The Blue Tiger and the Promised Land

September 25, 2007

FINE WORDS AND PRETTY CEREMONIES ARE about to descend upon us: The five-hundredth anni- versary of the so-called Discovery is approaching. I think Alejo Carpentier was right when he called this the greatest event in the history of humankind. But it seems strikingly clear to me that America wasn't discovered in 1492, just as Spain was not discovered when the Roman legions invaded it in 218 B.C. And it also seems clear as can be that it's high time America discovered itself. And when I say America, I'm talking first and foremost about the America that's been despoiled of everything, even its name, in the five-centuries-long process that put it at the service of foreign progress: our Latin America. This necessary discovery, a revelation of the face hidden behind the masks, rests on the redemption of some of our most ancient traditions. It's out of hope, not nostalgia that we must recover a community-based mode of production and way of life, founded not on greed, but on solidarity, age-old freedoms and identity between human beings and nature. I believe there is no better way to honor the Indians, the first Americans, who from the Arctic to Tierra del Fuego have kept their identity and message alive through successive campaigns of extermi- nation. Today they still hold out vital keys to memory and prophecy for all of America, not just our Latin America: Simultaneously, they bear witness to the past and cast the VOLUME XXIV, NUMBER 5 (FEBRUARY 1991) Uruguayan author Eduardo Galeano's latest book, The Book of Embraces, will be published by W. W. Norton this spring. 13rnernan our[Ls ULi[uK LIme LaU iII uI i pdedILIng Irom me I luxcalU ruins; Iouay mnouern plraIes carry Torn1 light of fresh fires on the path ahead. If the values they embody were of only archaeological interest, the Indians would no longer be objects of bloody repression, nor would the powerful be so anxious to separate them from the class struggle and from the people's liberation move- ments. I am not one to believe in traditions simply because they are traditions. I believe in the legacies that multiply human freedom, and not in those that cage it. It should be obvious, but it can never be too obvious: When I refer to remote voices from the past that can help us find answers to the challenges of the present, I am not proposing a return to the sacrificial rites that offered up human hearts to the gods, nor am I praising the despotism of the Inca or Aztec monarchs. On the contrary, I am applauding the fact that America can find its most youthful energies in its most ancient sources: The past tells us things that are important to the future. A system lethal to the world and its inhabitants, that putrefies the water, annihilates the land and poisons the air and the soil, is in violent contradiction with cultures that hold the earth to be sacred because we, its children, are sacred. Those cultures, scorned and denied, treat the earth as their mother and not as a raw material and source of income. Against the capitalist law of profit, they propose the life of sharing, reciprocity, mutual aid, that earlier inspired Thomas Moore's Utopia and today helps us discover the American face of socialism, whose deep- est roots lie in the tradition of community. Halfway through the last century, an Indian chief named Seattle warned officials of the United States gov- ernment: "After several days, the dying man does not smell the stench of his own body. If you continue polluting your bed, one night you will die suffocated by your own wastes." Chief Seattle also said, "Whatever happens to the earth, happens to the sons of the earth." And I havejust heard this same phrase, exactly the same, from the lips of one of the Maya-Quich6 Indians in a documentary filmed recently in the mountains of Ixcdn, Guatemala. This is how the Mayas explain why their people are hunted down by the army: "They kill us because we work together, eat together, live together, dream together." What dark threat emanates from the Indians of the Americas, what threat treacherously lives on despite the centuries of crime and scorn? What ghosts are the execu- tioners exorcising? What fears? NACLA REPORT ON THE AMERICASTo justify usurping the lands of the Sioux Indians at the end of the last century, the United States Congress de- clared that "community property is dangerous to the development of the free enterprise system." And in March 1979, a law was promulgated in Chile requiring the Mapuche Indians to divide up their lands and turn them- selves into small landowners with no links among them; the dictator Pinochet explained that the communities were incompatible with the nation's economic progress. The U.S. Congress was right. So was General Pinochet. From capitalism's point of view, communal cultures that do not separate human beings from one another or from nature are enemy cultures. But the capitalist point of view is not the only one. The official story of the conquest of America has been told from the perspective of mercantile capitalism in expansion. It takes Europe as its center and Christianity as its only truth. This is essentially the same official story, after all, that is told of the "reconquest" of Spain by Christians against "Moorish" invaders, a way of dis- qualifying Spaniards of Muslim culture who had been living in the peninsula for seven centuries when they were expelled. The expulsion of these supposed "Moors," who had nothing Moorish about them, along with Span- iards of Jewish faith, signalled the triumph of intolerance and sealed the ruinous history of the very Spain that discovered and conquered America. A few years before friar Diego de Landa cast the books of the Mayas into the flames in YucatAn, Archbishop Cisneros had burned the Islamic books in Granada, in a great bonfire of purifica- tion that blazed for several days. The official story repeats the ideological alibis of the usurpers of America, but in spite of itself it also reveals the reality that it contradicts. That reality, burned, banned and falsified, emerges in the shock and horror, the outrage and also the awe of the chroniclers of the Indies when they came face to face with those beings that Europe, the Europe of the Inquisition, was in the process of 'discov- ering." The Church acknowledged in 1537 that the Indians were persons, endowed with soul and reason, but it blessed the crime and pillage: The Indians were persons, but persons possessed by the devil and therefore without any rights. The conquistadors acted in the name of God, to root out idolatry, and the Indians gave continuous proof of their irremediable perdition and irrefutable causes for condemnation. The Indians did not know private prop- erty. They did not use gold or silver as money, but to adorn their bodies or pay homage to their gods. Those false gods were on the side of sin. The Indians went around naked: The spectacle of nudity, warned Archbishop Pedro Cort6s Larraz, causes "much injury to the brain." Indissoluble marriage bonds did not exist anywhere in America, and virginity had no value. On the Caribbean coasts and in other areas, homosexuality was unrestrained, and this offended God as much as or more than the cannibalism of the Amazon jungle. The Indians had the unwholesome habit of bathing every day and, to cap it all, they believed in dreams. Thus the Jesuits were able to confirm the influence of Satan on the Canadian Indians: Indians so diabolical they had interpreters for the symbolic language of dreams, because they believed that the soul speaks COLORED LEGENDS HE BLACK AND THE ROSE-COLORED LEGENDS -two extremes that leave us outside of history, out- side of reality. These interpretations of the conquest of America reveal a suspicious veneration of times past, of a re- splendent corpse whose'brilliance blinds us to the daily reality of our lands. The black legend invites us to visit the Museum of the Noble Savage, where wecan weep for the lost happiness of wax figures that bear no relation to the flesh- and-blood beings who live in our lands. Symmetrically, the rose-colored legend invites us to the Great Temple of the West, to add our voices to the universal chorus, intoning hymns of celebration of the great civilizing work of Europe, a Europe that has spilt blood over the world in order to save it. The black legend throws onto the shoulders of Spain, and to a lesser extent Portugal, the responsibility for the immense colonial pillage, which in reality benefited other European countries much more, and which made possible the develop- ment of modern capitalism. The much cited "Spanish cru- elty" never existed; what did exist, and exists, is an abomi- nable system that necessitated, and necessitates, cruel meth- ods to impose itself and grow. Symmetrically, the rose- colored legend lies about history, praises infamy, calls the most colossal despoliation in history -evangelization" and slanders God by attributing the command to him. No, no: neither the black nor the rose-colored legend. To recover reality, that is the challenge-to change the reality that is, to recover the reality that was, the lied about, hidden, betrayed reality of the history of America. EGI VOLUME XXIV, NUMBER 5 (FEBRUARY 1991) 15Columbian ouincentenary Columbian Ouincentenary the wealth of the lands they inhabit while the body sleeps and that dreams express unfulfilled desires. The Iroquois, Guarani and other American Indi- ans elected their chiefs in open meetings, where women took part as men's equals, and removed them from office if they became overbearing. No doubt possessed by the devil, Chief Nicaragua asked who had elected the king of Spain. "; - OOD FISHING GETS BORING AFTER A "while, but sex is always fun," said, and say, the Mehinaku Indians of Brazil. Sexual freedom gave off an unbearable odor of sulphur. The chronicles of the Indies abound in the scandal of these infernal lusts that lurked in every comer of America beyond the valleys of Mexico and Cuzco, which were sanctuaries of puritanism. The official story reduces pre-Columbian reality largely to the centers of the two civilizations with the highest level of social organization and material development. Incas and Aztecs were at the height of their imperial expansion when they were overthrown by the European invaders, allied with peoples subjected by those empires. In those two societies, dominated hierarchically by kings, priests and warriors, rigid codes of behavior held sway; their taboos and prohibitions left little or no space for freedom. But even in those centers, the most repressive in America, what came later was worse. The Aztecs, for example, punished adultery with death, but they allowed divorce at Reort on NACLA REPORT ON THE AMERICAS the wish of the man or woman. Another example: the Aztecs had slaves, but the children of slaves were not born slaves. Marriage for life and hereditary slavery were European products that America imported in the sixteenth century. In our time, the conquest continues. The Indians go on expiating their sins of community, freedom and other affronts. The purifying mission of Civilization no longer masks the plunder of gold or silver: Under the banner of Progress, onward march the legions of modern pirates, without hooked hands, eye patches or wooden legs, the multinationals that swoop down on the uranium, petro- leum, nickel, manganese, tungsten. The Indians suffer, as before, the curse of the wealth of the lands they inhabit. They were driven toward arid soil; technology has discov- ered, beneath those soils, fertile subsoils. "The conquest isn't over," gaily proclaimed the advertisements published in Europe eleven years ago, of- fering Bolivia to foreigners. The military dictatorship held out to the highest bidder the richest land in the country, while treating the Indians the same as in the six- teenth century. In the first phase of the conquest, Indians were compelled to describe themselves in public docu- ments, "I, wretched Indian...." Now the Indians only have the right to exist as servile labor or tourist attractions. "Land is not sold. Land is our mother. You don't sell your mother. Why don't they offer 100 million dollars to the Pope for the Vatican?" a Sioux chief asked recently in the United States. A century earlier, the Seventh Cavalry had ravaged the Black Hills, sacred territory to the Sioux, because they held gold. Now multinational corporations mine its uranium, although the Sioux refuse to sell. The uranium is poisoning the rivers. A few years ago, the Colombian government told the Indians of the Cauca valley, "The subsoil does not belong to you, but to the Colombian nation," and immediately turned it over to the Celanese Corporation. After a time, part of the Cauca had been turned into a lunar landscape. A thousand hectares of Indian land were made barren. In the Ecuadorian Amazon, oil is dislodging the Auca Indians. A helicopter flies over the jungle, with a loud- speaker announcing in the Auca language, "It's time to leave now...." And the Indians obey the will of God. From Geneva, in 1979, the United Nations Human Rights Commission warned: "Unless the Brazilian gov- ernment alters its plans, we can expect that the largest of the surviving tribes will cease to exist in twenty years." The Commission was referring to the Yanomami, in whose Amazonian lands tin and rare minerals had been discovered. For the same reason, the Nambiquara Indians now number fewer than 200, and they were 15,000 at the beginning of the century. Indians die like flies when they come in contact with unknown bacteria brought by the invaders, as in the days of Cort6s and Pizarro-a process now speeded up by Dow Chemical's defoliants, sprayed from the air. When the Commission launched its pathetic warning from Geneva, FUNAI, the official body for the 16protection of Brazil's Indians, was run by 16 colonels and employed 14 anthropologists. There has been no change in the government's plans since then. I N GUATEMALA, IN THE LANDS OF THE Quich6s, the largest oil deposit in Central America has been found. The 1980s were a long slaughter. The army-mestizo officers, Indian soldiers-has been busy bombing villages and evicting communities so that Tex- aco, Hispanoil, Getty Oil and other companies can survey and exploit the oilfields. Of every ten Guatemalans, six are Indians, but in Guatemala the word "Indian" is an insult. When I first arrived in Guatemala City, I sensed I was in a country foreign to itself. In the capital, I found only one house that was truly Guatemalan, with beautiful wooden furniture, native blankets and rugs, handmade glass and earthenware. Just one house had not been invaded by Miami-style plastic kitsch: It belonged to a French teacher. But you only had to travel a little way outside the capital to find the green branches of the old Mayan trunk, rising miraculously despite the implacable axe-blows suffered year after year, century after century. The ruling class, ruled by bad taste, considers the beauti- ful indigenous clothing ridiculous disguises appropriate only for carnival or the museum, just as they prefer hamburgers to tamales and Coca-Cola to fresh fruit juice. The official country, which lives off the real country but is ashamed of it, would like to erase it. It regards the native tongues as mere guttural noises, and the native religion as pure idolatry, because for the Indians all land is a place of worship and every wood a sanctuary. When the Guatemalan army passes through the Mayan villages, destroying homes, harvests and animals, it re- serves its best efforts for the systematic slaughter of children and old people. Children are killed the same way cornfields are burned: down to the root. "We're going to leave them with no seed," Colonel Horacio Maldonado Shadd explains. And in every old person there lurks a transmitter for the unpardonable community tradition and the no less unpardonable tradition of identifying with nature. The Mayas still ask forgiveness of a tree when they have to cut it down. The repression is a cruel ceremony of exorcism. You only have to look at the photographs, the features of the officers and their sturdy build: These grandchildren of Indians, deserters from their culture, dream of becoming George Custer or Buffalo Bill, and they long to turn Guatemala into a gigantic supermarket. And the soldiers? Don't they have the same faces as their victims, the same skin color? They are Indians trained for violence and humiliation. In the barracks the metamorphosis is worked: First they are turned into cockroaches, then into birds of prey. Finally they forget that all life is sacred and are convinced that horror is the natural order of things. Racism is not the sorry privilege of Guatemala. Throughout America, from north to south, the dominant culture acknowledges Indians as objects of study, but denies them as subjects of history: The Indians have folklore, not culture; they practice superstitions not relig- ions; they speak dialects not languages; they make handi- crafts not art. Perhaps the approaching celebration of the five-hun- dredth anniversary could help turn things around, so topsy-turvy are they now. Not to confirm the world, adding to the self-importance, the self-glorification of the masters of power, but to denounce and change it. For that we shall have to celebrate the vanquished, not the victors. The vanquished and those who identified with them, like Bernardino de Sahagdn, and those who lived for them, like Bartolom6 de las Casas, Vasco de Quiroga and Antonio Vieira, and those who died for them, like Gonzalo Guerrero, the first conquered conqueror, who ended his days fighting at the side of the Indians, his chosen broth- ers, in Yucatin. And perhaps in this way we could get a bit closer to the day of justice that the Guarani, pursuers of Paradise, have always been awaiting. The Guarani believe that the world wants to be different, that it wants to be born again, and so the world entreats the First Father to unleash the blue tiger that sleeps beneath his hammock. The Guarani believe that someday that righteous tiger will shatter this world so that another world, with neither evil nor death, guilt nor prohibitions, can be born from its ashes. The Guarani believe, and I do too, that life truly deserves that festival.

Tags: Eduardo Galeano, Indigenous, quincentennary

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