Joey L. is a fine art photographer and documentary film director from Canada based in Brooklyn. He can frequently be found in remote places the outside world knows nothing of, and seems equally at ease working with celebrities and corporate brands.
His work with tribal peoples and ethnic groups is what intrigues me. Joey says he tends to go back to the same places. In doing so, he’s able to get a deeper and deeper sense of the people, their lifeways and environment—a real connection. I understand this because I’ve done the same over nearly 30 years. You create relationships that wouldn’t happen with the quick dash that satisfies the mainstream tourist. You see and experience things you couldn’t have imagined. Doors open. You are invited in.
Another thing happens that, for me, is heartbreaking to witness. Over time, invariably there’s loss of tradition. In his new documentary The Crocodile Hunters of Ethiopia, Joey talks about the hard life and difficult circumstances many Indigenous peoples endure. You can’t blame them for wanting an easier life. I’ve wrestled with these same thoughts. Would that their sacred practices and lifeways be maintained and, at the same time, they’re lifted out of poverty.
Joey has been working on a book about Ethiopian cultural history for 12 years. Some Ethiopian tribes have maintained their traditions over centuries. The Dassanach tribe is one. Some of the things he photographed 12 years ago are gone, lost to climate change and modernization. His mission is underscored with a sense of urgency.
His obsession started as an 18-year-old when he first went to a Dassanach village. During his visit, there was a tragic occurrence. A child was eaten by a crocodile, which are a ready danger in the region. They can grow 4 times as big as a human and retain gargantuan strength. They’re man eaters. Joey heard rumors of a nomadic caste called Dies whose specialty is killing crocodiles—not with guns but in the old way…with handmade harpoons. For years, he wanted to photograph them. But they are few and elusive. To complicate matters, croc hunting only occurs for a limited time during the rainy season.
Finally, the time was now. He was afraid if he waited longer the crocodile hunters would be a thing of the past. The film covers the search, preparation, tribulations, all the way through the complete hunt, which takes place at night. Joey and his team are among the few outsiders ever to see the hunt. Now you can, too.
This documentary merges uncommon, extraordinary footage of landscapes, tribal peoples, ceremonial blessings, along with what it means to be a working photographer and the importance of respect. Joey talks about the roles passion, curiosity, persistence and risk play relative to his photography. He shows you what happens behind the scenes. But also, what drives him to dedicate his life to pursuing the unusual and cultural truth. He has been in demand since he was a teenager with commissions from celebrities and brands. His work takes him into war zones, remote villages, dense jungles, urban areas, and commercial shoots. Joey L. is a rare breed.
I began following Joey L. a few years ago. I’m particularly taken with the Mentawai collection and his ongoing portrait series of Holy Men. To view more documentaries on the Dassanach and the lower Oma Valley see People of the Delta with accompanying shorts.
The closer I got to the departure date the louder the demands became—if you can relate kinesthetic response to pitch. I do. It started with a niggling feeling at the back of my skull that progressed to sensations of instability in my solar plexus, which I can only describe as shifting sands. It finally felt as though the world was falling away. The accompanying pitch was relative, increasingly louder in my head until I couldn’t ignore it. I found myself taken aback…as it was meant to do.
This I know…
Alchemy can be defined as elements recombined to create new forms. When beliefs are re-formed, arising out of what was, rebirthing takes place.
Resistance is necessary as a form of progression. In order to resist, the mind has to consider something new. Otherwise, resistance wouldn’t happen. Imagining something new begins to create substance. The greater the level of resistance, the more potentially profound the new creation may be—and out of the comfort zone. The more rigid we are in our own thinking, the more inertia we will experience against moving forward.
To create, we must push through the membrane that separates what we’ve preserved as real from the newly imagined reality…
I also knew, and had many times experienced, the closer to profound movement we are, the stronger the impulse to go unconscious at the threshold and allow the status quo to pull us back. If we give in to backward movement, we remain tethered…contained.
Recognize that hesitation, feeling torn, or paralyzed are a natural part of the evolutionary process. Even external blocks can strangely present themselves, colluding with the internal part attempting to hold us back. It’s necessary to acknowledge any level of fear. Honor that part. Check in with intent, and then allow its resident purity to guide you.
But I was curious. I’m usually one of the first in my circle of friends and acquaintances to venture zealously into parts unknown. What made this time somehow different for me?
In late 2020, I received a formal invitation to visit the Matsigenka village of Shipetiari to bring a spiritual travel group to their home located in a remote, pristine rainforest area, the buffer zone to Manu National Park and Biosphere Preserve. This particular Matsigenka community is one of the remaining few who live most traditionally. I considered this an incredible honor. They’ve had few travelers and none like the spiritual travel groups I sponsor.
Of course, the pandemic intervened. At that time, there was no vaccine. The Matsigenka, being so isolated, had no exposure or immunity. Finally, fully vaccinated, boosted, September flight set and COVID rapid test taken a day ahead, I set off for my personal journey to Shipetiari where I would meet the villagers and their jungle home for the first time.
I noticed that, once I turned my attention toward travels and thoughts informed by the larger intent of the time ahead, any objections by that part who’d raised them become quieter until they dissipated altogether.
It occurred to me the pandemic itself had generated my internal objections. Not because I was fearful of infection but for another reason. Like most all of us, my usual world came to a halt. In all that continued expanse of time, I reflected strongly on those aspects most important to me, sorting through how I would live into the future.
At a certain point, I began to wonder when or if I would be able to transition back into the world with my new realizations. I noticed a hint of complacency, lethargy really. Or was it the work of actually wading back into “life” after a long period of contemplation?
Recently, I came across a definition of the fundamental natures of Shiva—the drive being equilibrium—and Shakti—drawn to the “stuff of the world” and change. To illustrate, there was an image of Shiva deep in meditation with Shakti attempting to bring him into the dance. I don’t claim to be a knowledgeable student of Hinduism, but in that moment the teaching reached out and grabbed me…two sides of the same coin. Elements familiar to me inserted themselves in a deeper way.
I had barely arrived in Cusco a few hours when I went to meet with Jack Wheeler. That’s when I learned we would be leaving early next morning for the jungle, barely breaking daylight. Jack is the founder of Xapiri Ground, based in Cusco. We met a few years ago. I discovered our nonprofits had similar missions toward preservation of Indigenous traditions. His work rests specifically with ethnic groups of the Peruvian Amazon. Xapiri Ground is working with the Matsigenka to document their cosmology, held and passed on through traditional songs and storytelling…now becoming lost.
The Storytelling Project was one reason Jack and I were going then. We, Kenosis Spirit Keepers, are helping to support that undertaking.The other was for me to respond to the invitation I’d originally received, begin to develop relationships and make arrangements to return with a small group of travelers respectful of the spiritual landscape and open to learning.
The next morning as I waited for Jack to collect me, I noticed my pervading sense of expectancy for what this journey may hold, what intent may open wide. None of it imaginable really at this juncture, and I never choose to put a box around such things. I had traveled these roads from Cusco to the rainforest many times up to a point. But how useful is it to consider every new time to be divergent from the last time, experiencing all with fresh eyes, attentive ears and otherwise open? Then finally there came the point of departure from what was familiar to me, the last leg of waters and jungle to our geographic destination.
It was clear to me we’d set out on a pilgrimage. Metaphors would arise and accompany us. But I may not consciously make their acquaintance until after the fact. It’s often like that for me. It’s how I save myself so my intellect doesn’t get involved and spoil it all.
The Matsigenka were welcoming. Over the week we spent hours visiting with people happy to engage us with the way they live, in concert with their jungle home, plants, animals and each other. They did so, not by telling us, but by being what comes naturally to them. In their way, all is sacred and there’s no separation between them and the ground underfoot, the trees towering above or the birds or monkeys that fly through the trees…the waterways, frogs, insects and other inhabitants. To be otherwise is not within their reality. I have been with other Indigenous communities who live close to land. Somehow, this was different in a way I don’t quite have the words to express but will begin to write of it soon. They’ve left a mark on me and so has the jungle. There being no way to separate what is integral.
This is the story I want to tell now. One afternoon I decided to stay behind. We’d had an eventful morning, and I just wanted to be still. No matter where we went, the jungle was ever-present. My small bungalow was elevated a few feet with one side open, tall trees and dense foliage began maybe fifteen feet in front of where I sat on the stoop. No one else was around and the village was a twenty minute walk by trail.
I just sat. Not too much flitted through my mind. I did realize how completely relaxed my body felt, how deeply and long I slept each night. Those thoughts vacated and I sat. I watched. Training my eyes up toward the canopy, I saw two macaws fly by. A woodpecker landed on a high branch. Movement at the edge of the brush and a huge lizard slipped by. I listened to the calls of birds, some melodious, others somewhat harsh. Insects made a continuous chorus.
Then I began to feel. Energy. Everywhere. The more I opened that channel, the more there was. So much life. So very much vibration. It seemed to me the world fell away—or I fell into it. I was permeated.
I was in a state of wonderment through the last bit of our stay, all the way back to Cusco and carried all the way home. Something had happened, and I had no words for it. Only now after three months can I begin to speak of it with any coherence.
There’s a sacred Vibration, the constant that holds existence. And there are places where everything readily resonates with that frequency, each expressing it in their own way.
Now I’m left wondering if that resonance is what I sensed in the Matsigenka people, the land and all that inhabit it…
Words are often inadequate to convey an experience or feeling of great depth. The language just doesn’t exist until someone invents it, and it gains use as part of the vernacular. Such is the case with werifesteria, “to wander longingly in the forest in search of the Mystery.”
Once its meaning is learned there must be instant relief for those attuned to it. If the word is in use then there must be others traveling along that pathway as well. The forest can take whatever form you choose to give it—inner or outer landscape, seen or unseen. It’s not linear or logical for sure. By its very nature werifesteria attracts the strong intent it delivers ahead. We need only hold rapt attention, gathering cues that unfold the deeper path.
I must be a werifesterian. It feeds my soul for what may be revealed.
For more information on our August 21-31, 2022 spiritual travel program to Peru, go here.
Many of you know I recently returned from a personal journey – immersion in the little known Matsigenka way of life and time in deep jungle…profoundly transformational for me. The community has graciously invited me to bring a small group.
– Carla Woody
It is a privilege to sponsor this special program focusing on sacred traditions linking the Q’ero and Quechua peoples of the Andes and the Matsigenka of the jungle. I offer you an intimate opportunity, unlikely to be found on your own — with the intent that we are all transformed and carry the beauty home.
We begin in areas outside Cusco wiith Doña Vilma Pinedo and Q’ero paq’os — traditional Wisdom Keepers and mystics — who usher us into the world of the Andes, an alternate reality of life-affirming choices.
Then we transition deep into the rainforest to the pristine, wild surroundings of Matsigenka homelands. We experience how it is tolive harmoniously attuned to the environment, creating natural medicines and traditional arts, consuming foods provided by the rainforest, and taking in oral history informing the Matsigenka world view.
This is a journey of ayni — sacred reciprocity. We sit in ceremony of all these traditions, become an allyu — spiritual community — honoring all that sustains the planet and our own wellbeing. We come together with blessings, prayers and share the daily activities of all pilgrims.
We will be a smaller group than usual with respect to the Matsigenka village capacities. Though small, their hearts are open and wish to receive us in generosity just as our Q’ero friends and Dona Vilma Pinedo do.
Detailed information including itinerary, tuition, bios, and how to register is on the program page. I’m truly honored to bring you this rare opportunity.
I am privileged to bring you such a special opportunity. Join me and accept my invitation for this Adventure of the Spirit…and know that you are supporting continuation of the invisible, sacred threads that hold the world together.
In a time of global movement away from our origins, disintegration of family and disconnection from the natural elements, Spirit Keepers are the true warriors of today. In diminishing pockets throughout the world, in many ways disrespected, they still maintain the invisible threads that connect us to our roots.
We help preserve Indigenous traditions threatened with decimation.
Spirit Keepers are the stewards of our future. The ancient, Indigenous ways instill appreciation for the Mother Earth and all beings. When Spirit Keepers are honored and come together to share their sacred practices, we are all nourished. Our common foundation is strengthened.
We honor traditional Indigenous spiritual leaders, healers and communities who hold the fragile threads of their sacred ways.
We fully believe: If these traditions continue to die, we all lose.
I founded Kenosis Spirit Keepers as the nonprofit extension of Kenosis. I’m pleased to say that we’re now in our 14th year. We continue our work against all odds.
A side note: Although I’ve explored various media in my artwork across decades, the intent of the content remains … those elements most sacred.
The film opens with compelling footage, largely black and white, in first person perspective. We move swiftly, low to the ground, through sagebrush. Suddenly, the perspective alters and we observe a white wolf loping through tangled wilderness and scrubby, twisted trees. It’s then we realize we’d been seeing through wolf eyes. This shift occurs repeatedly, from first to third point of view, as the wolf tears through high grassland, bent on reaching a lone tree in the middle of a field. As she gets closer, strains of haunting music emanate from its luscious leaves.
Beneath the branches, slight movement, a hint of color, and we can almost make out a figure, obscured by shadow. Emerging now, it proves to be a slight, dark-haired girl, braids cascading to the waist. She scans the grasses seeming to know something or someone is out there. But the wolf is hunkered down hidden in tall grass, watching. A breeze finds its path. The sound of wood chimes, the fluttering of ephemera hung in the branches, hardly visible, set as they are against stillness, brings a moment of suspense.
Then the girl returns to her place under the tree. Facing its trunk, she takes up her violin and resumes the lament previously interrupted.
Soon we learn a strand of hair, handwritten petitions rolled into scrolls tied with ribbon, and other treasured things extend from the tree’s branches.
The entire tree is an altar and the violin music is a sacrament.
To give any more detail would intervene in the viewer’s experience. Just know it’s a multi-layered, touching film about loss, intergenerational trauma, hope, friendship—how one young First Nations girl finds her way through with the help of guides.
This German movie was filmed in British Colombia on Scw’exmx Nation land with members of the People of the Creek playing the characters, all first-time actors. Director Nino Jacusso is Swiss, and the film was drawn from the novel by Italian writer Federica de Cesco.
There is an English version available for viewing on Amazon Prime Video.
I had been listening to this young man for the past hour recounting significant aspects of his life’s story — a pilgrimage really — moving over the past decade. We were sitting in the upper level of Xapiri, his gallery a couple of blocks off Cusco’s main square, with Amazonian art all around us. He was winding down.
I’d been enthralled. “That’s incredible, you know.”
He offered a sardonic smile and said in decidedly Oxford English, “Yeah, that’s the brief story. There was a lot of randomness in-between.” Jack had a delightful way of laughing at himself that was attractive. But there were elements beyond his charm that spoke to greater substance and make-up.
Earlier that morning I was having breakfast in the tiny café of the family hotel El Balcón where I had long lodged my spiritual travel groups to Peru. A young North American woman, interning in hospitality services there, sat down across from me. We’d talked several times about what we were both doing in Cusco. This time she said, “I think you should meet Jack Wheeler. He’s got quite a story.” She gave me just enough to pique my interest and directions on where to find Xapiri. I took a chance that Jack would be there during my free time, and he’d be open to telling a complete stranger his personal history on a moment’s notice.
For a limited few, the trajectory of their life is laid out with certainty — and they’re quite satisfied with that. Satisfaction is key in this distinction, being bred in the bone to the extent they wouldn’t have it any other way. For the rest of us, conscious of it or not, we must seek our grounding. We know we’re not there when there’s an underlying feeling of discomfort, the rumblings of angst, a sense of just passing time, filling a slot, or waiting for something to happen. The tragedy of settling for the uneventful life is not discovering who you are. That’s not much of a legacy to pass down.
Jack had led into his tale, “When I left college, I wanted to follow one of the normal careers. I started working in a bank in my home city of Birmingham. It’s called the second city, London being the first. I’d worked there for two years. Although I was successful with promotions and really good money for my age, I definitely wasn’t happy. So, I started to travel. I took three months off and went to Peru, the first place I visited. I was twenty years old. At that point, I had no idea what I wanted. I was lost. I was traveling just because I wasn’t happy in England.
“But still I went back there. After a few years in the bank, I started a business with my older brother Tom. We worked hard, and it took off within six months. For many people it would appear to be a dream come true, creating something and being your own boss. But again, even though I was making money, I had no fulfillment — like it was at the bank. It wasn’t feeding my soul. So again, I decided to travel,” Jack punctuated his story with chuckles.
“That was about 6 years ago. I had a big, big trip where I traveled for a year…from New York all the way across the Americas…Central and South America, all the way to Patagonia. Big, big travel. Amazing travel. But looking back now, it was ticking boxes. I was going from place to place, spending a week in each place. It was enjoyable but not getting deep. It was more a standard backpacking trip.”
I pointed out to him a lot of people stuff their discontent instead of doing something about it. So much depends on outside influences and belief in what’s possible. There’s also the question of risk, stepping outside what’s familiar. Typically, if someone is going to answer what Joseph Campbell spoke of as a Calling, it’s after they’ve got more years on them, and the sacrifices have mounted up. I was speaking from experience.
“I think I was lucky to realize it at a young age. I put it all down to the traveling. At the beginning, the traveling wasn’t so deep. I wasn’t yet involved with Indigenous cultures. It still opened my eyes! When I came to Cusco the first time, I stayed in an orphanage volunteering for three months. I saw humanity, and it woke me up a little bit. The idea for Xapiri didn’t come at that point. I didn’t yet understand what I needed for fulfillment. It was a slow process. But I realized I couldn’t handle all the money and success back home.
“After the three months? I went back to England. Yeah, the story’s crazy!” With this last admission he produced a subdued bark, a commentary perhaps at the expense of his not-so-much younger self.
It’s seldom understood in the moment. But wandering is rarely aimless if we’re engaged, alert and open to possibility. A sorting process occurs beneath the surface, a recognition of what fits and what doesn’t. It takes putting ourselves into new, sometimes off the charts, experiences. In this way, we get hits over time, self-correcting so that when the full unveiling comes, it’s like we knew our passion all along. It’s no stranger to us. What at first may seem accidental, becomes the realization of personal destiny.
“My brother had relocated to Sweden. I went and spent the summer. I got back involved with the business in a different role with the idea I’d get more connected. But again…I didn’t. Yeah, I traveled again.
“This was a common theme. I was always traveling as an escape looking for something, I guess. It was on this travel when things began to click. I was in Venezuela and then Brazil where I had contact with the first Indigenous communities. I suddenly realized this is the work I wanted to do — to be involved with Indigenous people.
“At this point there were still no projects, no idea to work with the arts. Only later, I stumbled into this art gallery called CANOA in the town of Paraty. It was founded by Nina Taterka who was doing amazing work with over fifty ethnic groups in Brazil. A few months later I met her son Tui Anandi who became an important part of Xapiri from the beginning. He had all his experience having grown up surrounded by his mum’s work. Now Tui is a great friend, Xapiri partner and photographer for when we visit the communities.
“The moment I walked into Nina’s gallery, I knew I needed to be involved,” He nodded emphatically. “Somehow I persuaded her to listen to me. We had some meetings. The initial idea when meeting her was to show this Indigenous art to a European market. We made the shipments, sending the art work from Brazil to England…and that’s how Xapiri was born six years ago now.”
There’s an interesting thing that happens once the seeker finds life purpose. The traveler comes to rest in the comfort of self-knowledge. Seeking goes to the wayside, and they find solid ground, even if it’s invisible in the moment. Having sought outside the box, all manner of potentials will become apparent that heretofore were hidden. The more clarity existing within your intent, the more those elements will naturally come to fulfill it. Synchronicity becomes a common occurrence. It’s not that blocks don’t appear, but we recognize alternatives to skirt them, an important part of the learning process. In this initiation, a foundation is built.
I was curious how Jack gained entry into the Indigenous communities in the Peruvian Amazon. I knew he had some help initially from Nina when he was in Brazil. Beyond that, he would definitely enter foreign territory where some remote ethnic communities would have had little to no contact with Westerners. It could be sketchy to just show up — without invitation. Even with an invite, it was a fearless move. Jack had to harbor such strong intent that he was on the right track. At any rate, a lot of people want to do things but don’t have the how-to, especially given the unusual path he had chosen.
“I can give a few examples. The way these relationships start are always different with each community. You’re right. In the beginning, I had this connection with Nina in Brazil. She was the first person to introduce me to some communities. The first expedition we went on was to visit the Asurini people of the Xingu river six years ago with Nina and her photographer friend, Alice Kohler. It was because of their relationships we had the invitation to go in.
“Since then it’s been Xapiri — the team and me — creating the connections in many different ways. The Matsés are the most remote community we work with, as an example. For sure, they had very little contact with outsiders coming into their territory. A number attempt to get into their land but don’t succeed. Once they get to the military outpost on the border of their lands, they get no farther. You really need to have connections and invitations. How it happened with the Matsés was through a nonprofit called Acaté Amazon Conservation. They’ve been working with the Matsés for about ten years and have created many amazing projects with them.
“Acaté is a nonprofit that does super work. Their cofounder Christopher Herndon sent me an email at the beginning of Xapiri five years ago saying we’ve had some meetings with the Matsés women, and they want help selling their arts. Chris and I connected on our first conversation, and we agreed to begin with sending a few bracelets created by the Matsés women to Xapiri. That’s how the relationship started — very slowly. I think we had ten bracelets in the beginning. They started to sell. We asked for fifty bracelets, a hundred bracelets and so on. I would say over the first year that we were building this trust, with both Acaté and the Matsés, from repeat orders. Soon, it developed by asking Matsés men to make many lances and arrows, to keep it fair with the women.”
“We started to hear stories. There were still some elder women making ceramics in the remote villages. Slowly, more of their arts appeared, their baskets, bags and so on. On that trip we also made direct contact ourselves. It became this beautiful project where we were selling through Acaté. After a year when this trust had been established, we had the invitation to go visit the Matsés. It was from the Matsés leaders and the nonprofit. The first time we went in was three years ago. We started having a direct relationship with the Matsés creating media documenting how they live, telling the stories of their lands. With the Matsés, it happened slowly with the help of the nonprofit. Now I’d say we’re really close with the Matsés. We were there again in 2019. Every time we go, we present our work to different villages and communicate what we’re doing.
“With other communities, we’ve made contact through recommendations from friends. Tui and I have done long expeditions into the jungle. We’ve gone exploring. Three years ago, we went from Manaus in Brazil to Peru to the Colombian border to Pucallpa. This was a three-month trip where we stopped off and visited different communities and made contact with different nonprofits. We were working out which nonprofits we could partner with on the ground to help us. That’s how we made contact with the Shipibo in Pucallpa through the nonprofit Alianza Arkana. On that trip we made contacts ourselves with the Ticuna on the border with Colombia. Along with that, a lot is happening in communities near Cusco through direct contact and through friends we meet in the gallery.
“Puerto Maldonado, the capital of the Madre de Dios region, is considered the entrance into the southern Amazon jungle. In this region, you have the Yine. By visiting that city, we’ve had contact with some of the leaders and had invitations to some of the villages. It’s lots of trial and error. Lots of the connections we make never materialize. The communications are very difficult. Lots of times there are no phone signals. It’s really face-to-face relationships and building trust in person before anything develops. We try to make many relationships and a few stick. So now we’re working with ten different ethnics. That’s how it is.”
When lifework comes together bit by bit over time, especially when focused on the everyday process, there can be a tendency to take the journey for granted. I asked, “Do you ever look back and wonder how in the world you got here?“
“Of course. There are often these moments in Matsés land, and you’re spending the whole day in the canoe. These are the times you reflect. I look at Tui. It’s five years ago we were just dreaming. We were just following our passion, and now we’re doing this really important work. We have to pinch ourselves! It’s emotional these moments. It really is — all this hard work coming together. Spending time with the communities, this is what it’s all about. Back from these expeditions you feel like different people. We’re ready to put all this energy into the work back in Cusco and what we do day-to-day. Waiting for the next expedition and time with the Indigenous… It’s the cycle. It’s beautiful.”
I wondered about the effect Xapiri has had on the Indigenous peoples within their focal point.
“The sheer number of people we’re supporting now is well over one hundred artists. These artists are normally the only people bringing money into their families. I can’t tell you how many phone calls Xapiri gets from Indigenous people asking us for support. For instance, someone is asking for two hundred Peruvian soles for medication because a family member is sick. We send this money and know within a month they’ll send art as a return. There are these examples where we’re supporting these individuals who have no other option when they get sick or want to send their grandson to university. Without Xapiri’s platform, it really wouldn’t be possible. They call on Xapiri as the trusted people they know who will help. On a very simple level, we’re supporting many people now.
“What’s so important now is engaging the Indigenous youth with our work. It’s the grandmother making her art and selling. Then it’s the granddaughter seeing this, and she wants to know how to make the basket or the bracelet. She gets connected again to her culture and this can bring a sense of restored pride. If we can keep doing this — getting the young people engaged in the culture — that’s the biggest thing Xapiri can do is connect with the youth.
“It’s proving to be one of the hardest things. But when it’s working, this is one of the most important things. These traditions will continue…the art, language, medicinal plant knowledge. It’s all connected. If the Indigenous are strong and connected to their culture, they will continue these aspects. That’s presently one of Xapiri’s biggest missions. It’s for these pieces of wisdom to continue. If we can help support that…that’s our mission.”
One of the important aspects of finding our place in the world has to do with recognizing resources and undertaking subsequent strategies as a result. Frequently, people overlook the most preeminent resource of all. Acknowledging their own capabilities, whether innate or learned, creates a stronger foundation. It’s something to count on. Self-acknowledgment builds baseline confidence to move ahead — even in the dark days.
I wanted to explore this with Jack. “I love your story. Also, I recognize there’s something within you. You possess capacities that allow you to put things in place and be so successful. Starting out, even when you were back in England, everything worked like clockwork for you. I think that’s an important point because some people will stay in a job because it’s lucrative, and they’re able to do it. For you, that wasn’t enough. You’re adept at creating relationships as well.”
Jack considered the past. “I agree. One of my greatest strengths is in relationship-building and the small steps we’ve taken to get to this point. Those first years in England where Xapiri was born, that was the foundation. I read book after book on history and different Indigenous matters. You’ve got to make connections with different activists, nonprofits and anthropologists. That was the base, doing my research. Without that time, Xapiri never would have taken off in Cusco. Throughout these past years, there have been these careful steps. Very slowly, but building it in a careful and really deep way. Every relationship we make is sincere. It’s aimed to be super long-term and sustainable. It’s not something we’re doing for a few years. I know it’s long-term because it’s such a passion. That’s why I’m happy to move slowly and do it right. I know that if I keep taking these steps for ten, twenty, thirty years…we can do some amazing things.”
In such a way spiritual identity is developed. It’s more than a public face. Like Indigenous peoples who maintain their traditions, connections to their communities and ancestral lands, roots run deep. Everyday life is lived through deeply held beliefs. There’s no compartmentalization. Any task or direction is reinforced through sacred threads they hold as generative. One thing is woven into the other, creating wholeness.
That morning I introduced myself to Jack, there was a specific prompting I received in my early morning conversation with the young woman who suggested I meet him. Not knowing his story exactly, I was quite familiar on a personal level of the elements it might contain. I was curious as to what compelled Jack specifically to undertake this venture. It could even be considered a holy one. Such rites of passage always involve risk, unfamiliar territory, uncertainties and potential failure.
All who submit to the journey will have their own details within the elements just as Jack did. One thing is certain. If the intrepid explorer follows their intent all the way through to its true and logical destination, they will experience a quickening. It will allow them to find — not merely footing — but grounding within their own finely tuned home in the world.
An Intimate Pilgrimage from the Highlands to the Lowlands
In December, I was honored with a formal invitation from the traditional Matsigenka village of Shipetiara, located in the shoulder area of the Manu Biosphere of Peru, to bring a group for an immersion experience. I have opened a spiritual travel program in September 2021 and am now taking registrations.
It is a privilege to sponsor this special program focusing on sacred traditions linking the peoples of the Andes and the rainforest. A portion of tuition is tax-deductible supporting the Xapiri Matsigenka Storytelling Project, and sponsoring a small group of Q’ero paq’os traveling with us.
This should be considered a pilgrimage of respect for sharing traditions and experiencing nature. Intrepid travelers understanding this honor and willing to take the COVID-19 vaccination to protect these Indigenous people, who have little to no contact with outsiders, are welcome.
This program is co-sponsored by Kenosis and Kenosis Spirit Keepers, the nonprofit arm of Kenosis. I founded both, the former in 1999 and latter in 2007, and have been sponsoring spiritual travel programs for more than 20 years.
Another star has appeared in the night sky. Xavier Quijas Yxayotl — composer, master musician, spiritual guide, healer, artist, visionary, resurrector of the ancient ways, life-giver, steward of Mother Earth, friend, lover of life and all beings — has passed. And we have experienced an incredible loss at his departure.
We can be thankful that he leaves a substantial legacy in the way of ancient Mesoamerican music and instruments. He rescued this rich heritage from annihilation, the colonizers having sought to destroy it. Xavier led the way and others then stood on his shoulders. He’s globally acclaimed. Beyond this enormous accomplishment, there is the man. I’m not sure I’ve ever known a man more gentle, kind, generous and — despite his renown — humble.
I first met Xavier in September 2013 when we, Kenosis Spirit Keepers, invited him to Phoenix to share his music, Huichol/Azteca traditions and ceremony. I was so taken by how, through his music, he led us into other worlds and realms entirely. I grew excited when he mentioned a bit of his life’s history to the point that, a couple of months later, he agreed to relay it to me in detail, allowing me to document it. In 2014, Still Point Arts Quarterly, a literary arts journal, accepted Beyond the Dark as a feature in their Fall 2015 issue.
Over the ensuing years, Xavier lent support of his music and presence to other of our Spirit Keepers Series weekends, and in January 2018 he was our invited guest on the Maya spiritual travel program in the highlands and lowlands of Chiapas, Mexico. It was my honor and privilege to know this compassionate spirit…who grew through a difficult childhood, separated from his ancestral traditions…who heard the calling of his ancestors…maintained his sensitivities throughout…to give his gifts to the world. He remains a role model for all time.
To read Xavier’s soulful life story, Beyond the Dark, in its entirety, go here. You’ll discover how he returned to the Huichol roots denied him as a child, and went on to resurrect ancient instruments lost to time through visitations from his ancestors.
I’m going to provide some background before launching into my update for anyone reading of this undertaking for the first time. Kenosis Spirit Keepers, the nonprofit I founded in 2007, began to fundraise back in early April to provide emergency COVID-19 relief for the Hatun Q’ero village of Ccochamocco, where my close relationships have developed since the mid-90s. I love these people. The village is quite isolated at 14,500’ high in the Peruvian Andes, and Indigenous lands in the Cusco Region had been closed by the Peruvian government.
Who thought the pandemic would last for so long and intensify? The timeline kept slipping again and again as to when quarantines would end in the Cusco Region and Indigenous lands would reopen. We’d been ready since June to make the food delivery. But it was not to be. All I could think of was how their food supplies must be dwindling away.
Some have been cavalier about the Q’eros’ predicament saying they’ve survived for a thousand-plus years that way. Sorry. I can’t accept the image that kept playing in my mind of my godson, his and other families, children and elders being hungry, only having potatoes to eat and then those diminishing. That’s exactly what happened. By October when lands finally opened and it became possible to travel into the high mountain villages, potatoes had been their sole dietary choice for quite a while. I’m thankful they at least had that.
See the full report of our effort for Ccochamocco, plus the Hopi villages of Moenkopi and Shungopavi in northern Arizona. Scroll down to the portion on Q’eros after Hopi.
Now on to happy news…
First, I want to express great gratitude for all the donors over these months. Because of you, we had $7000 to pay for food and expenses to get the goods up to the waiting villagers. This kind of money goes a very long way in Peru, as you’ll discover in a moment.
Second, I really want to recognize my Q’ero liaison Santos Machacca Apaza. A lot of times, those people who quietly operate in the background but who do all the legwork to get things done—make things actually happen—are taken for granted. I don’t. As soon as lands reopened, Santos made the long trip from Cusco to Ccochamocco to consult with the community on what they needed, then went to a number of merchants in Cusco to secure supplies and got the best price. Very time consuming, along with hiring a large truck, helpers and everything else, including keeping me apprised. Clearly, if he wasn’t so willing and trustworthy, we couldn’t have gotten this done.
It was a 3-day operation from first load to delivery into the hands of the families—not counting all the prep beforehand. Santos documented it all with photos and videos. Here are some.
This first video is the only one with English. The rest are in the Q’ero dialect with a few words of Spanish sprinkled in periodically. Santos narrates, expressing the gratitude of our Q’ero friends, telling us 54 families will be fed now for months as a result of what they’ve received, visible in this wide circle before each family and more to the far side of the video pan. He thanks all donors and, if you listen closely, at the last pass through the circle you can hear some of them calling out in thanks to Pachamama (Mother Earth) and Apu Wamanlipa, the sacred mountain that watches over Ccochamocco.
This next video is a little wonky but I wanted to share it. This is Juan Machacca Paucar, the current president of Ccochamocco, a responsibility that rotates every year or so. He wants to show us all the food each family received: rice, flour, sugar, cooking oil, quinoa, tuna, soups, pasta, lentils, oatmeal, condensed milk, salt, soap and a few other things I can’t identify.
Just as when we come together for despacho ceremony, Q’ero friends place importance on standing, speaking sincere words of welcome and letting us know how they hold us in their hearts. First, you see Modesto Machacca Apaza, father to Miguel Angel, my godson. Next is Carmina Zamata Machacca, Miguel Angel’s maternal grandmother, who you can glimpse hovering behind the stacked food. (So big now at 14!)
Finally, you see some Q’ero friends holding a banner. When Santos asked me to send a photo file of the Kenosis Spirit Keepers business card, I had no idea he had this purpose in mind. Plus, it appears he located an old image of me, probably lifted from Facebook. Frankly, I was a bit embarrassed when I saw this. I tend to operate beneath the radar. But I know how much receiving these goods means to them, and this is their way of making a visual representation of their appreciation.
If anything, I wish we’d been able to show a gallery of donors who made all of this possible, for both Q’ero and Hopi. It would be crammed full front and back. Kenosis Spirit Keepers is merely the vehicle through which love flows from like-hearted people who assist us in fulfilling our mission to help sustain these Indigenous peoples who hold intent to keep their traditions alive.
I’ve come late to Linda Hogan’s writing. I’ve now read two of her books – Solar Storms and People of the Whale – and in the middle of a third – Mean Spirit. I can’t help but know what is apparent. The message they hold is for all time, but especially now when we’re called upon to pay attention and determine how we shall live. We are called upon to be distinctly cognizant that what we do matters.
The common theme has to do with the clash of cultures. One honors the Earth, all ways of life, and practices a sacred sense of reciprocity. The other is intensely focused on accumulation that can’t be satiated and complete disregard of all life…for the benefit of a few. One is life-giving. One is depleting. There’s no subtlety and here no overlap. It’s the Great Divide for purpose: Pay attention. Heal.
The books involve Indigenous characters who experienced separation from traditional ways of living to varying degrees, and those who remain in touch. Through outside western influences, they’ve had their birthright nearly or completely destroyed. Through manipulations, they’ve borne murder, blurring of identity and loss of homeland. Hogan points so well to the insidiousness of these shenanigans that caused people to fall away from their True North over time, almost without noticing.
What I so appreciate about Hogan’s writings is her willingness to dive deeply and excavate struggle, confusion and collapse at the individual and communal level. But equally she leads the search for a way out that also involves struggle and confusion. But the shift involves direction aimed toward – and does produce – a return.
In People of the Whale, certain sentences popped out to me over the course of the novel that, just in these, told the whole story.
…They do not feel the spirits that once lived in the fogs and clouds around them. The alive world is unfelt. They feel abandoned...
…For every inch of skin, there is memory...
…He was waiting for something to open, but it wasn’t the door...
…they are answers to questions not yet even asked...
…he hears the sound of birds and it is as if behind the human world something else is taking place...
…There is just a breeze of something living, like the breath of the universe...
…Then he sings an old whale song he has never learned...
…Tradition had been waiting their return.
It’s of Mythic stature and, of course, this is what we now engage.
The Lifepath Dialogues offer an invitation toward embodiment of all that is life-affirming and the deeper meaning of sustainability. Themes are drawn from books "Calling Our Spirits Home" and "Standing Stark" and 20+ years as a conscious living mentor leading spiritual travel journeys with Indigenous Wisdom Keepers serving their communities, group and individual programs. Carla specializes in working with people who seek to live through their deeply held values. For more info see the “About” tab. The author may be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow this blog by becoming a fan on the Kenosis Facebook page.
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