Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Ancient Futures: Ladakh

Taken from Project Himalaya
Helena Norberg-Hodge author of "Ancient Future: Learning From Ladakh"spent years in Ladakh (since 1975) during which she witnessed the beauty of their culture as well as its slow decline caused by the pressures of modernization. The documentary above is based on her book.

Ladakh (Little Tibet)--located on the Western border of the Tibetan Plateau in a desert-like place that seems almost inhospitable--is a culture (over a thousand years old) centered on traditions and strong family values. They foster the virtues of unity, equality, and respect for one another and the earth (which provided them with precious natural resources). Despite the lack of a monetary system, they lived peacefully, happily, and without greed. Before assimilation into Western culture, neither waste nor poverty existed in Ladakh's small community. The magnetic pull of the Western dream of wealth and power disrupted their peaceful way of life. While it works for us, their environment demands a different type of knowledge. For instance, a Western education does not provide them with the means to survive in their own society that demands intricate knowledge of their land. In Helena Norberg-Hodge's 'The Pressure to Modernise" she describes the specific type of knowledge the Ladakhis need that the newer generation lack:

For generation after generation, Ladakhis grew up learning how to provide themselves with clothing and shelter; how to make shoes out of yak skin and robes from the wool of sheep; how to build houses out of mud and stone. Education was location-specific and nurtured an intimate relationship with the living world. It gave children an intuitive awareness that allowed them, as they grew older, to use resources in an effective and sustainable way.

None of that knowledge is provided in the modern school. Children are trained to become specialists in a technological, rather than an ecological, society. School is a place to forget traditional skills, and worse, to look down on them...They learn from books written by people who have never set foot in Ladakh, who know nothing about growing barley at 12,000 feet or about making houses out of sun-dried bricks.

Once a community that ate together, built homes together, and shared all they possessed, certain members fell prey to the Western dream, slowly losing their sense of traditions that led to deterioration of the closeness between neighbors and families. As modernization took over, a division of classes evolved along with a high degree of unhappiness. Eventually, respect for land vanished, proven by the contamination of the once pristine rivers and the smell of diesel fuel.  Living is not a matter of community, but of competition. There is no denying that modernization aided them in profound ways, but Helena Norberg-Hodge is saddened to see the decay of crucial relationships, between their fellowmen and the land, in order to embrace a less sustainable way of life.

You can view excerpts from her book at the following site:


You can read her article, "The Pressure to Modernise" here:

Creative Commons License
Sand-Dollared Cataract by Sofia Mitchell is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

1 comment:

  1. Unfortunate. The same thing is happening here in the Caribbean and all around the world. I'm thinking of saving up to go on a hiking excursion to either ladakh, kazakhstan, morocco, or kilimanjaro. Would be great to experience how they live before they disappear. It's a shame when culture becomes endangered at the hands of technological progression.