cultural interests

Book Review: The Blue Tattoo

BlueTattooI stumbled across a brief note on Olive Oatman researching something else, and read The Blue Tatoo to learn the full history relating to what occurred from 1850 and continuing on well beyond her death in 1903.  Olive Oatman’s name became inseparably intertwined with that of the Mojave and Yavapai Indians, a tragic story for all on a number of levels. The complete truth remains elusive. It varied significantly depending on who told the story and when…even becoming an episode of Death Valley Days, the old TV show. The Blue Tattoo may well be the most accurate and comprehensive account, the author Margot Mifflin having depended on historical documents, family diaries, letters and interviews.

In 1850 a large group of Mormons left Independence, Missouri headed to the Southwest. Their numbers went through several splits as different factions sought to take over and redirect their destination. Until finally, the Oatmans—with seven children spread between the ages of 1 to 17 and mother pregnant—were the sole travelers in the Sonoran Desert on a 190-mile trail well known for its extreme desolation and danger to whites, frequently attacked by tribes living in the area. The father Royce Oatman, described in the book as a reckless piece of work, knowingly put his family’s lives at great risk. His actions had dire consequences.

About 100 miles from what is now Yuma, Arizona, the family was surprised by a small group said to be Yavapai Indians, often mistaken for Apaches. They asked for food. Royce refused, and the family was massacred with the exception of Olive, Mary Ann and Lorenzo, ages 14, 7 and 15, respectively. The Yavapai took Olive and Mary Ann, along with the family’s few cows and oxen. Lorenzo, who was severely beaten, had rolled down a ravine and was left for dead.

Thus began the unfolding of events detailed in The Blue Tattoo: the terrible year with the Yavapai, their trade sought by the Mojave, Olive’s assimilation into Mojave life over a 5-year period, her “rescue” and what transpired over the next decades. I won’t go into details and instead leave them for you to read.

But there are a few things I do want to say.

The author focuses on the fact that it would be highly unusual for the Yavapai to conduct such raids except on their traditional rivals the Pima and Maricopa. She puts it to the reason of late winter hardship made more desperate by drought. But cannot say why they chose to abduct the girls since they would be more mouths to feed in dire times. They were, however, mistreated, worked to the bone as servants and last in line to receive what food there was.

The Mojave were farmers who lived tucked away in a little traveled area near what today is Needles, California. They were kind to the girls and likely saved their lives. Olive’s traditionally tattooed chin was an indicator of her assimilation. They were made part of the tribal leader’s family and taken into their clan. When a surveying party headed by a Lt. Whipple came to the village over a several-day period and were made welcome, the girls did not make their presence known or try to approach the party to escape. Within a year though, due to rumors of a white girl living with the Mojave, a Quechan messenger from Fort Yuma came demanding Olive’s return upon threat of annihilation of the tribe.

Shortly after Olive’s arrival in Fort Yuma, she was taken under the wing of Royal Stratton, a Methodist minister, who exploited her for his own gain. He wrote a book, liberally changing the story, adding manufactured details meant to titillate. He set Olive up on the lecture circuit where she traveled for years. She became famous.

It reminded me very much of the same kind of travesty befalling the healer Santa Teresita of Cabora when she was deported from Mexico to the United States, and her many years’ exploitation by a so-called medical consortium.

I understand the terrible conflict Olive must have faced brought back into a society that held the prevailing message: The only good Indian is a dead one. Having now lost two families, she must have been wondering what story to tell at all: the one white society was salivating to hear or the truth. She contradicted herself frequently.

One of the many things that saddens me so about this tragic story is her betrayal of the Mojave people who were kind to her—when she told the version that they had enslaved her. Within a couple of years, they were removed from their villages, split and confined to two reservations: one near Parker, Arizona and the other to the Colorado River Indian Reservation near Needles. Their small numbers lessened.

Margot Mifflin cites, The Mojave homeland was literally wiped off the grid. Area maps printed after 1859 no longer identified the site of the Mohave villages; instead, the region, dubbed Fort Mojave, was distinguished by a military post…to protect westward bound emigrants from the Mojave Indians.

 From the Yavapai-Prescott Tribe website: There are three primary groups of Yavapai existing today – they are located at Fort McDowell, Camp Verde and Prescott.

The Blue Tattoo is widely available in print, ebook and audiobook. I read a copy from my local library.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Categories: Book Review, cultural interests, Indigenous Rights | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Taller Leñateros: A Tzotzil Maya Blessing

I’d just left the family-run hotel where I stay when in San Cristobál de las Casas headed to Na Bolom. I was paying particular attention to my feet due to the town’s notoriously deteriorating, uneven sidewalks with potholes aplenty. When I glanced up to make sure I was still on track, I saw a painted sign, hung over a doorway enclosed by a gate, of a Classic Maya in full regalia riding a bicycle. Its paint was peeling and had seen better days. A similar image and fanciful creatures were strung out along the adobe wall.

I crossed the street to peer into the courtyard. The long work tables lining the wall were filled with stacks of some kind of material – that I couldn’t readily identify – and wood block prints haphazardly hung on the wall. I didn’t see anyone around. It was just too intriguing. I opened the wooden gate and entered. I was fascinated by all the prints, more now visible on the inside wall, and saw a small room. It was stocked full of handmade books and journals, posters and postcards. I’m enamored of such hidden treasures.

I’d discovered Taller Leñateros. That was probably ten years ago. Since then, I stop by nearly every year when I’m in San Cris and purchase a book, postcard or poster. I have my own private collection of their jewels.

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Tree of Eyes. José Luis Hernández, Artist. Printed by Taller Leñateros.

Mexican-American poet Ambar Past started this natural paper and bookmaking collective back in 1975. She’d been living among Tzotzil Maya women in the highland villages of Chiapas, Mexico and, with their permission, began to collect and translate their traditional prayers, spells and poetry, which had never been written down. Her efforts ultimately culminated in a truly unique illustrated book, Incantations: Songs, Spells and Images by Mayan Women. One time when I return, I’ll purchase the handmade book. In the meantime, I own a paperback copy.

I absolutely adore one of their dimunitive books containing only one prayer. It has a place on my altar. Sacred to me, its message touches something deep inside. Whenever I read it, I’m uplifted as much as I want to cry.

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Magic for a Long Life*

Manwela Kokoroch

Elder Brother of writing:

Elder Brother of painting:

I’ve come with roses, with lilies, with carnations, with chamomile.

 

Lend me your ten masks so my years within the corral will grow longer.

My wayhel is suffering in the mountains.**

My animal soul has fallen off the hill.

She’s at the end of the rope, at the last link in the chain.

 

Lend me your ten toes, your ten fingers.

To guide my wayhel back into her tiger cave.

Back in the green cave where my Spirit lives.

 

Lift her up with a cloth that smells of roses.

With a rose, lift me up.

Lay me down in the shade of the vine.

 

Elder Brother who feeds the Souls:

Guardian of the Corral:

Bearer of time:

Spin around in a circle,

Turn around in a square.

 

Don’t let the tiger out,

The jaguar out,

The wolf, the coyote, the fox, the weasel.

 

Herd them together,

Don’t let them go.

I’ve brought you turkey eggs.

I’ve brought pigeon stones for the hand and the foot

Of She Who Sees From Far Away Through Dreams.

 

Thirteen essences of tilil

Make my day longer with the sweat of your legs,

Your hands that glow green as precious jade,

Your green, green blood.

 

Carry me, embrace me and my tiger, and my jaguar.

This is all I will bother you with in the name of the flowers.

 

Keep my animal alive for many years

In the pages of the Book, in its letters, in its paintings,

On the whole Surface of the Earth.

 

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Atlas Obscura just published an article on the collective. For more background and photos than I’ve offered, do read it. It brought back to me the sheer magic of the place, the beauty of Taller Leñateros’ mission, and its fragility.

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* I attempted to contact Ambar Past to gain permission to use the prayer in its entirety, since to segment it with just a few words would do it a disservice. I have been unable to reach her over time. I was advised that Ambar had withdrawn from the world and is now living in a monastery in Nepal. The suggestion came from a friend of hers to use the prayer listing the Maya woman whose version it is, there being other similar versions in the villages. I intend respect and hope to have done it justice.

**Wayhel is a Tzotzil Maya word meaning animal companion. In the words of Ambar Past, “…associated with shamanism, the portals of the Underworld, communication with the gods and the dead. The wayhel accompanies its alter ego from the moment it is born…” If one suffers, the other suffers. If one thrives, the other thrives.

Categories: Book Review, cultural interests, Indigenous Wisdom, Maya, What Warms the Heart | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Hatun Q’ero Weavers: Destination Santa Fe

In October 2016 I sponsored a pilgrimage beginning in Bolivia that culminated in the Hatun Q’ero village of Ccochamocco high in the Peruvian Andes of the Cusco Region.* About 2,000 Q’ero live spread through small villages on the mountains commonly known as Q’ero. They exist as subsistence farmers—their fields some distance below—living in stone huts with dirt floors, no electricity or running water. Their main diet is potatoes. All families have alpaca and sheep herds and live engaged with the natural world, which they consider sacred. The majority of my relationships with these beautiful people going back 20+ years rests in Ccochamocco.

We spent our time with them in ceremony, soaking up the vibrations of sacred mountains and generally hanging out with the community. At one point, we gathered with the weavers who were gladly showing us their textiles, also hoping for sales.

Weaving is integral to Q’ero life. Passed down through generations since Inka times, they make their clothing, ceremonial and other functional items. In keeping with tradition, women weave. Men knit.

Some weaving is like a rite of passage. When a girl comes of marriageable age, her mother teaches her how to weave a man’s poncho. The wife is always the one who weaves the husband’s poncho—a necessary skill. When a young man is looking for a wife, he knits a colorful hat and applies beads. The more beads he applies, the more patience he is said to have—a signal to a prospective wife of good husband material.

 

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Despacho outside Tiwanaku, Bolivia for permission to enter. Photo: Carla Woody.

Mesas or mestanas, woven altars or bundles used for ceremony, are used to hold sacred stones, other objects and coca leaves, and contain healing or divination properties. They are also used as a ground altar upon which a despacho, or blessing/prayer bundle, is created within ceremony. When weavers create these special use pieces, they imbue intent and prayers within the weaving similar to the making of Tibetan singing bowls.

The Q’eros are known for their textiles and authentic traditional designs. But they have little opportunity to sell their weavings except to the occasional visitor to the villages or on the streets of Cusco to tourists when they venture down.

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Carmina weaving outside her home in Ccochamocco. Photo: Carla Woody.

After we’d been with the weavers in Ccochamocco, participant Loretta McGrath suggested I look at having Kenosis Spirit Keepers sponsor them at the annual International Folk Art Market (IFAM) in Santa Fe. Loretta had volunteered with them for years and told me about this prestigious market. I’d never heard of it.

Armed with information from Loretta, I checked into it upon my return home. In the meantime, the Association of Weavers Q’ero Inka Design (Asociación de Tejidores Inka Pallay Q’eros) was formally established July 4, 2017. The cooperative was the first of its kind within Hatun Q’ero.

Their purpose was for the weavers to learn from each other and outside resources in the ways of natural dyeing and best practices to produce high quality items and increase their availability to larger markets. Members include those living between Cusco and the Hatun Q’ero villages, and those who do not step beyond their high-altitude homes. This cooperative represents members from Hatun Q’ero villages of Ccochamocco, Chua Chua, Challma and Qolpacucho.

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Members using natural dyes with alpaca wool. Photo: Santos Machacca.

In 2018 I began the lengthy series of communications, information and photo gathering, writing, and finetuning until finally submitting the application by the October 2018 deadline. Then we waited. Would they be chosen? How would we raise the chunk of funds needed to pull it off? I was also concerned about the relatively short time between January notification and the need for the weavers to produce a reasonable number of textiles to bring to market.

All weavings are done completely by hand. No machines of any sort are used. The wool is cleaned, spun using a traditional hand spindle, and woven using 4 stake looms. Hats are hand knitted from alpaca wool in the same manner. It’s a very long process.

There were over 700 applications. Of those, 178 artisans from 50 countries were accepted. The Q’ero weavers were one of those. We celebrated. This was huge. I could envision the beginning of something that would immensely benefit the weavers, their families and larger community. Then the weaving began in earnest.

Santos Machacca, my Q’ero liaison and member of the cooperative, kept me updated. He said that many of the women were weaving day after day starting at 4 a.m. and into the night. I could imagine how sore their fingers must be and how strained their eyes.

The next frontier was obtaining visas. Santos and Remigia Salas Chura, his wife and a master weaver, were designated to represent the cooperative at the market. Given the current political climate in the US, it seemed quite iffy whether they would be granted. But armed with formal invitations from IFAM, the major of Santa Fe and Kenosis Spirit Keepers, visas were granted.

Santos and Remigia arrived in Santa Fe on July 9. It was the first time Remigia had flown or been so very far from home. They were thrilled to be there. Their smiling faces were evidence. Aside from being in Santa Fe—first time in the US—they were rubbing elbows with artisans from all over the world: Algeria, Colombia, Cuba, Ethiopia, Haiti, Iraq, Kenya, Pakistan, Rwanda. Too many to name. The artisan processional in Santa Fe Plaza was truly inspirational.

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Peek at the processional. Photo: Carla Woody.

During the market I was there with them in the booth. It was a real pleasure. The Q’ero weavers offered a range of textiles from hat bands to ponchos to mesas to table runners. The latter was something I suggested for Western customers along with coasters and placemats. All in traditional designs. Truly the Association of Weavers Q’ero Inka Design outdid themselves. Offerings were 100% alpaca—no blends—all natural dyes or natural wool, all finely finished. They had undertaken this effort to produce the highest quality—and they did.

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Santos and Remigia at the Q’ero weavers booth. Photo: Carla Woody.

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Remigia weaving at the booth. Photo: Carla Woody.

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Q’ero weavings. Photo: Carla Woody.

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Q’ero mesas and hatbands. Photo: Carla Woody.

The mission of Kenosis Spirit Keepers is to help preserve Indigenous traditions. I take the outcome of this endeavor as a big win for the Q’eros—a full return to traditional weaving—as well that we could assist in such an important effort.

The plants needed for dyes grow lower than the altitude of the villages. In order to gather them, the artisans must forage distances from their homes. Perhaps due to this reality, it became common for family weavers to use synthetic dyes for their wool when they became available in the markets about 70 years ago. However, the Association members have returned to natural dyes or natural wool as most traditional.

Fine finishing, or binding the edges, had also been let go. It was rare for see a Q’ero weaving like that even though still beautiful. I can imagine much of their time was taken up with childcare and their herds. I had encouraged the highest quality though, telling Santos the elements that were needed for acceptance at the market. He later told me the weavers had forgotten how to finish edges or never knew. They had sought out elder weavers to teach them.

I want to publicly thank Loretta McGrath for her initial urging and support during the application process. I don’t know how we would have survived without Lisa Flynn who was so willingly by our side offering rides, her fine Spanish and calls back to Peru, as well as ongoing hospitality. I’m grateful to Sachiko Umi and her team at IFAM for patiently guiding me in this first-time effort, and their great care for all the artisans. Really, it was amazing how everything came together. But you know…this never would have come about for these Hatun Q’ero weavers without the generosity of donors, some who knew them and others who didn’t. I hope you are reading this, and realize you supported a dream come true.

Now we look to next year…

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Artisans of the 2019 International Folk Art Market. Photo: Marc Romanelli.

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*The Hatun Q’ero of the Q’ero Nation are known as the Keepers of the Ancient Knowledge and call themselves the children of Inkari, the first Inka. They are widely accepted by anthropologists to be direct descendants of the Inka. They live in isolation at 14,000-15,000 feet in the Andes, as they have for hundreds of years after the conquistadors came, preserving their ancient mystical traditions. The lands of the Q’ero have been declared a cultural heritage site by UNESCO, but that has not brought personal riches to the Q’ero Nation. Some Q’ero have migrated to Cusco and environs hoping for a better life.

I will be sponsoring another pilgrimage in Fall 2020 following along Bolivia’s sacred sites…Tiwanaku, Islands of the Sun and Moon…and into Peru…through Puno, Cusco and once again culminating in Ccochamocco. Check on this spiritual travel page. It should be posted soon.

 

Categories: cultural interests, Gratitude, Q'ero, What Warms the Heart | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

Book Review – The Monk of Mokha

monkofmokha

The Monk of Mokha is a modern-day Hero’s Journey – a monumental quest – and, amazingly, it’s completely true. Mokhtar Alkhanshali, was raised in the US in poor circumstances by attentive Yemeni parents. But like a lot of young people, he couldn’t get his act together. He also distanced himself from his Yemeni culture. While other friends and family members found their place, Mokhtar wandered aimlessly through life and changed jobs frequently. That is…until one day in 2015…prompted by a friend…he looked across the street from his workplace and noticed a statue of a Yemeni man drinking coffee, an artifact left over from the long abandoned Hills Brothers coffee plant. Suddenly, 27-year-old Mokhtar received his calling, and his hair was on fire.

With some research, he discovered that Sufi monks in the isolated mountains of Yemen were the first to cultivate and brew coffee beginning in the 15th century. Over the next 200 years, Yemen owned the trade, exporting high quality coffee to Europe, starting the coffee craze. He also found that the quality of Yemeni coffee drastically declined throughout the 20th century due to limited rainfall and the growing popularity of chewing qat, a mild narcotic that had overtaken coffee fields and eroded the soil.

Mokhtar decided that he was going to revolutionize the coffee of his family’s homeland, bring it back to its former grandeur, and return to Yemeni coffee farmers the dignity and prosperity they deserve. Here are just some of the challenges: Mokhtar knew nothing about coffee and must become a top certified expert, a stringent and costly venture. He had absolutely no money. He desperately needed a mentor, someone who could show him the ropes and guide him in such a journey.  Few farmers in Yemen even attempted to cultivate the poor quality coffee the land produced, and he knew none of those who did. Maybe the worst: Just saying Yemen immediately brings to mind tragic civil war, staggering humanitarian crisis and extreme danger. Who would even invest in such a venture? Could the necessary infrastructure be put in place? How would travel even be possible? How would he dodge bullets and escape terrorists?

The Monk of Moha is the inspiring story, a very wild ride, of exactly how – in just 2 short years – Mokhtar Alkhanshali accomplished exactly what he set out to do. In 2017, his fledgling company Port of Mokha offered East Hayma Single Farmer Lot. It was given the highest score ever awarded by the Coffee Review’s grading program since its inception over 25 years ago. Best of all, Mokhtar has revived communities where only devastation lived. Port of Mokha coffee is now selling for $42 per 4 ounces.

The author Dave Eggers is to be commended for his social responsibility, having undertaken this unlikely, heroic tale. He successfully produced an insightful book that also offers an appreciation for Yemen, its people and culture against tragic circumstances the country is currently suffering. I also learned a lot about coffee.

Here’s an engaging bit of the story in video, told by Mokhtar himself on the Port of Mokha website, to entice you to read the book. Available in print, ebook and audiobook at Amazon and elsewhere. Highly recommend.

 

Categories: Book Review, cultural interests, Sacred Reciprocity | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

Book Review: The Books of Athabaskan Native Velma Wallis

Velma Wallis was born of the Athabaskan people in a small village in remote Alaska. She grew up in the traditional way and heard the oral history of her tribe and others in the region through her mother. She’s documented two of those through Two Old Women and Bird Girl and the Man Who Followed the Sun.

TwoOldWomenTwo Old Women tells of two elders who had lost their usefulness, often falling into complaining in the face of decline. As tradition holds, the duty of providing for them fell to their extended family and others of the tribe, which they did. But the tribe fell upon hard times. Food was almost nonexistent and some successive winters brutal. Finally, the chief made a decision, when the tribe departed in search for a more hospitable home, the two old women were left behind in favor of tribal survival. This meant they were leaving the elders to a certain death. Two Old Women discloses the internal conflict many of the tribe experienced and the process of the women as they faced a fate they did not choose, and the unexpected outcomes.

BirdGirlBird Girl and the Man Who Followed the Sun is about a girl and boy, living in separate camps of the Gwich’in people. Neither fit in. At a young age, Bird Girl’s father had taught her to hunt and roam along with her brothers. Having tasted that freedom, she took no interest in the never-ending burden of women’s work or taking a husband. Finally pushed to fall in line, she chose to leave home to make her way on her own.

The boy Dagoo was told about The Land of the Sun somewhere to the south where the sun shone all the time, and it was warm, unlike the frozen ground where he lived. His elders said that some of their people had gone in search for this place but turned back, while others went on and never returned. Dagoo was compelled to wander, to explore what potentials may be had beyond the small confines of tribal expectations and limited grounds. After being given an ultimatum to conform, he left in search of The Land of the Sun.

Bird Girl and the Man Who Followed the Sun is about the need to belong, and the choices and consequences of rejecting what doesn’t fit.

Both books are about the meaning and pressures of tribal community and historical, territorial violence between tribes as well as first experiences with European intruders. Told in a straightforward manner, they are impactful eye openers that caused me to consider the choices I have taken in my own life.

Available on Amazon and some public libraries.

Categories: Book Review, cultural interests, Indigenous Wisdom | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

When Art Preserves a Legacy

Written in collaboration with Tat Apab’yan Tew.

In February, I traveled to southern Guatemala with Maya Daykeeper Apab’yan Tew to put the final touches on the spiritual travel program we would lead in that region and Chiapas, Mexico in January 2019. When we stopped at Lake Atitlan for several days, I made sure to revisit La Galeria in Panajachel. I retained fond memories from twelve years before when my friend Will Crim and I stumbled upon the place while wandering the streets of Pana.

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Vintage. ©2006 Carla Woody.

We were first attracted by the vintage Mercedes planted in the garden, and then became enchanted after entering the gallery. While making our way around the exhibition, a spare man engaged us about the artwork and offered us an expresso. We took him up on his offer and got to hear Thomas Schäfer Cuz’ stories about his mother, German-Guatemalan bohemian artist Nan Cuz, for hours. We were even invited into the inner sanctum to view his grandfather’s collection of Maya folk art. I was fascinated. This time was much the same, but we also met Sabine Völcker, Thomas’ wife, who was equally as hospitable.

This article could go in any number of directions. For now I’m going to focus on the artwork and background of Rosa Elena Curruchich ⎯ and why such works are important. In the main gallery, there was a grouping of Naïve art that caught my eye. At first glance, these miniature paintings looked simple. But beyond their style became complex, quite detailed, and there was a narrative to each one. Only that grouping was up for display at that point.

We returned a couple of days later, invited by Thomas and Sabine when they would start cataloging the entire collection. They had received boxes upon boxes of the tiny paintings to be sold on behalf of the family of a collector, possibly Anna Paddington, who had recently passed.

Rosa Elena Curruchich was the first female painter in San Juan Comalpa, a highlands town known for its artists. Her grandfather, Kaqchikel painter Andrés Curruchich, started the tradition of oil painting there in the 1930s documenting celebrations, ceremonies and lifeways. Rosa Elena followed in his footsteps. Based on her grandfather’s teachings, the subject matter explains the detail of the pieces. The more you look, the more is revealed.

But most of Rosa Elena’s are just 4”x4” or 6”x6” – none larger. Why so small? Here is the story she told her benefactor, as it was passed on to Sabine and Thomas. She was married to a prominent, authoritarian husband who forbade her to paint. So she would sneak off to paint in secrecy and limited the sizes to what she could slip into her pocket to hide. Then she would make trips to the old capitol Antigua Guatemala and try to sell them in the market. After she sold the first one to the collector, this woman became almost her sole buyer.

Another story told by Rosa Elena that I uncovered through research said after she got her first exhibition in Guatemala City, the male painters in San Juan Comalpa were jealous. She received threats and fled to Chimaltenango, about 10 miles away, to live.

The common theme being oppression by men. Sabine had already told me the story about Rosa Elena’s husband may be questionable, told in the hopes of increasing sales. The same is said of the second story. It’s called survival.

The important thing though is what Rosa Elena Curruchich and all those who followed her grandfather have done. Through their artwork, they’re documenting ways of life that are precious, many threatened. I’m a fan of narrative art. In the true sense of artistry, they are preserving what’s important. A meaningful story, an emotion, ordinary things that have a deeper meaning.

It was quite exciting to me to go into the inner sanctum of La Galeria that day Apab’yan and I were invited back. There all laid out on two tables, side by side, were about 60 or more of Rosa Elena’s works. Several boxes were still unpacked, totally about 200 in all.

As Apab’yan examined them, he began sorting the pieces into an order…each ceremony as they fell according to the calendar. It was remarkable, really. Others he separated out having to do with daily activities. I ended up purchasing 3 pieces depicting ceremonies, and wished it could have been all that fell around the calendar. Below you will see them with Apab’yan’s explanations. He told me the ones I chose depict ceremonies that are nearly gone.

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This painting is showing a private celebration inside the cofradia house. In here we can see a woman and man making an offering to the patron saint. There is incense and food offerings as payment. The patron saint image is dressed as a full high-ranking member in the cofradia hierarchy. Inside the house there are the special objects to perform ceremony and celebration: a big drum, incense burners, paintings, old textiles. Cofradia members are holders of ancient ways of Maya spirituality, beyond the image of a western cult. There is always a nawal, or spirit, related to some aspect of nature.

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Once again we are inside the cofradia house. In here we can see the healing of a baby. By burning specified dried herbs and exposing the baby eyes and breath to the incense burner, she or he is going to recover. We call this awas, meaning secret or taboo. It is hidden ancient knowledge preserved by cofradia members. This practice is becoming extinct except in the far away mountains where elders from a direct Maya background continue to keep a huge quantity of spiritual and medicine knowledge.

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This is a celebration. There is fiesta and dance, food is prepared and musicians playing chirimia flute instruments.

Thomas told me directly this was a very important ritual done if a baby reached the age of 8 days. Infant mortality is high. This ceremony reinforced the health of the baby, who you can see laying on top of the mother, and that it would live to be an adult. The next marker was at 3 months, I believe.

This work is Rosa Elena’s legacy. Not only her own but that of her people. She passed too young at 46 in 2005, complications of diabetes.

We will be making another visit to La Galeria in January 2019, and I’m looking forward to it.

 

Categories: cultural interests, Maya, Spiritual Travel, Visual Arts | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Book Review – Café Oc

Are you one of those people who stumbles upon towns or regions that you simply must make your way back to over and over? Those places that reflect some kind of magic in the land? In the air? The people who live there retain it in their blood? It speaks to your very soul…and you can’t stay away? That’s me. I set up my life in such a way that ensures my returns to Chiapas, Cusco and Provence regularly. If I don’t heed the call, I mourn.

Cafe Oc imageBeebe Bahrami, a cultural anthropologist and travel writer, is one of those people, too. Through happenstance, she found herself in Sarlat-la-Canéda in the Dordogne region of southwestern France.  Her times there produced Café Oc ⎯an intimate love story rather than a travel book. She takes us on an unexpected spiritual journey, as she returns to Sarlat through the seasons, over a year’s time. What I spoke of in my life, she found in that medieval town and surrounding earth.

From her first winter, the reader is treated to the author’s initial impressions and evolves from there. Her lodging overlooks the historical area, giving a bird’s eye view of the bustle below, the market and its people. The deeper flavor of Sarlat is revealed as she begins to wander the town, frequents cafés, samples regional dishes and meets some locals. She feels something stirring and makes plans to return. Over the times that follow, she points the way to just what is inherent. The energy of subterranean waterways can be felt and emerge at certain points in town. Ancient peoples left their marks in caves that dot the region, and still have an effect  on the sensitivities of present-day residents. Then there are the sacred sites: natural and human-made.  She reveals what generates and permeates her longing to make this place home.

I became so enchanted with Beebe Bahrami’s soulful accounting of Sarlat that I’ve made arrangements to explore it next year myself. And⎯as happenstance would have it⎯I’m already going to be within two hours of that destination.

Available in print or e-book through Shanti Arts, Amazon and elsewhere.

 

 

 

Categories: Book Review, cultural interests, Spiritual Travel | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

My Annual Pause, 2017: Tuscany Part II

When I left you in Part I, I was leaving Florence to venture farther into Tuscany and sequester for a ten-day intensive to study with artist Serena Barton. I landed just outside Contignano, one of those tiny hilltop villages sprinkled throughout the region, as part of the group of eight. La Montalla, which held our rooms, common area, dining room, kitchen and studio, is actually a renovated 16th century farmhouse, the kind where family and farm animals cohabited under one roof. Not so today, of course. I could just imagine what it must have been like back then, where the family lodged and the cows, pigs and what have you bedded down.

Owners Giuseppe and Paola welcomed us as though we were family, and collaborated beautifully with Lisa Statkus who put fine detail to our time in Tuscany. We lacked for nothing. Lisa and Serena put their heads together and gauged when we all needed a pause from our artwork in order to soak up the richness that is Tuscany. I’m sharing just a few photos to give at least a sense of my experience.

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Fountain of the World in Siena’s main square.

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The stunning 14th century cathedral in Orvieto, Umbria Region.

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Lucious figs from one of the plentiful outdoor fruit and vegetable stands.

I can’t say enough about the cuisine and freshness of the food. Plus, I ate more pasta than I probably have in twenty years…with no ill effects whatsoever. At home I avoid it. I can only guess that my lack of symptoms is due to the wheat being GMO-free, local and organic. One day the baker came out of retirement to make (way too much) pizza from scratch in the old brick oven that is something like three hundred years old. It was extraordinary. Needless to say, leftover pizza was an option for breakfast, too.

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Martino making our pizza from scratch start to finish.

Resident cats Ernesto and Blackie visited us in the studio, curled up in some of our rooms and were otherwise consistently on hand. That made it feel like home even more so.

 

 

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Blackie sunning himself.

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Ernesto at dawn the day I left.

I’m guessing this sampling would whet your appetite for a trip of your own. I did want to mention one particular place in case you get to Montepulciano. It’s a little hole in the wall along Via Ricci. Libreria Magnanet holds floor to ceiling treasures. Antique books and stacks of pages that are possible to purchase. I could have stayed there all day poking around, and the (surprisingly) young-ish man behind the desk would have happily accommodated it. He looked the part of the bibliophile who perhaps had been there as long as the books. As it was, I found three gems in the piles that I decided I must have. He wrote out the authentication certificate in longhand, which was only proper, noting the line drawings of Psyche, Venus and Jupiter dated to 1834. More than likely I’ll incorporate them into some artwork.

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Gleaned from my treasure hunt at Libreria Magnanet.

I suppose this is actually a three-part article. To read about my pilgrimage studying oil and cold wax, which includes more examples of what I created, hop on over to my art blog to read A Tuscany September. An art intensive with Serena Barton is more than learning about art…

 

Thus ends my Annual Pause for 2017. I came away inspired, renewed…and further convinced there’s absolutely no doubt that such time set aside like this, just for myself, is of utmost importance.

 

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My Annual Pause, 2017: Tuscany Part I

Florence-3-lowThe white-haired server smiled at me in recognition after raising his eyebrows. He probably didn’t see visitors return much. But I was back at Trattoria Cribari on Piazza Santo Spirito, a little more than a hole in the wall, because I learned that not all bruschetta and gelato are created equal. Plus, it was around the corner from the airbnb place I’d rented–perfect for my needs–and they didn’t mind how long I stayed tucked just inside the open doorway watching the human world go by outside. Something of an education, a pastime I’d forgotten I enjoy.

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Florence-7-lowI love the work I do, a destiny of sorts that fell into my lap over time. I find there’s reciprocal value in it. I can’t imagine I’ll ever turn away. But. And. It requires a lot of energy. Sometimes a pause is required. Rather than leaving The Pause to chance, I made a commitment that I’d set aside time–and make it special–on an annual basis. A time when I had no responsibilities to anyone but myself. A time to rejuvenate. To experience something new or revisit something beloved. To read. To walk. To write. To learn. To create. To meditate. To talk to strangers or be silent with my own musings. To do things I love. In the past I’ve taken the mini-pause, sporadically–a camping trip here, a short road trip there as I could squeeze it in. Oh, I do all those things in my daily life I listed above–but not without interruption.

In 2015 I made the first declaration by walking the Camino de Santiago, which turned out to be quite the odyssey. I’m still integrating. My Pause in 2016 was equally memorable but in a different way. I studied with master beadists Nancy Josephson and Jan Huling, who show regularly in museums and galleries in the US and Europe. I had no way of knowing when I was drawn to Puerto Vallarta for this express purpose, that I’d be catapulted into a whole new territory of artwork. One that still won’t leave me alone.

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Florence-6-lowThis year it’s Italy. This is my last night in Florence. I’ve wandered the streets, churches, museums and gardens for four days. I’ve appreciated the architecture, sense of history, the locals, the visitors. The bustle is sometimes a bit much for me, and being on top of my neighbors… I’m not used to it, living out in the boonies in solitude as I do much of the time. But the live piano music coming through a window as I walked down the street and the saxophone just next door have stirred something in me.

I’m taking all this with me as I travel farther into Tuscany where, over 10 days, I’ll be studying with an oil and cold wax artist. An old art form, I’ve worked with this medium for a few years and greatly appreciate its multi-layered depth and versatility. I want to go deeper.

Categories: cultural interests, Healthy Living, Travel Experiences | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

Cajun Healers of South Louisiana

Doc Moses Cajun Traiteur 1974 48x36

Doc Moses, Cajun Traiteur, 1974 by George Rodrigue, oil on canvas.

In 2012 I was invited to South Louisiana by Shala Fontenot and Faith Moody, who had been on one of my Peru journeys. I still carry gratitude for their generosity. It was the start of a love affair. I quite fell in love with the people and rich culture of those lands. While there I interviewed Becca Begnaud during her monthly Healing Arts Collective gathering. Becca is a Cajun traiteur, a tradition indigenous to the area that I didn’t know existed. Not only is she well versed in her healing art, Becca is a wealth of information on Cajun and Creole history and lifeways.

Traiteurs are faith healers, a heritage in danger of sliding into extinction. These days they have few, if any, apprentices willing to undertake a trade that involves a lot of personal sacrifice. Most are way up there in years. Traiteurs are known to selflessly give of themselves – many on call around the clock – caring for those in need. If they’re paid for services at all, it’s customarily a chicken or other practical item. They heal through what they call “the gift.” A prayer comes through them for the person it’s meant, often by laying on of hands. But there’s no requirement for the person to be present. Long distance healing is often done as well.

Below you’ll find the original interview I did with Becca during which she talks about her own process of taking on the mantle, and the origins of those who live in the area.

A few days ago, Becca sent me a note about coverage on traiteurs in a local publication. You can read it here. Her message gave me the final nudge to write this additional article, which I’ve been meaning to do for a long time.

Just prior to my return to Cajun Country in 2013, my friend Shala called and said a few cryptic words, “There are some folks I want you to meet.” Nothing more. After arriving, I discovered she’d set up sessions with three traiteurs. Her method: She put out a general announcement to friends and acquaintances, a request for names. When she received the same recommendation three times, she arranged a meeting. Luckily, I had my recorder with me, and they freely answered my questions. I asked each one about the same things: any criteria for being a traiteur, how they received the gift, and what effect it had on them personally. They filled in the gaps.

We pulled up to an unassuming house in the small town of Opelousas, the home of Sostain and Dorothy Lemelle. Mrs. Lemelle greeted us at the door and brought us right into the kitchen where Mr. Lemelle sat at the table. She returned to watching a TV show in the seating area just beyond, but piped in periodically as we talked with Mr. Lemelle.

He was 83 years old at the time, having begun his healing work suddenly at the age of 10 when a veterinarian was unable to staunch blood flow from a horse’s deep wound. His mother told him to point his finger at the horse and send the prayer. He did, and the bleeding stopped. He’d been doing his work ever since. Mr. Lemelle said his mother told him his daddy died six months before he was born, and that’s why he had the gift. No other reason and nothing else specifically done to learn his craft. But he was known many places in the world, regularly receiving calls from far-flung places.

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From left to right: Shala Fontenot, Sostain Lemelle, Becca Begnaud and Carla Woody.

I experienced his work myself. We sat knee to knee in that kitchen, TV going in the background, as he passed his hands over me and said prayers. I felt an enormous amount of energy, a force moving though my body, flushing out anything that could be out of sorts. Later, I asked him what he felt himself. He smiled and said, “Nothing.” I queried him, was he sure he didn’t experience any sensations, any energy? He smiled even more broadly and insisted, it wasn’t for him, only for the one who sat in front of him. So he didn’t feel anything. About that time there was a knock on the door, someone else showed up for healing. We placed the chicken we’d brought on the kitchen table, thanked him profusely and left.

Mr. Lemelle, a sweet humble man, passed this life in August 2014. He was kindly remembered in the world and left a gap hard to fill. Our unedited interview is below. A bit garbled in the beginning, it’s well worth the listen (27 minutes) and gets clear the more this elder launched into recounting his life.

I’m going to call her Mrs. Benoit, then a 78-year-old traiteur who preferred to remain nameless and didn’t want the actual recording on the Internet. I’m sharing some of her story.

I come from family of 10 and have 10 children of my own. My mother was a traiteur who would treat just two things—the blood and the burns. That was back in the day of the horse and buggy. They would turn into their drive calling out ‘Madame, Madame.’ And my mother would look out the window. If she saw red, then she’d know it was a bad cut. Walking to meet them, she would already be working on the wound. I’d run beside her. I found it fascinating! When my mother got to the buggy they would be squeezing a bandage that was dripping blood. But when they unwrapped it, the wound had closed!

I said, Mama! How did you do that?

She said, it was just prayer. It’s a treatment that was handed down to me from the elders.

Mama, can you teach me?

I’m sorry. I can’t. I can only teach someone of the opposite sex.

So I had to learn from a man or a boy older than me. A woman couldn’t teach me. But they wouldn’t teach me then because I was too young, they’d say. But finally someone taught me at 7 years old. I first learned for the blood. I saw a dog get hit by a car and it was bleeding. I treated him and it stopped immediately. Thank you, Jesus!

I learned one at a time from those who would teach me.

Then my sister-in-law was somewhere and saw this old man. She asked him if something was wrong. He said he was sad because he’d traveled the world and learned all these treatments. But he didn’t have anyone to pass them to.

No one ever asked me, he said. I’d love to meet a woman younger than me who speaks both French and English that I could pass my treatments to her.

She said, Oh my God. This is my sister-in-law’s answered prayer! She’s been praying for years to meet an angel that would tell her treatments from the old days. And she’s never forgotten a treatment she learned.

Thank you, Lord, I said. I called him until he got home. I went and spent 3 days with him. He even taught me the treatment for cancer. When someone needs to come, God sends them.

A woman came to my door. I could hear her coughing before she got there. I said to her, that’s a heart cough. Not a lung cough. She’d just spent 5 days in the hospital, but she was no good. I told her I learned a treatment from an old lady who lived with the Indians. She taught classes, and I went to all of them. I told her, there’s a treatment for that cough you’ve got with some tea. It was blue malva tea. I treat 3 days in a row, pretty much at the same time of day. If they can’t come here I treat them here [long distance]. In 3 days this woman was not coughing. I treated her [with prayer] and she drank that tea.

This lady called me one day when I was doing reflexology. She said [crying], I was making some roux and the pot fell on my shoulder. It burned so bad! There’s nobody around! I’m by myself! Can you treat me?  

This lady I was working on [with reflexology] was a very religious lady. I said, we’re going to treat you. We’re going to pray for you. Me and my friend are going to hold hands. And I’m going to pretend to hold your hand. Did you remove that roux on your shoulder?

Yes, but it burns so! It burns through my body!

I asked the lady to pray with me for the burn. We did it 3 times. She had stopped crying. We did it 3 more times. She came and showed me the next day. It didn’t even blister. I’m overwhelmed when I see something like that! She said when we stopped praying it was no longer there! So it works.

Rebecca Henry is known as a Creole folklorist who runs the Creole Heritage Folklife Center in Opelousas. Located in an old home, it contains items from the early parts of the last century that document African American life of the times. But Mrs. Henry is also a traiteur, and certainly a clairvoyant. Unsolicited, she told me things about myself that she had no way of knowing. I regret not writing them down. While she gave permission for me to record our conversation, and openly spoke of hidden things the others hadn’t, I could see she wasn’t sure about my motives. And even though the recorder batteries had plenty of juice, the record light was on…and even tested prior to beginning our discussion in earnest…when I went to listen to it later, nothing was there. Blank. I tell you this was one powerful woman that I look forward to visiting again.

I have a very strong pull to spend more time in that region. The folks there were liberal with their storytelling. Still, I have the distinct sense that the stories proffered were an invitation to go deeper. I’ve been in such places before. I recognize the waters running there.

 

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Categories: cultural interests, Gratitude, Healing, Spiritual Travel | Tags: , , , , , , | 4 Comments

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