Other conquered people accomplish similar feats. A few weeks after Bali, I attended the annual Indigenous People’s Day intertribal powwow in Berkeley. The sun shone, the air was warm. Alternating groups of men, women, children, and then everyone together danced in a one-block grassy space, with drumming, chanting and occasional short speeches of welcome. Some wore elaborate traditional costumes; others were in jeans.
Craftspeople sold art, clothes, and food in booths around the outside of the dance. Most people displayed vibrant energy and beautiful smiles. It was a lovely day.
What struck me most was how many of the Native Americans looked African. Teenaged black girls danced Native steps in flowing orange dresses. These weren’t people playing at being Indians. They had been absorbed into the Native nations, who integrated people and positive aspects of other cultures into their own, and kept going.
Their lives are difficult; money a constant struggle, but they stayed up. Listening to people’s conversations, I heard men talking of enjoying their granddaughters’ soccer games, and women discussing the exercises they were doing to keep healthy. Young adults talked about their college plans. They had somehow incorporated European and African cultures to create something that is undeniably their own. The inspiring scene reminded me of hip-hop culture, which unites youth all over the world by reclaiming pieces of the dominant culture and creating something new with it.
Lao-Tzu says the soft and weak prevail over the hard and strong. Now, in ordinary terms the Native Americans are anything but “weak.” Just to keep living in their situation takes tremendous personal strength, and not all of them make it. Keeping the culture alive must take constant effort. Collectively, the conquering cultures are much bigger and have more power than the Indians do. It’s like huge blocks of rock have been dropped around them and over them. But the Native Americans, like the Balinese, prevail by flowing around these obstacles, instead of fighting against them. Being like water, embracing whatever is dropped on it, nourishing anyone who thirsts.
What could I, not having gone through anything comparable to the Natives or the Balinese (although my ancestors may have), learn from their heroic example? What should we do when confronted with the power of hardness? When troops of hard men in helmets, armed with batons and guns try to sweep people off the street, or planes drop missiles on communities, should people not resist?
Perhaps the answer is different for each person. Charles Darwin wrote, “It is not the strongest of the species who survive, or the most intelligent. It is the one who is most adaptable to change.” How different that is from the way Darwin’s work is always summed up to us: “the survival of the fittest.” It seems that adaptation, survival, and resistance may be different aspects of the same thing.
So perhaps the best we can do is to be adaptable, be alive. Stay flexible, keep flowing. Even though we die as individuals, things will change. It may take generations, but the hard and stiff will go under. The soft and weak will stay up, and we will hopefully create something beautiful in the process, as the Native Americans and Balinese have..