Lain ut laat, laat ut lain Healing you, I heal myself; Healing me, you heal yourself
Roundtable with Lorena Cabnal and Alex Vásquez, members of TZK’AT, the Land-Based Community Feminism Network of Ancestral Healers from Iximulew.
By: Patricia Macías
On October 12, 2015, Tzk’at, the Land-Based Community Feminism Network of Ancestral Healers from Iximulew, Guatemala was announced. This network is born of a loving agreement between its members to support each other in the face of the different forms of violence that impact the bodies and lives of indigenous women: femicide, sexual abuse, or extractivism and land-based violence. This historical violence, committed by a patriarchal, colonial, racist and neoliberal economic, political and social system that transcends not only the public lives, but also the private lives of these advocates, within their communities and organizations, where they face machismo, violence, and stigmatization.
We call ourselves healers because we began to speak deeply about how we could no longer just fight and resist, but also had to work to reclaim our bodies
Lorena Cabnal, a Q’eqchi’ Mayan and Xinkan Mother, ancestral healer, land-based community feminist and member of the network says: “We are women who have come from a history of mineral rights activisim, with stories of criminalization, litigation, political prosecution, death threats, arrest warrants, living under siege, assault…on October 12th we were in a sheltered situation, we weren’t out in the streets marching or protesting, and we started to cry and feel how important it was to join forces and understand that we too have value and a lot of strength—the knowledge of our ancestors. And because of that, we call ourselves healers because we began to speak deeply about how we could no longer just fight and resist, but also had to work to reclaim our bodies, because they are threatened and have the strength to fight, heal and live in dignity.
I have come to embrace the position of land-based community feminism because it adopts one of the elements of cosmogony, which is plurality. We do not live emancipated from men and women because we recognize that the female being is also a construction
Alex Vásquez, Q’eqchi’ Mayan, ancestral healer and also member of the network adds: “Speaking in the political first person, from an intersexual plural corporality, I have come to embrace the position of land-based community feminism because it adopts one of the elements of cosmogony, which is plurality. We do not live emancipated from men and women because we recognize that the female being is also a construction, a label applied to a body. We call ourselves women to denounce all of these alienations that capitalism, the patriarchy and other sources of power have over our bodies, and at the same time, emancipate ourselves from the plurality of our existence.”
The extractivist colonial model based on the hoarding of land regulates the economy and politics of the State of Guatemala, which through transnational mining, hydroelectric and monoculture-based projects dispossesses the indigenous population of its land and natural resources. This historic reality continues to penetrate the lives of these communities through poverty and urgent social conflict. In this scenario, mineral rights and the defense of natural resources represent a high-risk activity, which together with the rates of murder, incarceration and prosecution increase with all impunity. In this context of resistance and the defense of life, land-based community feminism frames the fight of indigenous women in their ancestral lands.
We defend the mountain, but what about the bodies of girls and women? Why isn’t there such a zeal? Why aren’t raped girls defended?
Lorena continues: “In 2007 when the fight was strong in the face of the 31 mining permits issued in the mountains of Xalapán, for the first time we were going to connect the defense of our bodies as our territory and our land as our territory. This is a life-long relationship. We can’t see the body as separate from land. We defend the mountain, but what about the bodies of girls and women? Why isn’t there such a zeal? Why aren’t raped girls defended? (…) Thus we began to speak from this communal feminist perspective about my body as my primary defended territory.
We cannot speak solely of emancipated, free or autonomous bodies if we don’t talk about free, emancipated and autonomous land as well.
Mining, for example, is a super-machista power-based relationship against land. Just as the bodies of women can face sexual abuse, so can the land face land abuse, when machines come in to brake the land by penetrating it, it is a violent neoliberal penetration, and is the same thing that happens to us as women. Bodies become disputed territory but also a space for recuperation. We cannot speak solely of emancipated, free or autonomous bodies if we don’t talk about free, emancipated and autonomous land as well.
In the face of all of these types of violence, members of the network of healers support themselves and their fellows in the communities or communal spaces that are opened for the defenders. They meet, feel and share together. For Alex, the process of political healing “is a process that you do your whole life. It’s a decision, a quotidian act that becomes woven into your life. They have left a mark on our bodies that extends down to our earthly roots, but it’s possible to sustain ourselves with ancestral memories. We have the memory of pain, but we also have a memory of strength that comes from our grandmothers.
The river in its plurality is an active member of the community, and thus for us to talk about healing memories is to heal memories of pain in our bodies and memories of pain in the land
Lorena continues reflecting and asks: “Where does our strength come from? Our strength comes from the mountain and because of this we defend it. Strength comes from the Cahabón river and thus we defend it, because the river doesn’t just give you water to drink, wash clothes, bathe or fish (…) the river in its plurality is an active member of the community, and thus for us to talk about healing memories is to heal memories of pain in our bodies and memories of pain in the land, the river, the mountain, and thus we say in Q’eqchi’ Mayan: lain ut laat, laat un lain, you are me and I am you (…) thus for us to talk about healing with the vital energy of nature, ceremonial centers, baths, massages, affection, warm relationships between us—about all of this we say: through healing as a cosmic-political way.”
The work of the network in communities seeks to, in addition to support and healing, do communal work that strengthens and contributes to a life in harmony and to reflection from its own cosmogony. “In our lands, in our communities, we know those who are rapists, we know who are the corrupt judges who from within the colonial Nation State do not afford us the chance to report these crimes. This is something we experience daily. It’s a pain that we live daily, and here is where we support each other, allowing us to feel this political pain and allowing people to wake up. Wake up, because this happens to us every day, ever since we told our moms or dads that our uncle was touching us and they didn’t believe us. This is also the responsibility of the State, because it is formed by machisto men, and it is created with the intention of alienating our existence.
When we go to the plaza, we go to publicly denounce, and denounce popularly, not to revictimize. (…) They were burned by everyday machismo.
This patriarchal, racist, capitalist and neoliberal State is responsible for the fact that on the 8th of March, 2017, 41 girls died, burned in the Virgen de la Asunción orphanage. It was state femicide. They were locked up without official assistance when the sexual and physical assault that was occurring within the house was reported. Two years after their femicide the Network of Healers, together with other feminists and feminist organizations in Guatemala continue to spiritually support the families and survivors through ceremonies in the plaza, commemorating their memory in dignity on the 8th of every month. When we go to the plaza, we go to publicly denounce, and denounce popularly, not to revictimize. (…) They were burned by everyday machismo.
Cover photo: Juan José Jaramillo. Fuerza Latina. Ceremony at Plaza de las niñas, march 8. Iximulew Guatemala, Septeber 6th, 2019. Tz’i’ justice day.