Indigenous Culture

The hummingbird people

Regard Eloigne

"To the Yanomami, each person has an ‘image-essence’, a double called a utupë, to which they are joined until death.  A utupë can present itself in the image of many different living creatures, including a bird, mammal or insect. There are also spirits of trees, waterfalls and wild honey." (Survival International)

One by one the spirits arrived. The toucan spirits arrived with their big ear sticks and bright red loin cloths, describes Davi. The hummingbird people arrived and flew around. The moka frog spirits were there with quivers of arrows on their backs. Then came the peccary spirits, the bat people and the spirits of the waterfall.

My soul began to shine.

All came and slung their hammocks in my chest.


OSPAAL Poster Art

The Organization of Solidarity with the People of Asia, Africa and Latin America (Organización de Solidaridad con los Pueblos de Asia, África y América Latina), abbreviated as OSPAAAL, is a Cuban political movement with the stated purpose of fighting globalisation, imperialism, neoliberalism and defending human rights. It publishes the magazine Tricontinental. The OSPAAAL was founded in Havana in January 1966, after the Tricontinental Conference, a meeting of leftist delegates fromGuinea, the Congo, South Africa, Angola, Vietnam, Syria, North Korea, the Palestine Liberation Organization, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Chile and the Dominican Republic. Mehdi Ben Barka, the Moroccan leader of the Tricontinental Conference, was murdered the year before, allegedly with complicity of the CIA.

One of the main purposes of the organisation is to promote the causes of socialism and communism in the Third World; for example, OSPAAAL strongly supported Hugo Chávez and demands that the Cuban Five be released. Social development, which the organization says is a human right, is a recurring theme in OSPAAAL publications.

From its foundation until the mid 1980s, OSPAAAL produced brightly coloured propaganda posters promoting their cause, however, financial difficulty and ink shortages forced the organization to stop producing these posters. However, in 2000, these posters began to be printed again.  These posters, as they intended to be internationalist, usually had their message written in Spanish, English, French, and Arabic. As opposed to being put up on walls around Cuba, these posters were instead folded up and stapled into copies ofTricontinental, so that they could be distributed internationally. This allowed OSPAAAL to send its message to its subscribers around the world.

All OSPAAAL-Posters from the beginning until 2003 are documented and indexed in the book The Tricontinental Solidarity Poster.

Comprehensive archive of OSPAAAL posters created by librarian/archivist Lincoln Cushing

These are some of my favorites:

Reassemblage: Trinh T. Minh-ha (1983)

"Trihn Mihn-ha's experimental documentary, Reassemblage, is for all intents and purposes a film about the people of Senegal. But Trihn has a higher purpose in mind. The film if self-reflexive in that as it is as much about documentaries themselves as it is about the people of Senegal. Trihn calls into question the conventions of the documentary and how such films have the power to manipulate the way in which the audience sees. She constantly reminds her audience that they are watching a movie through many filmic techniques. For example, at times she cuts sound completely to emphasize the fact that she has the ability to manipulate what we are feeling. By taking away the music (African drumming in this case), a tool filmmakers often rely on to tell us how we SHOULD be feeling, we are left to our own devices and must figure out on our own what we are seeing, what it means to us, and why. At times this makes viewing her film fairly difficult, but ultimately it's a rather interesting and thought-provoking experience." (Youtube)

Trinh T. Minh-ha's website

Tropic of Chaos

Tropic of Chaos: Climate Change and the New Geography of Violence

By Christian Parenti 

Nation Books, 304 pages 

From Africa to Asia and Latin America, the era of climate wars has begun. Extreme weather is breeding banditry, humanitarian crisis, and state failure. In 

Tropic of Chaos

, investigative journalist Christian Parenti travels along the front lines of this gathering catastrophe--the belt of economically and politically battered postcolonial nations and war zones girding the planet's midlatitudes. Here he finds failed states amid climatic disasters. But he also reveals the unsettling presence of Western military forces and explains how they see an opportunity in the crisis to prepare for open-ended global counterinsurgency.  Parenti argues that this incipient "climate fascism"--a political hardening of wealthy states-- is bound to fail. The struggling states of the developing world cannot be allowed to collapse, as they will take other nations down as well. Instead, we must work to meet the challenge of climate-driven violence with a very different set of sustainable economic and development policies.

Progress and Resistance in Central India, Part 3

Arundhati Roy has republished her essays on the Maoist struggle in central India (previously discussed

here

and

here

) in her new book of essays,

Broken Republic

.  Of course, like all of her work, these essays follow the logical and poetic implications of the injustices and struggles of indigenous people in India to global and metaphysical levels, providing novel possbilities of understanding and inspiration.  I can say without having read the new edition and the third essay it contains that this is a must-read for advocates of indigenous rights, environmentalists, and anti-capitalists of all stripes.

Here is a BBC interview with Arundhati Roy about the book:

Noam Chomsky: The Unipolar Moment and the Culture of Imperialism

I'm a year late, but I've finally found this and watched it — a few times.  In this lecture — one of a series held annually in honor of Edward Said — Chomsky clearly contextualizes the Obama administration's foreign policy within the recorded and verified history of Imperialism.  He lucidly displays the direct historical relationships between the Berlin Wall and the Wall of Annexation in Palestine, the genocide of Native Americans and all other genocides that have resulted from Western expansionism.  This is not new ground for Chomsky, but it is as succinct and yet far reaching as any single talk of his I've heard, seen or read. 

I cannot say that I find Chomsky's analysis entirely satisfying, but his scholarship and rhetorical precision are as always unreproachable.  I have never found his theoretical assumptions or conclusions to be entirely coherent or providing an understanding of how Imperialist, racist and genocidal worldviews emerge or how they cohere with the philosophical, economic or wider cultural systems and situations in which they flourish and take root.  Where I find a failure of imagination (empathy) arising from an automatic, inhuman conspiracy of intentional, human forces, he seems to only find a failure of a type of human being.  Whether his ultimatum—to be either an Imperialist or a Libertarian—is a genuine existential condition he experiences or a rhetorical strategy aimed at instigating a crisis of the Imperialist imagination, I cannot say, but the scholarly and analytical tools he virtuostically demonstrates are of value to any emancipatory movement.  I do not — I cannot — stomach the dismissal of his work by the Maoist and Sparticist intellectual left as lacking or even contradictory to dialectical materialist critique and revolution.  His dedication to emancipatory theory, and his involvement in the real struggles of colonized, oppressed and dispossessed, in any honest estimation, puts the radical academic left to shame. 

The dismissal or simple ignoring of his work in mass culture is not worth explaining — he himself has done it better than I or any one else could via the Propaganda Model.  There is more to say there in terms of the human mind and imagination — as David Edwards and others have attempted to do — but I suspect that in careful analysis of this and other works of his, such levels of interpretation will be possible and fruitful for the indefinite period of struggle ahead.  The ongoing dialogue between the ideas of Chomsky and Said is certainly one such avenue. 

 

ACCIDENTALLY SPRAYED

Accidentally Sprayed

by Gonzalo Escobar (2008)

From Gonzalo Escobar's Vimeo page:

Winged performers in the streets, armed with water sprays bottles, become a metaphor to the relationship between a Colombian filmmaker living in the United States and the aerial fumigations of coca crops occurring in his native country. Different perspectives of the topic are explored through images and sounds, but especially, through his opportunity to travel to southern Colombia, where the fumigations have been taking place. Aspects of documentary filmmaking are mixed with elements of the film essay genre. Animation, news, and found footage also take part of this visual and sonic collage that thrives to represent the filmmaker’s position and to some extent, the position of any viewer.

Gonzalo is the lead performer in my film Oh My Soul, and a good friend.  This video taught me a lot about the issue of crop fumigation in Colombia as well as strategies for investigating the social and political through personal filmmaking.  I hope he makes more soon!

Progress and Resistance in Central India, Part 2

For two months in 1999, I lived in a Gond village 11 km from the town of Dantewara in what was then Madhya Pradesh, India (the next year, in 2000, the Gond region was bifurcated by the creation of the new state of Chhattisgarh).  The Gond villagers had been struggling for fifty years to survive despite increasingly polluted water supplies, no schools, no hospitals.  Through an organization called Dakshinayan I worked on an ashram with villagers to build new irrigational structures, repair deep groundwater pumps, facilitate literacy and empowerment women's groups, teach English and bring medical supplies to remote villages. Despite the short time I spent there and the great amount of the history and politics I did not know, it was obvious to me that the tiny amount of "development" funding that was allocated for projects such as mine was completely insufficient, and that the official channels open to the tribal people of India to protest and take control of their own land and the resources within it were never going to be sufficient to make meaningful changes in the direction of increased hunger, poverty and dislocation they were heading.

Thinking further about Arundhati Roy's amazing article Walking With the Comrades, published earlier this month, concerning the tribal resistance movement in central India, has generated in me a flood of recollections of the two months in 1999 I spent as a volunteer on a watershed development and social justice project in the area that is now a Maoist stronghold.  In light of the continuing assaults on the people of this area by the Indian miltary and their  plans for escalated violence, I wanted to post some pictures from the time I spent there of the people I met and the landscape so rich in minerals as to attract the most focused and violent attention of capitalist forces worldwide.  The children I worked with and met would now be in their late teens and early twenties, and could very well be among the lists of rebels killed each day.

I have also posted a personal essay I wrote about my trip to central India in 1999, a few months after returning home to California.  I was eighteen years old, and did not know of much of the political activity that was surely going on around me in Dantewada.  This essay is essentially a distillation of the notes I took and sort of seismological recording of the personal impact that the project had on me. You can read the essay here.

Progress and Resistance in Central India

PLGA Militants (photo from dawn.com)

Having dispossessed them and pushed them into a downward spiral of indigence, in a cruel sleight of hand, the Government began to use their own penury against them. Each time it needed to displace a large population — for dams, irrigation projects, mines — it talked of "bringing tribals into the mainstream" or of giving them "the fruits of modern development". Of the tens of millions of internally displaced people (more than 30 million by big dams alone), refugees of India’s ‘progress’, the great majority are tribal people. When the Government begins to talk of tribal welfare, it’s time to worry. 

— Arundhati Roy, Walking with the Comrades. March 21, 2010.

Last month Arundhati Roy broke the taboo of reporting directly on the Naxalite (Maoist) rebels in Central India. In the resulting articles and media appearances she has made, she has been attenmpting to draw attention to this struggle which is largely invisible and unreported in mainstream Indian media, to expose the hypocrisy of the joint corporate/government "relief" and "development" projects in the tribal areas of India.  As the Isreali government announces that a re-occupation of Gaza is immanent, the  Israeli military is training Indian "counter-terrorism" forces and supplying them with hi-tech weopenry to hunt down and destroy anyone who resists the destruction of the tribal culture, livelihoods and environment of  central India.  Please read Arundhati Roy's extremely well-researched, beautifully written and deeply troubling article, Walking with the Comrades from earlier this month here.

 

Two Large Crows

From The First Angelinos: The Gabrielino Indians of Los Angeles by William McCawley (Malki Museum Press, 1996):

Other important observations made by the Spanish in 1602 describe Gabrielino religious practices.  Near Isthmus Cove on Santa Catalina the Spaniards o0bserved "a place of worship or temple where the natives perform the sacrifices and adorations."  According to Father Antonio it

was a large flat patio and in one part of it, where they had what we would call an altar, there was a great circle all surrounded with feathers of various colors and shapes, which must come from the birds they sacrifice.  Inside the circle there was a figure like a devil painted in various colors, in the way the Indians of New Spain are accustomed to paint them.  At the sides of this were the sun and the moon.  When the soldiers reached this place, inside the circle there were two large crows larger than ordinary ones, which flew away when they saw strangers, and alighted on some nearby rocks.  One of the soldiers, seeing their size, aimed at them with his harquebus [matchlock rifle], and discharging it, killed them both.  When the Indians saw this they began to weep and display great emotion.  In my opinion, the Devil talked to them through these crows, because all the men and women held them in great respect and fear.

Birch Bark Biting

From the website of the artist Pat Bruderer, also known as Half Moon Woman — one of only three people in the world practicing the art of Birch bark biting:

Birch Bark Biting is one of the oldest First Nations art forms. It Is done by separating pieces of birch bark and folding it two or more times. You place the bark between your teeth visualizing what you want to create. You begin biting while rotating it with your hand. Originally, birch bark biting was a form of competition to see who would create the most elaborate design. Later they were also used for beadwork and silk embroidery patterns. There are more than 10 stages to complete just one piece.

It has been said that the best designs were used to create the Chief's regalia (elaborate traditional clothing) and that each bite represented a spirit. Birch bark bitings were also used in as part of the construction of certain sacred ceremonial object.