Presented by Berito KuwarU’wa, President of the U’wa Traditional Authorities, at the National Forum on the Environment at Guaduas, Colombia in 1997.
Benito Cobería, U’was Tribe Chief
We are born as children of the earth… that is something neither indigenous people or the white man (riowa), can deny.
More than a thousand times and in a thousand different ways we have told them that the earth is our mother, that we cannot and do not want to sell it, but it seems that the white man has not understood, they insist that we hand them over, sell and mistreat our earth, as if the indigenous man was also a man of a lot of words.
We ask ourselves: perhaps it is a custom of the white man to sell his mother? We don’t know! But what the U’wa do know, is that the white man uses lies as if they gave him pleasure.
The law of our people differs from that of the white man’s, because the law of the riowa comes from men and is written on paper, while the law of our people is Sira (God) who dictated and wrote it in the hearts of our sages Weryajas (shamans). Respect for that which is alive and that which is not alive, for the known and for the “unknown” is part of our law: our mission in the world is to narrate it, sing it, and to fulfill it in order to maintain the equilibrium of our universe.
Our u’wchita law is one of the pillars that hold up the world. Our law is as old as the earth itself, our culture has been organized following the pattern of creation, and that’s why our law states that we must not take what is not needed, and this law is the same everywhere as it is the law of the earth and there is only one earth. We are not going to let our law die!…
If there are white man’s laws that exist to protect mother earth and her guardians, the indigenous peoples, let them be fulfilled! If they are not fulfilled they will be considered unwritten.
We know that the riowa has put a price on all that is alive, even the stone itself, he trades with his own blood and he wants us to do the same with our sacred territory, with ruiria the blood of the earth which they call petroleum… all this is foreign to our customs… every living being has blood: every tree, every vegetable, every animal, the earth as well, and this blood of the earth (ruiria, petroleum) is what strengthens us all, plants, animals and human beings.
But we ask the riowa: how can you put a price on our mother and how much is that price? We ask him, not to be able to get rid of our own mother, but to understand him more, because after all, if the bear is our brother, more so is the white man.
We ask this because we believe that he, as a “civilized” man, might know a way to price his mother and sell her without being overwhelmed by the shame that a primitive would feel because the earth that we stand on is not only earth, it’s the dust of our ancestors; we walk barefooted to be in contact with them.
The riowa has not wanted to understand that if we lose our ties to our mother earth, time will be lost with her (the spirit of our ancestors, our present, our future). All beings live until they fulfill the time that Sira has given to them, there would not be any more time, any more life, we would stop existing.
The forest is the umbilical cord that binds us to existence, we have survived thanks to it, and it has survived because it respects. Our separation would bring an emptiness that will swallow everything except the deserts.
The future of the white man grows darker with every drop of oil that he spills in our clear rivers; his destiny grows more deadly with every drop of pesticide that he deposits on us. Our rivers are not just rivers, through them we communicate with our deities, they are the messengers and the messages flow in both directions. If they are polluted or if they die, we will not know any more what the gods want, neither will the gods hear our cries nor our thanks; their anger will be provoked. The rivers in our lands are already very angry at the riowa!
The white leaders tell their people that our Indian peoples are savages; they present us as their enemies and as enemies of the great riowa and all the peoples of the world have to get down on their knees. We ask: what is more important, the machine or the man that invents the machine?
But what we do know is that all those that threaten their mother threaten their children; those that assault our mother earth assault us all, those of us that live now and those that will come. For the Indian, the earth is our mother, for the white man the earth is an enemy. For us, its creatures are our brothers and sisters, for them they are merchandise.
The white man finds death pleasurable; he leaves in his fields and his cities so many people laid out like felled trees.
We have never been so insolent as to violate the churches and temples of the white man, but they have committed sacrilege on our lands.
So we ask: who is the savage?
U’was nation citizen
The white man has declared war on everything, except his own inner poverty. He has declared war on time and he has even declared war on himself. As another Indian brother from a far land said “ the white man drives progress towards his own destruction”.
Not content with declaring war on life, he has declared war on death; he does not know that life and death are the two sides of the same body, the two sides of the same ring… there is no death without life but neither is there life without death. The U’wa have always cared for the physical and spiritual world, which is why we understand this.
The white man has sent enormous birds to the moon. To him, we say that we love and care for the moon, that he can not go around the universe doing to every star what he has done to the trees of the forest here on earth; and we ask his children: how did he make the metal which built every feather covering the big bird? And who built the fuel with which he fed the bird? Who made the very man who directs and makes the bird? The white man should not deceive or lie to his children, he should teach that even to build an artificial world, man needs mother earth and that’s why we have to care for her and love her.
The white man insists that we sell the earth and will say to us: what does the shame of a savage matter who keeps his face hidden among the thick forest, the shadows of the mountains, and the veil of the mist? So once again we will try to make him understand that if this happens, shame would not only take over the U’wa, but the danta, pajuil, tijereta, jaguar, fox, weasel, corn, coca, yopo and nuezkara and all our brother animals and all our sister plants, who have always provided company and food for our people, would die out of kira (sadness) because in our large family we don’t know what betrayal, as the riowa call it and the earth would cry so much that Abara (the deity who controls malignant waters) would come down from Rubracha’s (a Cocuy snow topped mountain) highest peak.
Abara would guide the tears of the earth and would unite with Cuiya, the lord of the earth, who would come out from his den in the darkness of the underworld. Yara! Yara! is earthquakes, snakes and pain. Yara – a gigantic mud serpent born from the den of the malignant water and earth lord deities – would slide amongst the mountains looking for valleys and on the way would eat Indians and equally white people as well as tools, trees, malocas and villages. It would also drag away the U’wa turkey, and the white man’s horse.
By then, sadness will have withered the spirit of the last U’wa on the earth. When that happens, the government would be left just fighting with the world of darkness and earthquakes… there would be no one left to sing to keep the equilibrium between the upper world and the underworld, which is the equilibrium of the universe.
Man keeps looking for ruiria (oil) and with every explosion that runs through the forest we hear the monstrous footsteps of death that pursues us through the mountains. This is our testimony. With the way the world is going, there will come the day in which man replaces the condor mountains with mountains of money. Then, that man would not have anyone to buy from him and if there were someone, he would have nothing to sell him.
When that day comes, it will be too late for the man to meditate on his madness… All the economic offers for what is sacred to us, like the earth and its blood, are an insult to our ears and a bribe of our beliefs. This world was not created by a riowa or by any of his governments, that’s why we have to respect it.
The universe belongs Sira and the U’wa only administer it; we are only one string in the weaving of the irokua bag, but the weaver is He. That’s why the U’wa cannot cede, mistreat or sell the earth or its blood, or its creatures either, because they are not the beginning of the weaving.
But the white man believes himself to be the master, he exploits and enslaves as he wishes, this is not good; it breaks the balance, it breaks the irokua weaving. If we cannot sell him what does not belong to us, he should not make himself master of what he cannot buy.
Some white leaders have made our decision to commit collective suicide as a last resort to defend our land seem horrific to their people. Once more they present us as savages. But they seek to confuse, to discredit.
To all their people, we say: the U’wa commit suicide for life, the white man commits suicide for money. Who is the savage? For the Indian, the humiliation of the white man has no limits; not only do they not allow us to live, they also tell us how we should die.. they never allowed us choice in life.. now we chose the manner of our death.
For more than five centuries, we have ceded to the white man, to his greed and his sicknesses, as spring cedes to summer, as day cedes to night. The riowa have condemned us to live as strangers in our own land, they have penned us in the steep terrain of the sacred cliffs where our leader Guicanito and his people jumped to save their honor and dignity before the ferocious advance of the Spaniards and the missionaries.
They used to call greed and infamy evangelization and civilization, now they are called progress. Progress, this ghost that nobody can see which terrorizes humanity. In former times, the dark path of plunder, genocide and injustice against our people was lit by a candle in the name of God and His Majesty.
Now it is lit by oil in the name of progress and the greatest of majesties for non-indigenous peoples – money. Before, gold was yellow, now it is black; but the color of the blood that pays for it continues to be red, continues to be Indian. The U’wa are all traveling the same road, like sientaros (ants).
Our people and our authorities are one family… if the moment has arrived in which our people leave the earth, they will leave with dignity! The only thing that joins us to our white brothers is that we come from the same father (Sira) and the same mother (Raira) and we are nurtured from the same breast, the earth. We share the same physical world: the sun, moon, wind, stars, mountains and rivers. We share the same physical world but our feelings towards it are different.
The earth is a flower: the U’wa approach it to feed with the same care as the hummingbird while the white man approaches like a mountain pig, stamping on everything in his way.
The way of the riowa is money; it is his means, his end, his language, it has sickened the heart of our white brother and his sickness has made him build factories of weapons, to spill poison like blood. His sickness has reached the water, the air and the forests.
Perhaps white men will violate once again Sira’s law, the laws of the earth and even their own laws. But what he will never avoid is the shame that his children will feel for their parents that destroyed the planet, robbed Indian lands, and drove Indians to extinction; because at the end of the cold, painful and sad night for the earth and for the Indian, the same night that seemed as perennial as grass, the error of man will be such that even his own children will not want to follow in his footsteps and it will be thanks to them, to the new children of the earth, that the light will begin to shine in the kingdom of death and life will bloom again. Because there are no eternal summers, no species can impose itself on life.
Always when man acts with bad intentions, sooner or later, he will drink the poison of his own bile, because he cannot cut down the tree without the leaves dieing. In life, nobody can throw stones without breaking the quiet and the equilibrium of the water; therefore when our sacred sites are invaded with the smell of the white man, the end will be close, not only for the U’wa but also for the riowa.
When he exterminates the last tribe on the planet, before he starts to count his genocide, it will be easier for him to start to count his last days. When those times draw near, the wombs of his daughters will bear no fruit and more and more of his son’s spirits will know no rest… when the time comes that the Indians have no lands, the trees will have no leaves.
Then humanity will ask: Why? And only very few will understand that every beginning has its end and every end has its beginning because in life there is nothing loose, nothing that is not tied to the laws of existence…. The serpent will have to bite its own tail to close the cycle of destruction and death.
Because everything is intertwined like the path of the monkey through the branches. Perhaps the U’wa can follow our own path, in which case just like the birds make long journeys without alighting, we can continue what it ours, without feeling any rancor towards the riowa because he is our brother. We will continue to sing to maintain the equilibrium of the earth not only for us and our children, but also for the white man because he needs it.
In U’wa hearts there is great concern for the children of the white man, the same concern that we feel for our own children, because we know that when the last Indians and the last forest are dying, the destiny of his children and ours will be one. If the U’wa can follow our own path, we will not keep the birds that are born and nest in our territory. They could visit their white brother if they want. We will not keep the air that is born in our mountains; it could be a tonic to cheer white children. Our rivers could leave our lands as clean as when they arrived, so the purity of the rivers will talk of our pardon to the men underneath the earth.
Each time that a species is extinguished, mankind comes closer to his own extinction, each time an indigenous people becomes extinct, one more member of the great human family leaves forever on a journey with no return.
Each extinct species is a great wound for life. Man will reduce life, and survival will begin… perhaps before greed takes root in him he will be able to see the wonder of the world and the greatness of the universe that extends beyond the diameter of a coin.