Jul 12, 2021

Chambira connections to our head, hearts and hands

We organized two workshops last month with artisans and others from the native village villages of Brillo Nuevo, Puca Urquillo Bora and Puca Urquillo Huitoto in the Ampiyacu River area to use art and respectful communication as ways to address problems and solutions related to their lives in the forest.

“This is a workshop somewhat different from what we are used to doing,” explained my colleague Yully before the 30 attendees of the ART AND CONSERVATION OF THE FOREST WORKSHOP in Brillo Nuevo. Yully continued: "In the next two days we will explore different issues that surround indigenous identity, as well as some problems that may arise in the community, forest and when working with crafts." The attendees listen attentively wondering what will come.

We began the workshop by asking the artisans to mention some problems they had either in the community or working with crafts. Gisela adjusted her mask to speak. She is the president of her artisan group and immediately felt led to share that one big problem she has faced is the theft of chambira by other members of her community. She posed the question out loud why someone might steal chambira from their neighbor’s field. One person called out, "They have no chambira of their own to harvest.” Someone else said, "They don't want to plant new trees in their fields," We wrote down all responses on large pieces of paper taped to the walls without comment. Moises raised another problem related to chambira - the sale of raw fiber by the kilo to occasional buyers or even trading chambira in bulk for used clothes. This issue is new to us. Apparently some outsiders come to the village to sell used clothes or trade them for meat or more recently for chambira. We recorded all comments on the papers without discussing solutions. It was time to create art.

We gave everyone some paper, cardboard, pencils, colors and modeling clay with the open invitation for them to use these materials to portray their ideal forest field. The participants, gathered in small groups, let their imaginations fly and began to draw (and shape) their vision of this idea considering the problems mentioned. Incredible scenes begin to appear with many chambira trees growing around artisans harvesting all kinds of plants in the forest or next to the river. When their creations were done, the participants seem satisfied and were eager to explain what they did.

Before unleashing this sharing, though, we moved on to the next create task.

We invited the artisans to make their own mandalas. "Mandala? What is that?" Some people who attended our Alternatives to Violence Project workshops were familiar with this concept of concentric circles of phrases used to present the core concepts of respect for self and others. We now explained we wished them to create a mandala to display the essence of what their indigenous and communal identity meant to them. They could show a personal conflict if they wished such as a time they had felt like a victim of racism or other form of discrimination. We give them paper and left them to draw or use their chambira to weave anything they wanted. Once again they embraced the chance to apply their imagination and make more art.

When they finished, each participant had a chance to present their initial creations. Each person was greeted with enthusiastic applause. The second round focused on the mandalas. They were incredible in their beauty, diversity and depth of feeling. They included bags, trivets, and dream catchers. Each artisan in turn explained what their indigenous identity meant to them. Rode said, “The forest is extremely important to me as an indigenous woman.” Pointing to her design on the wall, she said, “My Bora identity is important to me. These symbols mean life and forest. Without the forest we could not work, and we could not eat.

Yully and I continued to marvel at each successive presentation.

The final activity of the workshop was the World Café when we returned to the problems identified in the morning. This time, though, we asked people to discuss them again with the goal of generating ideas for how to solve these problems in the community. Participants gathered around an imaginary table (as if they were in a café) to brainstorm practical solutions and write them down on big sheets with paper with colored markers. Yully and I sat down and listened. Dalila who is an artisan and dedicated mother said, "We must identify who is stealing chambira, why they do it and try to help them get their own supply. If they persist in committing this offence, we need to tell the president of the community so they can apply the penalties we have in the community for people who don’t respect our agreements.”

We had been aware of many problems surrounding chambira for some years. It was really good to feel that this workshop finally gave us and our partners the opportunity to discuss these sensitive issues in a way that could bring people together to find solutions instead of just complaining about and fomenting bad feelings. Amazon Ecology is committed to continue supporting our partners to tap their creativity, their culture and their deep connection to the nature around them to create sustainable livelihoods, conserve the forest and build healthy resilient communities.

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Casilda - Bora native artisan with chambira hotpad
Casilda - Bora native artisan with chambira hotpad
Bora artisan drawing native design on mandala
Bora artisan drawing native design on mandala
Chambira mandala with yellow center at Brillo Nuev
Chambira mandala with yellow center at Brillo Nuev
Artisan dad with baby at workshop in Puca Urquillo
Artisan dad with baby at workshop in Puca Urquillo
Huitoto artisan drawing tree with vines
Huitoto artisan drawing tree with vines
Brillo Nuevo artisan with woven bird mandala
Brillo Nuevo artisan with woven bird mandala
Brillo Nuevo artisan weaving chambira hotpad
Brillo Nuevo artisan weaving chambira hotpad
Making clay figure for 3D forest scene mandala
Making clay figure for 3D forest scene mandala
Community reviewing mandalas in Brillo Nuevo
Community reviewing mandalas in Brillo Nuevo
Workshop participants celebrate their sharing
Workshop participants celebrate their sharing
Angelina's chambira mandala
Angelina's chambira mandala
Workshop reflections from head, heart and hand
Workshop reflections from head, heart and hand

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Jun 25, 2021

The Healing Rain

Looking out the window of our house in Brillo Nuevo, I see the rain falling hard on the nearby caimito tree. The fruits seem ready to fall with each drop that hits their surface while the branches dance freely in the wind. "It's a good rain," says my co-worker, Yully, as she peeked out the other window. "Yes," I answer simply. "A good rain," she adds with a slight smile before returning to the table where she is organizing her work for the coming days.

A good rain ...

I think about her words. Somehow rain can be a kind of cleansing. Water can of course wash a Surface. In recent months, though, so many things have happened in the communities and in our lives that is good to have a metaphorical good rain to wash away the heavy loads we have been carrying and give us a chance to continue.

Continue or perhaps its stronger form persevere is the sentiment and action I have witnessed in recent months. I have interviewed many people from Amazon communities in the past few months, and I want to hear stories from more. The rain reminded me of my recent conversation with Franco, a young Bora native entrepreneur from the village of Puca Urquillo.

Franco's voice broke with emotion when he shared his experience getting COVID. "When I got sick, I got very scared. I suffered just trying to breathe. I needed oxygen, but where was I going to get it? There was none in our community and I would get some even if I went to Pebas. It was horrible. The only thing I could do was stay at home and endure. I would need to do my best with the medicinal plants my family got me. I felt that I was going to die at any time. I wasn’t hungry, but I had to eat. I had no energy, but I had to carry on. I wanted to cry all day, but I had to be strong. I did not let my mother get close because I didn’t want her to catch the virus from me. My wife looked after me, but she was afraid she would end up just as bad as me. It was a nightmare. I had always been healthy through my twenties, but now I was fighting a damn illness that could kill me. It was a horrible, horrible nightmare ".

But Franco recovered. He got better and recovered his smile.

Other people told me their personal odysseys as well. When we met with the artisans from Brillo Nuevo, we discussed their craftmaking and workshops we hoped to resume. At the end of that meeting, we shared some thoughts about the recent months, and the women smiled. It amazed me that in spite of everything they had gone through, they seemed able to smile. They smiled and joked with their hope intact. They have adapted to the reality of the pandemic. They have started to make crafts again and continue their routine of life in the forest. They have not, however, forgotten what the past months have meant.

While Malvina sat weaving, she told us her COVID story: "I got sick first, and then so did my husband Javan. He still went to our field to harvest crops to make food for us. Even though he felt very bad, he forced himself to carry on and take care of me because I had to stay in bed. He was very attentive to me and brought me my chambira so I could at least weave a little. When I began to feel better, he let himself fall into bed, and I took care of him. This is how we passed through this illness, one looking after the other, and taking care of each other. "

I heard other stories similar to Malvina’s at the April meeting of FECONA – the federation that represents 14 native communities near the Ampiyacu River. We talked about our activities in the region that included sending medicines and food supplies to people thanks to the generous support from the Sisters of Mercy, other groups and many individual friends. I do not exaggerate when I say that the communities shared their heartfelt appreciation for this support and wanted us to be sure to share their thanks with the people who made this possible. I add my sincere thanks to theirs; you made more of a difference than you can imagine.

Franco - COVID survivor from Puca Urquillo Bora
Franco - COVID survivor from Puca Urquillo Bora
Ania - Bora artisan from Brillo Nuevo.
Ania - Bora artisan from Brillo Nuevo.
Mother and daughter looking at rain in Nuevo Peru
Mother and daughter looking at rain in Nuevo Peru
Alejandrina - Bora artisan from Brillo Nuevo
Alejandrina - Bora artisan from Brillo Nuevo
Casilda - Bora artisan weaving chambira trivet
Casilda - Bora artisan weaving chambira trivet
CACE house in Bora native village of Brillo Nuevo
CACE house in Bora native village of Brillo Nuevo

Links:

Mar 11, 2021

What does it mean to be indigenous?

In one of the Alternatives to Violence Project workshops that we organized in the Bora native community of Brillo Nuevo, we were talking about racism and the discrimination that some people still feel as indigenous people. One woman asked, “What does it mean to be indigenous?”

With her fingers interlaced on her legs, Celia looked intently at the group sitting in the circle and responded, “That is a question I would like to ask people who make fun of us who are indigenous. To me, being indigenous means being strong. My mother hardly speaks Spanish, and my father didn't even go to school, but they are the strongest people I know. They are indigenous and as their daughter I am too”.

"Being indigenous means being from the jungle," said Pedro, a man in his late sixties with a lot of life marked on his face. “I have also met people who have discriminated against me for being indigenous, but I learned not to let it bother me. I am proud of my language, the place where I live and my culture. Long ago, I learned that there are ignorant people with hatred in their hearts. I ignore them. On the contrary, I even view them with pity. They think they are better, but they are not”.

Amanda ran her fingers through her hair while commenting, "That's the problem, they think they are better because they were born in the city or come from another country. I know how to weave beautiful handicrafts, I like to go fishing and collect food from my field, and these are things I like to do. I have a young daughter. I want her to study and pursue a career, but I also want her to feel proud of being indigenous.”

Miguel adjusted the cap covering his hair and said, "These people who are racist and discriminate against us must understand that in the end we are all human beings." The rest of the group nodded in agreement.

Manola raised her hand and asked me, “Tulio, what do you think it means to be indigenous?”

I paused for a few seconds before responding because I didn’t want to give an answer that seemed rehearsed. I first looked down at my hands and then back at her and said, "Well, my father is from one part of Peru and my mother from another. Like many Peruvians I am a mixture of a little bit of everything.” Some people laughed with me before I added, "I suppose that for me to be indigenous is to be a mixture of everything all of you have said."

The participants seemed satisfied, and we moved on to another topic.

But the truth is, I was not satisfied with my answer at the time. I would have liked to have shared a longer and more thoughtful answer based on my observations and experiences with these people in their communities for many years. To me, the sense of being indigenous means resonating with the sun, the rain, and the nights with a star-filled sky. It is soaking in innumerable sights and sounds of village life like: An artisan hanging strands of chambira fiber on a clothes line to dry or just smiling from her window. Children splashing while bathing in the river while men fish serenely from their hand-made canoe. Yells and thumps from hits and kicks from afternoon soccer and volleyball games. Feet pounding to powerful drum beats in a traditional festival in darkened maloca. Swirling machetes cutting manioc stems in a field and listening intently to a curaca share stories about the origin of each clan and legends about strange things in the jungle.

I would have liked to have shared these and many other things, but still I would not have had enough words to explain what I thought it means to be indigenous.

It is a potent question to reflect on, but there is of course no one correct answer because each Bora person and other indigenous people would answer it in their own way – some with words and others better through their actions. What is important for CACE to keep in mind is that our native community partners have a deep evolving connection to the forest and each other and that we need to keep respecting, learning from, and supporting.

Bora artisan Gisela with woven chambira belt
Bora artisan Gisela with woven chambira belt
CACE chambira management workshop at Brillo Nuevo
CACE chambira management workshop at Brillo Nuevo
Bora artisan drying dyed chambira palm fiber
Bora artisan drying dyed chambira palm fiber
Bora people at festival in community maloca
Bora people at festival in community maloca
Volleyball game at Brillo Nuevo
Volleyball game at Brillo Nuevo
Bora woman in her field with basket and machete
Bora woman in her field with basket and machete
Bora fisherman in canoe on Yaguasyacu River
Bora fisherman in canoe on Yaguasyacu River
Bora man with chainsaw and wooden planks
Bora man with chainsaw and wooden planks
Bora artisan in hammock with chambira fiber
Bora artisan in hammock with chambira fiber
Bora man in boat at sunset
Bora man in boat at sunset

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