a cinnamon tree for victor jara

Maritza Centeno Photo: David McKnight

Earlier this week we posted about the other  9/11 in Chile in 1973. In Managua, community organisations held the tenth Victor Jara Festival of music, culture and peace to commemorate the anniversary of the coup and celebrate Victor’s life. As part of the  ceremony, representatives of the indigenous Matagalpan peoples of northern Nicaragua blessed and planted trees in memory of Victor – who was part indigenous Mapuche – and for indigenous peoples everywhere. Maritza Centeno, an indigenous Matagalpan, spoke to David McKnight about the ceremony, the struggle to reclaim indigenous lands, the significance of the year 2012 and the importance of intercontinental solidarity amongst the indigenous peoples of the Americas.

We hope that this will signal a period when people’s consciousness begins to change – a little but very significant change.

I am native to the indigenous peoples of Matagalpa in the north of Nicaragua. We are based in Matagalpa and Jinotega but we are actually from the very south – even as far south as Chile – we are related to the Mapuche – who are also in Peru, Venezuela and Colombia. These are our roots but we are here now in Matagalpa. We, who had been colonised by the Spanish – in contrast to the Atlantic Coast who were colonised by the English – we were not only subjected to the processes of colonisation but then also by the state as in the Nicaraguan state which began to apply an integrationist policy so rather than strengthen the rights of the indigenous peoples they began to further embolden the discrimination against us through making laws that embedded this discrimination. These laws, which the State decreed, said that 50% of the land which belonged to the indigenous peoples of central and northern Nicaragua, should be given to the state that would then be rented to Europeans who would come and plant coffee on those lands. In the 1940s there was another decree, which said that those Europeans who had been renting the land for years now had the right to buy it for very small sums of money. So during the Somoza period, for 40 years we didn’t dare to raise our heads, because we were under direct threat. They didn’t allow us to have assemblies, the community was never allowed to gather, because Somoza saw this as our people plotting some kind of rebellion against the State. With the triumph of the revolution in 1979, many of our rights were returned to us but not all of them in particular with regard to the issue of land and property. Some of the land which had been expropriated by the revolution was not given back to the people but was made into state land. The revolution did a great deal of good for us – for example literacy, for our health – for many of our rights, it was excellent but the question of land was not resolved. We are still struggling with the National Assembly that they should pass a law which returns the territorial rights to us and this is what we are fighting for. It’s very difficult because many of us don’t have the property titles, the pieces of paper that are expected and so it becomes a very difficult struggle.

Maritza Centeno Photo: David McKnight

With regard to our ceremonies, we are rediscovering our traditions where communities get together to give thanks to Mother Earth and to our Father, the Sun. We have been celebrating for four years now and invoking the spirit of our ancestors, the grandfathers and grandmothers to give thanks to the earth, to the winds, to the Sun, to the four elements to enter into the souls of people. The Great Spirit is present everywhere – in the air, the trees, the flowers, it’s everywhere – the great spirit of God within the whole of creation. This is what we are doing in our communities. So here we have these two little trees which we are going to plant. Here we have a madroño which is the traditional tree of Nicaragua we are going to entrust her to Mother Earth which is for all indigenous peoples particularly those of Nicaragua. And here we have a canela – a cinnamon tree – which is particularly for Victor Jara and for the indigenous peoples of Chile who are also fighting for the recovery of their rights.

In our ceremonial circle in 2012 we are going to have an intercontinental gathering – indigenous peoples will come from all over the continent. On the 21st December we are going to get together to welcome the new Mayan year. Many films and many people say that at this point in 2012 the whole world will come to an end and all sorts of silly things! For us it’s just a cycle and it’s the end of the cycle and what we are gathering together to do is to celebrate the passing of one cycle and into the new awakening.

We hope that this will signal a period when people’s consciousness begins to change – a small but very significant change. So for us it’s the beginning of a new and special dimension. This has to do with a cosmic energy, it’s not to do with our own energy and this is something that the Mayans have known about for centuries and centuries through their wisdom. We indigenous peoples are waiting for this time with a great deal of love, excitement and happiness. Because of all of this we are going to walk for seven months throughout the entire continent carrying the message of harmony and peace between all of the indigenous peoples of these lands.

'Invoking the spirit of our ancestors'. Photo: David McKnight

[Translated from Spanish by Paul Baker Hernandez]