The Meaning of Earth, Land From the Indigenous Cosmovision

By: Dad Neba*

For Indigenous People our land, territory and resources are fundamental elements that allow the historical continuity and fullness of life, spirituality and the social, cultural, economic, political and human development linked to our cosmovision which consists in the profound relationship with Mother Earth.  The institutionality of Indigenous Peoples, expressed through institutions, ancestral authorities, the political participation system and its own legal system, allows for harmonious coexistence, territorial management and governance.

One of the great contributions that Indigenous Peoples have given to Western knowledge is the conception that we have of the Earth, that for us it’s life itself, it’s our home.  We understand the earth not as a simple extension of a territory or as a source of production, but as the set of elements that compose it, showing our respect toward it.

Therefore, we cannot talk about separate elements.  “For us the world isn’t something that can be divided into “parcels”, but rather is something integral, with all its components, with everything that exists in nature, with what is produced in it and in its relation with knowledge.  Our world is a circumference, where there are gods, sacred sites, great rocks, great rivers, mountains; where there are plants and animals, where the sun rises, the sunshine that impregnates the earth so that she can give birth.  And there is also the Indigenous, making part of nature”, says Lorenzo Muelas Hurtado, Indigenous Guambiano from southwestern Colombia.

Under these clearly established principles, we, the Kuna people know our rightful role, which is the defense of Mother Earth.  The human being came to her to take care of her, protect her and sustain her.  The same principles are also used when it comes to advice to children, with relation to the parent.  Thus, man becomes a child with a natural obligation to defend, care for, support, and not to mistreat our home.  The defense of Mother Earth doesn’t arise only from the temporal utility that she can offer man, but rather is born out of an obligation and gratitude toward her.

Our parents understand Mother Earth as the mother that welcomes, envelops, and humanizes us.  The life of our Indigenous People is reflected in the strength of the land itself.  The future of our Native People, their utopia, their life project, is framed from the maternity of the earth, from the collective care of the earth, from the sacredness of the earth.  Therefore, when the right to have the Comarca, Reserve or Territory is denied to them, it’s not only the source of their food that’s denied them, but the very source of their being, of their identity, of their history, of their religion, of their inalienable right to be Kuna People, Embera People, Ngage People, Bugle People, Bribri People, Yunnan People, Naso People.

The earth as mother frames all of that which gives man his reason and his possibility to be a person, and not simply enabling him to eat.  According to this concept, the perfection of man, and consequently of a people, is only given with the vitality that Mother Earth possesses.  And she also opens the road to the soul after death.  And from there makes us Indigenous the filial treatment to the same earth, to the jungle, and a brotherly treatment to the children of that Mother: the trees and the animals.

Our parents can’t raze and destroy the jungle, because only in the equilibrium with the earth we are going to find our equilibrium as people.  As indigenous, it’s not possible to work on only one farm until exhausting it; it “needs to rest” to later produce with more momentum.  “The jungle is our great refrigerator, our great hardware store, our great market.  When we’re hungry, we take fresh meat from it; when we have no house, we look for our nails, our roofs; when we get sick we resort to its roots, its leaves.  Therefore we have to safeguard our refrigerator, defend our pharmacy, our hardware store.  Just as the “Uaga” (non-indigenous) wouldn’t like their refrigerators  to be taken, because it has in it food for their family, likewise we can’t allow them to come to us to rob our refrigerator, our pharmacy, our market”, a wise Kuna leader astutely commented in one of our General Kuna Congress sessions.

Our conscience as Indigenous People, in relation to Mother Earth, is of children that defend their mother and not of owners who want to extract more money from her; this is contrasted with those who live on her, are served by her and can sell her to the highest bidder whenever they want, because from her they receive neither their history, nor their identity, much less their being in and with the world.  The love and the right to possess the earth of our Indigenous People – that carries as a consequence the demands of legal demarcations of it for the voracious threat of the hoarders – and the law projects born from our General Congresses can’t be captured just for the easy way of constitutionalisms or anti-constitutionalisms.

The indegenous cannot and must not allow the little land that is left to us to be taken, from so much hoarding and looting.  It’s not just about the death of our crops, of the destruction of our forests, of the pollution of our rivers, it’s also about something much graver: of our physical and spiritual death as people, of the death of our religions, of our cultures, of our fundamental right to be as we want on this land.  The relations that are given between land, culture, religion, identity and history in the conception and experience of our Indigenous People are so inseparably linked, that taking out one element means killing the others.  This is why our cry is strong, because nobody wants to die in life.

As long as Western society doesn’t understand these principles and continues practicing the logic of a world of unlimited accumulation, as long as the irrational way persists in which the interests of capital often exploits natural resources, provoking ecological disequilibrium, the threat to our planet will continue, and man in the process of destroying nature is destroying himself.  It’s not enough to save our planet with speeches on “clean development” and “sustainable development”; to save our planet we need to learn from the Indigenous People.  If we don’t make the effort to take care of our Mother Earth, the environmental problems in the world will continue.

—Dad Neba, in the indigenous Kuna language means “Grandfather of the Plains”.   That name is identified with Nelson De Leon Kantule, Board Member of the Association Kunas United for Napguana (KUNA). He has been an Indigenous communicator for 15 years, which has led him to tour places and participate in forums, international meetings on indigenous communication, and learn from different experiences to serve the Indigenous Peoples on a national and international level.