I had the privilege last Saturday of attending a CAFOD day hosting Davi Yanemami Kopenawa and Mauricio Ye’Kuana. These two men are key activists from indigenous tribes in the northern Brazilian Amazon, and vital members in CAFOD partner group Hutukara Yanomami Association (HAY). Although they come from different tribes (Davi is from the Yanomami people, and Mauricio, the Ye’Kuana people), both are working for indigenous rights and the protection of the rainforest which is their home. I found these two men’s stories profoundly moving, not only for the work they do and the struggles they face, but maybe more especially for the wise understanding they have of their relationship to this world. This is an understanding we have a lot to learn from.
Davi and Mauricio’s talk wove the threads of a story which seems to have been lost in our Western world; a world of individualism, Cartesian dualism, separation, and ultimately disconnect. It might sound like a ‘new’ story to us, but in fact is a story that goes back to our source, to the beginning of time itself. This explains, I think, the resonance and draw it has for me. A book I am reading puts it beautifully: these stories ‘exemplify a way of being that we intuitively recognise and long for. They stir a memory in our hearts, and awaken a desire to return.’(Eisenstein, ‘The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know Is Possible’).
Davi and Mauricio spoke of a ‘mother earth’ who cares for them as they care for her. This is a personal, reciprocal relationship. Both parties are living beings, responding to each other, as sacred, precious, and interdependent. We are all – the people, the creatures, the plants, the air, the water – strands in the great tapestry of life, whose thread is sacred, imbued with the divine. Matter and spirit are one. You and I are one. Humanity and creation are one. As such, what we do to any part of creation, we do to ourselves. A Native American leader, Chief Seattle puts this gracefully: ‘This we know: the earth does not belong to us, we belong to the earth. We did not weave the web of life, we are merely a strand in it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves.’
This story of connectedness leads almost by definition to a very different way of living in the world, and one which doesn’t necessarily sit naturally alongside the industrialised, consumerist society that dominates today. I seem to inhabit a world of barriers to creation. I cover my skin with clothes, I put shoes between my feet and the ground, I live inside brick walls, I put text on a screen between me and others, I get my food from a sanitised, cooled supermarket shelf…the list could go on. Now you may point out, that living in the UK – if I didn’t do some of these things, I would be very cold and wet a lot of the time… but I do think there is an underlying point. In our western world, connection to creation, even to ourselves, isn’t obviously part of the set up, and so we might need to make a point of seeking creation out, in order to re-connect. Because until we re-connect, we are likely to continue cutting down trees, poisoning rivers and land with pesticides, buying the jewellery made from illegal gold-mining which is destroying the communities and forests of Davi and Mauricio.
So, what have I taken away from the testimony of these two men?
I think it is an invitation. To re-connect, to take off my shoes, to stand in the garden and feel this living, vibrant, sustaining ‘mother earth’ that I am a part of. I feel an invitation to get in touch with this sacred life that flows through all things, including myself, and which connects me, not only to this garden behind my house, or my family and friends, but also to Davi and Mauricio, to their communities, and to all people and life the world over. Imagine if our actions reflected this idea that we are all one body, all one world, all precious and sacred. Imagine the ripples that would spread.