Saturday, October 31, 2015

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Cultural Interchange: Halloween

Moyobamba (and a large portion of cities in Northern Peru) don't celebrate Halloween. In the big city Lima they sell costumes, throw parades, clubs have large parties. Can't miss a good opportunity to make some money, I believe that.

Halloween, according to friends and family here in Moyobamba, is a Satanic Holiday. It's a day for witches (brujas) and monsters. It's an Anti-christian holiday. It's a highly discouraged holiday to celebrate. Thus there are no costumes sold, candy doled out, and neighborhood festivals.

INSTEAD, the Peruvians have a day to celebrate Criollo Music. A national day dedicated to playing and listening to a collection of native Peruvian music. Cumbia is what it's called.

Here in Moyobamba we also celebrate the Festival de la Orquideas. As far as I can tell it's only on this weekend so it's a local holiday also designed to celebrate the city's namesake: Orchid Flowers.

I'm not overly upset about not celebrating Halloween. It's fun to celebrate and it's fine to miss out every now and then. What interests me is the knee-jerk reaction I encountered when I mentioned Halloween. An evil day. A day for witches. A day for Satan. A day for The Enemy. 

This illustrates a curious expression of more conservative theology found here in Moyobamba. 

The main prebsyterian church here in Moyobamba has a praise band. Services last up to two and a half hours. They often do the thing where they singe a couple praise songs all together and then transition into praying while the piano player gives a soft melody. I personally find it a little frustrating cause I never know when we're praying or singing and awkwardly get left singing the last notes of a song when everyone bows their heads.

I haven't seen a single woman pastor yet. Pastors have prayed before that only those who are baptized in the church and who are free of sin may accept communion. Drinking alcohol and dancing are severely looked down. I know people who don't drink in the city of Moyobamba to avoid any potential conflict with their home churches.

My knee-jerk reaction to their knee-jerk reaction was to explain Halloween has very little to do with actual Satan or Witches or Werewolves or any other demonic force. I wanted to explain it's just a highly commercialized holiday that was originally adopted by the Church as part of their method to integrate pagan holidays (in this case Samhain and its later constituents.) Start a dialogue, get some intercultural exchange going on! The trick would be to make it discussion and not a debate.

I got the feeling that might not directly help my existing Peruvian relationships.

 You have to pick and choose your battles.

I'd be lying if I said the conservativism didn't intimidate me at first. This was something I associated with small town, Texas. A 'Footloose' town as I like to call them. Still, it's wrong to brand an entire population or community based solely on a collective experience. Many church members might not feel the same way as their pastors. Maybe they have friends they see at church. It's important to remember that while their theology (and some of their worship practices) I do not agree with I do not condemn it either. Christ didn't agree with what the Rabbis were teaching in Temple. He didn't go out and condemn those teachers.

An interesting story for your Halloween season:

Over lunch I talked about horror movies with my host brother. He mentioned a new exorcism movie which I laughed at and told him there are better ones than that. My host mom added something to the effect of " They're even better in person."


Mom, what did you just say?

Thus began a fifteen minute interview begging my host mom to describe the few exorcisms she'd attended.

The Pastor of the Presbyterian church will call some of his ordained friends. They organize a prayer group. My mom has been in several of these prayer groups. They pray throughout the morning in the church. In the afternoon they go to visit the afflicted where they pray outside the door. There's no strict plan for an exorcism like you'd see in the Exorcist. It's a lot more of pray-alot-at-the-foot-of-the-bed-and-hold-down-the-convulsing-body type. A lot less the Exorcist and lot more Emily Rose.

She told me they go in groups of 12 or 15 to the house. The Pastor and his pastor-buddies show up and lead the prayers. Sometimes they have to hold the person down cause of the convulsions/struggling. 

The afflicted scream and cry out. They rip their clothes. They tear their hair and gnash their teeth. They make rather unnatural guttural screams. My host mother recounted as best she could.

Usually after an hour of praying the afflicted stops seizing and lays in bed, practically comatose. The demon has left that person and they are healed. The person never has that problem again. They never perform an exorcism on the same person twice. It doesn't work that way.

My host mom has been to six exorcisms in her life. I told her if she ever does another one to call me immediately. I will drop what I am doing and record the exorcism on my camera.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Peace and Hope Pt. 2: Las Indigenas

So, I work for Paz y Esperanza here in Moyobamba. Paz y Esperanza focuses on two things:

1. Teaching sign language for deaf children and helping spread education/awareness about deaf rights

2. Help indigenous tribes get recognized by the government and obtain their land deeds to preserve their culture.

Their both very different topics and come from very different places in our hearts.

Pt. 2 - Las Indigenas

Paz y Esperanza's original mission focused on assisting indigenous people protect their land from major corporations. It's a noble cause, but one that faces numerous obstacles such as exploited legal loopholes, political corruption, general ignorance (on every level), and direct apathy.

Let's start at the beginning. Well, kind of the beginning.

Peru is a resource-rich country. The Andes mountains spikes straight through the center of the country while the Amazon rainforest hides mountains of resources in the North. Between these two there exists a long history of exploiting these resources. Whether it's gold by the Spanish, oil by Canadian companies, or minerals by American conglomerates there has been a history of outsiders invading the country, extracting these resources, and leaving once the earth has been (quite literally) sucked dry. This comes at the cost of those people who call that land their home.

In 1989 the International Labour Organization hosted a conference in Geneva to ratify/affirm several proposals. One of these proposals affects the influence of Native Tribes.

Basically the convention declares Native Tribes have the right to self-govern their own land. They are accorded all the rights of normal citizens of that State. The State government must consult with them before a political decision is made in order to reach an agreement with those affected. This is known as the Derecho a la Consulta (roughly translated as the Right to Prior Consultation.)

In 1991 many, many countries adopted Convention 169 along with the Right to Prior Consultation. Peru adopted Convention 169 in 1993. That was under a different presidency.

This will literally explain everything

Flashforward to 2006 then-President Alan Garcia has ambitions for trade agreements with North American countries (mainly Canada and the States, sorry Mexico.) During Garcia's presidency  multinational conglomerates cultivate huge swaths of land containing indigenous people. The outrage is felt immediately.

June 5, 2009 - Bagua, Amazonas Departamento, Peru

The protest of a mining company at the Curva del Diablo by Awajun-wampi tribes is violently interrupted by military police. The conflict explodes with the military police firing at the crowd of protesters. Everyone shut their doors in Bagua that day as soldiers fired at protesters in the streets (this was, of course, after the road to Curva was abandoned.) 33 Protesters and 21 Police were killed. More than 50 were injured. Several newspeople capture the awful events of Bagua and broadcasts it back to the capital. Bagua goes down in Peruvian history as the turning point. The "we've had enough" event.*

CNN Report on Bagua

Remember the Right to Prior Consultation?
In 2011 the Right to Prior Consultation is approved (roughly ten years after a majority of other nations have adopted it) under President Ollanta Humala.