Nature whispers and sometimes screams. Once in a while I listen. These occasions have spurred me to think about the relationship between humans and the natural world.
The Beetle: As I returned to my car on a fall afternoon, I noticed a small black beetle walking across the parking lot. The beetle hurried along—seemingly with determination—on a steady course toward a wooded area at the edge of the lot. I noticed that the beetle strode directly into the wind, perhaps drawn by the airborne scent of the mosses and fallen leaves, something to eat? A love interest?
Mother Skunk: One evening my wife Claudia and I were driving home along a winding country road when we saw a car stopped ahead of us, warning lights flashing. The driver, out of her car, yelled to us while pointing to a scene visible in the headlights, a line of skunks, mother and four little ones crossing the road. However, a tiny fourth pup wouldn’t follow. The mother skunk, got her four pups safely to the side of the road turn. With awe, we watched her go back across the road to retrieve her frightened runt.
The Gray Wolf: As a graduate student, I had the opportunity to spend six weeks on an expedition to Canada’s arctic tundra–part of my research on climate change. On many days, I hiked alone to observe the landscape, an undulating, treeless plain covered with black lichen, mosses, shrubs, rocks and shallow ponds. I carried a powerful shotgun—there were rumors of barren land grizzlies. As I walked, I noticed a dark object a few hundred yards away. The object seemed to move whenever I moved, and stopped when I stopped. Through my binoculars, I saw the wolf. It was looking at me. It had a very distinct appearance, gray, lean, ribs visible. I kept walking and so did the wolf, keeping his distance. I had the distinct feeling that there was between us a great deal of respect (based in part on fear). After a while, the wolf disappeared behind a rise.
Next day, I saw, Olsson (not his real name) our crew leader, run from his tent, shotgun in hand. Then I saw the wolf, the same wolf, gray, scrawny, running away. I heard a shot and saw Olsson firing at the wolf. Then high- pitched yelps and the wolf spun in tight circles, as if chasing its tail; the pain in his rear must have been excruciating. Olsson moved closer to the animal and fired once more. The wolf fell. Several days later, I saw Olsson skinning the animal. “I’ll get it stuffed,” he explained.
An Afterthought: I like to imagine that the beetle was driven by what George Bernard Shaw called “The Life Force” that intangible will to live, to strive, to find a mate, to write or paint, to discover, or invent. I would like to think that we humans could build societies with the kind of nurturing that mothers give to their babies. Tundra wolves kill caribous to feed their pups.
We humans kill to eat. Yet today’s political and economic drivers seem to have less to do with sustenance, care and sustainability that with the trophy-hunt, the lust for wealth and power. Can this change?
Manawa: A Shaman’s Journey ©: The Sarayaku Kichwa Indigenous Community (of the Ecuadoran Amazon Rainforest) and Henry S. Cole & Associates, Inc. have joined forces to produce a fictional movie–one that will portray the struggles of indigenous peoples to protect their their rainforest communities – from the ravages of oil, mining, agri-business and other threats. We plan to use Sarayaku community members the cast and crew needed to produce the film–with support from supportive professionals in the motion picture industry.
I am working with Eriberto Gualinga on the movie’s screenplay which will incorporate the rich experience of the Sarayaku. Mr. Gualinga has a long record of producing and using documentaries as an effective tool in the in the Sarayaku resistance to big oil backed by the Ecuadoran government. His incredible film Children of the Jaguar won the Best Documentary award at the National Geographic All Roads Film Festival in 2012. Despite this victory (2011) and an apology from the government of Ecuador, the government announced in December a grant to a Chinese Oil company to exploit the oil reserves within the territories of the Sarayaku and several other indigenous peoples.
Contact: Hank Cole at U.S. 301 780 7990, email@example.com
We are indigenous women …. who learned in silence and pain to say: No Contamination, No illness, No Oil.
Clearly there is a story to tell! In 2002 a group of Sarayaku surrounded a battalion of government troops and managed to seize a number of semi-automatic rifles. Women played a prominent role in disarming the soldiers; they agreed to return the weapons but only to the commander, one weapon at a time, and only after each woman delivered the officer a tongue lashing. It was the Sarayaku women who led the community to adopt the “no oil, not a drop” position that it’s held ever since. that the Sarayaku community
From the first conflict with oil in the 1990’s to the present, the Sarayaku have come up with ingenious ways to protect their community and the “living forest.” They have developed considerable expertise in using technology (internet, solar energy, and aviation) but without compromising their sacred harmony with nature . Children of the Jaguar depicts the Sarayaku’s successful use of the Inter-American Court on Human Rights to challenge oil development on its territory.
My trip to the Sarayaku community. This past February, I spent several weeks with the Sarayaku and I was able to meet with many community members, go deep into the rainforest, experience fishing, farming, and family life and to collaborate with Eriberto. Our project and partnership received formal approval from the Sarayaku government council.
Defenders of the Rainforest. While there is general recognition that preservation of the rainforests (the lungs of the earth) is essential in efforts to curb runaway climate change, neither international treaties or reforestation efforts have prevented the rampant destruction of global forests for the extraction of resources. On the other hand, the evidence clearly demonstrates that indigenous peoples are the most effect defenders of rainforests and other ecosystems.
Guardians of Humanity: My experience was beyond anything I had imagined. I began to see that the Sarayaku (and many other indigenous peoples) have a great deal to teach we “the developed world,” the we the “civilized.” Here is a people that with a deep spiritual belief that all life is sacred. Their livelihood depends on a harmonious relationship with nature. If you want to see true democracy in action sit in on a session of the Sarayaku governing council, open to all voices. Here is a people with great love for family and community. The fully understand that “no man is an island.” Children are taught at the earliest age to participate and contribute, to feel like they are part of something much bigger than themselves.
One of the principal goals of our movie is to give people a vision and hope that there is an alternative to the growing economic, social and environmental dysfunction of our times.
Why Fiction? There are many excellent documentaries on issues related to climate change, sustainability and the the threats to indigenous peoples. Our goal is to bring the film’s messages to bring greater awareness to wider audiences using the elements of drama: suspense, intrigue, shamanism, vision quests, and romance.
The Sarayaku experience and lore provides a stunning set of circumstances for our story–the beauty and perils of the rainforest, anacondas and the jaguars, the battle of the shamans good and evil, passionate love (that may or may not happen), the oft-veiled but pre-eminent power of women, the mysterious beings of forest and river that demand respect for nature. And there is the courage of a people who battle the oil companies and their corrupt allies in government. Imagine a scene which re-enacts how the women (as pictured above) were able to confiscate the automatic rifles from government troops !
Gerardo Gualinga,steadfast father, hunter, and leader revers an enormous tree sacred to the Sarayaku.
Manawa’s journey: The personal stories of Sarayaku leaders also provide the ingredients for the arc of main character. Manawa is the oldest son of the community’s elderly shaman, Don Selvino. The shaman or “yachaq” (Kichwa), trains Manawa for to become a powerful shaman and leader in the battle to protect community. However, Manawa must overcome the temptations that all shamans-to-be must face, a life of lust and power offered by the evil shaman (brujo). But he must take up life in Quito in order to gain political and legal support required to fend off the pending onslaught. The capital city has its own temptations and rampant discrimination against “indios”. What happens? Stay tuned.
Final note: Living with Sarayaku families gave me something else: An intangible feeling of well-being that comes from the human heart and draws from the roots of the forest, our own human roots.
Sarayaku Governing Council Gives Official Green Light to our movie project ! This just in from Eriberto Traya Muskuy Gualinga (Facebook): “Henry el consejo de gobierno esta acuerdo con la carta de intencion.” (See this short video by Eriberto made one year ago, before I knew him. It is amazing how similar our visions, and the path that brought us together).
Mario Melo, the Sarayaku’s attorney and Sarayaku official Franco Viteri in Washington, DC on April 4 to protest Ecuador’s squelching of the right to assemble. Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on April 4. The Commission is an autonomous body of the Organization of American States (“OAS”) whose mission is to promote & protect human rights in the American hemisphere is composed of seven independent members. I will be attending the hearing and meeting with the the two Sarayaku reps. (Stay tuned).
SOME NOTES AND VISUALS:
Quito and the trip to Sarayaku: I arrived in Quito late Monday night (Feb. 8) and was picked up by Yury Guerra (Altruvista’s South American Director (now a great friend). We spent a couple of days in Quito for meetings with Mario Melo and Esperanza Martinez (Accion’ Ecologica) to get background on the Ecuadoran government’s oil deal with a Chinese company that would affect the Sarayaku territories and those of other indigenous peoples.
Quito, an amazing city about 9,000 feet high in an Andean valley; it’s a very live city with a great deal of culture, music, and history. I stayed at the Cafe Cultura, whose walls are covered with beautiful imagery, as shown below. If you’re looking for a comfy place with a an international clientele and friendly hosts (all speak English), is is the place to stay!
A later post will focus on the Guayasamin Museum & the works of Oswaldo Guayasamin, Ecuadoran artists (1919-1999). Much of art portrays the repression, enslavement, and genocide of people by repressive dictators in Latin America and other parts of the world.
More on Quito in later post, but before leaving I want to show you a bit of street show that I was lucky to see because it was Carnival. Click to see the movie. See if you can figure out what’s really going on.
Some blow your mind geography:
The Sarayaku territory is located about 60 km east of Puyo in the Pastaza province of Ecuador (see map). To get there from Quito Yury and I first took a five hour bus ride from this Andean city to the small city of Puyo located at the edge of the Amazon Rainforest. The change in topography, weather and vegetation is stunning. From plain to forest, from cool and dry to warm and humid.
Along the route I managed to get a photo of Mt. Cotopaxi. Yury Guerra tells me that a decade ago the ice and snow covered the mountain—undeniable evidence of climate change.
Blowup showing the steep drop in altitude from the Andes Mountains to the Amazon Basin, a change in topography matched by changes in climate, vegetation and living conditions.
We arrived in Puyo late on Thursday evening February 11 and checked in at a hotel. I was nervous because this was my first meeting with Eriberto Gualinga, whose award-winning documentaries on his people’s resistance to oil development inspired my trip. His support for collaboration was make or break. Eriberto, his brother Gerardo and Yury and I sat down to dinner in a rustic outdoor café. With Yury as interpreter (Spanish/English), I explained my concept. Eriberto listened with a poker face. After about an hour and many questions, his face lit up. He said he had been thinking about a very similar idea for a movie that we should put our ideas together and share them with other Sarayaku leaders. I was ecstatic—especially after a few more rounds of cervezas. On to Sarayaku!
To get from Puyo to the Sarayaku community you can either go by motorized dugout, a 4-6 hour ride depending on current, or by air. It’s a 25 minute ride possible only when it’s not raining and the cloud ceiling is high enough on both ends of the trip. We were lucky. After a few hours Eriberto, Yury and I were able to board a 3-passenger single engine Cessna owned and operated by and for the Sarayaku.
The fact that the Sarayaku own and operate an aircraft company provides a lens into this remarkable people. Over the past few decades, the Sarayaku have selectively modernized, and have done so in order to survive. We talked with the manager of Sarayaku Aircraft who told us they started the company from scratch with the help of experts, much training and some hard to get loans. Now we see a first class aviation outfit with pilots, engineers, mechanics, et al.
Once in the air we were able to witness the final descent from the edge of the city, to a patchwork of forest and farms, a last line of cliffs, and then a continuous expanse of forest broken only by meandering rivers. Now the pilot begins the descent through the turbulent air. We catch a glimpse of thatch-covered buildings and the grass-covered runway. The plane hits grass with a jolt and taxies bouncingly toward a cluster of people—children, big and small, running, shouting, men and women with loads for the return flight. And there, standing in the grass with his white walking stick, is the 96 year-old Shaman Don Sabino. As we alit there is a joyful commotion. Everyone, especially the kids, knows and loves Yury. I shake a few hands, he gets a lot of hugs.
Manawa: A Shaman’s Journey: As many of you know, I’ve been working a fictional film for the past two years. The film, under development will portray the current struggles of indigenous peoples to protect their their rainforest communities – from the ravages of oil, mining, agri-business and other threats.
I spent much of February visiting the Sarayaku Kichwa indigenous people of southeastern Ecuador’s Amazon Rainforest. The purpose of the trip was to learn and to explore the possibility of partnership with the Sarayaku community. The trip fulfilled both objectives far beyond expectation.
- This series of posts will describe what I saw, and the deep impact my experience with the Sarayaku had on me.
- Eriberto Gualinga, spent hours envisioning the movie and put together a summary and letter of intent describing the movie including the intent to maximize the men, woman and children in the acting and production of the movie.
Update: Last week (March 15), The Sarayaku government formally agreed to partner in the development and production of the movie.
Why a Big Screen Drama? There are many excellent documentaries on the topic; however, we believe that a “big screen” movie packed with action, suspense, passionate romance, the beauty and perils of the rainforest, the mystery of shamans (both good and evil), passion and romance, can greatly expand audiences and public awareness.
I chose to approach the Sarayaku for several compelling reasons. They have in-depth experience with film making and have been successful in using documentaries as an essential element in their decades long struggle to defend their ancestral territory from oil development. Eriberto Gualinga’s Children of the Jaguar won the Best Documentary award at the National Geographic All Roads Film Festival in 2012.
Members of the Sarayaku Tribe testify with their attorney at the Inter-American Court on Human Rights of the Organization of American States. —>
Secondly, to defend their existence, the Sarayaku have modernized selectively, embracing technology, communications, political alliances, and the courts, though always in ways that preserve and enhance their culture and their sacred relationship with nature. Through their fierce determination, courage, and savvy, they have been successful. Yet their struggle continues. A few months ago, the government of Ecuador announced it had issued concessions to a Chinese oil company. (More to come).
The path forward: I feel fortunate and thankful that Eriberto Gualinga and many other leaders of the Sarayaku have embraced this movie project. Our preliminary thoughts:
- The movie will be filmed on location and most of the cast will be Sarayaku women, men and children.
- We will use the project to train members of the community in all aspects of film production, using outside experts as advisers.
- I will work with Eriberto Gualinga and others to revise the original screenplay to more closely fit the history and circumstances of the Sarayaku people.
- Mr. Gualinga will serve as principal director with coaching from an accomplished director with a record of human rights and environmental advocacy.
Development: In the next few months, I will be giving a series of presentations to environmental organizations, film boards and foundations to raise funding for the project. We will also plan to bring Eriberto Gualinga to the U.S. for a speaking tour to enhance these efforts. Moreover, we will use every step to foster media coverage to boost support for indigenous peoples and their rights.
Critical messages: There is broad understanding that preservation of the world’s rainforests is necessary to curb runaway climate change and preserving the planet’s biodiversity. The movie, however, will emphasize a less appreciated point: The best way to preserve rainforests is to protect the rights and territories of indigenous peoples, the guardians, who have lived in harmony with nature for thousands of years.
↑The Google Earth image shows deforested areas (light colored) in the developed area east of the Andean highlands. Further to the east, the the undisturbed rainforest is solid dark green; this area includes the Sarayaku territory.
Living with Sarayaku families gave me something else: An intangible feeling of well-being that comes from the human heart and draws from the roots of the forest, our own human roots that we “the civilized” must learn to nourish.
One of the objectives of the film is to contrast this compassionate respect with the uncaring greed, avarice and brutality imposed by profit-driven multinational corporations and complicit governments.
Join our journey: Please share this post. If you are interested in organizing a fundraising event or to support this project, or know of others who might be interested, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call at (301) 780-7990.
Contributions: You can contribute at our Indiegogo site and thank those who have already done so!
Chronology and acknowledgements: Many people have contributed in a various ways to this project. The idea for the movie first emerged more than two years ago during a film acting course at the New York Film Academy to celebrate my 70th birthday. I realized that my real passion was storytelling rather than acting. Michelle Best our acting prof gave our class a one-page, bare-bones dialogue. In it an elder tells a young man to avoid an a disastrous confrontation. I shaped the story: A yoga mat became a dugout canoe, the floor a river in the rainforest; the old man (me, a shaman), and my young classmate (his impetuous protege). After several takes, I found my inner shaman.
Weeks passed and I couldn’t get the story out of my mind. Something was pushing me, perhaps an indigenous whisper from childhood? The lore of nature and mysticism? I wrote a 30-page “synopsis,” for a full movie. I thank Michael Laibson , another NY Film Academy faculty member and past producer of some of TV’s most celebrated soaps for his sage advice and continued encouragement.
I delved, read, went to conferences, talked to anthropologists, met with touring indigenous shamans and leaders and watched lots of documentaries. My conviction to tell a story, one with a message about the humanity, dignity and courage of indigenous peoples and their struggle to survive the onslaught of profit driven development.
The Shaman Speaks: In this photo taken at a 2014 conference in San Francisco, I meet with Davi Kopenawa, a Yanomami shaman from the Brazilian province of Amazonas, and an international leader in the struggle to preserve the rights and territories of indigenous people of the indigenous rights movement. Kopenawa, a true shaman of the “two worlds,” is an important source of information and inspiration. See his book, The Falling Sky, which describes his personal history and the spiritual basis for the Yanomami relationship with community and nature.
The dismal art of screenplay: A screenplay is not like a book, where anything goes. If you don’t follow every one of many exacting format rules, your masterpiece will wind up in a producer’s overflowing wastebasket. So I took a course at the Washington Writers’ Center where I met Monica Lee Bellais, screenwriter and producer, a “shaman of the scripts” who helped me to craft a solid screenplay. But….
Change of venue: The original script (finished last year) focused on indigenous peoples of Brazil whose territories and communities will be submerged by the Belo Monte hydroelectric dam project. However, a number of new friends including Natalie Kreidieh (photographer and film maker) and Branden Barber (Board of Directors Amazon Watch) suggested that I reach out to the Sarayaku Kichwa of Ecuador and its accomplished cinematographer/documentary producer Eriberto Gualinga. (The link includes a number of short videos that portray the Sarayaku, their culture, their forest home, and their music.)
Mr. Gualinga’s Children of the Jaguar (online) portrays how the Sarayaku people stopped oil development through the Inter-American Human Rights Court of the Organization of American States (OAS). The movie won Best Documentary at the National Geographic All Roads Film Festival in 2012. This movie was instrumental in my decision to travel to Ecuador in order to learn and to see whether collaboration with the Sarayaku was possible.
My trip to Ecuador last month (Feb. 2016) was arranged by Malia Everette, President of Altruvistas, and Yury Guerra, Altruvista’s South America Program Director who served as my trip organizer, interpreter and companion, Yury, who opened both doors and hearts.
My visit with the Sarayaku Kichwa community was one of the most profound and moving experiences of my life. For this I give thanks to Don Sabino, the great shaman, his wife Dona Corina, to their daughter Patricia Gualinga and to their sons, Gerardo Gualinga and Dona Corina. From the Gualinga family and many others, I saw a people who live in harmony with nature, who work hard for their basic needs, and who do so with a sense of purpose, joy and a deeply felt desire to give back.
I feel that so many people are sharing this journey. I imagine hundreds of dugouts on the Bobonaza River. Family and friends, co-conspirators. Children going to school wave to us from the bank. Will it rain? Will we catch fish today? How deep is the water? Paths of mud and stone. The sacred tree’s giant buttresses dwarfs the hunters. The smile of a woman. Feathery yellows, blues and reds. The scent of flowers.
Now the dance. Every two years the Sarayaku men go on a hunting expedition that lasts for several weeks. (Link to video). The tapirs, monkeys, pigs and fish taken are preserved with smoke and fire. The hunt finished, the men return in canoes; their faces painted, their heads adorned with brightly colored feathers. The women have prepared a great feast and when the men arrive with their bounties, the celebration begins and goes on for four days. Why every other year? So large a harvest each year would threaten the populations of game on which the Sarayaku depend.
Stay tuned: The next posts, with lots of photos, will detail my visit with my gracious hosts, the Sarayaku Kichwa Indigenous People of the Amazon Rainforest. And you’ll learn more about the movie as the journey unfolds: Coming Posts. Stay tuned.
- How did I get there?
- The incredible geography of Ecuador from the Andes to the Rainforest
- Family life, children, education, and their participation in work
- The roles of men and women (don’t be fooled by initial appearances)
- How the Sarayaku beat Big Oil and Bad Government:
- The Sarayaku arsenal: Internet, media, law suits, shear determination and courage
- The new threat from oil (The government’s new oil concession a Chinese oil giant.
- Democracy and decision-making
- The Sarayaku leadership at home and internationally
- Societal structure and geography
- The rainforest and river
- Hunting, Fishing, Farming: What’s on the menu?
- The Great Shaman: Don Sabino: wisdom
- My cleansing ceremony
- Progress reports
- On-going projects: The “Path of Flowers,” The Sarayaku nursery, and others
- The music of the Sarayaku
- The new story and revised screenplay
What are we celebrating? Most of us Euro types wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for the heroic journeys (4 of them) that brought him (with Spanish crews and ships) to the Americas. But for Americans already here before Columbus, there isn’t much to celebrate. What can only be called genocide started early on as Columbus and the Spanish began to colonize indigenous peoples of Hispanola (now Haiti and the Dominican Republic) and other islands. Here are excerpts from the late (great) Howard Zinn’s A Peoples History of the United States based on historical documents.
- “They found no gold fields, but had to fill up the ships returning to Spain with some kind of dividend. Columbus later wrote: ‘Let us in the name of the Holy Trinity go on sending all the slaves that can be sold.’ “
- “Trying to put together an army of resistance, the Arawaks faced Spaniards who had armor, muskets, swords, horses. When the Spaniards took prisoners they hanged them or burned them to death. Among the Arawaks, mass suicides began, with cassava poison. Infants were killed to save them from the Spaniards. In two years, through murder, mutilation, or suicide, half of the 250,000 Indians on Haiti were dead.”
- The remaining Arawaks were…enslaved to work on plantations.. They were worked at a ferocious pace, and died by the thousands. By the year 1515, there were perhaps fifty thousand Indians left. By 1550, there were five hundred. A report of the year 1650 shows none of the original Arawaks or their descendants were left on the island.”
Forward in Time: In the U.S. colonists and settlers backed by government troops carried out ruthless repression resulting in the displacement and deaths of millions of Native Americans. We needn’t look very hard to find genocide in our own history.
But what about now? The evidence indicates that multi-national corporations–with the backing or and complicity from governments–are trampling indigenous people, their rights and their territories in develop mines, plantations, logging operations, oil and gas, and hydroelectric power for profit–maybe not in the name of “the Holy Trinity” but certainly in the name of economic growth. This is happening all over the world, and especially in the Amazon rain forests of South America.
Videos tell the story: To get an idea of the struggles of indigenous peoples in the Amazon region, we invite you to take a look these videos.
The Awa of Brazil: Survival International’s successful International’s efforts to save “The Earth’s Most Threatened Tribe” from illegal logging.
Indigenous peoples stake on Big Oil. See video from Amazon Watch.
Chevron and its Secret Videos: A whistle blower provided NGOs with a videos that Chevron’s reps took in Ecuador. There mission was to find evidence showing the place was clean and safe. They didn’t have much luck, hence the kept them in the closet. See it here. In one sequence a poor farmer says that his children were exposed to oil and died.
Good News on the Legal Front (Bad for Chevron). The Supreme Court of Canada ruled unanimously that 30,000 poor Ecuadoran farmers can sue Chevron on trial in Toronto, in an effort to seize $9.5 billion from its Canadian subsidiary for damages from the pollution the company’s drilling caused in vast stretches of their territory. See news story here.
What you can do on Columbus Day Week. Go to websites of two fabulous groups working on behalf of indigenous tribes: Amazon Watch and Survival International. You will find a wealth of information and additional videos. Then take two steps: Sign critical petitions and donate. Let’s not allow history to repeat.
John Tierney (NYT Oct 3, 2015) writes: “You probably recycle. You probably feel good about it. Are you wasting your time? It’s still costly and inefficient. So why do we keep doing it?” He gives the following perspective to frame his argument: