Canela Culture Recommends Generosity
When we arrived among the Canela people of Brazil fifty years ago, we were struck by how generous they were. A hunter lucky enough to kill a deer, shared the meat among many relatives; and young men worked together for days building a palm thatch house for a recently married relative.
We learned eventually that the Canelas had a complicated, but effective system of credit and debit in their heads. Those who received meat had probably paid it forward weeks before in the form of manioc roots. Generosity was valued in the village because only by freely sharing could they thrive in a hunting and gathering culture.
When the Canelas adopted us into their families and society, they expected us to be generous as well. And we were. We couldn’t share our personal work equipment but did give away a nearly endless supply of matches, sewing needles, and thread, fish hooks and line, etc. We certainly didn’t want them to call us “stingy”—the greatest insult one Canela could heap on another, even worse than calling him “lazy” or “good-for-nothing.”
We were not surprised, therefore, that the villagers fully agreed with the teachings about generosity in the Bible we were translating with them. When they read, Proverbs 11:25, “A generous person will prosper, whoever refreshes others will be refreshed,” they nodded their heads and said, “That’s right. That’s the way it is.”
They changed their minds about what God is like when they read James 1:5. “If you want to know what God wants you to do, ask Him, and He will gladly tell you, for He is generous and always ready to give a bountiful supply of wisdom to all who ask Him; He will not resent it.”
“Wow,” they said looking at each other in surprise, “So, God is generous, even more generous than we are because sometimes we do resent people who ask us for something.”
God being generous corrected a false idea in their mythology about the One Who created them. “He abandoned us,” they told us, “He went up into the sky and doesn’t think about us anymore. No use asking Him for anything. He either doesn’t listen, or He is stingy.”
Science Recommends Generosity
I like to read about modern scientific studies presenting “new” concepts that have been practiced by indigenous people for generations and have been written in the Bible for thousands of years. A series of interesting studies were done on generosity which amazed the researchers, but which should be no surprise to Canelas or Christians. Here’s what they found:
- Being generous makes us healthy. It lowers blood pressure, reduces anxiety and depression, improves chronic pain management, and lowers the risk of dementia.
- Being generous makes us happy. Giving to others triggers endorphins, dopamine, and oxytocin, the feel-good chemicals.
- Being generous lowers our stress. Being stingy can actually raise our stress levels. Being generous kept stress down.
- Being generous improves our relationships. This is especially true in a family and marriage. When partners were generous towards their spouses, they felt far more satisfied in their marriage.
- Being generous extends our healthy lives. People who were generous with their time and energy and volunteered had a 63% lower rate of mortality than those who didn’t volunteer.
Jesus Recommends Generosity
“It is more blessed to give than to receive.” Acts 20:35.
“Give generously to the poor and do so without a grudging heart; then because of this the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to.” Deut. 15:10.
Remember Cornelius, the Roman centurion from the story in Acts 10? We probably remember him and his family described as being devout, God-fearing, and praying to God regularly. What we tend to miss is that “he gave generously to those in need.”
A Recommendation to Our Affluent Society
Statistics show that as people become more wealthy, they tend to give a smaller percentage to church and charity. Our affluent North American society may be missing out on some good things and could learn something about the personal benefits of generosity from the Canelas, from science, and from the Bible.