Ohlone Self-Management Through Generosity

Ohlone people mortars and pestles near Jasper ...

Ohlone people mortars and pestles near Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve Field Station, Stanford University. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

(Ohlone) Anthropology 10 – California Indians (Summer 2007)

Ohlone Self-Management Through Generosity

[Students and professors, please read.]

The Ohlone of California had a successful way of self-management that involved generosity.  Self-management through generosity is seen in the early Christian church and in our own family ties.  Grace, lacking in Ohlone spirituality, is a more desirable form of influence than fear in self-managing societies, and more effective when it permeates into all areas of life, as did Ohlone spirituality.

The early European visitors thought that the Ohlones were living in anarchy, without a strong centralized government, but the most unifying, stabilizing aspect of Ohlone life was their self-management through generosity.  Family loyalty and inter-tribal marriage bonds strengthened through generosity were valued over individualism.  Those who stood out too much were cast out to fend for themselves.  Maintaining tradition, which included generosity, was valued over innovation and progress – technology like hunting tools and methods are considered to have been known since their beginnings in Sacred Time, taught to the Ohlone by Coyote (one of the many animal-gods of Ohlone creation mythology).  To be wealthy meant to provide for others in generosity; to be greedy would weaken a person’s status in the community.  The chief, the head of all the extended families, was responsible for the welfare of the tribe, and was expected to be an example of generosity, maintaining tradition – he did not accumulate wealth to the detriment of the community, nor did he reform.  If someone in the tribe was homeless or hungry, it would have been to the shame of the chief.  Public opinion kept the chief well in line.  Warfare was a last resort of tribe-defense, governed by moderation and restraint, followed by generous restitution.  Ohlone self-management through generosity is responsible for the fact that there were no famines and no theft in their culture.

Similar to the Ohlone way of self-management through generosity is how the early Christian church shared personal property in common, and the family bonds which occur in most cultures.  Paul, in Acts 2:44-46 and 4:32-37 (Zondervan’s NASB, 1999), explains how “all those who believed were together and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need.  Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, …the congregation of those who believed were of one heart and soul; and not one of them claimed that anything belonging to him was his own, but all things were common property to them. … For there was not a needy person among them, for all who were owners of land or houses would sell them and bring the proceeds of the sales and lay them at the apostles’ feet, and they would be distributed to each as any had need.”  This is the Golden Rule, this is love in action, this is why we exist.  I felt it this morning in the smile of my youngest son as his dad greeted him upon waking; I felt it this past week as I visited family back home and we did each other favors ‘just because’… not expecting anything in return.  The world needs more of this.  Comparing Ohlone culture to ours, though, they were much more successful against hunger and crime, and a valuable question is whether a high population of people (such as California, or the U.S.) can implement the Ohlone tradition of self-management through generosity.  Also, can all the right self-managing traditions be implemented without sacrificing progress, and without leaving the nation vulnerable to invasion?  Was the success of the Ohlone due largely to the fact that they did not separate religion from their self-management?  Perhaps their disintegration and the disintegration of the collectivism of the early church resulted from the similar circumstance of living within a dominant culture with clashing values?

One important thing the Ohlone way teaches us is that humans need some form of influence in order to maintain a stable organization – if we are not self-managed, like the Ohlone, we will be state-managed, like the U.S..  The direction in which that management takes us determines its value – so, it is my prayer that the world as a whole returns to more cooperative, inter-dependent, generous and generally peaceful roots, as seen in the Ohlone way of life.  It is important that they did not rule out warfare, that they recognized its necessity in some cases – that it would be more detrimental to allow certain injustices to flourish, rather than to check them with warfare.  However, in our unbalanced culture, we run the risk of over-correcting in so many areas of life, not excluding warfare.  In separating church from state, made necessary by an abuse of power, the complete picture becomes framed as authoritarian illusion.  Ohlone spirituality permeated all areas of life and influenced their generosity and maintaining of tradition, but from fear of the disapproving spirit world and the witchcraft of shamans.  Rather than separating church from state, as there was no state, the Ohlone would ambush and kill the shaman, leaving Ohlone animistic beliefs untouched.   But there was no grace in Ohlone animism, and the ideal (not recognized in the Ohlone way) would be for the complete picture to permeate all areas of life from the bottom up (so that all the officials of the state are of one heart with the people), and for it to influence generosity and Golden Rule behavior, even in warfare, out of love for the complete picture, and as a source of strength to overcome inclinations to the contrary.  Regrettably, one might say the Ohlones would have been more receptive to grace than were many of the missionaries who failed to communicate it.  If only we can combine Christian grace with Ohlone consistency, to where grace saturates every aspect of life.

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