Benjamin Zephaniah spoke about Abul ʿAla Al-Maʿarri, a blind Syrian philosopher and poet who spoke against the use of animals, animal products and honey, thus was vegan before 1057 CE. His poem is the earliest record of ethical veganism which by any name (none back then), he was the first ethical vegan that we know of.
In an interview by Johnny Clegg, who is less known for being an anthropologist, the tribesmen who live on Hoerikwaggo (//Hui !Gaeb, Azania) revealed they get everything they need from the diverse flora, they take nothing from the animals, birds and insects. A Country Imagined is the documentary series which covers Clegg’s roadtrip throughout South Africa; during their conversation, to better explain their views to a surprised Clegg, they say that the animals are their brothers and sisters. One man spoke in a local language which I don’t understand, the subtitles gave a clear enough indication of their values – a biocentric perspective on life and seeing animals as their equals. I think this is an example of animal rights as natural, for people who have no desire to exploit nature (with climate change, however, they seasonally need food donations from urban acquaintances). Clegg is an awful person when it comes to working class Black people (and I hope Black folks featured get something out of his sale of the DVDs), but this interview is valuable for this context until a new interview happens.
I’m not familiar with all of the traditions mentioned below, cultures and organised religions who practised veg*nism historically, but I know fasting in Ethiopia is plant-based, those from the Ethiopian Orthodox Church abstain from dairy, meat and egg during lent and on Wednesdays and Fridays; monks eat only bread, beans and vegetables, except when there are big festivals or if they have health problems.
Ahimsa originates in Buddhism. Only Engaged Buddhism seems to encourage veganism. It is not perfect says Thích Nhất Hạnh but it helps reduce the suffering of animals:
The only other tradition I know of are Jains who promote ethics comparable to veganism, for monks only but disabled people can’t become monks and there is also a male-female hierarchy.
I thought the Taos were vegan but those from whom I bought tofu at a Mauritian temple said they consumed dairy outside the temple so it’s comparable to the lay Orthodox Ethiopian ethos? The other Chinese I know are mostly Christian meat-eaters but long ago my late grandparents’ neighbour’s parents from rural china had a plant-based diet outside of festivals (the only occasion she and her kin ate meat and egg, not milk). I learned this recently when said Chinese aunt asked me about my diet, when she saw my sprouts growing. Oddly I know much simpler ways of sprouting mung than they or my grandfather did (using gunny bags).
Rita Laws describes the plant-based lifestyle of the Choctaws and other Native Americans. Perhaps Anthropology and other disciplines haven’t been interested in documenting some lifestyles, such as vegetarian ones. Scientific analysis recently showed that Egyptians, in all likelihood, had a vegetarian diet (Article in French) until 600 C.E. Kemetic yoga followers seem to be vegan, following the Egyptian tradition according to their own research. I have met a couple in Mauritius.
It is more widely known by folks of certain cultures (or by more, with the publication of such knowledge in e.g. The China Study) that milk is not a part of some diets traditionally. The health risks that develop with the addition of milk in diets, especially of people prone to lactose intolerance which is the majority of the world’s population, are higher as described by the medical practitioners in ‘Got the facts on Milk?’. Some Native Americans and a Chinese martial arts instructor also shared their thoughts in this documentary. These parts should be copyrighted/lefted to them or their cultures but it’s not, so no link available. Even though their ethics is rooted in religion or spirituality, many cultures had kinder diets than the average human does now due to White Imperialism (in White Imperialist countries and others, because of McDonaldization etc.). This has been forgotten or erased to the point of parents of some cultures of colour forcing even lactose-intolerant children to consume milk and dairy, and the ills of this is exacerbated by medical ignorance (White Imperialist medical ignorance has taken over the world ever since rates of some diseases have been increased, such as diabetes which is attributed to the diets/ industries encouraged by White Imperialism).
I apologise for the use of ‘Western Imperialism’ in a previous version, it’s a problematic term as @bad_dominicana pointed out. Although we all know what we mean by it, it erases Latinxs, Inuit and First Nations.