Monday, November 8, 2010

Colombia 2010 Tayrona Culture

My romanticized notions of The “Heart of the World” have been modified. Here in a hotel in Santa Marta, and after two months of a three-month tourist visa in Colombia, I have not any assurance whether all my efforts will bear any fruit.  I have learned a lot in these two months, mostly not to trust in expectations. I continue to cultivate patience in the face of a deadline and roadblocks.

My arrival in Colombia was auspicious.  My artist friend, Paola Rincon, had created an installation at the Museum de Antioquia, the most prestigious museum in Medellin, honoring the 200th year of the liberation of Colombia by Simon Bolivar.  She had invited three members of different Indigenous communities to create ceremony around a pre-existing “Chacana”, a symbol of the cosmo-vision of Native peoples in the center courtyard of the museum.  A small fire was built in the center on top of some rocks surrounded by water. Four large rivers of Colombia were represented emanating from the Chakana. Sadly all the rivers are polluted. Wayra Chasky a rainbow man from Nacion Indigena Quechua Yanakuna led the ceremonies for the opening of the whole event.

Chacana ceremony

Chacana Night Ceremony

The opportunity was open to the public for the weekend to learn about the cosmo-vision of the Chacana, but since precious few people came partake, it was a private opportunity to make strong prayers in ceremony for the work I had come here to undertake a form of blessing for my arrival to work with the Indigenous world.  This installation, and another Chacana she created inside, were the only works in the show that recognized the Native population in the history of Colombia – and interestingly, these were the only positive pieces in the entire show. The other artists reflected the endless senseless war, the drugs, the environmental degradation and the extreme poverty that laces their country, some very poignant pieces.

Chacana with the Southern Cross

Asdrubal, my Arhuaco friend, invited me to his community afterward to work on a documentary we had started last year on his community cooperative project to empower Arhuaco economic growth.  Arhuacos are one of three remaining Tayrona cultures. This was my third visit to the territory of the Arhuaco. The city of Valledupar, is an industrial town at the base of the Arhuaco side mountain that thrives on the coffee and other mountain grown products. The night I arrived on the bus, a torrential rainstorm turned the streets into rivers of floating trash. I had been horrified by the trash I had encountered in the forest on my first two visits in the mountains and made it a goal to start a trash pick up and recycling program there.

I ended up having to wait for Asdrubal at his apartment in Valledupar for a week. Asdrubal’s father has been the governor of the Arhuaco for 20 years. They have adjoining apartments connected by a tiny courtyard. His brother had come to town to pick up one can of a powdered milk nutrition drink for his wife and new baby.  He made uncomfortable advances for days in the face of my clear annoyance with his antics.  I ended up wandering around the town just to avoid being in his presence. Finally he left.

Asdrubal finally arrived with wife Ester and their two toddlers.  The last time I had seen her, Christmas 2009, she was about ready to give birth to a very big baby boy.  She told me that Asdrubal had left her at their farm when she was huge and overdue and didn’t show up for three days after she had given birth, because he was too busy.  She was clearly very hurt, but said it was not her way to complain.  I learned from many other disgruntled Arhuaco women that this type of behavior was typical for Arhuaco men.  The women are left alone most of the time to raise the family, make beautiful mochillas (hand spun woolen woven bags) for the men to carry their belongings.  Their job is to make sure that there is always food and clean robes for the men, on demand, whenever they happen to show up, and demand they do. 

Arhuaca Woman

The men cluster together in their coca social club, always sharing their coca leaves with each other in a ritual of greeting. They hang around together, for hours and days on end, chewing and spitting on the stick and laying down a thick wheel of calcium deposit at the top of the poporo, always keeping their hands active to accomplish this activity with the focus of an artist creating a work of art. They say, repeatedly, that the gourd is the female, and the stick is the male entering the female.  Apparently, this use of calcium and coca quickens the art of conversation. It must be very addictive.  I wonder if it isn’t some kind of ego food. I have often chewed the coca plant, without the calcium aggregate of shells that they put inside the poporo, and have felt a slight numbness in my mouth, a mild sense of wellbeing, but no real elevation or shift of consciousness that was perceivable to me.

According to Eva Morales, the Indigenous president of Bolivia, the coca leaf is the highest vitamin content of any plant. I also understand that the leaves are already extremely high in calcium.  When offered to me, I am grateful.  But the women of the Tayrona cultures are prohibited from eating it.  As far as I know, this is the only Andean culture that uses the calcium seashells to open doors of perception that will no doubt remain for me a complete unknown.  This is the only Andean culture that prohibits women from chewing the leaf.

As a woman from a diametrically opposite culture, it is difficult to witness these inequalities. Our struggle continues, theirs has yet to begin. It is doubtful if it ever will.  Their spiritual leaders, the Mamas, decreed that they should not use the coca, and so it has been for millennia. Women bathe fully clothed.  Men have no compunction about sneaking to look if they are in the vicinity—none. Monogamy is expected from the women, but the men are free to pursue whatever exploits they choose. It was interesting for me to note that the Arhuaco creation story does not contain a female player. I have to keep telling myself that I did not come to judge, but to help.  This isolated ancient culture has been stuck in time.  Occasionally when I speak the truth of my life as a childless mother, I feel a sigh of yearning in women. There are no childless women. This concept is beyond anything in their experience.

I brought as many LED headlamps as I could carry for the women who have been holding a flashlight in the crook of their necks for generations while they complete the tasks they need both hands to accomplish—ergonomically very bad.  I also brought the solar charged outdoor lamps to bring a little light into windowless houses during the long nights.  My regret is that I couldn’t fill an entire suitcase with these items as they were such a hit. Not having enough has served to engender a lot of jealousy when I ran out.

Asdrubal has become kind of the Minister of Finance in his community. He has taken on a big task.  He has the divination of the "Mamas" to help him.  The Arhuaco community there has developed a cooperative to sell their organic coffee and other crops and gain some economic power so they can afford to buy their own land like the colonizers have been doing. They have a store there that both the Arhuaco and colonizers come to buy stuff they need, but the store could never get enough money to buy enough stuff to sell. The people would go to Valledupar in an unbelievably funky truck or van that goes occasionally like a bus and takes a couple hours.  He asked to borrow money so he could develop an account and purchase enough goods to get the store going.  I loaned him $600, and we went up there with a truckload of stuff.  I realized that a trash factory had opened up. Basura is the Spanish word for trash.  Basura is a huge problem throughout the populated area of the Sierra already - even without the basura factory store.  

On the truck to the community

I was first invited to stay at the home, and the health house of the curandera, Gladis, and her husband, the professor, Leonardo.  They live in a house across from the store, bought from a colonizer with a new metal roof.  It is the rainy season (which they say is becoming a year-long event) and they were catching rainwater from the new metal roof in a small bucket.  This was the first order of conversation, the purity of the water and the importance of rainwater catchment. If it isn’t caught from the roof, it needs to be boiled. Our second conversation was about the contamination of the Earth from the basura.. We became fast friends. The next day I took the hour hike up to Asdrubal’s farm.

Asdrubal had asked me to make a video about the cooperative, but had no interest in seeing any of the footage from the last year.  He had me bring the camera to obtain more footage, for a video that he envisioned he could carry abroad to raise money for his project, and told me he would that take me to shoot some important aspects of the culture, but the weeks that I spent at his farm with his family, I rarely saw him. The workers this year at his farm were not Arhuaco and did not dress traditionally. I picked up only a small amount of footage on any new idea and soon I was feeling like moving on to the intended work on the other side of the mountains. 

I read a beautifully written book written in 1990 by a Swiss priest about the history of the culture, its traditions, mythologies and practices, poignantly describing the terrible suffering these peoples had to endure from the occupation of the Spanish, and the centuries of disrespect by the Colombian government and further colonization of their territory.  Only now are they beginning to come out from under the heavy yoke of their unfortunate history.  The more prosperous Arhuacos are buying jeeps, building houses with materials that are bought in town. The traditional lifestyle is faltering under the call from western culture.  I was surprised to see Arhuaco women in Santa Marta sporting high-heeled sandals and using fingernail polish.

The Arhuaco art of planting a diversified food forest is the key to what is becoming their financial success. They grow organic coffee, cacao, plantains etc, without external inputs by simply intermixing the trees—as in nature. They do not exploit the land in the way the colonizers do, by cutting the trees and over-planting mono-crops or raising cattle.  Ideas like this cooperative will serve to help those Arhuacos who have long been being exploited by the middlemen.  The Arhuacos are the greatest in number of the Tayrona cultures, around 18,000, and are finding their way to live in both worlds.


Food forest - Coffee - Cacao - Plantain - Malanga

Cacao fruit

It became apparent that my valuable time in Colombia was being sucked up by Asdrubal’s desire that I stay with the Arhuaco instead of going to serve the Wiwa. I was helping with the coffee and cacao harvest, helping to look after the kids.  I learned how much I didn’t like living in the same house with pigs and chickens, how to cook on their kitchen fire.  I took beautiful afternoon hikes to even higher elevations on well-worn paths that lead to the houses of colonizers and Arhuaco families who live deeper in the mountains, many hours from others.  And I was feeling trapped with my camera and suitcase, an hour hike from the community, and valuable time was passing on my three month visa when my real mission in coming to Tayrona was to help the Wiwa, another ancient Tayrona culture who in danger of loosing their language and culture. 

When I first arrived I pulled out had some new metal roofing for an intended new house at the farm, and arranged it so I could collect rainwater in a bucket.  Ester considered this an insult, maintaining their water that came from the reservoir and was held in a holding tank was clean.  I could clearly see it wasn’t.  She and the kids had weird rashes and the kids had diarrhea. She kept throwing out my rain catchment water and when I started boiling water to drink, they all rudely chided me.  The past year I had purified the water in a plastic bottle in the sun, UV purification, but during the rainy season, the daylong sun element was missing.  Eventually, on a hike at the top of the mountain, I stupidly took a chance on a hose with water from a reservoir tank and realized immediately that I had consumed contaminated water. I sought out the tank and realized that the water came rushing down the well-worn trail, with burro and mule poo and flowed into the open reservoir tank.  I took a strong purification mineral, sodium chlorite that has the side effect of creating a purge from both ends, and took this as my exit from the house.  I walked to the curendera’s house in the community, my belongings soon followed. 

They, and their kids, were overjoyed to see me again.  I was able to accomplish really good things in a couple days. The professor, Leoardo, and I collaborated to teach the kids about trash.  It was so precious to see them in their white traditional clothes picking up the trash in the immediate area of the school and cooperative, and then we sorted it into recyclable, burnable, and basura.  It was a huge pile.  The Earth began to breathe where they had cleared it, and the feeling was absolutely tactile.  The kids could feel it too.  On October 13, 2010, we began the environmental reclamation of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta.  Hopefully the idea will spread. Many people come through the community, many trails split there. They hold their festivals there.  In Valledupar I found a recycling center that pays for recycled goods and this will provide some funds for the school kids to buy notebooks and pens - a win - win.

Trash collection

Trash Poster


Gladdis, the curendera, is also trained in Western Medicine.  She uses it when a condition has gone beyond the reach of herbs and the healing of spiritual malaise. She has seen the water in a microscope. #1 cause of infant mortality is diarrhea from contaminated water. I heard her say to the all people who came to the clinic, "You have to boil your water".  So I told Asdrubal, that I would leave $300 for two water collection tanks from the new metal roofs on the school and the clinic.  She was so beyond jazzed! She kept exclaiming, "Agua es vida!"   People could use the recycled plastic bottles that hold the soda they buy in the store to carry the water home.  The kids will have clean drinking water at the school. Once the people taste the difference, they might not even want to buy the soda.  It tastes fabulous.  This could really transform the health problems of a huge number of people.  And a lot of water comes out of those heavens.  I found a place in Valledupar that sells water catchment tanks.  $300 is enough money to buy two 1000 liter tanks, three trash recycling bins, with enough left for a small donation to the school.

On the bus to Santa Marta, I caught the first glimpse of myself in weeks in the fuzzy metal mirror in the bathroom, and realized that the experience had really taken its toll.  I was really looking forward to a hotel and zone of comfort to recuperate, but the few days became almost 10 days as I began the process of understanding the difficulties of obtaining a volunteer visa in this crazy country and dealing with this new community of Wiwa.  I have one friend in Santa Marta who is fluent in English, is familiar with immigration issues, and has been faithfully helping me over the many legal hurtles.  Alvaro is my angel of Santa Marta, who like many people here, has had to face some hard life challenges and is going through difficult times.  He is a kind and intelligent gentleman who lived in the US for many years. This is my major blessing at this time in Colombia.  With Alvaro's help, I still may be able to find my way.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Statue of Freedom - America Freedom Triumphant

The Statue of Freedom
America Freedom Triumphant

Gazing up at the tholos, the lighthouse atop the Capitol Dome of the United States of America, it is virtually impossible to discern the figurehead who serves as an enduring reminder of the symbol of our national identity. On his deathbed in 1857, Thomas Crawford, the sculptor of this magnificent bronze statue, named her America. When she was mounted atop the Capitol, she was known as Freedom Triumphant in War and Peace. She is now commonly known as the Statue of Freedom. Her name appears to evolve with the spirit of the Nation. She was placed there at the time when this newly formed Nation was meeting its greatest trial to stand for freedom; the highest value our country purported to uphold. Ironically, Philip Reid, a master craftsman was a slave when he cast her. He was freed by the Emancipation Proclamation the same year she was mounted on the Dome in 1863.

We owe a debt of gratitude to, a Native Hawaiian Kahuna, Morrnah Nalamaku Simeona, a healer and seer who brought this distant figure on the Capitol Dome to public attention. Mornnah had initially assumed that the statue represented Pocahontas, but gazing up at her from the Capitol lawn, Mornnah learned from her that she wanted to be known as “Our Lady of Freedom”. She saw her as the “Conscience of the Nation” and recognized her as the embodiment of freedom not only for the land that is now called the United States of America, but also for the whole Cosmos and all creation. So she decided to dedicate her life to bringing the Statue into public awareness. She appealed to her State Senator, Daniel Kahikina Akaka Daniel Kahikina Akaka for support. With funding largely from the Foundation of I, founded by Mornnah, the original plaster model of America was taken out of storage and installed at ground level in the Russell Senate Office Building in 1993. That same year the bronze Statue was brought down from the dome to be refurbished. In 2008 the plaster model was moved to the new Capitol Visitors Center and now presides over Emancipation Hall.

Thomas Crawford had received many important commissions to embody the nature of the Republic at the time of the building of the Capitol complex and was intimate with the different ideas being requested of him to portray of the ideal of America. The continents have feminine names, for example Asia, Africa, Europa, Antarctica, Australia, so naturally America needed to be represented as feminine. Jefferson Davis, the Secretary of War who would become the President of the Confederate States of America, and Montgomery Meigs, the Capitol Engineer who would become a general of the Union Army, were in charge of choosing the Capital art. Both were graduates of West Point. Thomas Crawford, born in New York, worked from his studio in Rome, Italy.

Crawford developed three models of the Statue at their bidding. Crawford had previously carved a woman representing America in the Progress of Civilization on the Senate Pediment. Jefferson Davis’ first idea was for the statue to resemble the Goddess of War, Minerva—her original Greek name is Athena. He himself had made a drawing of Minerva while at West Point.

Crawford’s first response was a drawing of a coy and placid Athenian type goddess with a headdress of wheat and laurel, holding a sword, shield and an olive branch to represent war and peace. He called her Freedom Triumphant in Peace and War—peace and war in that order.

In the second design, Armed Liberty, the olive branch symbol of Athens and of peace had been discarded. She stood erect on top of a sphere circled with the Nation’s motto, E Pluribus Unum, out of many one. She wore a Phrygian cap encircled in stars. Phrygian caps were a symbol of a freed slave, and since the citizens (white men) of the United States were born free, this was rejected as inappropriate.

The third and final model was sent on March 19, 1856. In this model Freedom had emerged as a Euro-American Goddess. The Athenian toga-like dress is now covered with a Native American cloak with fir fringe. A Peace Medallion, like those gifted to Native Chiefs by US Presidents, ornaments her dress. The Phrygian cap was transformed into the head of an eagle replete with talons to suggest the complete bird. The sword, shield and laurel wreath are what remain from the original European allegorical symbols of the first model. The letters between Crawford and his employers are really not detailed and nothing has been found that Crawford wrote about his inner process. However, in a letter to Jefferson Davis dated March 19, 1856, he wrote, “I read with much pleasure the letter of Honorable Secretary and his remarks have induced me to dispense with the cap and put in its place a helmet, the crest which is composed of an eagle’s head and a bold arrangement of feathers suggested by the costume of our Indian tribes”.

Now that she can be seen at eye level, she calls upon us to reflect upon where she came from, how she manifests, and what her significance is. My personal experience with her invokes a clear and undeniable union with the original Americans. The Statue embodies for me the Iroquois creation story, their values and symbols that emerged from the bedrock of the experience of millennia of life in unity with this land and their struggles for freedom and peace. She embodies Euro/American experience as a whole with important interrelationships between the myth of Athena and the creation story and the history of the Iroquois intertwined.

Mythology and allegory lift the veil that history imposes upon the deeper truths. Myths, creation stories, are repositories of the mysteries of the divine. Mythmakers, in touch with the world behind the world, who create myths, seek to engage arcane wisdom to speak to limited understanding. They call us to reflect upon essential truths that contain moral significance. Myths gather meaning through the eons as they inherit human experience thus making myth eternally true. They foretell the development of the cultural soul. The two Goddesses from the mythic realm weave an important allegory to inform these times.

The ideal of majestic architectural beauty for the Capital was meant to rival classical European models derived from the Greeks and Romans. Jupiter’s temple in Rome was built on Capitoline Hill. The word capitol is derived from the Latin word caput, meaning head. Since Roman classical mythology appropriated the Greek myths, to avoid confusion I will use the names from the original Greek myths.

Metis, Zeus’ wife, the Goddess of Wisdom, had saved Zeus from being eaten by his father Cronus, the supreme ruler of the universe. When Metis became pregnant, Zeus feared the prophecy that she would give birth to a son who would supplant him as King of the Gods. In his father’s style, he swallowed pregnant Metis consuming and repressing her wisdom. Athena was born of Metis inside her father. Plagued by a terrible headache Zeus called upon Hephaestus, to crack open his head with an axe and Athena emerged in full golden battle regalia with her sword drawn, perhaps in anticipation that she would have to defend herself. But this beautiful female was not perceived as a threat to his power. Disarmed by his bright-eyed Athena, she became an object of his adoration, his closest confidant, strategist and advisor. She was most famous for her arts of diplomacy and became known as the Goddess of Wisdom. Because she remained a virgin, she devoted her independence, wisdom and creativity to creating many boons to civilization, and so, like career women of today, took a seat of honor in the patriarchal world. Woman with Athenian qualities have paved the way to an acceptance of the wisdom of the feminine in societies where women have had to fight for equality and respect. This is the role the Athenian goddess played to assist Freedom’s ascent to the dome.

Artists in union with mythic realms aspire to portray the essence of the archetype that comes through to them. The Athenian goddess that first came through to Crawford seems to represent Athena’s wisdom body. In Crawford’s drawing, she stands with a downcast look as if to say that the Dome of the US Capitol is really not her place. But she paved the way for an ideal feminine deity from this hemisphere who would ultimately take the name of Freedom who is the Peace Queen of the Iroquois Nation, the Mother of Nations. She stepped out of the mythic realm into Iroquois history and co-created the Great Law of Peace with the Great Peacemaker.

This Great Law of Peace would play a key role in the development of our democratic government. The evidence is very strong that the Founding Fathers studied the workings of the Iroquois League of Nations and relied heavily upon this Great Law of Peace, the Constitution of the Iroquois Confederacy. This is a participatory democracy joining five Nations that existed on this land for centuries before European contact. The Founding Fathers could never admit the influence of the Iroquois League of Nations on the Constitution primarily because the Iroquois gave great attention to balancing the genders in governance.

The following research is taken from The White Roots of Peace, by Paul Wallace and was inspired by Iroquois scholar and writer Barbara Alice Mann who has compiled the many versions of the Iroquois stories, Encyclopedia of the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois League) - Johansen and Mann. I am recounting a very abridged version of the stories for the purpose of bringing light to the various symbols represented on the Statue of Freedom.

Crawford’s second and final version of the Statue has her standing erectly on a globe with the Latin motto, E Pluribus Unum, Out Of Many One. Paul Wallace writes,“ To the outside world the spirit of the League might seem to be expressed in the Latin motto E Pluribus Unum. But to the nations within the League its spirit might have seemed better expressed in the words Ex Uno Plura. The strength of the whole made safe the individual differences of the members.”

The stars on the cap of this second and on the final version of the statue represent the Iroquois legend of the creation of the continent. Ataensic, Sky Woman fell from Karionake, the Sky World, a world that traveled among the stars whose inhabitants read the dreams and assisted the planets that called to them. Ataensic’s husband, the Ancient One, who was jealous of her superior dream reading powers, pushed his pregnant wife through a hole that was made in Sky World by the Tree of Life that had been uprooted. As she fell, she managed to grab hold of the seeds of corn, bean, squash and tobacco that were clinging to the uprooted roots. These seeds were the gifts of Sky World to what would become the human population below.

Eagle, flying at a great height, caught sight of Ataensic plummeting towards the watery world and called out to Heron and Loon who were flying below. The two flew together, linked their wings and caught her. Eagle called to Great-grandmother Turtle, alerting her to the birds struggling to carry the woman. Turtle called a council of the animals of the waters to bring up some sand from the bottom of the waters to make land on Turtle’s back for Ataensic who could neither swim nor fly. After many failed and tragic attempts, finally Beaver managed to bring up some sand on his tail, flip it on to Turtle’s back, and she was set down. By walking east toward the sun, Ataensic then created the continent known by Native peoples as Turtle Island. With every step the land grew in front of her. She planted her seeds, and gave birth to her daughter who she named Lynx, the first human born in this hemisphere.

When Ataensic’s daughter, Lynx, grew up she mated with North Wind. She gave birth to four children, two boys and two girls, yet she died during childbirth. She reincarnates into history as Jigonsaseh, the Peace Queen, and meets one of her sons named Sapling who has reincarnated as the Great Peace Maker. He traveled across what is now Lake Ontario in a stone canoe with a mission to bring peace to the warring nations of the south. These wars had been created by the policies of the Mound Builders who allowed people to grow corn only for their ceremonial purposes. As corn was the primary staple food in balance with the bean and squash, the people were starving. They had turned to cannibalism and were constantly at war with one another.

The Great Peacemaker’s first primary ally was Jigonsaseh who was peacefully confronting the ruling patriarchy of the Mound Builders. A Clan Mother, she stood for the “corn way” growing corn for food. She modeled the highest ethical standards under the existing rules of the time for the role of women. When the Great Peacemaker encountered her, he immediately recognized her as his own Ancient Mother. The two sat to craft the Great Law of Peace. Because peacemakers of both genders created this Law, they created gender balance in governance that gave women key roles—a participatory democracy.
When the Great Law of Peace was finally enacted, five warring nations were brought under the Tree of Peace, later to be joined by a sixth. The weapons of war were buried under the Tree whose white roots extended in the Four Directions. Atop the Tree, Eagle perched to guard and warn of impending danger. Eagle now stands on the head of Freedom, and as we know, symbolizes the Nation as a whole.

When Crawford submitted the final model, he added more symbols from the Indigenous world. He gave her a fir-fringed cloak. The Iroquois understand freedom afforded by government to afford protection of citizens so they will be free from fear and from want. Freedom’s cloak represents those kinds of protections. President Obama iterated exactly these same freedoms in his acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize. “… a just peace includes not only civil and political rights -- it must encompass economic security and opportunity. For true peace is not just freedom from fear, but freedom from want”.
Medallions like the broach that holds her dress with the letters US, were given by US Presidents to Native American Chiefs to seal friendship and trust. They were greatly prized by their recipients. Although we can never undo the destruction to our Nation’s first peoples, this Medallion calls us to live up to their intent and move forward.

Freedom’s shield represents the Constitution. The shield was first used on the Great Seal before the Constitution was finalized, but not before the Great Law of Peace was created. Protection against tyranny was the intent of the Great Law of Peace. It is the founding principle and cornerstone of our democratic system.

On the inside the Rotunda of the Dome, Constantine Brumidi's fresco depicts Freedom wielding her sword and shield, assisted by Eagle with the bundled arrows that are the symbol of the Iroquois Confederacy. They are beating down tyranny and kingly power, the enemy of freedom. Ironically, the Founders of this Nation did not see the “Right of Conquest” as the worst imaginable form of despotism. This was the first “Right of Kings”, established by William the Conqueror in 1066. It remains the most egregious offender to the ideals of freedom that the Founding Fathers aspired to achieve. This “Right” allowed them to obliterate the Indigenous peoples with impunity. The Iroquois in Ohio, whose land had been promised to the soldiers who fought the Revolutionary War, gave Washington the name of “town burner”. Like many who followed him, he used horrifying tactics to eradicate them like vermin. Our history is fraught with struggles against these types of blinders to the pre-existing European tyrannical forms, but the call to freedom is unstoppable.

Freedom’s sword under her poised hand is sheathed and wrapped in its belt serving as a constant reminder of our Nation’s unenlightened story. Yet, she holds the laurel wreath of triumphant victory over the shield. False greatness resulting from violent conquest cannot hold a candle to the grandeur of world peace.

The ideals depicted by the Statue of Freedom are the vehicle for the Apotheosis of Washington, the envisioned rising of this Nation to divinity that is depicted in the same fresco beneath her feet on the inside of the Rotunda of our Temple of Democracy.

Whether Thomas Crawford intended these interpretations or even understood the scope of these allegorical symbols is irrelevant. The artist in connection with mythic realms is a diviner whose work cooperates with posterity and exceeds the expectations or the experience of the artist. As a natural born citizen of the United States of America with both Indigenous and European roots, I see it as my birthright to cast a fresh light upon Freedom’s meaning by introducing a cosmology that more closely parallels the long history of this hemisphere with the intent upon aligning our Nation on the path of freedom, our Nation’s highest ideal—and to help to heal the rift between Indigenous culture and the Western world at a time when our Nation is ripe to reinvent our national identity to meet an emergent phase of human consciousness in the 21st century.

Because I believe it is within our Nation’s potential to possess true greatness, my name for the figurehead who presides over our Nation’s Capitol, the Temple of Democracy, is America Freedom Triumphant forecasting the day when we as a Nation have reached that point of glory.

In closing a short prayer from the Native Hawaiian practice Ho'oponopono in honor of Morrnah Nalamaku Simeona:
I am sorry.
Please forgive me.
Thank you.
I love you.

May peace be with you,
Shannyn Sollitt

I would like to express gratitude to Katya Miller for sharing with me her years of research, her inspiration and intention to bring the Statue of Freedom to the people.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Grandmother, I'm home!

At the closing ceremonies of the Journey for Peace and Dignity, the realization hit me like a brick that the oppression and subjugation of the Indigenous world was actually contained within my own personal herstory.

When my mother was living out her last days with growing Alzheimer disease and dementia, in what must have been a weak moment, she pulled out a daguerreotype from her darkest recesses of safekeeping. This photograph on glass, (that probably had not seen daylight for decades) I immediately recognized as a beautiful Native American Grandmother dressed in European clothing. I lit up exclaiming my recognition of this person as a Native woman and incredulously asked my mother who she was. She quickly snatched back the leather box and mumbled barely audibly that it was my Grandmother’s Grandmother, or Mother, it wasn’t clear. Just that brief glimpse of the glass plate silver negative image against black, has remained indelible in my mind. I don’t know why I didn’t pursue it at that moment. My relationship with my Mother had always been difficult, but I fully expected that precious leather covered box to be among her belongings after she died and I would see this beautiful Grandmother again. But alas, it mysteriously disappeared. This was a deep dark secret that was never supposed to be revealed.

This image from 1776 representing Brittania and America aptly describes my relationship to my mother - as anyone in my family will attest.

Furious that I had been deliberately cut off from my ancestors, I vowed in the closing ceremonies of the Journey for Peace and Dignity to check my DNA and to seek out my Grandmother’s birthplace to really find out the truth of who my people were. When a woman has her DNA tested, it will reveal what is in the chromosomes of the direct line of the mother and the female lineage only. A male can test the lineage of both male and female lines of the genealogy, and a female can use a male close relative, son, brother, nephew to test to determine both lines. My test came back revealing that there was no European DNA in my matrilineal bloodline. To fulfill my promise at the closing ceremony, before embarking on this project in Colombia, I sought out the birthplace of my Grandmother.

Early October, I left my home in Santa Fe. I had prepared myself as best I could, dispensed with my belongings and drove for three days through intense rainstorms in the mid-western plains to my Grandmother’s birthplace. I arrived in Maumee, Ohio, late at night, looking for any hotel I could find. I was attracted to some very bright lights that seemed to be in the middle of nowhere and found myself at a huge mall with a strange name, Fallen Timbers. An expensive hotel was there, and although it was out of my price range, it was late, so I checked in.

The next day, Saturday, I went to explore Maumee and discovered that the 13th Annual Historic Home tour was taking place in the small mansion where Mary Wells Wolcott had lived with her husband James Wolcott, a prominent citizen of the Maumee River Valley. Mary Wells Wolcott was the granddaughter of Chief Little Turtle, the leader of the Miami tribe during the Revolutionary War. Her Grandfather, William Wells, had been captured as a young adolescent prior to the Revolutionary War and was raised as a Miami Indian. He married Chief Little Turtle’s daughter, Sweet Breeze. Mary Wells was their third daughter.

In the house was a small bookstore with a few books about the Native peoples who had inhabited the region. The Land of the Three Miamis – A Traditional Narrative of the Iroquois in Ohio, by Barbara Alice Mann fell into my hands. A respected scholar, historian and teacher at the University of Ohio, Barbara Alice Mann had written this book for her granddaughter. Back at the hotel, I opened to Chapter One. “Since you are curious about the Old Things, Granddaughter Grey-Eyes, I will tell you who we are, where we came from, and what I heard from my Mothers and Grandmother relative to Old Times”. She opened a portal. I fell into the loving embrace of my ancestor, a kind, gentle, beautiful Grandmother with glistening eyes. I could feel her love and a sense of profound relief that I had sought her out. Now, finally, she could reveal to me this beautiful and painful story of the Iroquois, the sad tale of the fate of her (our) people - right in the place where so many brave warriors had shed their blood and died to protect their land and people, the Battle of Fallen Timbers.

The Three Miamis were three great rivers. The name Maumee came from the French version of the name Miami. (I remember my Grandmother telling me that she had come from a place called Three Rivers). The Native Peoples of the Land of Three Miamis lost the decisive Battle of Fallen Timbers outside Maumee just after the Revolutionary War, loosing the whole Ohio territory. I discovered that the mall and hotel where I was staying had been built on top of the very place where the Battle of Fallen Timbers had been fought. The fertile land of the Land of Three Rivers (Ohio means beautiful river in Iroquois), was to be the payment by Washington to the men who fought against the British in the Revolutionary War.

All praise and thanksgiving to Barbara Alice Mann, and all writers from the Indigenous world, who have written the truth of the story of their people, a story that was never recorded or grossly mis-recorded in history. She writes, “Those habits of silence that were formed between 1850 and 1950 remain strong in the east, Granddaughter. People who hide for a living get secrecy built in their bones. Even after the need for it passes, they are reluctant to speak of the Old Things. Some still carry secrecy so far even today that they do not speak of the Old Things even to their family members. Indeed, one of the strategies of hiding in plain sight was not to tell the children who they really were, but to let them think they were European”.

Others who have been separated in this way from their ancestors will benefit greatly reading and understanding the creation stories, the migration stories, and the story of the colonization and genocide of their people and a culture from the perspective of those who lost everything, even their identities. Barbara Mann recounts the stories in such a way that even though it is “bugs on bark” as she puts it, ink on paper, I felt I was actually hearing the story.

My ancestor in the daguerreotype lived three or four generations ago. All my life I believed my predominant ancestry to be Irish. I wonder now, what of my Mother’s Fathers Mother, and my Father’s Mother’s Mother. While furs and pots were being traded as colonizers pressed westward, women were also seen as a valuable commodity—especially beautiful, strong, gentle, free women who knew how to live on the land. The peace-loving people of the lands of the Three Miamis had been driven from their homes, fields burned, tortured, given small pox infected blankets, essentially treated like vermin by the colonists. Later the Native children were rounded up and sent to boarding schools. The women had to hide their identity when they married, or even before they married. It was survival.

Do we hold the memory of culture in our genes? For decades, I have been insisting that the Iroquois Thanksgiving Prayer be recited at every Thanksgiving feast I have given or attended. The prayer was a core component of the ritual performances in Colombia. I have read and re-read Paul A. W. Wallace and John Mohawk's White Roots of Peace, a history of the formation of the Iroquois Confederacy (known as Haudenosaunee by the people) and how the Great Law of Peace came into being.

Very strong evidence indicates that this Great Law of Peace was the blueprint for the Constitution of the United States.

The Iroquois had already dealt with the issue of defeating tyranny in their society four centuries before the arrival of the Europeans. They had created a living participatory democracy in the form of the Iroquois Confederacy, and ratified the Great Law of Peace, August 31, 1142. But the Founding Fathers would not--and could not give credit to the Iroquois Confederacy for their contribution to their ideas of democracy and the molding of the US Constitution. They could not reveal to the colonists that Iroquois women had equal (and sometimes greater) rights and power. For instance, the elder Clan Mothers chose the clan leaders and determined whether men should go to war. The Founding Fathers could not allow such egalitarian ideas into their public arena. That was just too much freedom. Because they were only dealing with the political form of tyranny they had experienced in feudal society, they failed to address or even recognize the root causes of oppression.

Ever since the Constitution was declared the law of the land, non-white, non-male people of this Republic have had to fight their way out from under a tyrannical, oppressive and arrogant mindset. The Founding Fathers believed they were designing a brilliant new form of government specifically to protect the colonies and the future of the New World from the tyranny of the power of kings, but they themselves did not seem to reflect upon their own arrogance and violence as tyrannical form. A slave owner himself, George Washington, was actively committing genocide against the Native People. This policy of genocide was justified by the god given “Right of Conquest” that had first been established in 1066 England that entitled the violent takeover of territory by William the Conqueror, making him the first king of England. This is the right of kings. Although such a right is not to be found in the Constitution, this might makes right approach to international relations is a cornerstone of United States foreign policy to this day. The Monroe Doctrine sought to write out this right in International Law to protect US interests, but the US continued to reserve the right to armed aggression when it served our own interests of expansion.

As a US citizen and an American, it is an act of patriotism (or matriotism), to bring to light the hypocrisy contained in our history, especially with an objective to honor the Founding Fathers by carrying forward their original intent to create a free and democratic Nation to serve as an example to the world. The Euro-American fight against feudalism is over. Consciousness has evolved. If we as Americans have any right to claim the United States as a free country, then the time has come to take responsibility for the way we use this right of freedom to address the root causes of an even greater oppression—the tyranny of violence in all its manifestations. It is a disease that has consumed the world and presents the greatest threat to our survival as a species.

From Iroquois history I gained deeper insight into the inextricable connection between freedom and peace. The Statue of Freedom who graces the Capitol Dome in Washington DC stands as a constant reminder to Americans that freedom is peace. I recognize this statue as America, Freedom Triumphant (as she was called by the sculptor), as the Iroquois Mother of Nations. In one of her incarnations, she was the “Peace Queen”, Jigonsaheh. As history tells it, the “Great Peacemaker”, Degenawidah, came across Lake Ontario from the north in a stone canoe with a mission in his heart to bring peace to the warring peoples who were living under the oppression of the patriarchy of the Mound Builders. He sought out the famed Peace Queen, Jigonsaheh, who was actively making a stand for peace. Together they created The Great Law of Peace. With the help of Ayonwantha, (Hiawatha to the European mind), they brought an end to the wars, formed the Iroquois Confederacy, the oldest living democracy on Earth, and planted the Tree of Peace.

It seems like a miracle that The Peace Queen, The Mother of Nations, could make her way to the top of the Capitol Dome in Washington, DC. But there she stands, a constant reminder of the Nation's core value, freedom, and of the First Nation peoples. As Morrnah Nalamakau Simeona, a kahuna from Hawaii recognized, she is "the conscience of the Nation". The next point of my exploration of my American soul was to pay a visit to this Statue of Freedom in DC with my friend Katya Miller who has researched the Goddess of Freedom for many years.

This is the plaster model of the Statue of Freedom that is now featured in the newly constructed Visitor Center at the Capitol.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The Eagle and The Condor Fly As One

My work with the Tayrona people has barely just begun. After three months of travel, circumambulating the Eastern United States, studying Spanish in Costa Rica, traveling to Nicaragua to the volcanic Ometepe Islands in Lake Nicaragua, and I finally landed in Tayrona in the northern Andes of Colombia. I am now back in Santa Fe, New Mexico, digesting my experiences in the realms of the Indigenous world of the last couple years— and figuring out my next move.

Leading up to this work I have uncovered the truth of my own identity as an American. I don’t mean a US citizen, I mean a citizen of this hemisphere called the Americas—one who comes from the land of the Eagle. The peoples of the United States believe "America" refers to the US alone. All three Americas claim this name. My personal story is a small facet of the rich tapestry of Turtle Island, America, and of awakening to my true identity as an American. It is tied to America the Goddess of Peace, known as the Statue of Freedom who stands on the dome of the Capitol in Washington DC. It is tied to the Prophecy of the Eagle of the North and the Condor of the South flying together as equals to restore balance and harmony to the world. It is tied to the survival of Indigenous cultures and ultimately to world peace.

For me world peace is not only a cause, it is a spiritual path. Embarking upon it has enriched my life beyond measure. I believe the path of peace not only enriches life, it is the essential component for the realization of our humanity and ultimately our salvation.

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to serve on the planning committee for a World Peace Conference in New Mexico that was sponsored by a Senator Shannon Robinson from the New Mexico Legislature. This was a hotly contested conference, seen by many anti-war protestors as a ploy designed to put a new face on this State which is known as the Nuclear Weapons Capitol of the World. Those of us in the pro-peace movement determined that this opportunity was a once-in-a-lifetime fluke of chance that we should strive to get all the mileage we could out of this gift from New Mexico’s legislative body.

I invited to this conference a delegation from Colombia, an Arhuaco man, Asdrubal Torres, from the Tayrona culture with a translator, Juan Gavieria, the curator of the peace art gallery of Centro Colombo Americano in Medellin. I became connected with these people in years past because I had been invited as a communications artist to open peace-through-culture conversations with performance art in Colombia, where myself and Dominique Mazeaud (a heartist) had the opportunity to co-create ritual performance art with two Arhuaco men from the Tayrona culture.

At the World Peace Conference, a separate council materialized that consisted of Indigenous people. I took my seat on the outside of the circle to listen to their discussion. At the end of the Conference I determined that the most important offering I could make to the cause of World Peace was to use my skills as a communications artist to serve the Indigenous world.

Probably, as a result of this as yet unspoken personal commitment, Asdrubal, my Arhuaco friend, invited me to participate on the Journey for Peace and Dignity in the fall. This prayer run has been conducted every four years since 1992 in fulfillment of a prophecy from the Andes that has been ripening for 500 years—since 1492. When the Eagle of the North and the Condor of the South fly together as equals, a renaissance will bring balance and harmony to this hemisphere and the planet. The Journey for Peace and Dignity is a prayer run connecting the Indigenous world of North, South, and Central Americas to serve to empower the Indigenous world. The runners start at the extreme northern and southern parts of the Americas, the tip of Alaska and Tierra del Fuego in Argentina, laying down prayers and thanksgiving through the length of the entire continent, carrying prayer staffs from the Indigenous Nations, holding circles in the communities and sacred sites. At the end of the run, when the staffs of Eagle and the Condor meet, the runners share days of ceremony, song and prayer.

The Condor and the Eagle Prophesy is a metaphor that embodies the heart/mind, spirit/matter, female/male dichotomies. The brain centered Eagle through exertion of the rational mind, has created extraordinary technological advancements—to the catastrophic expense of the natural world and traditional culture. This lust for the material, coupled with the arrogance of the rational mind has put the heart centered Condor at a severe disadvantage—under siege for a Pachacuti, 500 years. Patience is a quality of the Condor—acquired patience. Through long and heartbreaking centuries, the Condor has been waiting for the time when Eagle’s arrogance would backfire, for him to find the humility to live in a heart-centered world. The Condor lost her soul mate when invaders from across the ocean laid claim to their respective lands and the continent was divided. I visualize these magnificent beings finding themselves again, soaring on the wind together in giant spiraling circles, wing-to-wing, the hemispheres of the Americas unified, the mind in the heart center, the natural world and the feminine revered and respected, unity, balance, peace restored. The visualization of the unity of these soaring dichotomies fills me with optimism in the face of the enduring and senseless tragedy of incessant war and the loss of the natural world.

I joined the run in Colombia as a runner from North America, the land of the Eagle. I witnessed the realities of life of the Indigenous peoples of Colombia and Panama. I witnessed the incessant struggles of these cultures to maintain autonomy in the midst of the ongoing colonization of their land and over the airwaves.

On the run I developed strength and patience, acceptance and gratitude. Learning to sleep directly on very hard ground, cement, I learned to merge with the healing energy of the Earth Mother. I sang the songs of the Americas that the runners carried in their hearts and sang where we were camped and in the community circles. Most importantly I learned the value of making strong prayers on a daily basis to share my gratitude with the ancestors and to recognize and honor the Medicine Wheel, the sacred circle of life that is so out of balance. I wore a pendant of the Goddess of Peace, known as the Statue of Freedom, who stands on the Dome of Washington, DC. I recognize her essence as the Peace Queen, or the Mother of Nations, from Iroquois history. She stands with an Eagle gracing her helmet of stars as a constant reminder of her native roots in the land of the Eagle and her unity with the natural world.

My personal prayer was a long apology for the arrogance, destruction and occupation of the Americas by the so-called white race. The prayer is simple, “I am sorry, I love you”. It comes from a practice known as Ho’oponopono, a spiritual tradition in Hawaii. The word Ho’oponopono means to make right, to rectify an error. Dr. Ihaleakala Hew Len, (who Dominique Mazeaud and I had also invited also to the World Peace Conference), healed an entire ward for the criminally insane in Hawaii with this prayer—all healed. This is not a legend. He is living proof of this remarkable healing and method of transforming the world. Dr. Ihaleakala Hew Len is the master teacher with the Foundation of “I”. .

Morrnah Nalamaku Simeona, the kahuna from Hawaii who founded the Foundation of “I”, led the movement to return the Statue of Freedom to public view as part of the bicentennial celebration of the institution of the United States Constitution in 1989. Standing atop the Capitol Dome, the Statue of Freedom is so far away she is barely visible from the ground. The plaster model had once been on display in the Smithsonian Museum, but had removed from view during a remodel and put in storage for 22 years. Morrnah Nalamaku Simeona called this Goddess the “conscience of the Nation”. She said, “The Lady of Freedom represents the I-dentity of these United States…she represents freedom for the United States of America, and for the Cosmos: not just for mankind, but for all creation”. I viscerally feel a direct alignment with this Goddess, which is why I wore this pendant on the run, all the while practicing the Ho’oponopono prayer.

(More on the Goddess of Freedom later.)

There are no roads from the border of Colombia to Panama City. We had to wait for a week in a small Panamanian border town for a grocery boat that would take us through islands in the territory of the Kuna. In this small village of Afro-Caribbean peoples, I encountered a living hatred of people from the US, especially white people. The memories of the invasion of Panama to unseat Noriega in 1989 were still part of the living history; the once prosperous town destroyed; the bombed buildings never repaired; the stories of rape and unspeakable acts of violence against women and children by US soldiers were still ripe in their memories, and their hatred of me was tactile. I breathed the prayer, “I am sorry. I love you”.

It was a military border town and one had to check in with armed guards on the way to the only beach that looked like a landfill. The water was filthy. I made friends with the guard who was a Kuna and spoke to him about the “basura”, the trash. I asked him to suggest to his commanding officers that the military engage the in the pickup of all the trash on the beach. I wonder if he has been able to do anything about it. He might have.

At the only internet computer in the village I met a reporter who had flown in to the tiny airport there and was waiting for another plane. He invited me to breakfast at the café. The madam, a kind grandmother, was his friend. He shared his meal with me. The following morning I had the courage to go there alone. I ordered breakfast of fried plantains, and sat writing in my journal. The following morning when I returned, the madam gestured me to sit at what would become my designated table. The cook/waitress would not speak to me or look at me. She always just brought me the same thing, which tasted really good especially since for some days and it was the only fresh food I was eating. Word must have gotten out that there was an English speaking woman in the hood, and kind English speaking men began to show up to have a conversation, so I did meet some nice friends there. I was glad when we finally embarked on the grocery boat to the many islands in the Kuna territory. “I am sorry. I love you”.

The Kuna have a long history of their at times bloody struggle for independence, cultural autonomy and sovereignty to keep their territory free of roads or any other form of colonization. They have managed to protect 60,000 hectares. The mainland viewed from Jenny our boat, was primal, old growth, forest. Thank you Mother Earth!

The Kuna lived on what looked like floating islands—they say 365 of them—in extremely close conditions, with thatch and bamboo walls separating houses. Each community was like one closely connected living breathing entity, one integrated whole. Pigpens and out houses extended out over the water on stilts, but there didn’t appear to be any pollution problem at all. Fish were thriving in the very clear waters of this fishing culture.

The Kuna women are exquisitely beautiful with beaded designs covering their legs and arms. They constantly are making the “molas”, reverse appliqué textiles, to decorate their bodies—incredible bizarre designs of otherworldly creatures. Photography was prohibited, as it was on most of the Journey. Over the radio, one could hear music and news. Some people played tapes of old popular songs from the US. Unfortunately, television was coming in. Panama airs a lot of incredibly violent movies exported from the US, translated from English. Even with the physical protection of the territory, the disease of violence from the US is spread over the airwaves. The kids were very curious and excited to meet people from the US. There were discussions during and after the circles in the community houses about the importance of maintaining their language and culture and to beware of the nature of violence coming in over the airwaves.

It was shocking to arrive in Panama City. From the outskirts, I counted thirty tall cranes constructing high-rise buildings. I wondered how this small isthmus of land could possibly support that kind of uncontrolled growth. What would happen to all the trash? The roads were already traffic jams, and the Caribbean Sea was becoming a cesspool of plastic trash.

The Eagle and the Condor Meet

After the closing circle of the run, I traveled to Colombia with my Tayrona friend, Asdrubal, to meet with an important leader of the Tayrona people, Ramon Gil...

...and to visit his beautiful family (wife, Ester and daughter, Melony.)

Ramon had been the custodian of an Earth Treasure Vase from the Tibetan Buddhist tradition that had been delivered to him six years earlier for burial. Filling this sacred vase had been part of our ritual performances from previous trips to four cities in Colombia. I went to visit him to request that he bury the vase so it would do its sacred work; the healing and protection of the Tayrona people, of Colombia, of the Earth. Ramon is a revered Mama, a shaman or high priest of the Tayrona culture. Once he understood the value of the practice and the scope of the work, he agreed to bury it. Then he surprised me with a request that he divined from the aluna, the world behind the world. He invited me to return to help the Tayrona protect their language and culture by making books and video archives. At that moment I knew that I had to accept the invitation he had divined from the aluna and that my life as I knew it would radically change. This was the Earth Treasure Vase in action. This was Eagle and the Condor flying together. I had been invited to be a player in the fulfillment of the prophecy.

This was, and is, an enormous assignment for me to fulfill: find the funding; dispense with belongings and close my life in Santa Fe; learn Spanish really well to understand and communicate more effectively. And I needed to keep a promise I made at the closing circle of the Journey for Peace and Dignity. A realization hit me like a brick that the oppression and subjugation of the Indigenous world was actually contained within my own personal history. I had been praying and giving thanks to the ancestors, yet I personally felt cut off from own ancestors. Is this is root of the malaise of the Euro-American? The adage, “Those who cannot remember the past have no future” came to mind. If we cannot respect our ancestors, how can we honor the future generations? This may be why our culture seems to be on such a violent death trip.

"Occidental Culture"

- as seen from the beach in Santa Marta, Colombia

More to come…

Quest for "Grandmother"