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In societies with an oral tradition, the transmission of skills and culture is a weapon for resistance and emancipation.

 

Fatu-Hiva, 1,500 kilometers northeast of Tahiti, is a French island in the Marquesas archipelago.

Arriving from the ocean, we only see a tiny bit of a white steeple and a main street indicating the almost-hidden village of Omea.

As we approach, a sound escapes from the wood building, the noise of a beater.

For over fifty years, Sarah Vaki has been making tapas: parchments made from laminated bark that are decorated with Marquesas motifs.

She is proud of this thousand-year-old skill. A tapa is a historical, sacred artistic cloth made by the people that has been saved from oblivion by women. She uses this skill so her people will not disappear.

 

In northern Japan on the island of Hokkaido, the first inhabitants were the Ainu. In the 19th century, they underwent a violent assimilation that obliged them to abandon their lands, their language, their names and their culture.

It was only in 1997 that a law to promote the Ainu culture was adopted by the government.

This animist culture is one of the oldest in the Far East. It is transmitted secretly from generation to generation.

Tokuda Shoko waited 30 years to “come out” and fully assume her Ainu identity.

In 2020 Tokyo will host the Olympic Games. The opening ceremony will show demonstrations of folkloric Ainu dances.

A pale recognition in a country where the Ainus are not always considered as being completely Japanese.

 

In French Guyana, 3,000 Amerindians of the Amazon forest survive in total indifference. Unfortunately for them, they live on land sought after for its mineral resources. They are victims of illegal gold mining that creates a climate of violence and insecurity.

And since the territory became part of France in 1969, they lost their traditional lifestyles and skills.

Tiwan Couchilli is the first Teko woman sculptor to work in wood. She takes inspiration from her traditional culture and speaks in schools to recreate ties between young people and their identity. Because they are currently losing their reference points, the suicide  rate is 20 times higher than the national average in France.

The unease is deep and Amerindians dream of having their own identity while being French as well: this is their latest combat.

Today they are bitter and fight to preserve their identity within the French Republic and also have their rights respected in the same way as those who live in mainland France.

 

Over one hundred thousand Samis live north of the Arctic Circle and their people has been there for over ten thousand years. This is a people passionate about hunting, fishing, gathering and breeding migratory herds of reindeer in a vast, wild, hostile territory. 

But over the centuries, the imposition of religion and colonization plus the extracting of natural resources have transformed their lifestyle. Today in Norway, only 10% of Samis are still breeders. Maret Anne Sara is an artist and the daughter of reindeer breeders.

When her brother was required by the government to kill three-quarters of his herd in the name of a sustainable eco-system, she set up an impressive curtain of four hundred reindeer skulls in front of Oslo’s Parliament building. 

Besides doing her shocking performances, she opens the debate on questions about the Samis’ rights. This “artistic legal action” has given birth to a movement of consciousness and citizen awakening.

In 2017 King Harald V presented the official regrets of the Norwegian state for “the injustice of which the Sami people have been victims due to its tough Norwegianization policy.”

 

The Berbers or Imazighens were the first inhabitants of Morocco but, until the 2000 decade, their identity was muffled to promote the Arabization of the country. Berber traditions still continue in the Souss region such as the raïss troubadours who sing about village history and bring messages about society.

Fatima Tabaamrant is one of the only female raïssas to have established herself.

She defends the Amazigh culture but also the rights of this underprivileged people, especially the rights of women who are doubly marginalized.

 

In these societies with an oral tradition, art represents at once creation, wisdom and a way of protesting. These women call for resistance and remind us that there is another way to be and think about the world.

 

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