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Indigenous Spiritualities
Chinese Religion
Baha'i Faith

In Malaysia, there are more than 80 different groups of indigenous peoples, each with their own culture and language, and each living within their own specific traditional territory. And because indigenous spiritualities are based on the specific geographical and cultural contexts of these peoples, there are as many different indigenous spiritualities as there are distinct groups. Yet, while they may differ in their specificities and form, they share commonality in the function and application of their belief systems. Furthermore, there is no such thing as conversion from one indigenous spirituality to another. However, if an individual moves to live in another community through marriage or some other reason, then he/she follows the ritual of that place.



Indigenous Spiritualities

Indigenous peoples are descendants of the earliest inhabitants who locate themselves as a community in a specific ecological niche, which they call their traditional or customary land. This land is the basis of their social organisation, economic system and cultural identification. Indigenous peoples see their traditional lands as being imbued with a spirituality and a sacredness whose protection and care will ensure their continued survival as a people.

Top photo: Lun Dayeh hat: sacred energy and humankind

All indigenous traditions and beliefs evolve as a result of living within this specific geographical space. They are learned by participating within a specific cultural context rather than by articulating an abstract religious system or theology. Thus, social rules, taboos, rituals and religious beliefs have an impact on the way people live their everyday lives – what they eat (or cannot eat), the way they do everyday chores, organize themselves, marry, educate their children, treat illness, and bury the dead. These teachings (or ancient wisdom) are usually transmitted through oral traditions, such as in storytelling or via mythmaking, ritual and symbolic art.

Indigenous spirituality, as such, brings the social, ecological, and spiritual contexts into alignment in a way that distinguishes, but not separates, human communities, the natural world, and the realms of the spirit powers.

Tree of Life (Kenyah)

The overriding aspiration of all indigenous peoples is to ensure continuity and to maintain harmony between humans and humans, between humans and nature, and between humans and spirits. Indigenous peoples believe that all of nature is infused with spirits or souls.

The hierarchy of the spirit powers culminates in a Creator Being or Great Spirit. However, this Supreme Being, while revered and honoured by the indigenous peoples, is often distant and barely associated with everyday human experience. It is the spirit powers who directly communicate with, and impact, the lives of human beings, both as individuals and as communities. They also act as intermediaries between the Great Spirit and humans and are called upon by shamans and healers whenever their mediation is required.

There are both Good Spirits and Evil Spirits. While the latter bring harm, misfortune and disease, the Good Spirits protect humans against all these. Indigenous peoples believe that the blessings of the Good Spirits are important for personal and community well-being. Often, appropriate good behaviour on the part of individuals is all that is believed to be required to maintain social harmony, prosperity and continuity.

For indigenous peoples, good behaviour means following and practicing values and behaviour established by society and culture, participation in religious rituals and traditional practices, and proper respect for family, neighbours, and community. Failure to follow these behavioural guidelines often results in the Good Spirits withdrawing their blessing and protection. The result can be illness, death, drought, or other misfortune.

From left: Mah Meri girl in traditional dress (bark-cloth), Kadazandusun healer; Items in Iban ritual ceremony.

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