition to preserving their forests and groves, they were specialists in planting trees where water springs emerged. They invented ways to protect trees from harsh weather conditions, as well as appropriately cultivating areas to create artificial forests. Up until the mid of the 19th century the territory of the Circassian Shapsigh, Ubykh and Natkhuazh tribes was mostly covered with forests. Despite employing slash agriculture methods, they managed to preserve their environment and preclude deforestation, for the simple reason that they never cleared large areas to grow crops (Bashmakov, I. 2015).
“Our pantheon of gods is tied to this ecosystem, and my people are part of it. My religion is my home, my river and my forest.” Stanislava Novgorodtseva
Hunting followed explicit rules and regulation, it was forbidden to kill more animals than what is needed for consumption. Old-aged animals and female animals that had given birth were prohibited to hunt down. There were specific seasons to hunt and they followed special rituals and employed a language to confine the prey known as Shak’webze (the hunter’s language). Hunters usually performed a prayer before killing the hunt, this signified their respect to the living as a blessed entity, and asked the prey for absolution prior to taking their lives.
Meat and various produce were preserved either by drying, smoking or grinding it to become powder, and kept as reserve for every season.
Food consumption was believed to serve as a mean of survival. Gluttony was considered immoral and they followed the principle of minimal satiety, which resonates with a stoic approach towards worldly desires and pleasures. The Circassian Mamxegh tribe for example did not eat meat as long as there was cheese, honey, chickpeas and millet. Only when there was shortage in vegetables and grains that they resorted to slaughtering an animal to eat (Yasar, M. 2014, p.90).
In building and tool making, the indigenous Circassians used small amounts of wood, and relied more on using natural material such as clay, straw, and reed. Homes were built small in size to serve basic needs of shelter. Wood and leaves remaining from dead and fallen trees were collected and used as fuel in winter, cooking and tools and utensils making (Bashmakov, I. 2015). Such way of life, can be taken as a model where life enrichment was based on quality not quantity, and by living in accord with laws of nature.
Ruslan Tsirm a renowned contemporary Circassian artist, and advocate of indigenous Circassian way of life, explains that this way of understanding amongst the Circassians comes from acknowledging that God, or the creator, is not a separate entity, rather, the humans and the whole environment are part of one whole system (God), which the natives apprehended. Around the sacred trees and forests it was prohibited to cut anything alive, and where no violence should ever take place. It is the place where the soul returns. He further explains the system that was employed by the natives was not focused towards preserving their own race, but it was simply an ordinary understanding on how one lives in harmony with the nature system. It was purely the logical way of life, and the understanding that nature does not need humans, but it is the human who needs nature. When logic and science took over the greater part of humanities and intuition, the world at large is faced with a very challenging detrimental state of living and future (Int. 2020).
This way of life did not occur according to a plan. Like many indigenous communities in the world, it was simple reasonableness to form a reciprocal relationship with nature as subject-subject and not a subject-object correlation, where humans genuinely acted as a part of the surrounding environment, and not separate from it. In its plainness, this way of life is ironically what today’s environment and eco movements strive to achieve. Sadly, the spread of “civilization” and the concept of “modern societies” did not only destroy man’s relationship to nature, but turned the mass into fragile species that have completely lost the basic knowledge of survival.
Zaina’s collage art focuses on assembling many worlds into one, usually led by a protagonist; she focuses on mixing world cultures, architecture, motifs, archaeology, arts and nature into a single portrait.
Tree veneration is the essence of the Circassian way of life and Circassiansm, and it was the turning point which transformed the primitive human, into one with understanding and appreciation towards nature and his relation to it.
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