Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Natural Beauty ... and commentary

(Image from here)

This image is of Shuar women of the Cordillero del Condor in South America - the rain forest mountain range located between Ecuador and Peru.  I had never heard about them before today when I read an article at Salon about them and their struggles to maintain their way of life and to protect the land.

The Salon article is quite long; I found it fascinating and very disturbing.  The mining companies want gold and other minerals from the area and are willing to destroy everything that lives there in order to get it.  The President of Ecuador has sided with the mining interests - no surprise.
My guide to this simmering “Avatar” in the Amazon was a 57-year-old Shuar chief named Domingo Ankuash. Like many elder Shuar, Ankuash does not appear to be blustering when he says he will die defending his ancestral lands in the province of Morona-Santiago, which borders Peru. Early in my month traveling the Condor, he took me deep into the country for which he is prepared to lay down his life. After a steep two hours’ hike from his village, we arrived at a forest clearing of densely packed earth. Through the trees and hanging vines, a 40-foot waterfall replenished a deep rock-strewn lagoon. The cascade is one of thousands in the Condor cordillera, a rolling buffer between the cliffs of the eastern Andes and the continental flatness of the Amazon basin.
“We have been coming to these sacred cascades since before the time of Christ,” said Ankuash, preparing a palm-leaf spread of melon and mango. “The government has given away land that is not theirs to give, and we have a duty to protect it. Where there is industrial mining, the rivers die and we lose our way of life. They want us to give up our traditions, work in the mines, and let them pollute our land. But we will give our lives to defend the land, because the end is the same for us either way.”
However, President Correa might be surprised by the ferocity of people who have nothing to lose.  Backing any living being into a corner has unexpected consequences for those who would intimidate and bully.
“The strategy is to unite the Shuar like the fingers of a fist,” Ankuash tells me as I prepare to dive into the icy waters of the lagoon below. “The forest has always given us everything we need, and we are planning to defend it, as our ancestors would, with the strength of the spear. To get the gold, they will have to kill every one of us first.”
The most famous case of Shuar “insolence” occurred in 1599, when the Spanish governor of Maca demanded a gold tax from local Indians to fund a celebration of the coronation of Philip III. The night before the tax was due, Shuar armies slaughtered every adult male in the Spanish hamlets and surrounded the governor’s home. They tied the governor to his bed and used a bone to push freshly melted gold down his throat, laughing and demanding to know if he had finally sated his thirst. According to the Jesuit priest and historian Juan de Velasco, the “the horrendous catastrophe” at Maca caused “insolences and destructions” by the “barbaric nations” up and down the Andean spine of New Spain. For the next 250 years, the Spanish mostly stayed away. Occasional attempts by Jesuit missionaries to reestablish contact were met with a welcome basket of skulls pulled from the shrunken heads of gold-hungry Spaniards.
The destruction of our planet for the sake of greedy corporations is incomprehensible to me.  There is no other planet for us - this is it. Without a healthy and habitable planet, we don't exist.

More power to the Shuar and to all other peoples who are pushing back. I lend them my spirit in these struggles.

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