The Ika people

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Sun 11.25.18


      I’m reading a wonderful book entitled, One River: Explorations and Discoveries in the Amazon Rain Forest by Wade Davis.  He and Tim Plowman, are a couple of Yale ethnobotanists; ethnobotany being the study of the traditional knowledge and customs of indigenous people concerning plants and their medical, religious, and other uses.  With a grant to study and document plants in the rain forest of the Amazon, their research is focused primarily on the coca plants which grow in profusion in the area.

      Wade and his colleague, Plowman, who is head of this expedition, meet at the Pan American Bar in Santa Marta, hire a guide, Aurelio with pack mules and they’re off.  The guide deposits them at the village of Donachui where they are greeted at the gate by a handsome, bronzed, man with shoulder length hair, named Adelberto; his people being the Ika.  Adelberto leads them to the ceremonial lodge where they are questioned, and their papers are examined by village elders.  The are told that others have visited in the past and used their houses as latrines, broke a door to use as kindling wood, etc.  Aurelio explains that to the Iko, Wade and Plowman are seen as sowers of disease and misery.  They will need to be patient.  This encounter from beginning to end is punctuated by the sharing and ingestion of coca among the Ika.  A fee is requested for their stay in the village, which is paid and then Plowman deposits seashells in front of the hearth along with a skein of red wool.  A murmur of approval wends through the lodge.

      The seashells are used by the Ika because limestone derived from them is used in the ingestion of coca.  The researchers have made a good first impression.  They will now live among a people who see all of life as sacred.  The lodge where the interview took place has four fireplaces placed in strategic arrangements; its roof allows light to enter in certain locations at the solstices, the equinoxes.  And the skein of red wool?  The Ika weave their own clothes.  Adelberto, who after a few days spent with them, becomes a companion who moves in with them bringing his loom. 

The rectangular loom with its interweaving of thread is also seen by the Ika as an image of the four corners of the earth. a metaphor of what they are doing in their travels, the weaving of mother earth.

      I shall weave the fabric of my life,

      I shall weave it white as a cloud,

      I shall weave some black into it,

      I shall weave maize stalks into the white cloth,

      Thus I shall obey divine law.

      The sacred infuses every part of the material world and informs their lives.  The earth is alive, the sea, a memory of the great mother, and mountains communicate.  It is all dependent on the moral, spiritual and ecological integrity of its people who are guided by the mámas.  These are the priests, the shamans of the tribe.  Adelberto is such a person.  A máma once chosen through a process of divination, is taken from his family as infant, and brought to the mountains to live with a máma,where he spends a nocturnal life, a night creature completely shut away from the sun, even the light of the full moon.  Thus in time he learns the mysteries of the world.  On his eighteenth birthday he is lead into a bright morning sun and is shown the beauty of the world.  See, it is all as I told you, says his máma.

      I read this book during the Thanksgiving holiday and it becomes clearer the reason I keep failing miserably to cook a decent meal during holidays.  These celebrations of ravenous engorgement have lost all meaning.  Corporate appropriation of Christmas becomes a horror show of the ritual Black Friday crowds duking it out a Walmart. 

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