Authors: Jenny Alexandra Angarita-Báez & Carolina Díaz-Jaramillo
Our experience in La Pedrera in the Colombian Amazon is of two worlds, one of human settlements labouring day and night on a land which constitutes their main source of subsistence, the other a magical world from which the voices of the communities’ dead ancestors, once honourable members of these settlements, all clamour and demand of their descendants that due care and attention is paid to the fragile ecosystems on which their whole existence depends.
From the depths of the village’s ruins of an ancient maloca, the continuous melodious chants of the community’s long-deceased elders could be clearly heard during the night. One of the villagers, who could not resist the call, decided to investigate and discover the source of these bewitching tunes. One night, as he crossed the maloca’s threshold, he encountered a spirit, dancing and singing in the middle of the room (dancing and chanting in the same manner villagers celebrate important occasions, e.g. the harvest season). According to tradition, confronting a spirit constitutes a dangerous challenge, so as soon as the villager saw what was taking place, he turned on his heels and fled. Not been able to hold his tongue on the matter, he immediately recounted the experience to the rest of the community, who advised him to leave well alone, but the attractions of the place overwhelmed the poor chap, who in the meantime was already planning his next trip. Putting his plan into action, he visited the haunted maloca the following day, with the firm idea of killing the spirit! On arrival, he heard the same enchanting tunes as the spirit was once more, singing and dancing in the maloca’s main room. As the villager entered and prepared to draw the weapon he was carrying, the spirit noticing his intention battered the man to death without a second thought.
As the days went by and the villager was neither seen nor heard, the other members of the community begun to express concerns on his whereabouts. One of those present volunteered to investigate the matter. It so happened, that same evening, the chants and dancing of the spirit at the ruined maloca could once more be overheard in the village, and the volunteer come “inspector”, recalling the “demons” driving to distraction his missing friend, decided to visit the ruins himself. On seen the spirit, he understood it was moaning in distress because something was holding him captive within the ruins. It was important to discover what held him chained to the place, as its destruction would guarantee its release and enable the community to live in peace once more. With this in mind, the inspector together with other community members visited the ruined maloca early the following day. In the main room, hidden under the board the spirit used to stamp his feet on while he danced, they found a collection of charmed leaves and stones held together by a liana. Gathering all these items, the little group exited the ruins and proceeded to light a fire and destroy them. The story goes nobody has heard chants of any kind in the ruins since ☺ (story heard from Don Alberto, a local storyteller).
Violence breeds failure, much more is gained through careful appraisal of our surroundings – culture as well as nature, as we stand a much better chance of success if we make an effort to understand!
Reflecting on this little story, it is clear that regardless of your geographic coordinates or your roots, societies all over the world attempt to transmit the same message to their descendants! It’s a pity their voices are drowned amidst the shouts of war and greediness that often prevail!!!!