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Ancient Futures

Learning from Ladakh

by Helena Norberg-Hodge

240 pages, paperback, Sierra Club/Counterpoint, 2009

Ancient Futures describes Norberg-Hodge's experiences living in Ladakh. The first chapters describe the lives led by the Ladakhis when she first arrived in 1974. The later chapters express her dismay at the ways in which modernization is destroying their culture and environment, and describe her efforts to help the Ladakhis counteract those pressures. She urges us to rediscover the time-tested Ladakhi ways for greater happiness and contentment in our lives.

Praise for Ancient Futures

"Though full of stories and photographs of the Ladakhi way of life, [Ancient Futures] is much more than a travelogue; it is . . . an ecologue. . . . The Western industrial 'monoculture' that has infected and endangers the rich ancient culture of Ladakh is the one that is endangering us, its progenitors, as well. A book that must be heeded." -- Kirkpatrick Sale, The Nation.

"The celebration of traditional Ladakhi life induces exhilaration but also sadness, as if some half-remembered paradise known in another life had now been lost. So evocative is it that I felt--I'm not sure what--homesickness?" -- Peter Matthiessen, from the Introduction.

Quotes from Ancient Futures

"While in Tongde, I tried for a long time to figure out how work was coordinated. Things seemed to get done without the need for discussion and there appeared to be no regular pattern. Sitting in Angchuk and Dolma's kitchen was like watching an unchoreographed dance. No one said, 'You do this,' 'Shall I do that?' Yet, smoothly and gracefully, everything that needed doing got done. One minute Uncle Dawa was cuddling the baby, the next he was stirring a pot on the stove, then he was bringing in some flour from the larder. He passed little Angchuk to Dolma, who held him on her lap as she chopped vegetables. Angchuk pumped the bellows to keep the fire burning and held out a pot for Uncle Dawa to pour the flour into. Abi- le, or Grandmother, took over at the stove while Angdus began to mold the dough for bread. Dolma went out to fetch water from the stream that ran beside the house. Then Uncle Dawa sat down beside the stove. He spun his prayer wheel of shining copper and brass while gently murmuring a sacred mantra, as if it were an accompaniment to the movement around him."

"People have almost no information about the potential health hazards of the new imported products. Many Ladakhis now bake their bread on scraps of asbestos, and I have even seen pesticide tins being used for salt shakers. Seventy percent of the pesticides used in India are either banned or severely restricted in the West; in Ladakh, despite the fact that there are almost no pests, farmers are encouraged to use BHC, which is more potent than DDT. Once, when I tried to explain to some Ladakhi friends that the butter they were using contained formaldehyde and was bad for their health, they were astonished. They could not believe that it would be sold in the shops and that so many people would be eating it if it was really so harmful."

"As one of the last subsistence economies to survive virtually intact to the present day, Ladakh has been a unique vantage point from which to observe the whole process of development. Its collision with the modern world has been particularly sudden and dramatic. Yet the transformation it is now experiencing is anything but unique; essentially the same process is affecting every corner of the world."

"The messengers of development--tourists, advertisements, and film images--have implicitly been telling the Ladakhis that their traditional practices are backward and that modern science will help them stretch natural resources to produce ever more. Development is stimulating dissatisfaction and greed; in so doing, it is destroying an economy that had served people's needs for more than a thousand years. Traditionally the Ladakhis had used the resources in their immediate vicinity with remarkable ingenuity and skill, and worked out how to live in relative comfort and enviable security. They were satisfied with what they had. But now, whatever they have isn't enough.

"In the sixteen or so years since development first came to Ladakh, I have watched the gap between rich and poor widen; I have watched women lose their self-confidence and power; I have watched the appearance of unemployment and inflation and a dramatic rise in crime; I have watched population levels soar, fueled by a variety of economic and psychological pressures; I have watched the disintegration of families and communities; and I have watched people become separated from the land, as self- sufficiency is gradually replaced by economic dependence on the outside world."

Table of Contents of Ancient Futures

  1. "Little Tibet"
  2. Living with the Land
  3. Doctors and Shamans
  4. We Have to Live Together
  5. An Unchoreographed Dance
  6. Buddhism--A Way of Life
  7. Joie de Vivre
  8. The Coming of the West
  9. People from Mars
  10. Money Makes the World Go Round
  11. From Lama to Engineer
  12. Learning the Western Way
  13. A Pull to the Center
  14. A People Divided
  15. Nothing is Black, Nothing is White
  16. The Development Hoax
  17. Counter-Development
  18. The Ladakh Project
    Epilogue: Ancient Futures

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