Click on the link to visit this fascinating and profound article by Bonnie. It’s a long read, well worth the investment of time and energy.
She begins with the choice of the U’wa people in Colombia, faced with the prospect of international firms planning to drill for oil on their ancient lands:-
‘Their indigenous relationship to the earth sustains them in a collective role as caretakers of the earth and an equal facet of nature…..they perceived the concept to be intolerable, apocalyptic even….
The tribe of 5,000 people made it known that even the act of searching for oil on their homelands would destroy their way of life, initiating the same kind of colonization, exploitation, destruction, and violence that has happened elsewhere……..
On receiving the news that exploration, and ultimately drilling, would imminently occur on their lands, the leaders promptly announced that the entire tribe of some 5,000 men, women, and children would willingly step off a 1400-foot cliff rather than suffer the horrors sure to follow the drilling. In fact, this almost-unthinkable decision to commit mass ritual suicide has happened before. The nearby cliff is on sacred ground where everything is alive, land protected by ritual and dance, land that tribespeople refuse to enter for fear of violating their covenants with ancestors, spirits, and the earth. In another event centuries ago, faced with moving onto forbidden sacred grounds in retreat from the invading Spaniards, the greater part of the adults of the tribe threw the children over the cliff in clay pots, then stepped off into nothingness themselves. For the U’wa, oil is the blood of Mother Earth, and to invade it—above or below ground—causes imbalance and ultimately, death. “I sing the traditional songs to my children,” a tribeswoman mourns. “I teach them that everything is sacred and linked. How can I tell Shell and Oxy that to take the petrol is for us worse than killing your own mother? If you kill the earth, then no one will live. I do not want to die. Nobody does.” (U’wa tribe’s suicide pact, n.d., p. 8).’
She follows these threads into a deep exploration of our spiritual and psychic disconnection – in contrast to the U’wa – and the challenges this poses for all of us. Here’s one more extract about the critical nature of these questions, and the unbearable price of continuing as we are – but please, make time to read the whole thing:-
‘Somehow, in dealing with trauma, we must find a way to create a container for fear of the other. Narratives must create a bridge amidst our fragmentation to allow a vision of a common past and a common future, one that is safe. We need myths, symbols, and narratives to sustain us and provide context for our plight. However, currently, we only survive the pervasive chaos by desensitization to suffering. Our legacy, say Schaffer and Smith (2004), is crafting a culture in which “power and authority seem staggeringly out of balance, in which personal responsibility and helplessness seem crushing, and in which cultural meanings no longer seem to transcend death” (p. 13). In fact, the cultural meanings of the U’wa, who stood up for their beliefs and values, transcended the death of their culture through willingness to embrace actual physical death. As a people who are ecocentric (focused on the relationship to the environment) and cosmocentric (in relation to spirits, ancestors, and supernatural entities), this act speaks to the power of asserting responsibility, reclaiming meaning which enabled them to act authentically and with integrity intact.
Meanwhile, in the western world, our response is the unconscious echo of the conscious choice embraced by the U’wa. In the U.S., suicide is a devastating symptom of the situation we face as a culture. In 2005, the U.S. saw one suicide every 16 minutes on average. That same year, suicide was the eleventh leading cause of death for all Americans, ranking second for college students and those aged 25-34, and third for those aged 15-24 (Suicide.org, 2005). In fact, among individuals in the military, those who are called upon to participate in and witness some of the worst horrors our culture has wrought, almost as many American troops committed suicide in 2010 as were killed in combat in Afghanistan (Tarabay, 2010). Tragically, it seems many of us are experiencing the world as intolerable, and are taking matters into our own hands much as the U’wa have done. The problem seems to be that, as mythologist Michael Meade (2008) explains, when consciousness is not present, the wrong sacrifices are made to the gods. Given our current way of existing, Bernstein (2005) suggests that humanity now stands at the edge of a suicidal precipice—perhaps similar to that of the U’wa.’ (our bolding).
Thank you to Brent Potter on Facebook for drawing our attention to this.
Palace Gate Counselling Service, Exeter