Ancient wisdom, new hope
If, as Connie Baxter Marlow contends, the world’s indigenous people possess secrets to a better humanity, there is a good chance those pearls of wisdom will be revealed over the next month in Aspen. A photographer, traveler and enthusiast of indigenous cultures, the Old Snowmass resident has arranged a series of events – films, performances, seminars and a photography exhibit – throughout June intended to shed light on the power of cultures ranging from Africa’s Bushmen of the Kalahari to western America’s Ute and Hopi tribes.Marlow traces her mission – nothing less than improving the state of humankind – to her family history. The Baxters were major landholders, and major philanthropists, in Marlow’s native Maine; her great-uncle and great-great-uncle once made a gift of some 200,000 acres and 50 mountains to the people of Maine.
“That sent me on a mission to find what I consider the missing pieces in our paradigm,” said Marlow while installing one piece of the multimedia series of events – a photo exhibit at the Red Brick Center for the Arts.Those missing elements, she says, can be found in ancient cultures. “I felt I discovered these missing pieces in the indigenous peoples’ cosmology and way of life,” said Marlow, who has photographed Hopis in Arizona, tribes in Ecuador, Mexico’s Lacandone Maya – the only Mayas never conquered by the Spanish or converted to Christianity – and more. “This exhibit creates a platform upon which the indigenous voice can be heard.”We’re a family, the human family. We’re all one. And when we come together and meld our gifts, there will be a synthesis that will allow us to see something that’s never been seen, a world beyond our wildest dreams, a peace on earth. But we can’t get there from here. We have to learn from the indigenous people.”
Marlow’s voice is not the only one heard in the photo exhibit, titled Rhythms of Creation. Showing along with Marlow’s eight scrapbooks are photos of India and Burma by Jack Baxter (Marlow’s father), black-and-white images of the Bushmen and South Africa’s Zulu tribe by Andrew Cameron Bailey (Marlow’s romantic partner), and pictures of Tibetans by Alison Baxter Marlow (Marlow’s daughter) taken during a 1998 trip that made her among the first Westerners to see a remote corner of China. Marlow said she saw the exhibit as a way to showcase her father’s photography skills, which had been as concealed as those life secrets held by the indigenous tribes.”I conceived of this show because he had never been honored as a photographer,” said Marlow, whose ex-husband, David Marlow, is a commercial and architectural photographer. “He was a businessman, a senior VP with AMFAC, a Fortune 500 company. I recognized that he and my daughter and I had a common thread in our photography, the indigenous people of the world. I thought three generations of that would make for an interesting show.”
Joining the Marlow clan is Bailey, who met Marlow in 2003 at a gathering of shamans at New York’s Omega Institute. Bailey, a British native, had founded the nonprofit group Indigenous Heritage to aid the Bushmen of the Kalahari.Growing up in South Africa, Bailey was led to believe that the Bushmen, perhaps the oldest race on the planet, were extinct. But while the tribe had been continually threatened over thousands of years – by the Zulus, dating back to prehistory, and by European settlers, including the Dutch and British more recently – the Bushmen had not been wiped out. While living in the Hamptons, where he began learning about ancient stories from the Kalahari, Bailey found that the Bushmen still existed.”It was so cool to discover that,” said the gray-haired, ponytailed Bailey, whose careers have included videography and professor of chemistry. “They’re close to extinction, but it was heart-rending to find they weren’t.”
Six years ago, Bailey and his ex-wife Susan traveled to the Kalahari, in the northwest corner of South Africa, in search of the Bushmen and their stories. They found neither, but did come upon the tribe’s rock art, which dated back thousands of years. He began reading the history of the people, including the near genocide and the recent upturn in their fortunes (thanks to the end of South Africa’s apartheid policies in 1994). Working with his foundation, Bailey, like Marlow, found that indigenous tribes, despite their material poverty, possess something of great spiritual value.”I learned that they could give me as much as I could give them. They have a huge amount to teach us about being human,” he said. “They are the poorest of the poor. They live on air, just about. And yet they have the most extraordinary sense of community. They have no leaders; the men are not more important than the women. And they’re healers; they’re shaman.”
Sharing the view of Marlow and Bailey is 19th-century transcendentalist Henry David Thoreau. Marlow’s series of events includes a seminar this weekend, June 3-5, at the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies, that will be led by Bradley P. Dean. Dean, a Thoreau scholar and editor of the Thoreau Society Bulletin, transcribes and edits the writer’s unpublished works. Dean, said Marlow, will use the seminar – titled “Thoreau and the Evolution of the American Mind: The Next Step,” and based on a five-part film series, “The American Evolution: Voice of America,” produced by Marlow – to break the news that Thoreau had a deep interest in American Indian tribes. As evidence of this view, she points to a quote from Thoreau: “I have much to learn of the Indian, nothing of the missionary. I am not sure but all that would tempt me to teach the Indian my religion would be his promise to teach me his.””It’s important that Thoreau saw this, that the Indian was carrying crucial information,” said Marlow. “Because that’s the same thing I see.”Exhibiting the photographs, talking about Thoreau’s interests and seeing demonstrations of American Indian dances may not unlock whatever invaluable keys the ancient tribes hold. Still, Bailey believes that mere observation of these people can be a powerful thing.”Their faces say everything that needs to be said,” he concluded.
Here is a listing of the events in the series, all co-sponsored by Connie Baxter Marlow’s Friends of Earth People foundation, and Suzy Chaffee’s Native Voices Foundation.
Through June – Red Brick Center for the Arts hosts Rhythms of Creation: A Family’s Impressions of Indigenous People of the World, a photo exhibit featuring works by Connie Baxter Marlow, Jack Baxter, Andrew Cameron Bailey and Alison Baxter Marlow. The exhibit opens with a public reception Thursday, June 9, from 5-8 p.m. The opening will feature Loya Cesspooch, an elder of the Northern Ute tribe, speaking about the Ute culture and introducing a group of Ute dancers and drummers. All four photographers are scheduled to attend.
Friday through Sunday, June 3-5: The seminar, “Thoreau and the Evolution of the American Mind: The Next Step,” led by Bradley P. Dean takes place at the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies. Friday night’s portion of the seminar, beginning at 7 p.m., is free and includes a preview of the Marlow-produced film series, “The American Evolution: Voice of America.” June 28: Connie Baxter Marlow will give a multimedia presentation, “9/11: A Hopi Connection,” from 6-9 p.m. at the Pitkin County Library. June 30: The closing ceremony, from 6-9 p.m. at the Pitkin County Library, includes a screening of Andrew Bailey’s film, “In Search of the Future: Where Have We Been? Where Are We Going? What Do the Wise Ones Know?” which features elders from American, African and Mexican tribes. Also that day, at 11 a.m., Southern Ute elder Bertha Groves will hold a talking circle, with a location to be determined.
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