The Offering of CemanahuacThe Four Gourds of an Ocean Planet
|photo by Susan Little|
Panama News November 7, 2004
article by Eric Jackson, photos by Susan Little
On October 27 people from many of the indigenous nations of the Americas --- some of whom had run in relays all the way from Tierra del Fuego in the south or Alaska in the north --- met on the Bridge of the Americas at the terminus of their Peace and Dignity Journeys. After the several dozen travelers from the north and south met at the middle of the bridge, the group set up camp near the west end of the span, at the old Thatcher Ferry landing, for the Continental Ceremony of the Tears of the Eagle and Condor.
There they built a ceremonial fire, and one by one the travelers came to the fire, paid their respects in the four directions, and held the sacred staffs they carried in the fire's smoke.
Most participants carried more than one staff --- one from his or her own community, and one or more from communities that did not have the human or financial resources to send anybody to Panama, but at least wanted to participate through their revered symbols. These sacred staffs were as diverse as the many original nations of the Americas. Many were decorated with feathers or fur, others topped with crystals. Bows and arrows, blowguns and darts, and canoe paddles in the Pacific Northwest style were among the symbols sent by the different communities.
One of the journey's organizers from the north, Arizona resident Tupac Enrique Acosta, asked "What did you call this continent before 500 years ago?" It was not a linguistic trivia question. Acknowledging that the different indigenous nations of the Western Hemisphere have their distinct languages and cultures, he nevertheless asserted that "We are all one continental people, speaking with one voice."
"Before the Spanish came," Acosta said, "there was contact between us and the Kuna."
In this event at least, those ties were re-established. Lucindo "Kuala" Gómez, a Kuna, was deeply involved in making the preparation for this part of the intercontinental event.
Kuala noted ancient Kuna legends that predicted that men white like the inside of a banana and black like charcoal would come to rob and kill. That came to pass, and now, he said, "the Great Western culture is dominating our culture," taking advantage of divisions among the Kuna, fragmenting the indigenous comarcas with mining concessions and educating children to forget their languages and cultures.
The ceremony, Kuala said, was "to cure Mother Earth of everything bad the white man brought."
One of the metaphors alluded to by a number of people in the camp was of the Panama Canal as an unhealed wound across the continent, and of the Grandmother Sea teaming up with the Sacred Fire to heal the coastline of the Americas. Thus the Four Gourds of ocean waters, from the northeast, southeast, southwest and northwest coastlines of the hemisphere, sprinkled upon the fire.
Sarah James, who hails from Arctic Village in Alaska, agreed with Acosta and Kuala about the ancient ties. "We used to have communication by runners --- that's how we knew what was going on on the other side of the world. We need to bring this back."
James is politically active in her own community, which depends on hunting and fishing, and particularly upon the caribou herd that migrates through her part of Alaska and Canada's Yukon territory. She is also a veteran of international affairs, including as a participant in the international indigenous summit that took place in 1990 in Ecuador, the Rio de Janeiro earth summit and a visit to Nicaragua during that country's Contra War, a time when much of the Miskito homeland was turned into a war zone by non-indigenous forces. To her, the 1990 gathering in Quito, from which this and several other Peace and Dignity Journeys as well as other projects flowed, represented "the rebirth of the Indian nation."
On the home front, James is very concerned about the survival of the caribou herd, which she points out is, unlike some of North America's other herds, purely wild rather than a hybrid of wild caribou and domesticated reindeer. She believes that global warming and possible oil drilling in the Alaska National Wildlife Reserve could either drive the herd to extinction or change its migration in ways inimical to her community's interests. While in Washington ANWR and its environs may be viewed as a series of mineral exploitation grids on a map, and to many environmentalists it's the final unspoiled frontier, it's a way of life for Sarah James. "From time immemorial caribou is our life --- it's our shelter, our song, our culture, our food on the table. We call ourselves the Caribou People."
With the global warming problem, James fears a more direct harm than merely being stripped of a culture and deprived of the bulk of a traditional food supply. As the ozone layer thins at the poles, she said, "my people are the ones who are going to get burned up first, even though we're not the ones doing the polluting."
Potential ecological catastrophe is not James's only hometown concern. She lives in a community where there are hardly any jobs, but which owns 1.8 million acres of land, including the mineral and water rights, and is thinking in terms of how these assets can be managed to give the young people more opportunities than a subsistence economy permits, while at the same time preserving a traditional way of life.
While James spoke mainly of the practical realities of daily life, Acosta emphasized spiritual terms --- for example declaring that "[t]he loom of history and prophecy, of memory and dream, already shows in symbolic scriptures the message for the future generations. The message is now clearly seen, and understood. It is Father Sky who is the author; it is Tonantzin, our sacred Mother Earth, who records the weave for the whole world, and for eternity." His was a fitting approach for an essentially spiritual event. However, he also added that in addition to the cultural and spiritual sides of the international movement that assembled 14 years ago in Quito, there are also important economic and political aims.
To most of the people with whom The Panama News spoke, however, it would be a mistake to compartmentalize the movement's aims into separate components. Moreover, opinions about the terminology to be used varies within the group.
For example, talking to René, a Quechua born in Potosi, Bolivia who ran in the relays all the way from Tierra del Fuego to Panama, the use of the word "religious" to describe the ceremony around the fire would be mistaken. "Everyone carries his or her understanding," he explained, and the use of the word "religious" might mean one thing to some people and a different thing to others, and then when that word gets translated from one language to another the possibilities for misunderstanding multiply. "We are not religious. We are traditional people," he emphasized.
And while James talked about the rebirth of the "Indian nation," others don't like some of the other words that describe the original inhabitants of this hemisphere, or for that matter naming this side of the world after the Italian adventurer Amerigo Vespucci. "'India' comes from Greek for 'without God,'" Kuala argued, adding that the European roots of the word "indigenous" means "without origins." Discarding the terms "Indian," "indigenous," "Native American" and aboriginal, people of the traditional cultures tend to fall back on their own languages and their own names for themselves, which in the great majority of cases translate to English as "the people."
As Cecilio Maciel, a teacher from Paraguay and a member of the Angaite ethnic group, put it: "There are no Indians, nor indigenous. Aboriginals, natives --- that's what we are. It means people."
The differences go beyond the semantic. For instance, at the ceremony there were participants from Panama's Kuna and Ngobe nations, but no Embera, Wounaan, Bokota, Naso or Bri Bri on hand. The elected political leaders of this country's indigenous communities and the symbols of the Christianity that many indigenous Panamanians have embraced were also absent. As Kuala put it, "Many say that we're crazy for this ceremony. But they're crazier than all, because they get their religion from Israel."
There were also different attitudes about dealing with the press, beyond the unity around the point that it would be inappropriate to photograph the ceremony around the fire. One woman who came from the Yukon spoke of Canada's Aboriginal Peoples Television Network as a reality in her community, and among the Paraguayan institutions that Maciel described were media in his country's original languages. However, many of the others in the group came from communities without their own mass communications media, and everyone was aware of a long train of abuses by the corporate mainstream media. Thus some of the Peace and Dignity Journey participants wanted to exclude the press entirely, and most of the rest wanted to deal with the media only through selected spokespeople. In any case, this event was not staged for the press and that's a concept that many of the ignorant savages of the press corps found difficult to fathom. As far as this reporter can tell, The Panama News, Canal Once and the magazine that's published for COPA airline flights were the only news organizations that showed up and were willing to play by the organizers' rules --- and even then there were some awkward moments about picture taking.
The runners and other participants from North and South America camped out here for four days, both by the bridge and at a hotel and in a vacant building near the Lottery headquarters. A few stayed a bit longer. The impressions of Panama that they shared with this reporter were generally positive. "I am enchanted by your customs," Maciel said. "I have rested well, they have treated us well, and there has been no discrimination."
|Foto by Susan Little|
The Offering of Cemanauak
The Four Gourds
World Water One
The Sacred Staffs of the Peace and Dignity Journeys are now at the doorway of Kuna Yala, both North and South, ready to fulfill their mission of regenerating the Memory, Conscience, and Will of the Indigenous Nations of the continent. The continental ceremony of reunification of the tears of the Eagle and the Condor, the Condor and the Eagle will initiate on October 27.
As sacred instruments, what gives the staffs their power is the spiritual offerings which they have been gifted by each one of the creators, the runners, those who dreamt the vision, and all of the Indigenous Nations which realized the dream across the length and breadth of our mother continent, North, Central and South.
The weaving in now nearly complete. The loom of history and prophecy, of memory and dream, already shows in symbolic scriptures the message for the future generations. The message is now clearly seen, and understood. It is Father Sky who is the author it is Tonantzin, our sacred Mother Earth who records the weave for the whole world, and for eternity.
And now the stars lend an ear, stretching slightly closer in order to better hear what their great grandchildren of the Human Family, those of Abya Yala Cemananhuac, will say. In the moment of silence it is heard, it is felt. The great seal of the Sacred Fire appears and from the coast of the continent the grandmother Sea initiates the healing of the entire planet.
Without a coastline there is no continent. The Sacred Staffs have done their part. The physical skeleton, the bone and blood infrastructure of our continental culture has been reincarnated in present tense: it is evident. The Sacred Staffs now ask for the Four Gourds of Ocean Waters: from the North East, South East, from the North West and South West coastline. Of these they shall partake and orient themselves once again to their origin and destiny, an offering of ocean.
Tupac Enrique Acosta