Wangari Maathai & Replenishing the Earth
In 2010 Wangari Maathai wrote Replenishing the Earth: Spiritual Values for Healing Ourselves and the World. Not only is this book more recent than her 2003 volume regarding the Green Belt Movement, but in this one she also specifically addresses her thoughts on spirituality within the Movement. She lists the four core values of the Green Belt movement as (a) love for the environment, (b) gratitude and respect for Earth’s resources, (c) self-empowerment and self-betterment, and (d) the spirit of service and volunteerism (14-15), giving examples of each in the following chapters. Maathai’s prose flows easily and organically, as if she were a village elder addressing the reader. As she beautifully notes,
In the process of helping the earth to heal, we heal ourselves. … The same values we employ in the service of the earth’s replenishment work for us, too. We can love ourselves by loving the earth; feel grateful for who we are, even as we are grateful for the earth’s bounty; better ourselves, even as we use that self-empowerment to improve the earth; offer service to ourselves, even as we practice volunteerism for the earth. (17)
Further, I found a great deal of personal resonance in the author’s explanation that she started with no particular spirituality in mind, but rather received the slow-dawning realization that everything truly is sacred:
Upon reflection, it is clear to me that when I began this work in 1977, I wasn’t motivated by my faith or by religion in general. Instead, the motivation came from thinking literally and practically about how to solve problems on the ground. … Personally, however, I never differentiated between activities that might be called “spiritual” and those that might be termed “secular.” After a few years I came to recognize that our efforts weren’t only about planting trees, but were also about sowing seeds of a different sort — the ones necessary to heal the wounds inflicted on communities that robbed them of their self-confidence and self-knowledge. (13-14)
While she views the unexpected side effect of empowering the people as being of critical importance, it is the last value to which she dedicates quite a bit of inspirational text, and addresses much of her activism. In doing so she draws mostly from Christian mythology for her spiritual examples within the book since, as she notes, the vast majority of Africans today are Christian. However, she also favorably presents several other religions’ beliefs regarding generosity and the redistribution of wealth; indeed, on occasion her comparisons demonstrate where Christianity still needs some work.
Further, when appropriate she borrows from the complex and richly interrelated religious rituals and conceptualizations of a wide variety of alternate spiritual beliefs, including some from the indigenous religion of the Kikuyu, her natal tribe. For example, she is delighted to assist in the revitalization of the Japanese concept of mottainai, or gratitude for what one has (106), and she refers approvingly to the Jewish celebrations of Tu B’Shevat — a time for planting trees — and the Jubilee year for debt cancelling and land redistribution (119).
Regarding the Kikuyu, she beautifully describes the gift exchange ritual referred to as kiondo (128-129), while also noting their religious leaders (unlike Christianity) earned their living rather than effectively parasitizing a destitute people (150). As Maathai herself observes, where there is social injustice, eco-injustice soon follows — and vice versa (167). Consequently, though she never flatly states it as such, Maathai’s goal seems to be an ecofeminism rooted in local self-determination, applying spiritual values in order to fairly redistribute power and wealth so that both the Earth and the people themselves will prosper.