Subject: 12 tribes & Mali
A post to the DC Ishmael group.
Added by colin #442 on 2006-02-09. Last modified 2008-03-05 06:44. Originally created 2003-06-30. F0 License: Attribution
The original post is here.
Colin Leath <cleath j9k org>
Date: Mon Jun 30, 2003 6:03 pm
Subject: 12 tribes & Mali
Sent to the following:
I went down to the Washington, DC mall last Sunday to check
out the Malian builders & buildings, and was most surprised
to find that the 12 tribes had almost a whole block of the
mall of their own!
The 12 tribes are a large and possibly quick-growing
intentional and somewhat anti-civilization religious
Their writings are highly anti-civilization, but in practice
they still use much modern technology.
They may be the best thing that could happen to the
religious right in this country! :)
And those of us not inclined to adopt their doctrine can, as
with the Amish, learn a lot from their apparent success,
which may be partly due to most (all?) who join giving all
their resources to the group, as well as to successful
Here's the web site for the DC event:
note that they're going on tour around the US!
and some related sites:
I spent quite some time talking with them and looking
They have an "open forum" tent with a circular table where
they encourage people to speak their mind about any issues
I walked up, and, still not certain this was a 12 Tribes
thing, interrupted after a while to ask if they were 12 T
I tried asking if the head guy was around, but forgot his
name (Eugene Spriggs-- but the party line is: the head guy
is at the right hand of the Father), and then we got into
the story of their founding.
I expressed nothing but amazement about what they'd been
able to accomplish- communities all around the world with
more than several thousand members, I believe, and an
amazingly welcoming and open approach ("come stay with us
any time, for as long as you want")
and one of the P.R. people for the event (as I found out
later), Shalom, asked me if I'd had lunch and took me over
the common ground cafe and said, "I'd like to treat my
friend to lunch" to the server guy, and we went over and sat
at an information tent. Where I met his daughter Hannah (or
Anna) and a somewhat blissful woman in her 20s from one of
the communities in California, both of whom are teachers in
their communities. I looked familiar to Hannah, and now
that I think of it she reminds me of someone in a choir I
was in in Brooklyn.
Shalom lives at a newly forming 12 T community in Ithaca,
NY. He said they got started by going to Ithaca and having
one of the "Open Forum" tents somewhere in town. Apparently
a local woman took a liking to them an said they could all
stay at her house, which they did for a few weeks and began
work on opening one of their cafes.
Their presence on the mall is impressive. Their people are
beautiful, and smart-looking (note: I know my impressions
are most often wrong, but I have them nonetheless). Their
clothes are simple but beautiful, again. They have frequent
Israeli Folk dancing which the public is encouraged join,
and I did. They adopt Hebrew names when they join the
They have a whole tent with displays on (their) history of
religious movements, and regular plays about important
religious movements in America's past, including children's
plays. All of the plays, I believe, make an important point
in support of their way. One of the interpreters hadn't
heard of Ken Wilber--I told him I would like to have their
take on him (they are anything but integral).
Their way is "to love eachother first." Self-love,
they say, is why the other communities fail.
There are a ton of young (and beautiful) people, which is
what impressed me the most at first. And these
adolescents/young adults will feistily support their 12
Tribes lifeway while talking with a former frat-boy type
under the Open Forum tent.
They are not "eco-" and seem to somewhat disparage
eco-sensibility, even though, by default, their lifeway is
way more "eco-" than almost all Americans. "Yes, that is
important, but love for one another comes first, otherwise
we'll all get into arguments about the many 100s of ways to
be more eco-- I'd eat fast food if it would help my
brother!" They do not yet take the step of considering what
is best for non-human as well as human. Their brotherly love
is still anthropocentric (can anything Bible-based be
Or the young woman to the former frat boy: "Yes we sometimes
get organic food (sort of scrunching her nose), but-" (and I
can't remember the part after that- maybe that was when the
former frat-boy's cell phone rang and he said,"Hi, I'm here
learning about the 12 tribes, a neo-hippy christian jesus
They've also shipped a bunch of young men over from Germany
for some reason. All the males who can grow beards grow them
(but not long ones) and ponytails. There are some black guys
who've been with the movement a long time, but it does seem
mostly white, and in a way, almost as if they were a tribe,
as there seems to be certain commonalities of appearance.
Perhaps that is just their similar way of dressing and
keeping their hair.
It is a fascinating place. I plan to go back tomorrow, or
later this week and watch more encounters between mainstream
America and 12 tribes members under the open-forum tent.
This is apparently their second year there, and Shalom said
the Smithsonian likes to have them there at the same time as
the Folklife festival to help fill out the mall. You
wouldn't know they weren't a part of the Folklife festival
as you walk by, unless you stopped to ask. They have
blacksmiths, apple cider presses, spelt pillows, and
theatres and so on.
I do plan to visit one of their actual communities, probably
one in Tennessee, later this year. Reading their doctrine is
really a turn-off (though the anti-civ part will be right on
for a lot of people), but I'm most interested in what they
do and how they live. As I joined a volunteer choir at St
Bart's Episcopal Church on Park Ave in NYC in order to sing
with awesome singers & choir director, I'll join the 12
tribe cult for as long as we can stand loving eachother, to
learn how and why their community is so successful, and to
do some work for them.
Watching the Malian builders building their building and
seeing their other shelters was also one of the highlights
of the trip. The toss and catch of bricks and a bucket of
cement is like a dance, gentle, graceful, powerful.
The low Malian shelters (one is hides over wooden poles) do
make you feel as if you were in Africa, just for a bit, and
I find that thought, however brief--or maybe it is just the
way of living suggested by that kind of shelter, even if it
is an Asian American in jean shorts sitting under there in
the straw with the Malian--soothing. And they do have drums.
There is something about the 12 Tribes people that is not
soothing (how can these obviously capable people adopt such
doctrine? Why do they even bother explaining and
evangelizing their way? But then, many equally capable are
doing the same thing in a different way), and in time maybe
I'll understand it more. They are a people to watch, but in
the long run, maybe I'd rather be like the Malians (or
simply a homeless American neo-nomad). I have a feeling they
may not be as excited about monasteries as I am ("Everything
we do, we do together.")
Maybe the Yos and and the carfree people can get together
and do even better?
It's about two hours after I wrote that, and I spent some
time reading over the 12-tribes ex site and the site on
their links. The 12 tribes site itself does a good job
addressing these controversies, and many of their points are
valid: if you are anti-civ, civ will be after you. The Amish
face a similar problem with child labor laws. But
the long list of not positive newsworthy stories are
sobering. They are not nirvana, but an example of a
"successful" organization. But then, so is the United
Some other notes: the dances they are doing are a part of
their daily lives. A big plus for me. They have young,
fairly skilled musicians. That was also impressive.
Meeting them in person is quite a lot more fun than reading
their papers or spending time with them online!
To the Yos in Boston: If you want me to mail you the 12
Tribes publications I picked up, let me know.