by Denise R. Ames
This is the last installment of a blog about the Teyuna mamos and zagas, spiritual leaders of the Arhuaco, Kankuamo, Kogi and Wiwi people of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta region of Colombia. They were known as the Guardians of the World, and were featured in several documentaries, including Aluna. They visited Albuquerque, New Mexico in August and I attended their presentation. Below are my thoughts:
My Take Impressions from the Teyuna Presentation
As Westerners, it is common to think of Earth as an object, as separate from us, and something for humans to exploit for their own needs. However, the Teyuna people don’t regard the Earth as an object, they have a relationship with the Earth, it is part of them. They give her love and when Earth is healthy humans are healthy. It is a relationship, not an object.
Someone in the audience asked if we could work together to heal the Earth. However, the interpreter pointed out that the word work is a foreign concept to the Teyuna people. Work to Westerners is an act of changing an object to a different form of existence. Once again, they see Westerners as regarding the Earth as an object to be molded into a different context. They want to have a relationship with the Earth and not work to change it.
To Westerners we read written text to gather information that helps shape our views of a particular issue. However, the Teyuna people have a different interpretation of what to read. Instead, they “read” nature to gather hidden messages from the natural world. For example, the river born high in the mountains flows down to the ocean, all the while giving messages to the rest of the ecosystem. If we listen carefully, we can learn to read what nature and the spiritual world is telling us.
- Animistic Spirituality
Much of the world follows a type of universal “religion” such as Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Greek rational thought, or others. Animistic religions (using the term broadly) offer a different meaning. They see nature as alive, and not dead and inert. The mountains, streams, rivers, water, and sky are all alive with spirit and meaning. The Teyuna speakers explained that the Earth’s rivers are like veins and if dams are erected to stop the flow of rivers it is like cutting one of our veins. This is not respect. Therefore, we need to treat Mother Earth with the respect she deserves.
- Wisdom of the Ancestors
The ancestors provide a great deal of wisdom for the younger generations to follow. Their wise council is respected and carried out. The Teyuna speakers explained that the ancestors say how we think is how we see and how we act. It is an integrated system of thoughts and actions; therefore, we must think before we act. They told the story of when one of them toured New York City, he wondered what was the thinking of the people who built the high-rise buildings. They had to displace nature in doing so. The ancestors would say that we need to understand the limits of our mind and be guided by messages from nature.
Another bit of wisdom that the Teyuna speakers shared with their captive audience was a commentary by one of the speakers about the type of questions that the audience asked. One speaker stated that when asking questions there is a sense that you know part of the answer already. He wondered why we do that. Could it be the ego wanting attention? He told us to reflect on that.
As the presentation was wrapping up, I wondered what they would want us to do to realize their goal of respecting Mother Earth. Perhaps, we would be asked to sign a pledge, write our Congressional representatives, join a campaign to resist exploiting resources, or other strategies of resistance. But they asked for none of these. Instead, the closest word I can think of to describe their plea of respect was to pray. They wanted us to change our attitude from one of exploitation to one of gratefulness and respect. This is a powerful request. Perhaps through a collective concentration of spiritual consciousness, Westerners would be able to shift our awareness to one that comprehends that there is a powerful relationship connecting the Earth and humans. It is a prayer worth our effort and understanding.
Dr. Denise R. Ames is a long-time educator, grade 7-university, author of seven books, and president of an educational non-profit, Center for Global Awareness, based in Albuquerque, New Mexico. CGA develops books and materials with a holistic, global focus for their three programs: Global Awareness for Educators, books and resources for educators and students grade 9-university; Gather, Global Awareness Through Engaged Reflection, a self-organizing study and conversation program for adults focusing on seeing different perspectives of pressing global issues; and their most recent program Turn, Transformative Understanding and Reflection Network, which encourages lifelong and transformative learning to help us arrive at a place of personal and global well-being using a seven “path” approach.