Autochthony is a term that means originating or formed in the place where found, or being indigenous to a particular area. The word comes from the ancient Greek Î±á½ÏÏÏ (autos) meaning “self” and ÏÎ¸ÏÎ½ (chthon) meaning “soil”. In ancient Greece, autochthones were the mythical figures or tribes who were believed to have sprung from the earth itself, as opposed to settlers or colonizers who came from elsewhere. Some examples of autochthones in Greek mythology are the Athenians, who claimed to be born from the soil of Attica, and the Spartans, who claimed to be descended from Lacedaemon, the son of Zeus and Taygete.
Autochthony has been used throughout history as a way of asserting one’s identity, legitimacy, and sovereignty over a land or a people. It can also be a source of pride, belonging, and cultural heritage. However, autochthony can also be problematic, as it can exclude or marginalize those who are not considered native or original inhabitants. It can also be based on myths or legends that are not supported by historical or scientific evidence. Autochthony can sometimes lead to conflicts or violence between groups who claim the same land as their ancestral home.
Autochthony is still relevant today in many contexts, such as politics, law, anthropology, ecology, and literature. For example, some indigenous peoples around the world use the concept of autochthony to demand recognition and rights from the states that occupy their lands. Some countries or regions have laws or constitutions that grant special status or privileges to autochthonous groups or individuals. Some scholars and writers explore the themes of autochthony and belonging in their works, such as Chinua Achebe’s novel Things Fall Apart, which depicts the clash between the Igbo people of Nigeria and the British colonialists.
Autochthony is a complex and contested concept that reflects the diverse and dynamic histories and cultures of human societies. It can be a source of strength and identity, but also of division and conflict. It can be based on facts or myths, or both. It can be used for different purposes and agendas, by different actors and audiences. It can be seen as a natural or a constructed phenomenon, or both. Autochthony is not a fixed or static concept, but rather a fluid and evolving one that changes over time and space.
Examples of Autochthony in Different Contexts
In this section, we will look at some examples of how autochthony is used or expressed in different contexts around the world. These examples are not exhaustive, but rather illustrative of the diversity and complexity of the concept of autochthony.
Autochthony and Indigenous Peoples
One of the most common and prominent uses of autochthony is by indigenous peoples who claim to be the original or first inhabitants of a land or a region. Indigenous peoples often face discrimination, oppression, and marginalization by the dominant or majority groups or states that occupy their lands. They also face threats to their cultures, languages, traditions, and ways of life. Therefore, many indigenous peoples use the concept of autochthony to assert their identity, rights, and sovereignty over their ancestral territories. They also use it to demand recognition, respect, and protection from the international community and human rights organizations.
Some examples of indigenous peoples who use the concept of autochthony are:
The Maori of New Zealand, who call themselves tangata whenua, meaning “people of the land”. The Maori claim to have arrived in New Zealand around the 13th century CE from eastern Polynesia. They have a treaty with the British Crown, called the Treaty of Waitangi, which recognizes their status as the original inhabitants and grants them certain rights and privileges. However, the treaty has been violated and disputed by both parties over the years, leading to conflicts and grievances. The Maori have been fighting for their land rights, cultural preservation, and political representation ever since.
The Sami of Scandinavia, who call themselves sÃ¡pmelaÅ¡ or sÃ¡miid in their own languages. The Sami are an indigenous people who live in northern Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Russia. They have a distinct culture, language, and way of life that is based on reindeer herding, fishing, hunting, and gathering. The Sami have faced discrimination, assimilation, and exploitation by the Nordic states and other groups for centuries. They have been deprived of their land rights, cultural autonomy, and political participation. The Sami have been seeking recognition and protection as an indigenous people under international law and conventions.
The Maya of Guatemala, who call themselves ajq’ijab’ or daykeepers in their own languages. The Maya are an indigenous people who live in southern Mexico and Central America. They have a rich and ancient history and civilization that dates back to pre-Columbian times. They have a diverse culture, language, and spirituality that is based on their cosmology and calendar. The Maya have suffered genocide, oppression, and violence by the Spanish colonizers and later by the Guatemalan state and military. They have been struggling for their land rights, cultural survival, and human dignity ever since.
Autochthony and Nationalism
Another common and prominent use of autochthony is by nationalist movements or groups who claim to be the authentic or legitimate inhabitants of a country or a region. Nationalist movements or groups often seek to create or maintain a sense of identity, unity, and loyalty among their members or followers. They also seek to achieve or defend their political goals or interests against other groups or states that they perceive as rivals or enemies. Therefore, many nationalist movements or groups use the concept of autochthony to justify their claims to a land or a territory. They also use it to exclude or marginalize those who are not considered native or original inhabitants.
Some examples of nationalist movements or groups who use the concept of autochthony are:
The Flemish of Belgium, who call themselves Vlamingen in their own language. The Flemish are a linguistic group who speak Dutch or Flemish as their mother tongue. They live mainly in northern Belgium, where they form a majority. They have a distinct culture, history, and identity that is different from the French-speaking Walloons who live mainly in southern Belgium. The Flemish have been seeking more autonomy and independence from the Belgian state for decades. They have also been opposing immigration and multiculturalism in their region.
The Serbs of Kosovo, who call themselves Srbi in their own language. The Serbs are an ethnic group who speak Serbian as their mother tongue. They live mainly in Serbia and neighboring countries such as Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Montenegro, and Kosovo. They have a distinct culture, religion (Orthodox Christianity), and identity that is different from the