September 15, 2020
By Milena Rodríguez
Every time I think of the major learning moments in my life, I remember the beautiful words and stories full of wisdom shared with me by the elders of the Indigenous lands I have visited. From their vast experience, knowledge, and way of seeing life through what is essential, we can learn much about natural cycles, how to connect with the love of Mother Earth, and how to live in internal and external harmony and abundance. Our abuelos and abuelas are our greatest treasures, and our desire to get close to them eagerly to learn how to heal is primordial. They are like strong mangrove forests, protecting the cultural and spiritual richness of our people against waves of storms with their roots.
Our culture will live on as long as our stories are told and our knowledge transmitted constantly through oral tradition. In this way, our ancestors and their knowledge will live on in our memory and in the decisions we make from day to day. Though I was unable to meet her as she died at a young age, my family tells me about my abuelita Amanda, born in Monimbó, who was a very wise woman. People in the community went to her for advice on diverse issues, and she is remembered with much regard for having expressed herself with much love despite having suffered the unimaginable inequality and insult that our people have faced over the centuries since the violent arrival of a destructive way of being, thinking, and living: colonization.
The objective of colonization has not been just eliminating our culture and social systems, but also imposing a selfish ideology completely disconnected from being and Mother Earth. Sadly, in the case of the Mankeme (Chorotega) culture, colonization has had an impact on nearly all areas of our existence. We have been dispossessed of our lands, language, and spirituality; we have come to almost forget our ancestral identity completely. Nevertheless, I have full confidence that this can change as long as we go forward weaving our stories together and recognizing ourselves in them. The Mankeme-Chorotega people are widespread, found from Chiapa de Corzo, Mexico, to the east of El Salvador, south of Honduras, and spanning a large part of the north and Pacific coasts of Nicaragua down to the Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica. However, presently just a small number of people identify themselves as Indigenous people, even less so as Mankemes or Chorotegas.
From my perspective as an educator, healing our bodies, minds and hearts is the first step towards a coherent and autonomous life of dignity. We speak of healing because this is how we need to reflect on the wounds and traumas that have been caused by a long process of being disconnected from our cosmovision. For some reason, terms like “disappear” or “went extinct” are always used to talk about the process in which the languages and identities of our ancestors were suppressed. Thanks to the research of academics and Indigenous activists around the world, we know that there was a clear method and intention on the part of the colonizers to bring this about through the use of the basic tools that shape who we are as humans: education, which changed from being based on experience and understanding of one’s surroundings to the idea of the savageness and ignorance of the Indian; the economy, which went from being locally-based and diverse to a system of privatization of nearly all the basic necessities of life; and our spirituality, under which we went from seeing ourselves reflected in the elements and stars to living a life of fear and guilt.
Healing is fundamental to paving our path towards el buen vivir—true wellbeing. We must clearly understand that the current social system is simply a type of colonization based on individualism and greed. In the present era, the situation our people find themselves in could not be any worse. We continue to be dispossessed of our lands, dependent on capital, forced to merely subsist, discriminated against for migrating through our own continent. The study of history is essential to understand our present and past. But what option do we have if our voices have been continuously omitted from that history throughout the centuries? Answers can be found in the heart of our communities, in the tender and magic voices of our abuelos. Opportunity lies in tenaciously seeking out these words of inspiration and encouragement. Just as my abuelita was once an immigrant, so too have I found myself following different paths, recognizing myself in the faces full of hope of the abuelos and abuelas who still hold the keys to the scientific, artistic and ritual knowledge of healing, giving thanks, and celebrating the life of our people. These seniors are waiting for the youth and their communities, eager to share their wisdom and keep their culture alive. I am very thankful for the abuelos and abuelas who I have met in Totogalpa, Matambú, Urbaite, Quitirrisí, Nahualapa, Telpaneca.
Healing with the heart, rooted in the traditions that connect us with Mother Earth and the elements that make life possible, is key to understanding our own nature, finding ourselves in the clear rivers and beautiful forests—reflections of our blood and lungs. Many addictions and mental conditions can be cured through Indigenous cosmology, many modern illnesses can be cured through ancestral knowledge, the radical change in internal will to listen to the call of the abuelos, heed their advice, honor their lineage and legacy, and commit oneself to a life philosophy based on love and unity. This love will shatter borders and rebuild bonds between our brothers, who will strengthen our process of decolonization and sovereignty in all aspects of our lives.
Indisputably, we will heal our lifestyles through our Indigenous values, integrating them in all aspects of our daily lives. Love, respect, interconnection, courage, and gratitude—human values that have guided our communities for thousands of years on their journeys through time—will be our strength and energy. We will also continue to exercise our rights to move throughout the Earth without fear of being trapped. We will walk firmly onward with the beauty of our roots towards the well being and prosperity of our people so that the dialogue, mutual support, and learning of the ancient nations of the region may be like beautiful weavings full of color. They will be medicine for the next generation, which will know the importance of life, having grown up in abundance, happiness, and with confidence in themselves, their culture, and their infinite connection with all that exists.
--Milena Rodríguez is a Chorotega educator and human ecologist by profession with a great passion for her ancestral roots. Her research on the history of the Indigenous Peoples of the Pacific, Central and North of Nicaragua has led her to know, work and learn from Indigenous communities, and to reconnect with the great beauty and cultural and spiritual wealth that our peoples keep.