And it was about time! That year spent uprooted in the port of Buenaventura was more than enough. The profound effects of this forced encounter with urbanization and the ever-present image of progress alienate them even more from a State which does not recognize their dignity.
To stay over there within the Regional Indigenous Organization of the city and to drift among the cases was as good as “to die alive”, as voiced by one member of the Nonam community.
“If children were not born because of faulty medical attention, if some people also died for lack of care, if drinking water was unavailable, if hunger tormented us, we understood we were going to die here, or at best, as we preferred, in our territory. Therefore, to return was a question of dignity, our history called us back to our mother earth. No more death here, we will live and die over there, in the Reserve”. Thus spoke one family-head among the group of 29 families of the Nonam Community, who had been forced into displacement by the intrusion of paramilitares activities in the Low Calima, last August.
Another added: “The Colombian State never really responded adequately, only bringing some help as they wished. The City of Buenaventura administration only
helped us with punctual emergency interventions. Nothing needed for our dignity was provided. There was a failure of the “Tutela” process, and likewise of the “Cautionary Measures” (Provisional Remedies) of the Interamerican Human Rights Commission”.
Therefore, on last August 30, 97 people, mainly women and children, returned to their territory, which had been declared a Humanitarian Reserve of Biodiversity since last May.
“Our return could not count on the support of the National Government, thus, we returned to the Reserve without any governmental action. Indeed the local authorities are lost in paper-work and ineffective. Moreover, the Public Authorities are involved in complicated alliances, well-known to you, to the country and to the international community”, expressed a female Nonam elder.
This process shows the vacuity of the verbal statements, proffered months ago by the then candidate Juan Manuel Santos, affirming that the application of a “Law of Victims” would add to the effectiveness of the presidency.
During their displacement, the Nonams have been threatened by Paramilitares, on three occasions. Also, they have been harassed by such structures that continue to operate in the urban and rural perimeters of Buenaventura, one of the most militarized cities of Colombia and of extreme levels of destitution and exclusion.
Facing the absence of any real, transparent and effective protection from the public forces, in their need to face the fear due to the actions of the State and other actors of the internal armed conflict, their divinities and their spirituality has been and remains now their support and protection in their return.
“Arms damage human life for many, but protect the lives of a few, protect the accumulation of their wealth and the plunder of Mother Earth. Our return is unarmed because what we desire is the Harmony we believe in, peace and the protection of our life. Our Mother is the force of the Supreme Being.”
The interfaith discussed today, others name it ‘religious synthesis’. Here, the experiences of colonial religiosity found an expression, when returning to the reserve, of prayer of rogation to their patron saint, Santa Rosa.
This spirituality, which transcends cultural expressions, expresses itself in a ritual of a few hours to regain harmony within one’s territory and home, before the next armed aggression, in front of the next armed violation.
At their very arrival in the territory, they encountered the public forces, within the Humanitarian Reserve. All leaders and elders, and the children likewise, showed a steely determination, thus giving a military rather than civilian answer to this wager for Life.
The indigenous community immediately requested that they leave this space, reserved to civilian people in general, and let them enjoy the rights guaranteed to them by the constitution, as is usual. This demand of the application of Human Rights was not well received.
Before the revival of the military offensive, marking their first displacement in 2,000, and the more recent one due to military operations, the new harmonization of the common space released the life energy blocked in these negative feelings of destruction and plunder.
Elders and women slowly and thoroughly walked through the hamlet. Now and again, they inspected their homes, mainly where they had left their clothes, their cooking utensils, tools, craft accessories and poultry. All was gone and they felt foreign in their own living quarters. But this slow walk helped them regain harmony within their living space.
From August 29 until September 3, they concentrated on the rebuilding of their own lives and of their own lodgings, through collective cleaning chores, temporary fixing of their homes and of the communal aquaduct, as well as the installation of individual outdoor toilets and meeting places.
Groups of women, youth and children spent hours in search of medicinal plants, firewood and fish, to prepare for eating, the spiritual fuel of community existence.
Solidarity has been the support defining harmonisation. Their return was achieved by the efforts of the community itself and the solidarity of individuals as well as of national and international organizations facing the failure of Buenaventura’s District Committee for Help to Displaced People.
The Nonam community returned without any answer from the State.
Members of other Nonam reserves located on the Rio San Juan were there to welcome them with presents of food and also provided them with “canoas” to move on the river, go out fishing, or ’look out for life’ as the elders of the community like to say.
The youth took the lead to make sure that the familiar recreation areas were ready to welcome everyone: the river, the swimming cove, the soccer field, the collect of native fruit, of sugar cane which could still be found on the Reserve.
They have repeated their gatherings, remembering and reliving their past, patiently weaving their baskets and composing their “chaquiras”. They stroll along, gazing at the water, the forest and the happiness of the young ones.
The joy is not deep, for deep pains remain. One of the families had to stay in Buenaventura and demanded relocation. This is the family of the person who was the indigenous teacher until August, and which decided not to return because of threats from its community.
There, they returned happily, dreaming the dreams that harmonized their past, their present and their future, mainly about life and the territory, because, as said by a young girl :“Here we are people, over there we were nobodies!”
September 6, 2011
Comisión Intereclesial de Justicia y Paz