Reclaiming Ourselves – Food & Medicine: Part 3

I also know what it’s like to struggle to live day to day, and so I’m a believer in making the most of what you have. Exotic plants and ingredients are certainly alluring, but what’s the point of learning to use them if you can’t get hold of them, for whatever reason? It just makes sense to use what you already have or is readily available.

From Emma Kathryn

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Reclaiming Ourselves – Back to Basics: Food & Medicine (Part 2)

Last time I wrote about food and medicine, but in doing so, I barely scratched the surface and so here’s part 2! I often say within witchcraft to take what works for you and discard the rest and the same applies here too. The aim with these articles is to share some of the knowledge, tips and advice I’ve picked up along my way in the hope that they will come in useful to you in your own struggles against Capitalism.

Food

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Feeding yourself and your family can be expensive, especially when you try to eat well, and especially if you rely on supermarkets to do so. The tips offered here will save you some money, but more importantly, will help you regain a measure of independence.

So here’s where it might get a little controversial, but I’m going to talk about going meat free.

I’ve been a vegetarian since I was about seven years old, but it’s only really been the last year or so where I’ve ditched dairy and eggs (I can’t claim veganism though as I do still use honey and eat avocado). The driving issue for me to ditch dairy was the factory farming industry. There is no denying that those animals are amongst some of the most abused creatures on the face of the planet, and that the industry is a huge contributing factor in climate change, and all for our demand for cheap meat and animal products.

So why ditch meat? If you want to eat cheaper, then ditching meat is the obvious choice but it is also a massive lifestyle change, which is why so many struggle and fail. If going vegetarian or vegan is something you’ve been toying with for a while, then easing yourself into it is an option. The easiest way is to try going meat free for one or two days a week.

Another issue many face is that they don’t know what to eat instead. Honestly, it is usually the first question people ask me when I tell them I don’t eat meat. There are a wide range of vegan and vegetarian products out there, like lookalike meat, or ready meals, and that is great, but doesn’t help in the learning to cook for ourselves. These products can also be pricey, which is another reason people are put off. For example, when I went to my local Pagan Pride, vegan burgers cost £6! Six bloody quid! Talk about rip off. But, when you cook for yourself, eating vegan is a whole lot cheaper. Think about things like beans and pulses. Chickpeas, butter beans, kidney beans etc are ultra cheap, costing as little as 30p a tin and nutritious too. And do not fear bland and tasteless food! Seasoning is your friend! Ultimately though, whether you decide to go vegan or vegetarian is up to you, but by cutting down on your meat consumption, you’ll help the planet and save yourself some cash in the process.

And so the controversy continues….hunting! So if cutting out meat is not an option for you, then learning to hunt for your own meat is another way in which you can rely less on the State. I know it may come across as weird, for a vegetarian, would be vegan to talk about hunting, but I grew up and still live in a rural town. My father was a poacher in his younger days, and so my sisters and I grew up with hunting  and fishing as a viable way to get food.

But even for those of us who live in the countryside, hunting (always for food, never for ‘sport’) and fishing can still seem weird to people. A friend of mine marvels that my son and his friends enjoy spending their time fishing. He couldn’t believe it, whereas I was in shock because he’d never been! Whether you just learn the basics, giving yourself knowledge and skills for the future, if you should ever need them, will only be of benefit. When it comes down to it, I always figure it’s best to know something and never need it than to need it and not know it!

And with that, let’s touch upon ethics momentarily.

The other year, I bought my partner an air rifle as a gift. When I was talking about it with a friend, they couldn’t believe that I would or could condone hunting. After all, as someone who doesn’t eat meat and who cares for animals, how could I justify buying my partner a gun that he would use to shoot rabbit? For me, it’s easy. That rabbit will have had a better life and a better death than anything bought from a butchers or supermarket. Now, I was telling a pagan friend of mine this, and he happened to disagree with me. He said that for him, that just means that another animal has had to die without alleviating the suffering of the countless farm animals. And I take his point, I really do, but it is precisely that attitude that hinders any movement away from factory farming. I also think that if folks could only eat the meat that they killed themselves, then you would see a rapid reduction in meat-eating.

Anyway, it’s up to the individual to decide their dietary needs and wants, but it’s all about building up that skill set, whether that includes eating meat or not. Learning to cook, but also learning where to source food from will become vital in the future.

Medicine

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Many of the items I use in my folk remedies are items that I’ve foraged for locally. It’s so important to learn what grows where and how to use it properly as well, so the first step in healing yourself is getting to know what grows where you live. Get yourself some good identification guides and get yourself out!

But once you’ve foraged and harvested your items, then you’ll want to know how to prepare them for medicine. Some ingredients will always be best used fresh, for example any plant items used in poultices (I’ll discuss these soon) or in anything that is to be used or consumed straight away. If you’re making medicines to keep in a cupboard or first aid box, then preserving any plant matter is a must, else it’ll spoil whatever you make. To dry your foraged goods, you do not need any fancy equipment. Simply bunch your plant matter together by the stems, tie up and hang somewhere warm and dry until they are dry and crispy to the touch. Alternatively chop them up into  small pieces and leave on on a warm windowsill or radiator to dry (either in a muslin cloth or a loose weave basket). And to dry things that don’t bunch together easily, chilli peppers for example, simply thread a needle and push through the thin stem until you have a string of chillies. Hang to dry.

Some of the easiest medicines to make are tinctures. Tinctures are quite simply plant matter steeped in alcohol. You can make washes and waters the same way, but I prefer making mine with alcohol; vodka, rum, brandy, or whatever spirit you have to hand, though it does need to be at least forty percent proof, in order to keep the ingredients from spoiling. And I like using alcohol because some active ingredients within the plants will not be water-soluble, and quite often it is these compounds that are the active ingredient. That’s not to say waters and decoctions are not useful – they certainly can be, especially for when compounds are water soluble, but if in doubt, making a tincture is the best way of hedging your bets and making sure that the final product actually contains the active compounds.

Poultices are another simple medical hack for minor complaints and ailments. A poultice is simply a bandage or wadding used to cover the area that is in need of attention. They can be dry or wet, warm or cold depending on the condition being treated. For a burn, for example, you might want to make a poultice using mugwort or any other herb associated with healing burns. Make a paste with the plant matter and water, place on the wound and wrap  with the bandage or cover with the wadding and tape. You can use poultices for a wide variety of complaints, for example a simple soap poultice will bring a boil to a head. They are a great way to begin to explore folk / herbal remedies. Generally heat is useful for easing pain because it will draw blood to the area, whereas cold is good for inflammation because it causes the body to direct blood away from the area – good to know when using warm or cold poultices.

As I mentioned in Part 1 folk medicine and becoming more self reliant when it comes to food is such huge topics, it would take books to cover them completely, and I genuinely hope that what you’ve read here inspires you to look more deeply into this area. Whilst the information is nothing new nor radical, these skills, this knowledge is so important. Whether the collapse of Capitalism happens or not, by relearning these skills, we give ourselves a sense of freedom, if only because it is one more chain broken.


Emma Kathryn

My name is Emma Kathryn, an eclectic witch, my path is a mixture of traditional European witchcraft, voodoo and obeah, a mixture representing my heritage. I live in the middle of England in a little town in Nottinghamshire, with my partner, two teenage sons and two crazy dogs, Boo and Dexter. When not working in a bookshop full time, I like to spend time with my family outdoors, with the dogs. And weaving magic, of course!You can follow Emma on Facebook.


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Reclaiming Ourselves – Back To Basics: Food and Medicine.

… first we must reclaim ourselves and the knowledge that we have forgotten or lost. We must learn to rely less on the State. The suggestions contained here on in  may well seem basic to those already well versed in such things, but for so many these skills have been lost and it is for those that I write this, after all, we must all start somewhere. There’s no shame in starting small.

From Emma Kathryn

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The world’s going to pot.

Just look around you. Literally, stop. For just a moment and take a look at everything that’s kicking off, all around the world.

Some problems are more dire than others, some more urgent, but it doesn’t really matter because everywhere  your glance may fall, there is some shit going down, some suffering or other, and then, to top it all off, is the destruction of the planet, of nature. Nobody can escape that!

And nobody really knows what to do. Governments don’t care. They may claim to, but every action they do shows the lie of their words. And what about the everyday person? What can one person do? Sometimes it feels like there is nothing we can do, not individually, and I fear that any efforts made now may be too little too late, though that’s not to say we shouldn’t make those efforts. We should definitely make those efforts, but small gestures are no longer enough. Drastic action is needed.

So what can we do as individuals in the face of all of the problems before us? What can I do in the face of these colossal problems? What can you do? How can our little efforts make any kind of difference?

No wonder humanity has fallen into a kind of hopeless apathy. And yet all hope is not lost, for are we not hopeful things? Even when the odds are stacked against us and failure is all but promised some small glimmer of hope remains. Is there any power, no matter how small, that we may claim for ourselves?

Perhaps there is, but first we must reclaim ourselves and the knowledge that we have forgotten or lost. We must learn to rely less on the State. The suggestions contained here on in  may well seem basic to those already well versed in such things, but for so many these skills have been lost and it is for those that I write this, after all, we must all start somewhere. There’s no shame in starting small. And for those that would comment saying things like ‘Well, too little too late’, or ‘it’s not enough’, you may very well be correct. But whatever happens, the skills I speak about here will become increasingly important.

The Land

I know, I know, here I go again, banging on about connecting to the land, but I only mention it here because everything comes from that connection. You all know how I feel about that! But seriously though, get to know the lay of the land where you live. Make yourself familiar with the local plants and fauna. This is something that takes time, months, years, indeed there is always more to learn.

Food & Cooking

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Learning to cook from scratch is a vital skill for anybody to learn at any time. I include cooking here because so many do not know how to cook from scratch, hence why kitchen witchery has become a thing (I mean no disrespect either, but I see so many kitchen witchery articles that are just recipes). Indeed cooking is a kind of alchemy all by itself.

So why is cooking so important? I think it is one of the major ways in which we have lost some control over our lives. We’ve become reliant on cheap prepackaged food and in doing so we’ve forgotten the basics. So learn to cook from scratch. Learn how to make stocks, learn which ingredients can be substituted for others. Find out what’s in season, because food that’s in season will be cheaper to buy.

A word on sourcing food. There is a common misconception, here in the UK at least, that if you’re on a low-income, you can’t afford to eat well. Whilst I always say buy the best you can afford, organic fruit and veg is great, but it is often too pricey for those on tight budgets, so buying regular fruit and veg is more than fine. Check out local markets and if you go later in the day then there’s a good chance that their goods will be reduced, but still in perfect condition. Also check out discount stores. If you’re in the UK then retailers such as Aldi and Lidl are great for fresh and affordable food.

Foraging is another way to increase your food supplies. I know the idea seems pretty out there (who’d of thought it eh, foraging radical?), but there is so much that is edible. Nuts are good round about now. Sweet chestnuts, cob nuts and walnuts are just some that I forage for. Mushrooms are also good now, though I do urge anyone interested in finding wild mushrooms to learn to identify them properly! But there are so many foods that can be foraged, more than I have space to write here! This is where your knowledge of the local landscape becomes important.

Medicine

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Medicine is another area in which we have become dependent on capitalism. Now, when I talk about medicine in this instant, please do not think that I’m advocating self diagnoses, or that the remedies I might include here are for serious conditions. But, when it comes to those minor illnesses, coughs and colds and what not, well, pharmaceutical companies make a killing on selling us useless medicines. This part leads naturally on from food, because so much of what we might call natural medicine is also food.

I live in England, and for us, autumn and winter mean an increase in all of those annoying illnesses that whilst not fatal, are annoying and uncomfortable and generally make life that little bit harder. Learning to make your own natural remedies is a way in which you can ease the symptoms of whatever ails you and at the same time save some cash.

Coughs are annoying as hell and can be painful. When you buy cough medicine from the pharmacy, all you’re really doing is buying something that doesn’t cure the cough nor the cause of it (the cough does that itself) but only soothes the symptoms. Cough medicine is basically sugar syrup. That’s it. So making your own is cheaper and better for you. Simply layer lemon and garlic (you can leave out the garlic if the taste isn’t for you, but garlic is such a potent ingredient it is well worth adding) in a jar and pour honey over until it covers, and that’s it! Keep it in the fridge. I always like to make two batches so that way I can add a shot or two of brandy or rum to one of the jars. This I’ll take in the evening or if I know I haven’t got to drive.

Colds are a pain too, especially the ones where you feel like you can’t breathe. Like coughs, the medicine you buy for colds only eases the symptoms. For colds, eucalyptus and peppermint are your friends. Make a chest rub by blending equal amounts of beeswax and coconut oil and adding drops of essential oil. Now, I do like mine quite strong, but add the oils drop by drop until you are happy with the scent. I make candles using eucalyptus oil and let them burn. Ginger is good for colds too and you can make a syrup just like the honey and lemon one, only including ginger. Make ginger tea, and if you like the taste, then candied ginger makes the perfect lozenge to eat when suffering from a cold.

But it’s not just illnesses where home medicines can be useful. There are no end of minor accidents that occur in everyday life, and for a lot of those, our response is to put on a cream, or pop some pain killers. Mugwort ointment is great for skin complaints from eczema to burns. Mugwort grows as a weed and is real easy to use. I use it in ointment form (you can watch my video here) and I drink it as a tea to ease menstrual pain. It is an abortive herb so it does cause the uterus to contract, bringing on menstrual bleeding, so take care if you’re pregnant or trying.

There is so much information available nowadays in this area, too much to write about here, but my point in writing is this. Let’s try to become less reliant on the system that we find ourselves trapped within. There’s nothing radical about the information here, nothing new. But it is these mundane efforts, combined and multiplied that will help wean us off the system that is Capitalism. It is by starting small and working upwards that we progress, in all things. In martial arts, you don’t get into the ring for a fight on your first day. No. You start with learning where to put your feet. Basic, so small a detail that you’d think it would be so insignificant, but footwork is the bread and butter of fighting and is the difference between hitting and getting hit. And so learning, or rather re-learning the basics, those forgotten skills like feeding and healing ourselves is a small step on the path to reclaiming ourselves.


Emma Kathryn

My name is Emma Kathryn, an eclectic witch, my path is a mixture of traditional European witchcraft, voodoo and obeah, a mixture representing my heritage. I live in the middle of England in a little town in Nottinghamshire, with my partner, two teenage sons and two crazy dogs, Boo and Dexter. When not working in a bookshop full time, I like to spend time with my family outdoors, with the dogs. And weaving magic, of course!You can follow Emma on Facebook.


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Expert Opinion

“pharmaceutical hacks all agreed

selling heroin to children
calmed them down

helped them focus”

From Rex Butters

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from the 1890’s to 1912

your medical establishment
top scientists
public health officials
the board of education
Bayer & St. Joseph’s
pharmaceutical hacks all agreed

selling heroin to children
calmed them down

helped them focus

quieted coughs
harmless
non-addictive
beneficial

when I was a kid

your medical establishment
top scientists
public health officials
industry experts all agreed

smoking tobacco
non-addictive
harmless
no cancer link
beneficial
white lab coated doctors
hawked their recommended brands

when I was a kid

your medical establishment
top scientists
the board of education
and the school administration all concurred

we should play with hunks of asbestos
easy to mold
never explodes when fired
cheaper than clay
no cancer link
harmless
survives the kiln
safe as lead toys

when I was a kid

your medical establishment
top scientists
public health officials
nuclear engineers
shoe store owners and parents agreed

installing ineptly shielded
x-ray machines in shoe stores
christening untrained shoe salesmen
x-ray technicians
guaranteed a better fit
for kids’ Poll Parrot and
Buster Brown shoes
frivolously frying feet
storewide open exposure
to x-ray radiation
safe
harmless
no cancer link
beneficial

when I was a kid

your medical establishment
top scientists
defense department officials
public health officials
the board of education all agreed

if an atomic bomb detonates
in the schoolyard
closing the window curtain
getting under our desks
duck and cover
would save our lives
radiation neutralized
they bell alarm drilled us regularly
threat eliminated

when I was a kid

your medical establishment
top scientists
public health officials
state and local government officials agreed

burning garbage
in concrete backyard incinerators
even plastics
every night
across the San Gabriel Valley
waking and walking and living
in a burning toxic brown cloud haze

was safe
harmless
no cancer link
no smog alerts
no respiratory threat
lazy P.E. kids coughing ordered to run harder
my lungs raw and scarred

for generations
your medical establishment
community and religious leaders
local officials
and human traffickers agreed
before anesthesia and asepsis
White Doctors
White Mengele Medical Students
dissecting
observing
experimenting
on live African specimens
soliciting
black body parts
exploiting
exterminating
subjects of theses
like prisoners and the condemned and the poor
and the institutionalized and the orphans
and indigenous peoples

important for medical progress
develops tools and techniques
serves humanity through science
advances crucial knowledge
noble individual sacrifice
for the good of the whole
necessary
to save lives

it’s 2015 and your medical establishment
top scientists
public health officials
state and local government officials just agreed

prescribing heroin to children

beneficial
harmless
non toxic
not addictive

awarding the opiate pushing Sackler family
$14 billion and a Fortune 500
gold throne
richer and deadlier
than any other drug
cartel on earth
ever

in every case/in each era

anyone disagreeing with
these deadly lies
was ridiculed
shunned/shamed
as anti-science
superstitious
marginalized
satirized
diminished
disrespected
dismissed
and pitied

while now
44 people die
every day
from prescribed
painkillers
declared safe
by your medical establishment
top researchers
public health officials
500 die a day from medical mishap
in a health care system ranked 37th
by the New England Journal of Medicine
the lowest among colonizing nations
and the most expensive

as naturopaths
homeopaths
acupuncturists
and herbalists
with no bodies piling up daily
are harassed
bullied
labelled quacks
investigated
over regulated out of business
and the self-congratulating smart ones
continue to fill
the graveyards of expert opinion


Rex Butters

Rex foto

Rolling hills and wheeling crows, a voluptuous valley under sunset bloody clouds, night coyote pup trots, mouth full of rabbit or cat, pollinators buzz the trumpet creeper, windy, cold.


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Into The Woods, Into The Dark.

“We struggle to understand that which our eyes cannot see, and so our minds revert to the years of conditioning we all have had. It is but another way at disconnecting us from our true selves, from our true nature.”

From Emma Kathryn

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Last night I went to the woods.

It always feels like a dream when I go into the woods at night. The first time I ventured beneath the boughs after nightfall it felt more like a nightmare.

The woods where I go to are close to my home, I’ve written about them before, the ones tucked away, across a field, hidden between the industrial estate and a housing estate. To get there from where I live you must go across the field and through the industrial estate. Even at this hour the factories are still lit up, still churning, still producing. Then you take a gravel track between a used tyre factory that makes playground surfaces and their storage facility. On either side are plastic covered piles, too high to see over. On nights when the clouds cover the moon and the stars it feels like you’re walking through a tunnel.

It feels like you’re the only person. It’s liberating and scary all at the same time, and all the while there’s the noise of production, the ceaseless hum and whine of machinery and the sound of the gravel crunching beneath my feet.

On one side, the fence ends and the trees begin. There’s a tall bank and if you look as you walk, your eyes play tricks on you. Sometimes you think you see something that isn’t there. I don’t look, lest I should lose my nerve. The dog stays close, as though she can sense the battle that wages inside of me. Just go home Emma, that traitorous part of my mind whispers, go home. Why are you even here? What’s the point? But I know that voice, I’ve heard it many times in my life. It’s that voice that tells you to close your eyes when things get tough, to turn the other cheek when you see something terrible, that makes you want to say stop. It’s the voice of fear.

But I ignore it. I must. I know that if I give in, if I turn and leave now, that I will regret it even before I reach my own front door. I know from experience that when we confront our fears, we reduce them and then get over them. For instance, I used to be afraid to walk across the playing field in the dark. And so I push on, feeling the burn in my calf muscles as the path ascends. When I reach the top, it opens out into a huge meadow. The grass is long and after the heat of the summer, it’s yellow, like straw.  Here the path forks. One path takes you around the meadow, the other leads into the darkness. This is the path I take.

The path heads straight through the woods so that it looks like it disappears into darkness. The woods on either side are pitch black, a dark shadow against the backdrop of the night sky. Even now I get that feeling as I approach. I don’t know if it ever really goes away.

Have you ever been in the woods after nightfall? It’s so dark beneath the canopy of the trees that you can’t see anything and even when your eyes have adjusted to the gloom, you still can only make out what is right in front of you. Your other senses take over, especially your hearing. You can hear everything. Twigs snapping and the rustle of undergrowth as the night critters go about their business. If there’s a wind, the trees creak as they sway. It’s easy to imagine all of monsters from all of the horror films you’ve ever watched are lurking within the woods, hiding in the dark. Even when you go with others, you still feel that.

Perhaps what is really so frightening though is that loss of control. We struggle to understand that which our eyes cannot see, and so our minds revert to the years of conditioning we all have had. It is but another way at disconnecting us from our true selves, from our true nature. Why are we afraid to be in the woods? Why are we afraid to be out alone in nature? We are a part of it, not separate from it.

So what’s that got to do with going to the woods at night, you may well ask?

For me, it is about confronting my fears. It is about facing them head on, knowing that really it is the confronting of my own mind. It is the first act of rebellion against a system that destroys the very thing from which we all come all for the sake of profit. It is about taking back our minds. As Hermeticism tells us, everything is mental, the all is mind, and so it is the first step in reclaiming ourselves.

But it is also more than that too. For when you conquer that fear, it gives you the opportunity to relearn, to form a relationship with that which you used to fear.

Last night I went to the woods and found myself in the darkness.


Emma Kathryn

My name is Emma Kathryn, an eclectic witch, my path is a mixture of traditional European witchcraft, voodoo and obeah, a mixture representing my heritage. I live in the middle of England in a little town in Nottinghamshire, with my partner, two teenage sons and two crazy dogs, Boo and Dexter. When not working in a bookshop full time, I like to spend time with my family outdoors, with the dogs. And weaving magic, of course!You can follow Emma on Facebook.

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Place of Discourse and Folklore of the African Diaspora

On being white and talking about racism. How to learn about Afro-Brazilian stories of resistance, through lenses free from the objectifying effects of the white gaze.

From Mirna Wabi-Sabi

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“To get rid of the curse, the community called for good spirits to take to the streets in the month before August to ward off the evil spirits and attract good ones, managing to save the community from the great tragedy of Death. Initiating thus the apparitions of the mandus and Caretas (grimaces) on the streets of Acupe on Sundays of July.” (Wiki)

Each Sunday of July, a small Brazilian town called Acupe hosts street theater folklore of the African Diaspora. People come from all over the world to witness this unique cultural manifestation, and to support the community’s effort to reclaim its history. Nego Fugido (the play’s title, which I’ll roughly translate as “runaway black guy”) represents the long overdue opportunity for Afro-Brazilians to tell their own stories of resistance, spirituality, and ancestry. This way, they combat invisibility and the twisted white gaze of recorded history and western anthropology.

This play is about enslaved Africans who ran away, then were chased and killed by their master. This master was trying to avoid bankruptcy by offering the lives of enslaved runaways to Ikú (an Orixá, a force of nature, Death itself in the Afro-Brazilian religion Candomblé), and planting a banana tree over each grave. Eventually, there are no more lives to be offered, and Ikú curses the whole town. Every year, good spirits must be sent out to chase away the bad ones and break the curse. Caretas, the masked children that roam the streets, symbolize the “insertion of blacks and their culture into Brazilian society” (Jamilson Oliveira). Ultimately, the enslaved are granted freedom, and the town manages to arrest and auction out the King. Today, the skirt made out of dried banana tree leaves worn by the performers holds immense spiritual power, symbolizing the sacrificed lives of their ancestors.

“The banana tree leaves themselves are used in Candomblé terreiros to scare away eguns (spirits). Every terreiro has a babá of the house, a good egun that prevents other eguns from disrupting celebrations and rituals.” (Jal Souza)

The story, which comes from oral tradition of a couple hundred years ago, is remembrance of colonial power dynamics, the brutality of the struggle for freedom, and the primordial strength of Ikú. Acupe is a Quilombola community at the “Bay of All Saints” (Bahia de Todos os Santos), a region with a long colonial history, and land with deep ancestral roots. The combination of lifelike reenactments, on the Land where the story took place hundreds of years ago, and the sacred ritual to rid the town of evil spirits makes for a breathtaking experience.

Unfortunately, the swarm of white photographers overpowers not only the audience, but also the performers. There is nothing inconspicuous or ordinary about those giant lenses being shoved at all angles and in all directions. These hybrids between tourists and professionals felt no shame in interrupting the performances to direct the actors into ideal poses. The drone hovering over us witnessed hostile arguments between photographers who fought over an ideal viewpoint, or between audience members that just couldn’t take those people’s entitlement over some cubic meters of aerial space.

Perhaps the the lack of a formal theater setting caused uncertainty over of what would constitute etiquette. Or perhaps they felt that this was a once in a life time opportunity to register that moment. What is certain is that the colonial gaze, and the historical form of racism being depicted in the play, was also manifested in its modern form, making people very anxious.

The population of Acupe is predominantly black. So, when there are white people there they are seen as outsiders. In fact, a lot of white people show up only to document this event, and the objectifying effects of the white gaze are palpable.

I believe there is a level of entitlement that comes through when white people act like being there and documenting the event is a favor they are doing for the community, as if their presence there is what gives the event value. There is absolutely no way that a photographer would interrupt an actor’s performance with “psssst! pssst!” while aggressively pointing to where the actor should move for a better shot at Shakespeare at the Park in NYC.

The “epidermalization of inferiority” may or may not come at play in response to this, but it is easy to imagine that many black people feel that the “social cost” of calling out white people’s insensitive behavior is too high, aside from having to deal with a likely outburst of white fragility. What I can say is that a hand full of black people in the audience were pushed too far and lashed out at arrogant gazers who were clueless and disrespectful.

I was taking pictures with my phone… the costumes were beautiful and designed to be photogenic. The problem isn’t visiting the town for the event, watching the performance and taking pictures. The problem is treating the Other as there to serve You.

One extremely insensitive thing you can do as an audience member is to treat those performers as objects, as if their purpose for being there was for you to make a fantastic photo. The parallels between history and modernity are distressing. The community is passing down a tradition to their children, honoring their ancestors on the very land where their blood seeped into the ground. Being able to witness it should be taken as a humbling learning experience.

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Place of Discourse

As someone who is not black or of the African Diaspora, I tell this story partially. I don’t, nor will I ever want to, speak for anyone. I speak about them, and about myself, because we exist in relation to each other, dialectically. My place of discourse is not, and doesn’t claim to be, impartial. That doesn’t mean I have no right to speak.

“[W]hite people cling to the notion of racial innocence, a form of weaponized denial that positions black people as the “havers” of race and the guardians of racial knowledge.” (Robin DiAngelo)

It’s my responsibility to address my white passing privilege, and to address how my own community might be reproducing classism and colorism. As white (passing) people, we must listen and learn (and read), but when we demand the unpaid emotional labor of racial education from Afro-descendants, we fall in the trap of reproducing the very thing we want to eradicate.

Support the community, don’t take from them. Learn without demanding labor. And attend when you’re invited. This is the etiquette we can establish.


Mirna Wabi-Sabi

23844610_10155972276622372_5754996345436383112_n

is co-editor of Gods&Radicals, and writes about decoloniality and anti-capitalism.


We now have t-shirts! Sales directly support our work. Order by clicking the image below.

 

This is America’s Enslaver Culture

It’s no surprise that, even though chattel slavery was formally abolished throughout the Americas over 100 years ago, enslaver culture is still very much alive.

From Mirna Wabi-Sabi

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There are about 30 million pets abandoned in the streets of Brazil. Cats in particular are treated as a plague, killed and tortured indiscriminately.

Helping take care of street cats has been my way of dealing with the occasional helplessness many of us activists feel. I can’t always stop an armed policeman from telling a Candomblé worshiper dressed in white to lay on the floor with hands on the head for no reason. I can’t always stop a pack of drunk men desperate to prove their masculinity to each other from violating a trans woman on the street. But one thing I can do is clean the eyes of motherless kitties so they can see for the first time.

This coping mechanism recently lost its effectiveness when the dynamic at the cat shelter revealed a serious political issue: Enslaver culture.

It’s no surprise, even though chattel slavery was formally abolished throughout the Americas over 100 years ago, that enslaver culture is still very much alive. One example of this is the donor/volunteer relationship.

When I go to the shelter, once a week, I clean, feed and give medicine to cats. I’m a light skinned Latina, with a job and a house, so I’m considered a volunteer. People with means in the group donate a little money to buy whatever is needed, and there is also lunch for whoever is working.

For years, one young homeless black man goes there everyday, twice a day, to clean, feed, medicate, and build little houses for the cats. He even monitors who is coming to abandon and who is coming to adopt. In my eyes, he is the boss of the operation. To the donors, however, he’s a lazy employee.

When I receive lunch, it’s a donation. When he receives lunch, it’s a salary.

One of the donors had an abandoned house, and decided to allow the homeless young man to stay there. This gesture turns out not to be as generous as it sounds. He has the responsibility to renovate and maintain the home (which is in poor condition), and he takes dozens of the most vulnerable cats home with him to care for overnight. Now that donors offer him food and shelter, they feel even more entitled to demand more labor, and the laborer is dependent while earning no wages.

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Land demarcation efforts by Quilombo Quingoma

It’s hard not to see the connection between this situation and our colonial history. Salvador, as the world’s capital of the African diaspora, is the land on which to witness, not the demise but, the development of colonialism and its deeply rooted white supremacy. Here, much of what is now urban residence used to be Quilombos.

Quilombos were communities formed by enslaved Africans who ran away. They were highly organized, militant, autonomous, and posed great threat to the Portuguese and Dutch authorities of the time. Today, there are much more than a million Quilombolas still fighting for their right to territory throughout the country.

Records show that there were compliant enslaved people who had stable relationships with their owners and did not want to join Quilombos. Some claim that abolishing slavery left the “freed” in worse conditions: “jobless”, homeless, and helpless (as some may say about my friend at the cat shelter). How reliable are these accounts? Not very, since those who kept records were the ones interested in using them for their advantage.

Arguments on the subject in literature in general have little empirical basis and tend to focus on the interplay of interests that would be associated with the diffusion of that interpretation. Several authors have considered the thesis of benignity a mere expression of the ideology of the ruling classes in the nineteenth century; its dissemination, especially abroad, would be part of the imperial government’s efforts to disseminate an amicable image of slavery and thereby oppose the abolitionist movement.

Flávio Rabelo Versiani (Economist, Brasilia) comparing enslavement in the U.S. and in Brazil.

On the other hand, in economic terms, not using “coercive force” (meaning, here we didn’t have as many lynchings) was a matter of efficiency, as was eventually abolishing slavery altogether. So, using words like “amicable” and “benign” to describe displacement, dehumanization, forced labor, murder and torture of black people is only considered empirical when described in economic terms. This, to me, is one good example of the rotten core of Academia.

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Today, some academics use this shaky empiricism to argue that the resistance against slavery was hypocritical. José de Souza Martins, one of Brazil’s most famous sociologists, claims there was slavery in the Quilombos. Dissociating the term “slavery” from “race” became his professional mission; white supremacy wasn’t the problem, according to him, rigidly stratified societies were.

His broad use of the term “slavery” can be compared to the broad use of the term “Nazi” when describing a feminist. José Martins says that because of the spread of “Islamism” in Africa, Africans enslaved themselves at a much higher rate than the Slave trade to the Americas, and that Islamic polygamy is also a form of slavery. The fact that he uses the term “Islamist” as synonymous with “Islamic” speaks volumes to the racial insensitivity of his rhetoric. But his use of biased (white) “empirical” evidence to delegitimize an organized resistance movement of the African Diaspora speaks even louder.

There is little denying that hierarchy existed in Quilombos, and that they used violence against enslaved people who chose to stay with their white masters. We have to understand that they were at war, and the decision to be compliant turned them into an enemy. So much so, that those compliant Africans were sent to the Quilombos as an army to defeat Quilombists. This practice hasn’t stopped, and is perpetuated by the military police force to this day.

Zumbi‘s opposition to Ganga Zumba, and the consequent shift of leadership at Quilombo dos Palmares, is symbolic of all anti-colonial resistance because it was a refusal to submit to Colonial authorities, and a declaration that no enslaved African would be free until all would be free. This fight is not over yet. There is still enslavement, displacement, incarceration, genocide, and struggle for land demarcation. We must acknowledge that, because not picking a side, being compliant, is in fact siding with white supremacist forces.


Mirna Wabi-Sabi

23844610_10155972276622372_5754996345436383112_n

is co-editor of Gods&Radicals, and writes about decoloniality and anti-capitalism.


Please help us pay our writers by donating a few dollars to us. And thanks!

The Leadership and Legacy of Indigenous Women

April was Indigenous Month in Brazil. This article reports on the Leadership of Indigenous Women conference in Salvador, and explores the personal and communal journey of indigenous women through generations.

From Mirna Wabi-Sabi

Texto em Português (BR) aqui.

You can hear this article read by the author here. (For those with dyslexia, visual impairments, or multitasking needs.)

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Photo By Julia Lea de Toledo. Photo of the Krahô, in Tocantins.

The Leadership of Indigenous Women

Indigenous peoples are often seen as “protectors of the forest” when they lift up a mirror to Western Civilization, revealing how capitalism and industrialization lead to climate change. But if we look beyond ourselves, we can see that their livelihoods have been at stake much before it became clear to us that ours is as well. Rapacious hunting and fishing is making the land scarce, which is unsustainable for us, and devastating for them. This devastation has lead Indigenous women to fight to reclaim land, not just the right to use whatever is left of the land’s resources after governments privatize and industries extract. And they fight at any cost.

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Nádia Akauá Tupinanbá, Flávia Guarani Kaiowá, Rosimere Arapasso. (Federal University of Bahia)

It’s clear now as much as ever, after the coup, Lula’s imprisonment, attempts to privatize Latin America’s largest electricity company (and consequently Brazil’s largest river), that the Government is not an ally. “Politicians don’t represent us” (Nádia). They (and the military) are not to be believed, because it’s clear that “what they say they will do to help doesn’t happen, they’re only after votes”. Many politicians only show up to collect information, and even family members sometimes turn people in (intentionally or unintentionally).
The fight for territory doesn’t need the government. The auto-demarcation of land shows the political strength of the movement, and most importantly the spiritual strength of the people.

“If you don’t feel capable of speaking about yourself, how can you speak for the other? If we don’t speak, we won’t be heard. The abuse of the woman needs to be spoken by the woman! Otherwise there won’t be any change. That’s why we assume the responsibility of militancy, without weekends or holidays.” (Rosimere)

Husbands also can’t represent their wives, they must represent themselves because if they don’t speak up, they are not heard. There is power in denunciation; without it, there are no rights. On the other hand, with denunciation comes persecution. Coming out of invisibility means a whole new set of threats. “Whites want to keep getting richer, so they kill us.” (anonymous) Which is why massacres happen with impunity. If the cops or the military don’t remove tribes from privatized land, landlords will “by the bullet”. And if they don’t kill, they burn their homes and all their things.

“To lead requires courage because we are hunted down like animals.” (Flávia)

The Guarani-Kaiowá territory in Mato Grosso do Sul is home to a tribes that have recently endured egregious acts of violence. Flávia, a 21 year old Indigenous leader, has witnessed a type of police brutality unimaginable to most people. The militarized police force invaded her community, where she lives with her 6 year old son, shooting, leaving many injured and one dead (2016 Caarapó). She says with tears in her eyes that her son is no longer afraid of guns, and that for generations natives grow up in fear without knowing that what they endure is oppression.

“I had to overcome the fear of death, and now I’m prepared to die because I know I’ll die doing something worthwhile.” (Rosimere)

The trans-generational trauma, together with the violence that is still happening today, leads to complex existential obstacles. Among Native youth in particular, demoralization leads to high suicide rates. Some Government programs arrange for psychologists to go to the communities, but according to Nádia Akauá they are not the solution. They will not help people because they have no spirituality, and to Natives prayer is the strongest weapon against demoralization. Many of them go because it’s easy money and they have a curiosity for the “exotic”. These psychologists come from academia, not speaking their language literally, culturally or spiritually.

“The community should decide who comes in and who doesn’t, not some government issued program.” (Nádia)

Hope comes through prayer, which is why spirituality is a driving force of the Indigenous resistance movement. To be able to call yourself Indigenous and practice rituals is in itself a victory. It’s important to preserve and vocalize Indigenous identity, especially after being harshly prevented from doing so in the past. “If we said we were Native, we died” (The Female Cacique/Chief of the Abaeté tribe). During the dictatorship in the 60’s, there were concentration camps for natives. Today, calling oneself Indigenous can still be death sentence. So, in many ways this fight is simply for the right to exist.

The Legacy of Indigenous Women

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Photo By Julia Lea de Toledo. Photo of the Krahô, in Tocantins.

When Brazil was invaded (not “discovered”), there were virtually no European women, so the vast majority of the Brazilian population has come to be from the violent miscegenation between white men and women of color. The fact that our ancestors were violated is something that affects us today, and is a trauma that is passed down to us. There is no recorded history of these Indigenous women; for hundreds of years they have had no voice. All we hear and reproduce is the memory of the white European men who violated them. So we had no chance to heal.

Not allowing indigenous people to speak for themselves has been a successful and despicable way to instill in society the white supremacist ideology we are still struggling with today. For instance, only last year the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam hosted and exhibition of works by a Dutch colonial artist called Frans Post. He continued to paint Brazilian landscapes well after his visit to Brazil (in the mid 1600’s) because they “sold very well“- while “not a single animal or plant study from his hand [is] known”. In other words, he was painting fantasy, and he isn’t the only Dutch artist in museums today who did that.

“[Albert] Eckhout’s depictions were presented, at the time, as “curiosities”, but would end up influencing not to a small degree, the ethnological gaze and anthropological perspectives toward Brazil’s indigenous peoples up to the present day.” (Adone Agnolin)

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To the left is an indigenous woman with chopped body parts and dangerous wild animals, intending to represent the savagery of indigenous peoples in Dutch occupied Brazil. This is not how Natives practiced anthropophagy. To the right we have a “domesticated” mestizo man with European-style clothes and firearm. The twisted white European gaze, while still widely considered objective, has for hundreds of years misrepresented the culture and traditions of native peoples, while violently silencing the people they supposedly represent.

These are examples of capitalism sprouting from patriarchal colonialism, and forming the symbiosis of white supremacy, sexism, and the “free” market that we live in today.

The way to keep the legacy of Native ancestors alive is to rescue the memory of the mothers, grandmothers, great-grandmothers, and great-great-grandmothers. Listening, learning, practicing, and sharing keep the identity alive. Indigenous identity is preserved through practice and tradition, not through DNA. Government authorities, however, often use DNA as a tactic to discredit Indigenous leaders, undermine their movements, turn Native people against each other, and bend the law in their favor.

Flávia Guarani Kaiowá, for instance, has had her mixed black ancestry used as a threat against her by several authority figures. That doesn’t even come close to interfering with her commitment to the movement of Indigenous resistance, and to her upbringing, ancestors and traditions. If anything were to happen to her, the whole world will speak her name and her voice will not be silenced like those of the women who came before her.

“My grandmother used to tell me: ‘This land is not ours, we were forced to choose between coming here and dying.’” (Flávia)

Indigenous women were taken by force from their land and moved into camps. Or they were put to work as maids in the homes of military officers and Christian leaders until they were 30 or so. When they aged and were no longer considered valuable as cheap labor, they were left without homes or jobs, and faced discrimination even in their own tribes when they went back. When Brazilians marginalize these Indigenous women, it also means marginalizing a significant part of themselves.

Brazilian families tend to not value their Indigenous ancestry, there is so much colorism that it makes it hard to look for our roots and to preserve our identity. I, personally, decided to rescue the memory of my ancestor by ritualizing my life. This doesn’t mean I’m going to move in with a tribe and start painting myself. It means I practice daily rituals that connect me with my ancestor, by listening, learning and healing in ways that are just not possible through Western medicine and therapies. We can all benefit from destroying a little bit of the white supremacy in the world by decolonizing ourselves.


Mirna Wabi-Sabi

23844610_10155972276622372_5754996345436383112_n

is co-editor of Gods&Radicals, and writes about decoloniality and anti-capitalism.


Support our work here.


TRADUÇÃO PORTUGUÊS

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Krahô, Tocantins (Foto de Julia Lea de Toledo)

Abril foi o Mês Indígena. Este artigo relata a conferência Liderança de Mulheres Indígenas em Salvador, e explora a jornada pessoal e comunitária das mulheres indígenas pelas gerações.

Por Mirna Wabi-Sabi

A Liderança de Mulheres Indígenas

Os povos indígenas são frequentemente vistos como “protetores da floresta” quando levantam um espelho para a civilização ocidental, revelando como o capitalismo e a industrialização resultou em aquecimento global. Mas se olharmos além de nós mesmos, veremos que a sobrevivência e bem estar deste povo já estava seriamente ameaçada muito antes de ficar claro para nós que a nossa existência também está. A caça e a pesca predatória tornam a terra escassa, o que é insustentável para nós e devastador para eles e elas. Essa devastação ambiental e cultural levou as mulheres indígenas a lutar para recuperar a terra, não apenas o direito de usar o que resta dos recursos da terra depois que o governo privatiza e indústrias extraem. E elas lutam a qualquer custo.

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Citações de Nádia Akauá Tupinanbá, Flávia Guarani Kaiowá, Rosimere Arapasso. (UFBA)

Está claro, como sempre esteve, após o golpe, a prisão de Lula, tentativas de privatizar a maior companhia de eletricidade da América Latina (e consequentemente o Rio Sāo Francisco), que o governo não é um aliado. “Políticos não nos representam” (Nádia). Não podemos acreditar no governo e no exército, porque é claro que “o que eles dizem que vão fazer para ajudar não acontece, estão apenas atraz de votos”. Muitos políticos só aparecem para coletar informações, e até mesmo membros da família às vezes entregam nativos (intencionalmente ou não).

A luta pelo território não precisa do governo. A auto-demarcação da terra mostra a força política do movimento e a força espiritual do povo.

“Se você não se sente capaz de falar sobre si mesmo, como pode falar pelo outro? Se não falarmos, não seremos ouvidas. O abuso da mulher precisa ser falado pela mulher! Caso contrário, não haverá nenhuma mudança. É por isso que assumimos a responsabilidade da militância, sem fins de semana ou feriados.” (Rosimere)

Maridos também não podem representar suas esposas, elas devem representar a si mesmas, porque se não falam, não são ouvidas. Existe poder na denúncia; sem isso, não há direitos. Por outro lado, com a denúncia vem a perseguição. Sair da invisibilidade significa todo um novo conjunto de ameaças. “Os brancos querem continuar enriquecendo, então nos matam.” (anônimo) É por isso que massacres acontecem com impunidade. Se os policiais ou militares não “removem” aldeias de terras, os proprietários se sentem no direito de “remover a bala”. E se não matam, queimam as casas e as coisas.

“Liderar requer coragem porque somos caçadas como animais.” (Flávia)

O território Guarani-Kaiowá, no Mato Grosso do Sul, abriga aldeias que recentemente sofreram horríveis atos de violência. Flávia, uma líder indígena de 21 anos, testemunhou extrema brutalidade policial. A polícia invadiu sua comunidade, onde mora com seu filho de 6 anos, atirando, deixando muitos feridos e um morto (Caarapó 2016). Ela diz com lágrimas nos olhos que seu filho não tem mais medo de armas, e que por gerações Nativos crescem com medo sem saber que o sofrem é opressão.

“Eu tive que superar o medo da morte, e agora estou preparada para morrer, porque sei que vou morrer fazendo algo que vale a pena.” (Rosimere)

O trauma transgeracional, junto com a violência contemporânea, resulta em complexos obstáculos existenciais. Entre os jovens nativos, em particular, a desmoralização leva a altas taxas de suicídio. Alguns programas do governo mandam psicólogos às comunidades, mas, segundo Nádia Akauá, isso não é a solução. Eles não ajudam os Nativos e as Nativas porque não têm espiritualidade, e para eles e elas a oração é a arma mais forte contra a desmoralização. Muitos participam do programa porque é dinheiro fácil e brancos têm uma curiosidade pelo “exótico”. Esses psicólogos vêm da academia, não falando a língua da comunidade literalmente, culturalmente ou espiritualmente.

“A comunidade tem que decidir quem entra e quem não entra, não um programa qualquer do governo.” (Nádia)

A esperança vem através da oração, e é por isso que a espiritualidade é uma força motriz do movimento de resistência indígena. Ser capaz de se chamar indígena e praticar rituais é em si uma vitória. É importante preservar e vocalizar a identidade indígena, especialmente depois de ser duramente impedidos de fazê-lo no passado. “Se a gente falasse que era indígena, morria” (A Cacique Abaeté). Durante a ditadura nos anos 60, havia campos de concentração para nativos. Hoje, se afirmar como indígena ainda pode ser uma sentença de morte. Então, em muitos aspectos, essa luta é simplesmente pelo direito de existir.

O Legado das Mulheres Indígenas

Quando o Brasil foi invadido (não “descoberto”), praticamente não havia mulheres européias, então a grande maioria da população brasileira veio a ser da miscigenação violenta entre homens brancos e mulheres de cor. O fato de nossas ancestrais terem sido violentadas é algo que nos afeta hoje em dia, e é um trauma transmitido a nós. Há pouquíssima históra registrada dessas mulheres indígenas; por centenas de anos elas não tiveram voz. Tudo o que ouvimos e reproduzimos é a memória dos homens europeus brancos que as violaram. Então não tivemos chance de sarar.

Não permitir os povos indígenas de falar por si mesmos tem sido uma maneira bem-sucedida e desprezível de incutir na sociedade a ideologia da supremacia branca, contra qual ainda estamos lutando hoje. Por exemplo, apenas no ano passado, o Rijksmuseum de Amsterdã exibiu obras de um artista colonial holandês chamado Frans Post. Ele continuou a pintar paisagens brasileiras bem depois de sua visita ao Brasil (em meados do século 17), porque “vendiam muito bem” – enquanto “nem um único estudo de animal ou planta de sua mão é conhecido”. Em outras palavras, ele estava pintando fantasias, e ele não é o único artista holandês em museus de hoje que fez isso.

“As pinturas de [Albert] Eckhout foram apresentadas, na época, como “curiosidades”, mas acabariam influenciando, não a um pequeno grau, o olhar etnológico e as perspectivas antropológicas em relação aos povos indígenas do Brasil até os dias atuais.” (Adone Agnolin)

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À esquerda está uma indígena com partes de um corpo picado e animais selvagens perigosos, que pretende representar a selvageria dos povos indígenas na região Braseila ocupada pelos holandeses. Não é assim que os nativos praticavam a antropofagia. À direita, temos um homem mestiço “domesticado” com roupas de estilo europeu e arma de fogo. O olhar branco Europeu distorcido, apesar de ainda ser amplamente considerado objetivo, por centenas de anos deturpou a cultura e as tradições dos povos Indígenas, violentamente silenciando as pessoas que supostamente representava.

Estes são exemplos do capitalismo brotando do colonialismo patriarcal, e formando a simbiose entre a supremacia branca, o sexismo, e o mercado “livre” em que vivemos hoje.

Uma maneira de manter vivo o legado de ancestrais Nativos é resgatar a memória das mães, avós, bisavós e trisavós. Ouvir, aprender, praticar e compartilhar mantém a identidade viva. A identidade indígena é preservada através da prática e da tradição, não só através do DNA. As autoridades governamentais, no entanto, muitas vezes usam o DNA como uma tática para desacreditar líderes indígenas, minar seus movimentos, transformar os povos indígenas uns contra os outros, e reverter a lei a seu favor.

Flávia Guarani Kaiowá, por exemplo, teve sua descendência negra usada como uma ameaça contra ela por várias figuras de autoridade. Isso nem chega perto de interferir em seu compromisso com o movimento da resistência indígena, e com sua relação com sua criação, ancestrais e tradições. Se alguma coisa lhe acontecer, o mundo inteiro falará seu nome e sua voz não será silenciada como as das mulheres que vieram antes dela.

“Minha avó me disse: ‘Essa terra não é nossa, fomos forçadas a escolher entre vir aqui e morrer.'” (Flávia)

Mulheres indígenas foram retiradas à força de suas terras e transferidas para os campos. Ou foram colocadas para trabalhar como empregadas domésticas nas casas de oficiais militares e líderes cristãos até por volta dos 30 anos de idade. Quando envelheciam, e não eram mais consideradas valiosas como mão-de-obra barata, ficavam sem moradia ou emprego e enfrentavam discriminação até mesmo quando voltavam pra suas próprias aldeias. Quando brasileiros marginalizam mulheres indígenas, isso também significa marginalizar uma parte significante de nós mesmos.

As famílias brasileiras tendem a não valorizar sua ancestralidade indígena, há tanto colorismo que dificulta a busca à nossas raízes e a preservação de nossa identidade. Eu, pessoalmente, decidi resgatar a memória da minha ancestral pela investigação histórica e pela ritualização minha vida. Isso não significa que eu vou me mudar pra uma aldeia e começar a me pintar. Significa que pratico rituais diários que me conectam com minha ancestral, ouvindo, aprendendo e me curando de maneiras que não são possíveis através da medicina e das terapias ocidentais. Todos e todas nós nos beneficiaremos da descolinização e da destruição da supremacia branca no mundo.


Mirna Wabi-Sabi

23844610_10155972276622372_5754996345436383112_n

é editora de Gods&Radicals, e escreve sobre anti-colonialismo e anti-capitalismo.


Apoie nosso trabalho aqui.

An Intersectional Experience

“I recognised the similarities between sexism and ableism. We are weak and need a strong man to help us even if we think we don’t. The man will know better.”

From Pieter van Diepen

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Dear world,

I was born and raised a white male in a stable middle class family as the second of two boys. It was society that made me into a straight cis-male, It did not fully fit but neither did the alternatives, after getting a bachelors degree in civil engineering I was at the pinnacle of privilege. At that time I was not aware of it. Now 10 years later I am. It took a stroke rendering me incapable to work and nerve pain to recognize my privilege when I am walking. I no longer identify as a cis hetero male but society still views me as such. That is not an issue for me because I identify as indifferent to all those concepts.

Non binary a-romatic asexual

Being pragmatic fits my male sex according to society. I’d like to share some experiences I got since I lost most of my privilege. Because of the pain, I have to use a wheelchair. To me, using a wheelchair is like using a bike for an able-bodied person; I can go further and carry more stuff. Sadly, society doesn’t treat me like a more active person like they do with cyclists. Instead, they treat me as if I’m a 10 year old child that needs to be taken care of. Last summer, I had the strongest example:

I was at a free music festival where I have been going since it started. I always enjoyed the atmosphere, until last year when “adults” were drinking more and getting obnoxious. So I was a bit anxious when I went last summer. Sadly my suspicions were confirmed. I went early so people would still be sober enough to have a normal conversation. I take medication so I stopped drinking alcohol after my stroke, and coping with an ableist society is hard enough when people don’t have the emphatic capability of a toddler. It was a nice day, I talked with some nice sober people and tried to avoid people that try to use me as a token to show the world how nice they are for being nice to a person with a disability. I was more focused on avoiding annoying non interesting people that find me exotic. I tried to connect to people that look interesting to me, or who I already know to be interesting or nice. I found some interesting people that I apparently already knew and saw some nice shows. I can still walk for 5 minutes and walked behind my wheelchair on the uneven grassy field and would sit down at the show. When I want to see I can stand up but I prefer to sit in a spot with good sound quality.

Around midnight I had used up most of my energy and went to sit at the empty dance floor next to the drum-n-bass artist. I had my hoody over my eyes because the lights drain my energy, which was already at a low, and even with my eyes closed the flashes were too strong. I was sitting there experiencing the sound when a woman tapped me on the shoulder, I looked up, she shouted too loud in my ear asking if everything was okay. I confirmed, she stepped away but kept glancing in my direction. I ignored her and covered my eyes again.

A bit later someone tapped on my shoulder again, this time it was a woman I had spoken to a couple of times in the last decade. She had had too much to drink, first she shouted too loud in my ear about how much fun she was having. I nodded and hoped she would move back to her friends. She instead turned to me again. I was sitting in my wheelchair with my back to some boards, she was standing in front of me and bent over close to my face, I tried to move away but I could not move the chair. I leaned back as far as possible but she kept coming closer. I panicked and screamed at her that she had to move away or I would head-but her. She startled, which gave me the opening to stand up. I can’t use my left side and in crowded uneven areas I have to hold on to my wheelchair for balance, she moved closer again and tried to come close to my face with her face. Because I am 1.95 meters tall, she could not reach, but she put an arm around my neck and pulled me down. That’s when I saw no other way out than to to tap her on the forehead with my forehead. That startled her enough to move away from me and towards some friends. I immediately moved behind my wheelchair to walk away. The guy that was standing between me and the way out asked if everything was okay. I screamed at him: keep her away from me. He moved a bit so I could leave and I walked out of the tent. When passing a security person I told him: if anybody is going to bother me I will start a fight. He nodded and looked away.

So, I moved out of the tent and sat down outside where I could still hear the music. This was going to be the last show, since the main show had already ended. People were all heading to the exit and ignored me, so I could gather my thoughts. A friend walked by but I didn’t feel like interacting with people, so I was glad that he kept going when we both nodded as a sign of recognition. That is how I wanted my interactions to be like for the last hour. I got up and moved to a different part of the terrain.. When I was almost there I heard my name. It was someone from the organization that asked me to make make a memorial stone earlier that day, this time there were 2 security people with him, he told me that they had seen me use violence and because of that they asked me to leave. I agreed that all violence is wrong and that part of the policy is to respond like this, so I walked with them to the exit. While doing so I explained what happened, they said they knew her personally and were surprised that she would behave like this. It did not sound so strange to me because she has a history of erratic behavior and substance abuse. But they ensured me that they would talk with her. It all went very civilized and they even went to exchange some of the festival coins for a mug.

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The Accessible Icon Project

On my way home I almost drove into a pole because I was not focused. And had to stop a couple of times to cry. Luckily I was in the comfort of my own tiny disability car driving on the cycling lanes that are abundant in the Netherlands. When I got home I had to cry some more because I realized this exactly was the thing that had been corroding my self-esteem for 5 years. Ever since I started using a wheelchair in public people have been taking away my agency.

When I told my experience to a friend she said this is an example of intersectionality[1]; in the wheelchair I am the vulnerable person and I’m susceptible to harassment, but when I’m standing, the woman is the vulnerable person. So my trauma was not acknowledged by security because I was standing when I told them. I told some other people and most responded in a supporting manner, but one did a bit of a victim blaming trick. That’s something people say when I complain about random people forcing their help on me just because I’m in a wheelchair, maybe I should put up a sign. In this case, the person asked if I was clear enough about not wanting to be interacted with (ignoring the fact that it was not OK to ignore someone’s request to keep distance).

People take away my agency all the time and cross my personal boundaries by grabbing the wheelchair. Even when I am not sitting in it it feels like they are touching me when they grab my wheelchair without consent.

I thought this was my first experience with sexual harassment, but I have been kissed on the mouth by random women whilst sitting in the wheelchair before. To me it is harassment to touch my face without consent. This did not happen once in the 30 years I had been walking and 3 times in the 5 since I have been riding my chair.

A more clear example of overlapping oppression was the time I asked a female student to put my wheelchair in the train. I had chosen her to do it because I know that the person that helps me will have a good feeling about themselves for doing so. So I don’t offer the macho people this opportunity. It’s not hard to do if you know how it is done, so I explained and we waited for the train.
 I had asked her not because I can’t do it myself, but because when I do it myself there are almost always people that grab my chair when my back is turned while I step into the train. And when I turn around there is someone clumsily holding my chair and I have to tell them to put it down because I can’t pull it into the train while they are holding it. Also that they should ask permission before grabbing other peoples belongings. I avoided this frustration by partly accepting the victim position. After the train stopped, I got in she, walked behind me while pulling the chair inside, but while she was doing it the conductor grabbed the chair and pulled it from her hands to put it in the train. We had to wait for him because he was at an odd angle.

Then I recognised the similarities between sexism and ableism- we are weak and need a strong man to help us even if we think we don’t. The man will know better. And because of that, afterward we will be thankful.

NO.

So I’ve made this sticker that clearly states my feeling:

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[1] Intersectionality is the best fitting theory for the stacking of problems people can experience. Intersecting identities can cause overlapping symptoms. My case is confusing because there are mostly positive (intended) prejudices around my identities (male= strong / person in wheelchair= innocent). It would still have gone different if I had only one identity. Because of my different positions of privilege, I do not fit in the visualization of intersectionality and I started thinking of alternatives, which is not starting from the identity, but from the prejudice intersecting shapes instead of lines.

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Pieter van Diepen

29893251_10156225620998544_526601187_oPieter started to get involved in activism after joining many protest marches as if they were guided tours. After befriending activists, joining in protests became more of a social than a political activity.

Now he has started to raise awareness for the unrecognised oppressed; the people with physical disabilities, and the invisible oppressed; people with invisinle disabilities including mental illnesses. This could be the start of a new movement: anarcho-capabalism.


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