WHERE DEVELOPMENT WIL L LEA D TO MASS SUICID E
the community and that the Ministry of the Environment and Oxy had thirty days to bring that about.
Simultaneously as the writ was issued, the Public Defender filed a lawsuit over the licence, in response to the State Council's judgement on March 4th that the licence was valid. The State Council claimed that the general interest of the Colombian peoples, as well as the dominion of the State over national territory, including the State's proprietal rights to the nation's subsoil, took precedence over any other consideration, including over the rights of indigenous peoples. Since indigenous rights are supposedly protected by the National Constitution, the ruling of the State Council makes a mockery of the legislation. In addition, the State Council validated the consultation process that had supposedly taken place and with it the right of Oxy to enter U'wa territory.
The U'wa were not intimidated and on April 28th (1997) they drafted a long letter to the Executive Secretary of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to request that the Colombian government suspend the licence and that it adopt the necessary means to avoid irreparable damage to the indigenous population.
A blood y figh t I t has not been an easy fight, and the U'wa feel thoroughly deceived. What has become clear for them, is the meaningless of what is little more than cosmetic democracy. The notion of participatory democracy, and the various mechanisms employed to achieve it, has proved to be a subtle means of creating the semblance of community approval and indigenous rights. At the end of the day, government policy has always favoured the megaprojects, irrespective of local resistance and ecological consequences.
The State has routinely approved, promoted and defended projects like the Urra hydroelectric project, the construction of treatment plants for the River Bogota, roads that cut through regions of exquisite biodiversity, and the creation of industrial zones in indigenous resguardos. In all these instances the legal path has been pursued, together with collective struggles, demonstrations and protests. And in all these instances, the multinational corporation has been granted the jackpot, to the detriment of those they leave behind when the natural resources have been plundered.
History has predictably repeated itself with regard to the U'wa, but in this case, an astonishing solidarity has emerged. On one side stand the permanent actions of the "Colombia Committee for the U'wa", created by environmentalists and journalists and which has brought together various sectors of society that identify with the U'wa cause. And, on the other, stand the Public Defender, the organizations of human rights and of environmentalists, as well as the support of international ecological and indigenous groups.
Misinformatio n Tactic s But the Colombian government and Oxy remain unwilling to shift from their position, and have resorted lately to releasing false rumours and distorted information with the aim of confusing the public and weakening popular resistance to the scheme. On one occasion the president of Oxy, Stephen T. Newton, declared in a national newspaper that his company was surrounded by the guerrilla and that the traditional U'wa territory was the stomping ground of Father Perez - head of the subversive ELN, the army of national liberation. The U'wa angrily reject such accusations: "It's not the first time that the company has argued that the U'wa people, in defending their rights, are being pressured by the guerrilla.
In 1994, all the members of the Main Council and the assessors of our national organization were accused with the threat of prison for being tied to subversive activities." What's more, some of the key critics of the scheme have faced numerous death threats and public denunciations.
More unfortunate has been the strategic use by the oil company of those members of the indigenous community who have lost their cultural roots, abandoned the traditional ways, and who welcome the exploitation of oil as a way to bring 'development' into the region. Oxy has made great efforts to elicit support from these individuals as a means of gaining entry into the resguardo. Aware of such happenings, the U'wa Cabildo Mayor (Chief Councillor) insists that the only authorities allowed to represent the community are those legitimately associated with the ruling body for all the U'wa peoples - La Asociacion
Mayor de Cabildos U'wa (The Association of U'wa Councillors).
Today, nothing is certain: one hope is that the environmental impact assessment wil l be considered null and void, given that i t was carried out in a record five days, leading, according to lawyers, to inconsistencies. The U'wa are also waiting the outcome of a possible lawsuit in their favour from the United Nations International Labour Office, as well as a pronouncement from the international courts that may rule in their favour and who wil l act accordingly. Above all, i t is the hope of the U'wa and their supporters, that the interests of their tribe be placed above those of large, corporations whose only interest is that of extracting shortterm profit from the accumulated wealth of millions of years of evolution.
Petro l an d th e U'w a Without doubt, the head-on opposition of the U'wa to those who would invade their territory emerges essentially from their cosmological beliefs and the way in which they regard petroleum. As explained in the document entitled U'wa Chita, prepared by the U'wa themselves: "One of our principal beliefs about the Earth is that it is a living being and is Mother. That belief has determined our agricultural practices, our cultural activities, such as hunting, fishing, gathering and our ritual behaviour. Under this concept, what is clear for us when we work, when we celebrate our fasts, our chants and traditional dances, is that we are taking care of this world, of the Earth, of our Mother.. .Petroleum Ruiria is the mother of all the sacred lakes ... it is working the emeralds, the gold, the coal... Al l those resources should not be touched; they must be left alone; they are alive; they are working."
Precisely that idea that such resources "are working" arises out of the notion that they form part of a "tribute that should be handed over to the deities so that they wil l maintain equilibrium, such as it is, that neither wil l the Earth tremble nor dry out."
In that way nothing good can come out of an oil company, be i t Oxy or another, entering or even being allowed to enter U'wa lands. The U'wa see their own struggle over the issue of oil as an opportunity to campaign for an entirely different model of development, something that is indeed essential, given the current environmental crisis in Colombia and elsewhere in the world.
"We have not committed the insolence of violating the churches and temples of the Riowa: but they in turn have sullied and wiped out our lakes." Let us hope the U'wa's struggle for the sacred in nature is not in vain.D
Monica del Pilar Uribe Marin is a journalist in Colombia
The Ecologist, Vol. 29, No 1, January/February 1999 Reviews Wisdom of The Elders
AN D ELDER S
(including humans). Al l things in nature are attributed with having "their own kinds of causal energy or force", and "the terms for ordinary and spiritualized entities are the same" (p. 108). Mountains, rivers and winds have specific master-spirits which receive invocations from village elders.
SHAMANS AND ELDERS: Experience, Knowledge and Power among the
Daur Mongols by Caroline Humphrey with Urgunge Onon, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1996,
396pp, (pb), ISBN 0 198 28068 8
Urgunge Onon is a Daur Mongol who left China in 1948 and now lives in England. He was nearing his seventies when he approached Cambridge anthropologist Caroline Humphrey and asked her to write a book about his recollections of shamanism. They worked together holding conversations which formed the basis of the manuscript, and these were supplemented by her field trip to Mongolia in 1987, and his translations of Chinese and Japanese text.
The Daur Mongols live in northern Manchuria and have a mixed economy based on farming along the Naun River valley. They also fish, herd animals, hunt bears, tigers, antelope and foxes. They grow millet as a staple but also cultivate barley, oats and wheat; they keep horses, cattle and chickens. The practice of shamanism is still subject to repression today and, as in the past, the Daur fear both their ancestral spirits and the oppression of the State for engaging in the shamanic activities which acknowledge them.
Concept s o f Natur e The Daur concept of 'nature' includes objects, beings and processes that were "uncreated, spontaneous, innate" (p.52). They contrast wild, non-human nature found in forests and mountains with that which is domestic and found in villages
Urgunge describes the physical landscape around his village, but at the same time mentions different sorts of spirit (master-spirits, ancestral spirits, demons) which reside there (p.76). Distinctions are made between the visible physical world and the unseen spirit beings: misfortunes are thought to be caused by angering a natural object. Humphrey writes: "the landscape .. . is not a black background to human affairs, nor is i t simply a cognitive ordering of space. I t is the result of the land having been used in certain practical and valueladen ways, in our case the Daurs' roughand-ready farming, herding and hunting" (p. 126). The landscape was like a map of events in shamans' lives, and their deaths were marked by stone cairns.
Spirit s o f natur e The earth is implicitly female, fertile and life-giving. Like the sky and stars i t is considered to have invisible energy which includes its rivers, cliffs and forests, as well as birds, animals and fish. This energy is in addition to the 'spirit masters'. The idea is not that the spirit-master of a mountain dominates the mountain, but rather that i t "exists as the permanent genius of the awesomeness of that mountain" (R89). For example, i f crops are attacked by a plague of insects, this is considered to have been 'intended' by the mountain. The Daur attribute emotions like anger and happiness to mountains.
The master-spirit of the forests controls its resources, animals and fruits. In the forest, hunters have to behave with respect towards the animals; violations are said to cause 'incalculable' harm elsewhere (p.91). Retribution follows i f female animals are treated wrongly and the consequence for an irresponsible hunter could be the loss of his soul and even his life (p.92). The forest is said to be full of unseen spirits.
Many rivers in Mongolia have feminine names. They are both resources for fishing, and moving bodies of water, which have their own spirit-master who gives fish to fishermen, who in return offer fish to him.
Fish have to be respected: i f a large one is caught, a man laments for i t "as a formal acknowledgement of the animal's right to existence and sorrow at its death" (p.92). The river also has multiple levels of meaning: it is a boundary, among other things, between this world and the world of the dead (p.93).
People believe that souls can take either animal or human form in successive lives. Humans, birds and animals are seen to have individual immortal souls, which during dreams "had an existence separate from the body" (p.99).
Religiou s Practitioner s Daur people define specific differences between various specialists who each have their own kind of knowledge and ways of interacting with nature, though they do collaborate. The elders (always men) lead prayers to the sky, mountains, stars, rivers and trees. They accompany hunters into the
Shamans are buried in hollowed-out tree trunks and the bark replaced so that the tree continues to grow: in this way the ancestral shamans are linked to specific places in the landscape. forest where they propitiate the masterspirit and entice him into giving them more animals. They can also talk to fish and attract them into being caught. Shamans never go hunting, because animals are their spirit kin: their shamanizing, i t is believed, might confuse the hunt, whose purpose is to kil l animals and not their spirits.
Landscap e an d Deat h The Daur believe that "death transforms the souls of certain people into spirits, which are thereby freed from physical human bodies and able to reside in other objects in nature" (p. 128). This is in addition to the energies that natural objects have of their own. Upon death a person wil l naturally metamorphose into an ancestral spirit (p. 194). Shamans are buried in hollowed-out tree trunks and the bark replaced so that the tree continues to grow: in this
The Ecologist, Vol. 29, No 1, January/February 1999