viernes, abril 04, 2014

Pollinating for the first time with the Embera Chami People of Ríosucio, Caldas

Taking flight again, we Bees took off for the Department of Caldas. Although we've been in Manizales many times, this visit was the first time we'd been able to visit a rural area of Caldas. Luckily we happened to cross paths with a friend in Medellín who invited us to visit her community, the Embera Chamí community of the San Lorenzo Indigenous Reserve, in Ríosucio, Caldas.

During our stay in this territory we had the great privilege of meeting and sharing stories with many people in the community. In the time we were there, we were able to do presentations of Mesoamérica Resiste in the central park of San Lorenzo, with all of the council members of the reserve in the Council House, in the Educational Institute of San José, with the inhabitants of El Roble countryside, and in the Educational Institute el Salado of the Indigenous Reserve Nuestra Señora Candelaria de la Montaña. On top of us sharing our work, many people also shared their stories with us, explaining the history of this community and their struggles against violence, mega-projects, cultural assimilation and social disintegration. We were really inspired and moved by the persistence of some of the elders and the youth in strengthening their community and recuperating memory and knowledge, including their language that isn't spoken anymore in San Lorenzo.

In El Salado we learned about, and saw, how the territory is surrounded by mono-crops of pine and eucalyptus from the multinational company Cartones de Colombia. This community is named for an old salt mine that used to be here, and there are still some mining tunnels where today they mine coal. We learned about that and much more when we were working with students in an exercise of collective analysis of the Mesoamérica Resiste graphic and we were really delighted and inspired by one student especially who shone incredibly when she explained her scenes, she really had a strong understanding of the themes in the graphic and could talk about them easily. In El Salado and in San Lorenzo we were able to view the process of the Escuela Propia (Our Own School), an initiative of some teachers and youth to focus on learning Embera Chamí knowledge, and learning from its neighboring communities, with the intention of appropriating Embera thought, transmit memory, and be able to think of one self while creating and weaving bead-work, chumbes (long belt-like weavings), and baskets as well as creating music and painting.

In the entire territory where we were of the Embera Chamí communities of Caldas there is gold, a lot of gold, and because of its proximity to mining areas like Marmato, it is no surprise that mining companies (national and multinational) have their eyes on this territory and are trying to get concessions to exploit it. They've even brought electricity to a faraway community in the highlands on the border of the San Lorenzo Indigenous Reserve, between Jardín and Caramanta, Antioquia, which people from this area think that they've put in this energy infrastructure in order to begin a mining project there. In this area there are abandoned mining tunnels believed to be from the end of the 17th or 18th century. The thing is that it is known there is gold and since there are already long tunnels in Marmoto and Caramanta, some think that miners can already be picking away from below.

From talking to a young man dedicated to protecting native seeds, we learned that the community did a study in San Lorenzo and found out that 78% of their corn is already contaminated with genetically modified corn genes. They did the study because they suspected something was wrong with their corn, because the arepas would not stay together and could not be made for preparation.  Also because their chickens rejected the corn. It's been such a serious problem that the Cañamomo and Loma Prieta Indigenous Reserves, that work together with San Lorenzo as "custodians or guardians of the seeds" have the same genetic contamination. All of the reserves are taking measures to protect their seeds from this problem.

In the countryside of el Roble we were able to learn about a community initiative to recover a sacred site known as Piralago. Los Chamis are people from the mountains, so these hills are very important. Piralago was recovered, from a land owning politician. An elder consulting with his ancestors said that it was a site of study, a place for dreaming, because the Emberas are dreamers and these dreams are important for the community´s well being and persistence. The territory where Piralago is found was part of a larger farm called Casa Grande (Big House). They plan to harmonize and recuperate the place by reviving the memory of their ancestors, walk the paths that used to exist here, using the ceremonial sites to talk with their ancestors, the jaibas (good spirits), and the other surrounding mountains.

The bittersweet part of being on tour is that our stay in each community is always too short. After a few days in San Lorenzo, getting to know people and sharing, we were so impressed by the committed people of the Embera nation and their process of resistance and defense of their territory. Above all we were really happy to be able to share our work with the youth of the community, and see their enthusiasm for using the graphics campaigns to understand their reality and the reality that many others are living in other places too. We now have a commitment to return at some point to this territory, to continue sharing, weaving, pollinating, and walking together with our new family.