Preserving the Tribal Culture of ‘God’s Multi-Colored People’ of the Amazon
Andrea Davis, Guest
[Editor’s Note: This a guest post by Andrea Davis in support of our friends in the Ecuadorian Amazon, the people of the Secoya. Please consider supporting this cultural initative to help one of the world’s few remaining indigenous rainforest tribes to preserve their culture and history in the face of destruction and domination by oil and palm companies in their region of the Amazon.]
Deep within the sultry vessels that comprise the lungs of the Upper Amazon Basin in northeastern Ecuador, I hear the collective melody of bamboo flutes playing alongside the concert of intermittent, equatorial downpours that so famously keep this region flourishing with life. As the rain plunges into these verdant expanses and rattles the maraca heads of the rhythmic rainforest trees, I hear the accompaniment of ancient songs emerging through humble instruments. I hear voices that gently proclaim reverence for their beloved, ancestral homelands.
“Who are these divine people, clothed in tunics and skirts of all colors, and adorned in beaded crowns and intricate seed jewelry?” I pondered.
I immediately yearned to know more about this vibrant and friendly community of people where men, women, elders, and children alike still reflect their culture with song and storytelling. I quickly found myself amidst a community who honors their family’s history and beliefs, their profound communion with nature, and perennial contact with celestial and supernatural beings.
They are the Siekopai, or Secoya people, which in their native Pai’coca language translates to “God’s Multicolored People”. They so beautifully illustrate the concept of “Heaven on Earth” in the profound ways they relate with the terrestrial universe that bursts with vitality all around them, and in the ways the elders actively participate in their ancestral traditions of drinking Yagé medicine to see “The Celestial Ones”. The Siekopai are healers, herbalists, midwives, yagé drinkers, musicians, artists, guardians of the rainforest, and keepers of timeless wisdom.
I traveled to the “Pineapple Armadillo Land”, or Siekopai territory with my friend and ethnobotanist Jonathon Miller Weisberger, author of the book Rainforest Medicine, www.rainforestmedicine.net, who has been a compassionate ally and student of the Secoyas for decades. A small group of us traveled along the expansive Aguarico River during the “celestial summer of the cicadas” in their sacred month of August to arrive at the homes of many families in and around San Pablo de Kantesiaya and Siekoya Remolino. Although I was amazed by the natural beauty that surrounded me amidst the tropical mists of the earth’s capillary landscape, the formidable impacts of domestic and foreign oil companies, oil palm plantations, and obvious destruction to local rivers and forests on their sacred lands, was staggering. Quickly, as I looked around their community, the loving and multicolored Secoya people began to appear to me like brilliant, weathered trees who had survived the wildfires of decades-long corruption and devastation to their pristine territory. Their culture is resilient yet also fragile in modern times, and it is not only the land, but the next generation of Secoya youth who will pay the price of the destruction that has occurred in their territory. If they so choose, it will be up to them to defend their traditions for the survival of their heavenly culture.
In the wake of such widespread imperialism, we observed still, such immaculate cultural wealth being practiced by living legends in the tight-knit community. Under Jonathon’s leadership, our small team began to collaborate with various Siekopai community members, and the Siekopai Cultural Bridge Initiative was born thereafter. The project is in coordination with the Siekopai Nationality and has received the blessing from the community leadership and many families. With the exceptional help of local adept Miguel Payaguaje, we began the documentation and co-creation of a locally illustrated, trilingual book of Secoya creation mythology. The book will be available to read in Pai’coca, Spanish, and English, and has strong potential to be introduced into the Siekopai schools in the near future.
Take a look:
In addition, over 80 songs, healing chants, traditional flute music, and cultural manifestations were documented, of which will be produced onto a double-disc CD compilation. This collection will be distributed among the Siekopai for the community´s own enjoyment, as an educational tool for the youth, as well as to share the richness and beauty of their cultural heritage with visitors and interested new friends.
Funding is still needed to complete the paintings, translations, publishing, and distribution of the books and music collection, which is why we have subsequently launched a Kickstarter Campaign (http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/343818825/siekopai-cultural-bridge-initiative). Many beautiful rewards are available to our backers, such as gorgeous handwoven hammocks, traditional Siekopai music CD’s, an illustrated creation myths book, traditional clay pots made by local women, rainforest seed necklaces and bracelets, and traditional bamboo flutes made by local men, just to name a few!
One hundred percent of all the contributions raised, will go to completing, printing and distributing the mythology books and ethnomusicology CD’s to the Siekopai communities and schools. This is a unique opportunity for us all to unite and cross the cultural bridges that have been diligently laid out before us. Together, we can become active participants in learning from and preserving Secoya culture, meanwhile sharing a multitude of resources and ideas, and experiencing an auspicious coexistence for all.
Many previous projects in Ecuador have been made financially possible through annual retreats with the Siekopai elders, called “Council Gatherings”. Many good things have come to pass from these Council Gatherings, that have supported community projects and solidarity to the elders.
Once a year the a commission of Siekopai elders travel to Guaria de Osa Ecolodge, in a paradise wilderness setting on the Osa Peninsula, of Costa Rica, where they participate in an “An Experience with Ancient Amazonian Medicine for Self, Community and Planetary Renewal.”
For those who want to meet the Secoya elders for a timeless experience in self renewal and fun, the next dates are for this January 2016.
More info can be seen here: http://www.guariadeosa.com/events/council-gathering-2016.html
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