Friday, October 12, 2007

Indigenous People's Day: Reclaiming the Values of Abya Yala

As some people may know, October 12, 1492 is traditionally thought to be the day on which Columbus's ship La Pinta first noticed land. His ships quickly made landfall and encountered native peoples. For anyone who has doubt that conquest and conversion were foremost on the minds of the Europeans, this excerpt from Columbus's journal, in which he describes the first people he came across on the islands, should suffice to dispel it:

"All of them alike are of good-sized stature and carry themselves well. I saw some who had marks of wounds on their bodies and I made signs to them asking what they were; and they showed me how people from other islands nearby came there and tried to take them, and how they defended themselves; and I believed and believe that -- they come here from tierrafirme to take them captive. They should be good and intelligent servants, for I see that they say very quickly everything that is said to them; and I believe that they would become Christians very easily, for it seemed to me that they had no religion. Our Lord pleasing, at the time of my departure I will take six of them from here to Your Highnesses in order that they may learn to speak..."

Centuries later indigenous people in the Americas (or as some are calling it, using the indigenous term from the peoples of Panama, Abya Yala), are struggling to reclaim their culture and their place in history. This speech by Peruvian indigenous leader Hugo Blanco, given this past September 2007, lays out this indigenous perspective. The hope is to be able to resuscitate the native relationship to nature and reimplement the ideas of labor which are meant to reflect a culture of communal solidarity and respect for the ecology. The goal is not to overturn European ideals or ways of life, but to find a way to live in justice with them. Its a very good statement of the philosophy of interculturalism that is developing in Latin American and worth a careful read.

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