The Gift of Ecological Humility
By Leah Penniman
February 16, 2021
These Afro-Indigenous practices challenge ideas of human supremacy.
In my early 20s, I apprenticed myself to the The Queen Mothers of Kroboland in Ghana with the hope of understanding more about my cultural heritage. Early one morning, I arrived at the compound of Paramount Queen Mother Manye Nartike, who was particularly animated by a rumor she had heard about our diasporic practices in relation to land. In disbelief she admonished me, “Is it true that in the United States, a farmer will put the seed into the ground and not pour any libations, offer any prayers, sing, or dance, and expect that seed to grow?” Met with my ashamed silence, she continued, “That is why you are all sick! Because you see the Earth as a thing and not a being.”
She was right, of course. As African Americans, our 400-plus years of immersion in racial capitalism—the commodification of our people and the planet for economic gain—has attempted to crush our sacred connection to the Earth. Many of us have forgotten that our cultural heritage as Black people includes ecological humility, the idea that humans are kin to, not masters of, nature.