Monthly Archives: July 2017

Mama Coca and a Story of Intent

In 2009 when I heard a reporter on NPR infer that the Indigenous peoples of the Andes were addicts because they use coca, a nutrient in its natural form, I was incensed. I was compelled to speak out in my newsletter and again years later on this blog. We have too many incidents of dominant cultures misunderstanding those who are different than their own, supporting marginalization.

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I met dear friends Dr. Emma Cucchi Luini, a humanitarian doctor who modeled herself after Dr. Albert Schweitzer, and Christo Deneumostier Grill, her research partner, in 2001. Finally, their legacy is receiving more recognition. The Coca Museum in the San Blas District of Cusco is the location of what was their second storefront K’uychiwasi Qosqo. The original storefront was located within the walls of Koricancha in Cusco.

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Without their dream and persistent research, alternative coca products like candies, soaps, even ice cream, would not be flourishing all over Peru now. All were derived from Emma’s and Christo’s determination and products to give coca farmers other choices than dealing with narco traffickers or the Peruvian government who paid them a pittance for their crops. They won the coveted Slow Food Award in 2002. Others took notice and started copying their products. Although, in my opinion, none of them match the quality of those from K’uychiwasi. In the process though, nutritional coca products are more available for wider consumption.

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Both Emma and Christo have gone on to other things having accomplished their mission of training the Quechua staff to take over, and encouraging the product spread as they did. But the story of their beginnings should not be forgotten. It’s one of strong intent in the face of much adversity. For that reason, I documented it in my 2004 book Standing Stark. I’m sharing an excerpt here.

…The bulletin board on the wall just outside the tiny shop front had some very detailed information posted about preventing high-altitude sickness. Alongside was an article on Coca-Cola. I thought it mighty strange that a display partnered the story of the evolution of a commercial product with data on medical advice. Then I realized that the common denominator was the use of the coca leaf. The sign over the door said K’uychiwasi Qosqo, Rainbow House of Cusco. Curious, I glanced inside the small space and was invited in by the brightly colored wares…

 A diminutive woman wearing clothing that seemed to swamp her small frame and a large brimmed black hat covered with folk art pins busied herself with something behind the counter. As I walked in, she glanced up, immediately broke into a big smile, her eyes, crinkling up behind wire-rimmed glasses, greeting me. I took a leisurely turn through the shop looking at cookies, candies, teas and artwork. By then, my friend had caught up with me and came in to investigate as well.

Seeing our apparent interest, Emma Cucchi Luini introduced herself and began to tell us of K’uychiwasi Qosqo’s mission. The central purpose of this nonprofit organization was to educate about the uses of the coca leaf and its connection to the Andean culture. Actually, rather than connection, Emma emphasized that the coca leaf was the backbone of this ancient tradition, its practices and health of the native people.

Beleaguered with the discovery of a chemical extraction known as cocaine, the sacred coca leaf is now being threatened with extinction. Through tighter and tighter governmental controls and concurrent illicit operations, the simple coca farmer has been squeezed. Trying to scratch out a meager existence raising the same crops their ancestors have raised for centuries, these people are being directly affected by an encroaching Western culture in which a number of people substitute nose candy and greed for real experience.

In the last couple of decades, the national governments of Peru and Bolivia, pushed by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, have targeted the coca leaf as the enemy, totally disregarding its cultural and quite innocent, but important, use by the indigenous peoples. The chewing of coca leaves is standard practice among the natives in the Andes, not to give them a high, but to increase their stamina for living and working in an environment that is often very difficult. Instead of inducing any undue alteration in their normal consciousness, which the coca leaf cannot relay at all in its natural form, its nutritional makeup provides them with energy and a plethora of nutrients not as available elsewhere in their sparse diet. Also ignored is its elevated status in the spiritual traditions and rituals of the Andean Indians. Mama Coca is the plant spirit invoked and Her leaves used in divinations, blessings and ceremonies. An analogy would be the chalice of wine symbolizing the blood of Christ in the communion ritual of many Christian religions.

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As Emma so aptly put it, “There are many, many alcoholics in the world. Do they destroy the grape?”

That question certainly does make one think, particularly relative to what other motivations, political or otherwise, could possibly exist for the shortsighted methods used for eradicating cocaine trafficking through a focus on coca crops…

…Enter Emma. With the in-country support of two Dominican friars, this Italian woman founded K’uychiwasi Qosqo in 1999. Christo Deneumostier Grill, a young Peruvian man, has since joined her in her efforts. In addition to educating about the traditional and medicinal uses, they research new ways to use the coca leaf.  In their quarters they help women, girls and young men in need by training them to produce cookies, candy and folk art using the coca leaf as an ingredient. They look forward to eventually create additional goods such as soaps…

…Emma and Christo are currently making small but painstaking steps within the bureaucracy of the Peruvian government toward wider distribution of their coca wares, the regulation of coca being tremendously tight. The only export of the leaf currently allowed is to the Coca-Cola Corporation in the United States. Ultimately, the success of Emma and Christo will benefit the Andean culture and help to maintain the growing of the coca leaf by offering products to be used by mainstream society.

As she finished her monologue, Emma shrugged and opened her hands in a characteristically Italian way and said, “I’m Italian. This cause doesn’t even belong to me.”

Reviewing our encounter in my mind later, I thought to myself, “This is a cause that belongs to the world. It belongs to us all. Emma chose to take it up.”

StandingCover72Emma’s story continued with a recounting of her remarkable life and humanitarian service that took her to dangerous, remote areas in Haiti, Sudan and Bolivia. It was deep in the jungles of Bolivia that she first met the coca farmers who befriended her and further informed her path. They educated her in the chewing of coca and told her of their difficult lives. When she became their outspoken advocate she was thrown in jail in La Paz, beaten and deported to Italy. But that didn’t stop her.

Both Emma and Christo embodied intent and humility. To me, they’re primary examples of the many unsung heroes the world over who believe in something and get it done.

For the complete story and others on the path of intent, read Standing Stark.

Categories: Global Consciousness, Indigenous Rights, Sacred Reciprocity | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Film Review – Jesus Was a Buddhist Monk

Years ago I began to read books by researchers challenging the resurrection of Jesus as traditionally depicted in the Christian faith, as well as the role Mary Magdalen played in Jesus’ life. So when I stumbled upon the BBC documentary Jesus Was a Buddhist Monk, I was naturally drawn.

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Prophet Series: Warrior of the Spirit. ©2013 Carla Woody                  

It asks questions that, for some, would be considered heresies around the resurrection:

Would a man really die after only 6 hours on a cross (when it would normally take several days)?

Was he drugged?

Was he rescued?

If he didn’t die, where did he go?

Then the film methodically goes into the politics of the times, why a resurrection story might be a strategic means to an end, legends and historical references of Jesus’ appearances in other parts of the world after the crucifixion. The viewer is asked to contemplate the boat that landed on the shores of Southern France, the Cathars and findings of the Knights Templar. And what of a man named Issa, a long life in Kashmir and a burial site in Srinagar?

The documentary does a neat job of asking the questions that deliver answers depending on your perspective. And, if you’re so inclined, follow the threads to additional research.

Available for free streaming on You Tube. 49 minutes.

Categories: Film Review, Global Consciousness | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Truth and Sacrifice: The Leadership of Buffalo Bull Who Sits Down

There are some things held in secrecy because they’re too sacred to tell. Or if uttered at all, are whispered in the night in silent places. There are others whose truths are hidden because to openly relate them at all risks great punishment. Or they’re distorted through misunderstanding by a culture that cannot fathom a different meaning than their own.

I’ve admitted to being greatly distressed by the ongoing acts against truth, understanding and compassion in the current political climate and otherwise. And truly attempting to find grace and balance for myself within it all. I do believe that the Universe does deliver when we open in that way. Hence, some salvation dropped in my lap.

I stumbled upon a 2009 interview by Krista Tippett, host of On Being, of Ernie LaPointe, a direct lineal descendant of Tatanka Iyotake. Closest translation from Lakota being Buffalo Bull Who Sits Down—not Sitting Bull.

In the interview, Ernie LaPointe relayed some of the oral history passed to him by his late mother, Angelique Spotted Horse-LaPointe, about his great-grandfather and their traditions. I was so moved I listened to the two-hour, unedited version of the podcast twice—and then bought his book Sitting Bull: His Life and Legacy so I could return, again and again, to points that particularly inspire me.

The parts about the Indian Offenses Act of 1883 outlawing sacred practices, all the betrayals and ramifications generated a great deal of sadness for me that is hard to put aside. But within that is an example of a man who held utmost integrity and compassion in his heart. The long-term wellbeing of his people informed his decisions. History calls him a war chief when really he was a great spiritual leader. He was killed on Standing Rock Indian Reservation for who he was. But his Spirit lives on. He was humble, preferring to be known as a Sun Dancer. Not a chief. As a child he was called “slow” by some, a misrepresentation of one who notices everything, weighs all sides to come to deliberate decision.

Here’s one about knowing when to fall on your sword and the good karma that comes when rash decisions are avoided. When Tatanka Iyotake, then called by his childhood name Jumping Badger, was 7 years old he was among a band of young boys being tested for their skills. First they had to make the perfect arrow and then were told to hunt and return with a beautiful bird. He and another boy spied a bird at the same time. The other boy let his arrow fly but it missed and lodged in a tree branch. Tatanka Iyotake offered to help the boy by shooting it down with his own arrow. He succeeded but the boy’s arrow broke when it hit the ground. The boy became angry and blamed him. Rather than get into an argument about the whole thing, Tatanka Iyotake gave the boy his own arrow, which he’d labored over to perfect. When their teacher heard through others about the incident, he gifted him with a full set of bow and arrows.

Perhaps my favorite story is this one that foretold his future as a great spiritual leader. When he was 10 years old, his uncle Four Horns tested his tracking and hunting skills for buffalo, a dangerous undertaking with the potential of stampede. Tatanka Iyotake rode into the center of the herd, aimed at a huge bull, let his arrow fly and brought it down. Proud of his nephew, Four Horns was also angered at the dangerous risk he took. When asked why he didn’t go for the cow at the edge of the herd, he responded that he saw the cow. But he also saw her calf. If he’d killed the cow, her calf would die, too.

Four Horns guided him through the ritual to thank the Great Spirit then directed him to run get this mother and the other women to butcher the bull, which he did. But not before he asked his mother to be sure to save good portions for a widow and her children who lived nearby.

From this incident, which displayed his foresight and generosity, Jumping Badger gained his adult name Tatanka Iyotake, Buffalo Bull Who Sits Down.

Stories like these and other sharing about Lakota ways were so good to hear. It was also disheartening to learn how things changed due to outside influences.

Counting coup, the striking of an enemy with a stick, was as a visual way of settling differences and gaining honor. It was after the white man came that young warriors started killing instead.

During vision quest the young men would often see colors that would then be worn as protection, a part of spiritual practice. Not “war paint”—a measure of disrespect by those quick to misunderstand.  Ernie LaPointe spoke of himself and others who carried PTSD as a spiritual wounding because they didn’t wear their colors to protect their Spirit.

The reverence toward women is woven into the culture. The belief is, through their menstrual cycle, women go through a natural, monthly purification process. The wisdom they gain in the process is enlarged upon throughout their lives. So, while the men may consider a direction, the final decision is not made until it is placed in front of the women, who weigh in with their wisdom.

What I’ve shared here is only a token of all I heard and read. For the full richness, view the full interview or listen to it on Sound Cloud.

With so much appreciation to Ernie LaPointe for telling the stories of his great-grandfather, even in the controversy directed toward him for doing so. Because of him, I’ll continue to watch for the leader who Carries the People in the Heart. We’ll know that person by their name. Not because they proclaim it. But because the people have granted it by virtue of the actions that distinguished the honor.

Categories: Global Consciousness, Indigenous Rights, Indigenous Wisdom | Tags: , , , , , | 4 Comments

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