Our Eyes See the Blood on the Red of Your Flag

Christi Belcourt, Canada, 2021

I’ve slowed down on my blog due to health and other very important circumstances. But I have not stopped… I have been, like so many of us in Canada, overwhelmed by the physical forensic evidence of a genocide so recent that it is actually on-going.

Kamloops Residential School, Cowessess First Nation Marieval Residential School, and other Residential schools have provided evidence of over 1300 deaths in the last two weeks. That is in addition to the approximately 4000 deaths recognized by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The commission had recommended the forensic examination of all residential schools for indigenous peoples, but that was denied by the federal government of Canada on the basis that a $1.5 million price tag at the time was “too high”.

This callous indifference characterizes the Canadian State’s approach to First Nations, Inuit and Metis peoples when it is not engaged in the antics of the Indian Act or helping its corporate partners in resource extraction.

So I took the Haiku challenge set by Ronovanwrites (https://ronovanwrites.com/2021/06/07/ronovan-writes-weekly-haiku-poetry-prompt-challenge-361-home-and-weep),and decided to think about the word prompts. I approached them in terms of the confirmation of genocide and ethnic cleansing that recent revelations about child abuse and murder at Residential schools, have proven.

Christi Belcourt, Our Lives are in the Land

I fear there may be thousands more children found before this is over. And as an ally of colour or person in solidarity with indigenous nations in this settler country, I feel we need to use all our means of protest to say that this Canada we have built is rotten, from and to, the core. Supporting both treaty and unceded nations, we have to add our voices to the Landback movement. Taking our cues from the demands of Indigenous people, water, and earth protectors from various parts of the country shows us how interconnected abuse and genocide of people is to dispossession from their lands

I am sharing below the art and haiku I have created in homage to these living struggles on our current lands. Justice must not only be seen to be done, it must be done. And words like “reconciliation” are hysterically cynical in my humble opinion. Where are the words, “accountability”, “due process”, “law enforcement”, “justice”? Some of the perpetrators of abuse and worse, are still alive– protected by the Catholic Church and Canadian state.

Why are aboriginal peoples incarcerated and survivors of a social apartheid at inhuman rates, while those who squeeze their life blood out of them, get to run free? All of us who tread this soil, who weep at the dehumanization of children and entire peoples, who struggle for equality, respect and liberation in our own lives, must realize that all of that is meaningless without a fundamental shift in what it means to live on Indigenous land.

Weep/Home

Home, weeps this land, fenced
by greed disguised as civil-
ization. Landback.

Home, they cry, you have
taken the ground beneath.
Give us back our souls.

Thousands of children
home. Weeping parents shattered.
Kkkanada fed blood.

Home, they wept, take us
back. Hug these small bodies back to
families, lands, names.

They Tried to Bury Us, They Did Not Know We Were Seeds, Kaushalya Bannerji, 2019

https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/residential-school-records-missionary-of-oblates-of-mary-immaculate-1.6078260?fbclid=IwAR0IUmZpdIEAZtxU1IUlpBaCfjMzN3LwMkCq4dCdt6-4lAAkIY0j4w6ggVI

https://si-rshdc-2020.sites.olt.ubc.ca/files/2021/06/MassGravesFramework_2021.pdf?fbclid=IwAR2BfRPGR0KPuB9zvnMM8UsID-SSom8G49onLy6F4Enhi44mtcg14gS9Bcw

Poetry in a Thousand Tongues! International Mother Language Day

It is International Mother Tongue Day, today, the 21st of February. It’s an important day to celebrate because imperial monopolies of language (English, Spanish, Portuguese, French) have erased so many forms of communication and Indigenous and languages. Only this month, the Mexican government recognized 68 Indigenous languages as national languages alongside Spanish. This took over 500 years, to return official status to languages that existed at the time of Spanish Conquest. In East Pakistan, now Bangladesh, language was one of the key issues in the bloody war between Pakistan (then West Pakistan) and the territory now known as Bangladesh in 1971, fifty years ago. In Canada, French and English have battled for official language status with franco-separatists resorting to desperate measures in Quebec, to protect their French language from what they see as English encroachment. Canada’s invocation of martial law, the War Measures Act, was applied against French language separatists, the FLQ, also in the 1970s. Meanwhile, the country committed torture against children through the Residential Schools designed to eradicate the speaking of native langugaes among Indigenous peoples and churn out domestic labour for settler colonialists. Sri Lanka saw a brutal conflict dispossessing thousands and terrorizing the island for many years, over Sinhala and Tamil identities and languages, among other issues.

It’s also important to celebrate that language is a living thing, one we all construct and participate in daily. So I think it’s essential to also celebrate languages that have been assigned inferior status or “Dialect” status because of colonial and politico-economic imperatives. So I include here a tribute to Jamaican patois, though I prefer the term “nation language” coined by Barbadian academic and writer, Edward Kamau Braithwaite. And finally, while New Zealand is far from being a land of full equality for the Maori people, the adoption of Maori language classes and the popularity of the Haka, demonstrate that mother tongue and artistic creation are important components in struggles for language, which often also imply struggles for equality and social and economic justice. There are thousands of language I’ve left out here, and this is by no means an exhaustive list. According to the UN, of the 7000 languages spoken today in the world, at least half will be lost by the end of this century. But I hope this post will help us all reflect on the importance of mother tongue in an increasingly globalized world.

Dutty Tough, Louise Bennet Coverly, Jamaica, aka Miss Lou

Sun a shine but tings no bright; 
Doah pot a bwile, bickle no nuff; 
River flood but water scarce, yawl 
Rain a fall but dutty tough.
Tings so bad dat nowadays when 
Yuh ask smaddy how dem do 
Dem fraid yuh tek tell dem back, 
So dem no answer yuh. 

No care omuch we da work fa 
Hard-time still een wi shut; 
We dah fight, Hard-time a beat we, 
Dem might raise wi wages, but 

One poun gawn awn pon we pay, an 
We no feel no merriment 
For ten poun gawn pon wi food 
An ten pound pon we rent! 

Saltfish gawn up, mackerel gawn up. 
Pork en beef gawn up, 
An when rice and butter ready 
Dem jus go pon holiday! 

Claht, boot, pin an needle gawn up 
Ice, bread, taxes, water-rate 
Kersine ile, gasolene, gawn up; 
An de poun devaluate 

De price of bread gone up so high 
Dat we haffi agree 
Fi cut we yeye pon bred an all 
Turn dumplin refugee 

An all dem marga smaddy weh 
Dah gwan like fat is sin 
All dem-deh weh dah fas wid me 
Ah lef dem to dumpling! 

Sun a shine an pot a bwile, but 
Things no bright, bickle no nuff 
Rain a fall, river dah flood, but, 
Water scarce an dutty tough. Louise Simone Bennett Coverly

https://www.ctvnews.ca/sci-tech/online-petition-asks-for-cree-language-to-be-added-to-google-translate-1.5317866

Of Pipelines and Pogroms

The two countries that I have lived in most of my life, are undergoing upheaval. In Canada, the Coastal Gaslink Pipeline, travelling through We’tsuwe’ten territory, and exploiting and polluting the water and land, has been met with fierce opposition by the First Nations. Although the fight has been going on for quite some time in opposition to the pipeline route, both on the streets and in the courts, recent events where the RCMP ’s military tactics menaced the land defenders, resulted in a call-out for solidarity. It was heeded across the land, by First Nations, Metis and allies, who engaged in peaceful protests on the streets and on the rail-lines “from sea to shining sea.” 

Christi Belcourt, Canada

Bandied about during the last three weeks, we’ve heard a great deal of the ‘rule of law’.  But the bourgeois media discourse propping up corporations and kleptocracies has obscured the impetus for this law, the origins of statist impulses to control and manage  class -based consciousness and uprisings. In another century, in law school, we were explained the concept of rule of law in the following manner.

The law punishes both the rich and the poor man (sic) for vagrancy. This is the ideology that liberal legal constitutionalism seeks to promote. The problem with this, of course, is that the rich man has somewhere to go; a home — the poor man may have nowhere to go. Yet the law is enforced “impartially”, affecting the poor more frequently and adversely, because of their social location, than the rich. This sleight of hand for which the law is justly notorious, deploys a facade of universal equality, while hiding the uneven and biased practice of law. 

To take the “rule of law” seriously, one would have to uphold this as an aspirational, not actually present, reality. First Nations people know, as do working class people of all backgrounds, that the law is enforced differently for the rich and poor, the indigenous and the white settler, for the union and the boss, the land protector and the land violator, the Muslim and the non-Muslim, the survivor/victim and the rapist. They know this, because a cursory look at their own history vis a vis mercantile and later industrial capitalism, has left them with a bitter taste of all the blood spilled to destroy and silence them. They know this because even pre-capitalist ways of belonging to the land are threatening to profits before people, not only anti-capitalism rooted in class development and analysis.

The challenge that allies and land defenders face, is how to make this equality of social bargaining power a reality, so that the “rule of law” will finally be a descriptive, rather than prescriptive term.  Within this overarching challenge, are others. Overcoming the divide and rule legacy of the Indian Act, the racist fabric of Canadian society which underlies the entire development of this economy and polity, and the coming together of racial justice and environmental justice movements with the white and “othered” working classes. 

Anti-CAA Protests, India, 2020

Because it is going to be when when labour and native struggles can come together, that we can create a vision of Canada, where we equally benefit from a law which centers the land and its inhabitants as legal subjects worthy of remedy; that we can even begin to talk of the rule of law.

In another country, far, far away,  the pretense of the rule of law, has been stripped totally bare in the most brutal way conceivable: state-sponsored mob violence. For Muslims, India’s largest minority, the last few weeks have culminated in murder and mayhem in ordinary neighbourhoods across north east Delhi during the official visit of American tycoon, Donald Trump. 

The murderous rampage committed by Hindu mobs supporting the Narendra Modi’s BJP government’s CAA/NCR legislation in February of 2020, has resulted in 48 dead and hundreds injured as well as untold property damage to homes and business belonging to Muslim Indians. 

These laws would deny citizenship and refuge to Muslims who apply to reside in India from neighbouring countries, as well as strip Indian Muslims of citizenship without documents proving the claim to nationality— in a part of the world where documentation is precarious at best, and corrupt and biased, at worst.  And as an observer, I find the issues of these conflicts so similar. Central to the We’etsuwe’ten claim on territory in the 1990s, was precisely the issue of “documentation. Central to their legal case, was the holding that oral testimonies should and could provide title to land and proof of possession by Indigenous communities. That case is Delgamuukw v British Columbia, [1997] 3 SCR 1010.

While the Delhi police stood by, or even participated, in the days of violence sweeping the nation’s capital, journalists were attacked and removed from scenes of terror, threatened on religious and political grounds, and attacked for live reporting. This can be seen in a milder form with the treatment of journalists by the RCMP in their coverage of the We’tsuwe’ten protest. The fact that independent and live reporting has been brutally and so publicly censored, shows us the power of accurate reportage in a time of instant visuals and soundbytes. The news is not neutral. 

Press Trust of India, February 26, 2020

The recent violence has reminded observers of the 1984 anti-Sikh attacks in Delhi, the Gujarat massacre of Muslims in 2002, and the  violence of the Partition of India into Pakistan and India in 1947.

The Delhi massacre has  been described as a pogrom; the use of violence to eradicate and terrorize a particular ethnic or religious community. It was practiced against the Jews at the end of the nineteenth century in particular in Eastern Europe, which account for the Russian origins of the word. In Germany, one of the most famous was known as “Kristalnacht” or night of broken glass, which took place against the Jews under the rule of Adolf Hitler in 1938. And it is a mode of violence which has popped up in conflict in Sri Lanka, on the African continent and in contemporary and recent eastern Europe (Bosnia).

Over the last few months, the world has been observing these  two modes of fascism,  the creeping Canadian and the blatant Indian, approach, and seeing the ways in which the rule of law grows further and further out of our reach, unless we put justice and equality first!

Opponents of the CAA and its related laws draw strongly on the secular nature of Indian Constitution, but here again, India cannot rest on its laurels of inclusivity. Equality before the law has been increasingly out of reach of Muslims, Dalits, and women and children who are the victims of an ethos of dog eat dog survival. It is impossible for any country to honour a constitutional document without honouring those whose flesh and blood make material its social order.

It has been heartening to see the groundswell of support in both countries for the defense of land and peoples who are under attack by the same forces of “buy cheap and sell dear” capitalism that characterizes neo-liberal resource extraction and approach to labour power. Jumble the word “roti” and you get “riot”. Scramble the word “oil” and you get “loi”, the French word for law. 

Who benefits when the rule of law cannot be implemented because there is no equality for social actors?

City for Sale, 1984, Ghulam Mohammed Sheikh, India

World Social Justice Day

The United Nations has declared February 20th as World Social Justice day. In this era, social justice is like a carrot dangling before humanity while the vast majority of us are being beaten with sticks. So, social justice is an aspirational desire, a desire to remediate the wrongs of past times and current ways of ruling. I hope every single day, to see signs of positive and crucial social change.

 In the area of women’s rights, even as we expand our notions of “femininity” and “masculinity” to include non-biologically sexed people, there is so much to do. Women and trans-women who are the victims of violence all over the world, are really at the bottom of the barrel. Our lives are de facto worthless, if we are Indigenous, South Asian, of African descent, East Asian, even more so. 

This is so evident when we examine murder statistics (flawed and manipulated, though statistical data may be) from Mexico ( 2,795 in 2017), India (between 8000-5000 dowry deaths per year), South Africa (2930 in 2017-18 ), Spain ( over one thousand women killed in 8 years), Australia ( approximately 52 women per year) and the United States (approximately 1600 in 2018 ) and Canada (118 in 11 months in 2018, or 1 murder every 2.5 days ).  In Cuba, pressure from local women’s organizations and activists is pushing for statistics on violence against women and a new integrated law of  gender violence that will allow the state and the social services sector to keep track of violence aginst women. 2016 saw about 50 women murdered by male partners and intimates.

Rape statistics and/ or lack of, are also horrifying. In India, over 300, 000 are reported to police, leaving another 3 million unreported annually, as experts have pointed out, due to social and familial stigma, rape and sexual assault are the most under-reported crimes. In Mexico, thousands of women are violated daily with a reported rape rate of 12.6 per 100, 000 and about 3 million reported rapes in the 2010-2015 period. 

As we are well aware, rape and sexually motivated violence is the least reported, with official figures representing approximately 10% of actual cases globally. Biased and misogynist legal systems and law enforcement in every country in the world, makes sure that it will remain that way. In Canada, one in three women experiences some kind of partner assault in her lifetime. The violence against women of Indigenous descent has reached horrific proportions, a genocidal violence that is rooted in the making invisible of native cultures and nations. 

Discussing women’s wages, social and economic opportunities and acquisitive power, we see that the gender gap prevails here as well throughout the world. I have seen how the gap in wages translates in housing vulnerability for women at even higher rates than for men, in one example. Disproportionately, women also shoulder child rearing and housing costs as well as actual child-care. 

In terms of other social justice issues, and there are so many— racism and imperialism rank among the highest impactful issues on the planet. In North America and Europe, racism saves employers, corporations and states trillions of dollars in historical and current under/unemployment, substandard housing and education. Racism makes huge profits for war industries, law enforcement related industries and municipal developers, furnishing companies that supply concentration camps and public and private prisons, and has fostered generations of white supremacist involvement in armed foreces and armed law enforcement. 

https://inthesetimes.com/features/ice-abolish-immigration-child-detention-private-prison-profiting.html

It is almost incomprehensible the ways in which “othering” and inferiorizing the lives of billions of people for the profit of a few white men and their families— global oligarchs— shapes our world view through the media and social networks. As many have argued the intersection of oppressions by race and gender as well as social class, account for the ways our very lives are shaped and the type of opportunities that may be afforded to us. 

If we add disability to the mix, poverty is an almost constant factor in the lives of people with serious and or chronic health conditions, as employment seems the last place in our lives where we might expect accomodation, though we live in capitalist societies that measure  all our worth in terms of what we “do” (read, earn) occupationally. 

Even the left plays into this bourgeois meritocracy. That is why, we so rarely see images of disabled people speaking about the complexity of their lives or political belliefs. They ( by which I mean, we), are relegated to speaking only about “disability”. Having an affiliation to paid, and well-paid employment at that, certainly gives “privilege” to those who are able-bodied but within our own social class.

These horrific underlying social inequalities shape every aspect of our lives. Women, not safe in their homes, or on the streets, live in a state of permanent alert that starts when we are little children. People of colour, indigenous people, colonized communities and nations, are constantly prevented from lifting the yoke of subjugation that presses down on our human capacity and potential. 

Social Justice Day is a day to take stock of all the work we have done in our countries and globally, while confronting the fact that we have barely begun to tackle the enormous overarching issues that literally, shape, and delimit our lives. 

I’ll leave you with a poem from a writer whose words echoed in my head and got me through the cult-like environment of law school so many years ago. Chrystos is a Menominee lesbian poet whose work addresses our real lives. Instead of growing up on the reservation, she was reared in the city around Black, Latino, Asian, and White people, and identifies herself as an Urban Indian.

MAYBE WE SHOULDN’T MEET

IF THERE ARE NO THIRD WORLD WOMEN HERE

How can you miss our brown & golden

a thin red scream

in this sea of pink

But we’re here

meeting & didn’t contact the Black Lesbians or G.A.L.A. or Gay American Indians or the Disabled Women’s Coalition or Gay Asians or anyone I know

You’re the ones who don’t print your signs in Spanish or Chinese or any way but how you talk 

You’re the ones standing three feet away from a Black woman saying

There are no Third World women here

Do you think we are Martians

All those workshops on racism won’t help you open your eyes & see how you don’t even see us

How can we come to your meetings ifwe are invisible

Don’t look at me with guilt Don’t apologize Don’t struggle with the problem of racism like algebra

Don’t write a paper on it for me to read or hold a meeting in

which you discuss what to do to get us to come to your

time & your place

We’re not your problems to understand & trivialize

We don’t line up in your filing cabinets under “R” for rights

Don t make the racist assumption that the issue of racism

between us

is yours at me

Bitter boiling I can’t see you

Stop the Crisis of Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women, Sarah Whalen Lund

Chile: Forbidden to Forget…

Over a million people protest in Santiago, Chile, Plaza Italia, October, 2019

I was first introduced to the world of Chileans in exile, in the late 1970s, as adults and children fleeing political repression, torture, kidnapping, political rape and murder, arrived in Canada. In fact, Chile had not been know for mass migration until the political banishment of left and progressive sectors under the Generals.

Chile’s self-image, shaped by the Spanish conquistadores and their later allies and competitors, the British government, presented a  whitewashing  of the country’s Catholic brutality and latifundista stucture, in which many toiled but hardly any profited. 

The great influence of disaffected Europeans (Germans, Irish, British, Spaniards and Italians— who came to Chile to seek their fortune, was combined with successive waves of Eastern European and Middle Eastern migration; Turks, Syrians, and after 1948, Palestinians. Also, Chile has been home to over a million indigenous citizens (Mapuche and Quechua) whose numbers have steadily been reduced through the imposition of genocidal colonial rule and policy. This last demographic has increasingly gained allies among the non-indigenous left, fighting for a just future for indigenous communities while supporting the creation of fair and safe employment for the working class and a move to deprivatize  and respect natural resources. 

Mapuche Flag, Kaushalya Bannerji, 2019

The recent events in Chile are a signal of the failure of a policy put in place over 46 years ago, a policy derived from the interests of Washington (more specifically, the Chicago School of Economics and its kleptocratic allies throughout Latin America. With the assassination of a democratically elected President, Salvador Allende and the imposition of a military dictatorship (September 11, 1973) whose accomplishment was to keep the people in line for maximum profit and sell off every bit of Chile’s natural world possible, it has definitely been a successful foray into super-exploitation— to a point.

The tactics of mass disappearances, military massacres of civilians and leftist and progressive sectors, and the redefining of everything left of centre as a “threat” to capitalist order and good government characterized new neo-fascist regimes in Latin America, starting with the U.S. intervention in removing Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala in the 1950s and reaching to Brazil, Chile, Argentina, El Salvador and Colombia in glaring relief. Refugee production from these countries spiralled and the international settlement of exiles aided in publicizing the plight of some of the regions’ peoples. But simultaneously, active multi-pronged campaigns were in place by the army of the business class– the CIA. Campaigns spread misinformation such as rumours of Allende’s suicide and abandonment of his people, used to destabilize the resistance to General Pinochet, cultural figures such as Victor Jara and Noel Laureate Pablo Neruda are assassinated– these now commonplace strategies to deter opposition to neo-liberal military regimes have strong roots here.

Schoolgirls protesting fare hikes, starting off anti-austerity protests, October, 2019

As in many places in the capitalist world, the acquisitive power of the majority of people is very low. This means the cost of goods and services are not keeping up with the starvation wages received by the majority of the population. Education, health, wages, housing, pensions — all indices point to unaffordability. It has the dubious distinction of being the only country in the world with privatized water— and that should tell us everything!

Up High the Sun Burns Down, Violeta Parra, Chile

When I went to the pampa
I brought my contented heart
like a hummingbird.
But there, it died on me.
First, it last its feather
and then, its voice
And up high the sun burns down.

When I saw the miners
Inside their homes
I said to myself, the snail
lives better in its shell,
or in the shadaw of the law–
the refined thief.
And up high the sun burns down.

The lines of shacks
Side by side, yes sir, 
the lines of women
waiting for the only tap
With their buckets
and faces of affliction.
And up high the sun burns down…

(Translation, Kaushalya Bannerji, 2019)

https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/2016/sep/15/chile-santiago-water-supply-drought-climate-change-privatisation-neoliberalism-human-right

The rule of General Pinochet begun on that cursed day, September 11, 1973, ushered in an era of constitutional dictatorship that suspended  democratic and labour rights, social, political, and cultural rights, denied women’s right to choice,  and shaped the consciousness of both the left and right in Chile. When I visited Chile, 22 years after the Dictatorship had begun, the cost of Valium was cheaper than the cost of bread. I was made aware of the very human and psycho-social costs of fascism– heightened anxiety and insecurity, increased control of women and a general air of entitlement by the blonde, blue-eyed rulers of the country, while the majority of people languished in fear, frustration, and disillusionment.

Santiago, Chile, Oct 25, 2019, Bloomberg

During the progressive years of Allende’s government(1970-’73), Victor Jara became known as one of the most popular progressive and committed artists of the Unidad Popular movement. His fame and integrity were such that the murderous Generals had him killed in the National Stadium in Chile. I’ve included a few versions of The Right to Live in Peace, the “anthem” of the people’s movement. I’ve provided an English translation below.

The Right To Live In Peace

The right to live

poet Ho Chi Minh,

who struck a blow from Vietnam

for all of humanity.

No cannon will wipe out

the furrow of your rice paddy.

The right to live in peace.

Indochina is the place

beyond the wide sea,

where they ruin the flower

with genocide and napalm.

The moon is an explosion

that blows out all the clamor.

The right to live in peace.

Uncle Ho, our song

is fire of pure love,

it’s a dovecote dove,

olive from an olive grove.

It is the universal song

linking us, that will triumph,

the right to live in peace.

El Derecho de Vivir en Paz, Toque de Queda, Santiago, October 2019

And finally, no article on the progressive movements in Chile would be complete without a reference to the popular slogan, ” The People United Will Never Defeated!” which comes from a song of the same name by new song /Cancion Nueva group, Quilapayun and performed by Inti-Illimani.

Alfredo Rostgaard, Cuba
Susana Hidalgo, Mapuche Flag, Plaza Italia, Santiago, October, 2019

https://folkways.si.edu/la-nueva-cancion-new-song-movement-south-america/latin-world-struggle-protest/music/article/smithsonian

Inspired by the original! Thievery Co.’s take on a protest classic
Ana Tijoux, a protest song, released in October 2019

The cacerolazo (clashing of pots) was a protest tactic popularized by women of the right wing against Allende. It involved the clashing of pots and pans as a way for “house-wives” to protest. The tactic has been used numerous times since then, by sectors of the left as well. Most recently, Chileans in the streets against the corporatocracy that reigns in their country, have employed the cacerolazo as a sound of protest!

I’ve included a link to a 1982 Movie by Greek Director, Costa Gavras, Missing, starring Jack Lemon and Sissy Spacek based on the original coup of 1973.

And I am ending with the names of those people who have fallen victim to the neo-liberal government of Sebastian Pinera.

A list of those who have been killed by the Pinera Administration to date,
Forbidden to Forget
Photo: Rodrigo Larrea, Santiago, Chile, October, 2019

https://www.seatrade-maritime.com/industry-sectors/port-logistics/chilean-port-workers-bring-operations-to-a-halt-again/?fbclid=IwAR1_wF4gvhjUqLwyzZaMOao_4meSyGf-hgddnsELoY8comRp9h5–FkL7sw

http://chng.it/ZrB6FbQYy6

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-08-20/two-communist-lawmakers-are-suddenly-setting-the-agenda-in-chile?fbclid=IwAR2gGz10jc6_ixXibKHtkWqb_fYmRIkOS4-7GhDeLvx-ocdLjfuRE9e0IYc

Pachacutec

This is a seven part poem I have been working on since my work, studies, and travels have taken me to South America and Cuba. I have long been fascinated and moved by the strength of peoples who manage to hold on to their cosmologies in the face of terrible odds such as kidnapping, enslavement, auction blocks, trade-sanctioned rape, forced labour, soul-searing racism, and unimaginable poverty, and social and political exclusion, even state-sanctioned annihilation.

As a woman of colour, the racisms I have witnessed and experienced throughout my time in Peru, Colombia, Chile, Cuba and Mexico have raised huge questions about the role of anti-racism in “progressive” sectors of development and education, culture, and, even political parties, in those countries. While these issues need to be hashed out in terms of policies, financing, and social restructuring as a whole–especially in those countries where colonized peoples of colour are a majority in certain under-remunerated occupations such as manual and domestic service, agricultural labour, entertainment, and the informal sector– the role of culture in accompanying such changes is essential.

As a citizen of colour in the Americas, I have chosen to seek inspiration and meaning in the beliefs and cosmologies of those of us bound together by European colonization, rather than those of dominant hegemonic religions. As the child of a colonized migrant, I belong in the Americas, as do those who have belonged here before me, and who belonged, before the words “African” and “Indian” had any meaning. The absurdity of this world turned upside down, where the poor fight each other tooth and claw for a pittance for survival, cannot destroy the connection between the gods of Santeria and those of the Quechua and Aymara peoples, especially in countries like Peru, where indigenous and afro-descended communities are integral to the country’s development and self-image, although the apartheid between European Peruvians and indigenous Peruvians is deeply entrenched and the official story of Peru may not highlight their presence except as beasts of burden or unruly mobs needing to be subdued.

That is why this following piece takes as its title the Quechua (Kichwa) word, “pachacutec” meaning “Earth Shaker” or the “world turned upside down.” I was struck by this word as it resonated with not only the the social disparagement of the indigenous people I witnessed in the Andean nations, but also the facile commodification of black religion as entertainment. An entertainment, I might add, that was almost wholly consumed by white tourists both national and international. I saw this wherever Afro music was played, whether in Cuba at the Callejon de Hamel or watching Peru Negro perform in reified contexts with velvet seats and expensive tickets. This is contrasted in the way that such religions are actually practised outside the gaze of the tourist or the anthropologist, where the deities may be termed in Arundhoti Ray’s words, the “gods of small things”, accompanying as they do the risks of everyday life under unequal social circumstances. In using the word Pachacutec I signal the “upside-downiness” of this late-capitalist world where we float through the sky and bury our crimes against humanity– for surely, colonial subjugations are just that– in the blood-stained earth from which huge profits are made at all our expense.

Pachacutec 

(Quechua word meaning Earth Shaker/World Turned Upside Down)

I.

Someone has opened

my path

brought me to these gray

and frantic streets

I count seventy firearms

on my way to work

seventy ways to say no

to life

I count twenty three banks

each with their security and arms

protecting us from our need

that they have created

I count teeming busses

crammed with morning 

hopes and remnants of nightmares

I see checkpoints and soldiers

offerings of coca cola, money

I see my stop draw near

an old man in a red and black jacket

helps me dodge the cars

at the cross-roads

Rainy street, Kaushalya Bannerji, 2019

II

The politcal economy of Obatala:

Sunlight dapples wall

lying on the unrepentant bed

listening to digitally mastered

Obatala’s name

dissonance dream and discord

cable wire

plastic parts

hydro stations

Japan, Korea, Africa

via Cuba

contradict each other

in mid ear

Obatala

and Bata drums

the old kind

before they abolished that 

second hand slavery

Batista, Business,

U.S Army Base, 

where Obatala cannot enter

in this,

his land.

Pititi, /Afro-Peru, Kaushalya Bannerji, 2019

III

Aching water

the queen of waves

is drowning

Cliffs split

gray veins open

garbage fills crevices

Yemaya is drowning

5:30 a.m

dawn is still future

drizzle and damp

enter their salvaged bones

as the maids

Wait 

for the crowded desperate buses

to bring them closer

to the daily dollar

They pass

the screaming sea

clutching vinyl purses

Only

a blind musician 

singing for alms

in his imprisoned voice

whispers

ashe

Yemaya, Kaushalya Bannerji, 2019

IV

Shango trapped 

in the cajon

rushes out into his fingers

syncopation cries

his name over

and over and over

White faces 

cannot glimpse him

in half empty Rum glasses

Shango trapped 

in black thighs

majesty and mourning

bisect his myth

feet invoke

his sacred thundering name

domesticated by dollars

they grow weary

After the show

young black men

rub hands and feet

away from that

bright hot light

that makes them sweat whirl

faster faster faster

same bitter enslaved scent

as the sweat that irrigates

poisonous cane

Shango’s name

just the same

echoes

on sleeping wooden boards.

Uprising, Kaushalya Bannerji, 2019

V

Oshun

They tell me 

glances at you from a woman’s eyes

or hips or

the faces of five o’clock

Dreaming of the moon’s hands

in night’s dark river

curved around earth

where Oshun

honours you

or

so they tell me

by calling your secret name:

the free one.

Oshun, Kaushalya Bannerji, 2019

VI

how easy to find the hills

and stranger as i am

i come home

amid the stormy red roofs

limewashed walls

spattered with last night’s mud

here in this peaked valley

grey green blue ochre

stone sky water earth

recombine

peaceful mountains

pure light

horrific

iron smell of blood haunts

stones and crucifixes

in the war of the worlds

all is imbalance

precarious

neither end nor beginning

Hills, Kaushalya Bannerji, 2019

XII

I love the soneras

women whose spirits

cut air like butter

whose rhythm improvises

soundwaves

whose vibrations 

dance sorrow to her lonely home

among the unwashed dishes

and dirty clothes tossed about

like newspapers in the plaza

I love too, the soneros

men whose music

was wood and horsehair

hide and yellowed ivory

in bars on streetcorners

where customers rehearse

for Dante’s infernos

Seven sins cleansed

by Seven powers.

Sonerxs, Kaushalya Bannerji, 2019

Indigenous Uprising on Columbus Day

Ecuador, Indigenous Anti- Austerity Protests, October 2019, The Guardian

I am a strong supporter of the movement throughout the U.S. and Latin America and the Caribbean to stop celebrating Columbus Day. 

Critics of the pro-Colombus status quo signal to the cruelty and harshness of Spanish empire-building and by extension, European and British colonization efforts in the Americas. Genocide of indigenous persons,  the wholesale buying and selling of afro-descended peoples through chattel slavery, the wilful destruction of languages, cultures and cosmologies that were percieved by Europeans as “unknowable” and only worth knowing insofar as their knowledge could further domination— the degradation of natural resources in the “ New World”— all these are the legacy of Cristopher Columbus and others of his ilk. 

Our Lady of Sorrows, Maria Izquierdo, Mexico

We do not need to rewrite the past in order to wrest away symbolic imagery and ideological emphasis from those whose mission is to pillage and profit while subjugating as many human beings  as they can along the way.

We do not need to honour power in the ways that bourgeois racist patriarchy has imposed on us. That is why many international social movements across the United states and Latin American and Caribbean nations, are pushing to replace Colombus Day with Indigenous People’s Day. And while culture is not the only arena of change that is essential for our common future, it would be good to finally acknowledge the historical and contemporary wrongs of settler and extractive colonialism. 

Oswaldo Guayasamin, Maternidad/Tenderness, Ecuador

From Turtle Island to the land of the Quetzal and the lands of the Condor, indigenous nations are grappling with what it means to be  peoples without states or control over national infrastructure to facilitate their well-being and continued survival. 

Norval Morriseau, The Shaman and the Apprentice, Canada

Nearly a hundred years ago, revolutionary activist , Jose Carlos Mariategui, writing about his beloved Peru, spoke of how the country’s Europeanized left needed to come to terms with the very real presence and exploitation of Kichwa and other native peoples in Peru. Mariategui’s plea to locate revolutionary social movements on the murky terrain of real-life demographics and the social relations of feudalism, capitalism, and indigenous  modes of producing complicated the ahistorical and imperialist idealism of the early twentieth century’s anarchist and communist movements. We are witnessing some of the alliances that he spoke of, not in his country of Peru, but in Ecuador, right now.

Diego Rivera, The Day of Flowers, Mexico

The indigenous communities and citizens of Ecuador are leading an uprising against the draconian austerity measures that are destroying the country. They hope to bring down the government of the ironically named Lenin Moreno– and as importantly, the neo-liberal profiteers and war mongers with whom he is allied. Armed with sticks against the Ecuadorian military, protestors have managed to make Moreno flee with his entourage and parliament from Quito, the country’s highland capital, to Guayaquil, a coastal city.

While I will delve into Mariategui’s thoughts in depth in a future post, the important point here, is that an acknowledgement of the imposition of Spanish conquistador and settler rule both transformed and attempted to obliterate all that lay beneath it. Mariategui’s approach to political theory was rooted  in the potential of Andean revolutionary movements in the mountains where the peoples of the condor still make up a vast majority. 

Oswaldo Guaysamin, The Hands of Protest, Ecuador

All over Latin America, the United States and Canada, first peoples and their descendents are participating in a resurgence of collective voice and fightback against ecocide, capitalism and a brutal patriarchy whose female, trans, lesbian and gay victims are increasingly characterized by intersectional identities. But broadly speaking, poverty is a shared characteristic of those who are fighting back against austerity policies that are engendering starvation, insecurity and environmental contamination. 

David Diaz Arcos, Ecuador, Quito, 2019

The paths chosen by these different nations and their alliances, may differ from country to country. Quito is not Standing Rock or Grassy Narrows or Ayotzinapa or Ayacucho or Haida Gwai. But in order to stand shoulder to shoulder with indigenous peoples in whatever countries we inhabit, we must begin to hear with their ears, see with their eyes, and abandon the notions that “white is right” and “might is right”.

Fall Harvest, Christi Belcourt, Canada

We must shift the lens from the eye of the eternal colonizer whose great body we make up in settler societies through our schools, courts, health care, and governments, our Indian Acts and Decrees of Prohibition, our broken treaties and broken societies. We must shift the lens to the eye of the colonized so that we can work to create a future environment of racial and economic justice where the land and her people are relations, not dominators and dominated.

Christi Belcourt, Our Lives are in the Land, Canada

I’ll leave you with some fantastic music from aboriginal performers from North America, both past and present. And some art representing a fraction of the richness of indigneous artists and their sympathizers! 

Daphne Odjig, The Messenger of Peace, Canada
Rikchari /Despierta, Ecuador, 2019
An Ecuadorian Classic!