Immersed in the new reality caused by the need to adapt to living with a new virus and with the measures adopted by the Government of Guatemala in response to it, we held a digital, though no less warm, conversation, between PBI and three women human rights defenders who are members of TZK'AT - Network of Ancestral Healers from Community Feminism: Lorena Cabnal, Álex Vázquez and Telma Iris Oloroso.
The Network of Healers currently has seven active members, comprising of women from the Mayan and Xinka peoples, who across a diversity of ages, experiences and knowledge, have united in the search for dignity for the defenders of the land-body-territory and for healing as a cosmic political path.
Across screens, Lorena, Álex and Telma shared with us how “Tzk'at (meaning Network of Life in the Kiché language) is a word that weaves and encircles us in a dimension of reciprocity, recognizing us as one with the earth, air, fire and a plurality of existences. Recognizing the plurality of life and knowledge that exist within communities and which complement and interweave with each other, is part of the Tzk’at. The Tzk’at encompasses the millenary cosmic and spiritual relationships that pass from generation to generation and the memory of the struggles and resistance of peoples who, especially women, which are present in the political and daily life as well as the current struggles and resistance.”
They shared with us how the women who participate in the Network of Healers have been called by the violence experienced in their territories, but also by the violence experienced in their personal lives: “We have come together recognizing the beautiful possibilities that our grandmothers left us for carrying on and lifting our spirits, summoning joy and healing. We say in q'eqchi': lain ut laat, laat ut lain. You are me and I am you.”
Defending this way of life and the millenary ancestral consciousness, and being a woman or inhabiting a diverse body, continues to be a reason for risk and multiple discriminations in Guatemala today. For these reasons PBI began to provide international support to the women human rights defenders that make up the Network of Healers in 2018.
On this occasion, Lorena, Álex and Telma wove the conversation and shared how the Network of Healers have adapted to the to the new reality imposed by the quarantine by providing support to the women’s rights defenders at political risk from a distance.
PBI: What has the onset of a viral pandemic in a country like Guatemala, which was already characterized by a political and social context of exclusion and violence particularly towards indigenous peoples and women, meant for women human rights defenders like you?
AV: The onset of the pandemic has been a worry and has forced us to take measures to protect our health. From the first moment we heard of the state-led measures to deal with the pandemic, however, our worries about the virus became secondary. Our personal and political concerns as a Network of Healers focused on the resistance of the peoples and on how to overcome our personal and collective resistance even with the limits imposed by the quarantine.
Knowing how this racist and patriarchal state has criminalized, persecuted and murdered human rights defenders, we always knew there would come a time when we would have to support ourselves and other sisters through very difficult emotional and spiritual processes.
On the first day the government announced measures that would impact on our political actions, we held a ceremony, asking our ancestors to protect our mental, spiritual and emotional health that would sustain us if we were affected by the virus, but also in relation to our political actions, so they might support us in facing the impacts of government measures on our resistance, our struggles and our daily life. We asked for this mental, spiritual, physical and emotional strength because we knew that very difficult memories would be awakened for the women human rights defenders.
Personally, when the pandemic began, I went to the market to buy as many plants, incense and candles as possible. The second thing I did was prepare vinegar, tinctures, and other elements that I believe are essential for my wellbeing. Among the political actions I took, one of the first was to make my own healing elements for myself. This gave me a lot of strength and power.
TO: As the weeks went on, we saw how within the context of the quarantine the emotional and physical situation of women across the different territories worsened and how the need for accompaniment increased.
LC: in the territories we see how, not only women, but also grandparents, ancestral doctors and diverse communities are joining together through daily healing processes, which are part of the ancestral wisdom of our peoples that have been preserved through the oral memory of spiritual healing. If there were no women in the communities today taking on the healing processes against the virus, the health system of the colonial Guatemalan state would have collapsed even more than it already has.
PBI: Speaking specifically about the Network of Healers, what has the pandemic and the measures established to contain it meant for you? How has the support you provide changed?
AV: Despite the state measures that have impacted on our daily lives, it was vital for me to continue our accompaniment as human rights defenders. As a Network of Healers we have been accompanying sisters from Africa, the Lenca sisters in Honduras, sisters from the Mexicali territory and in diverse aboriginal territories across the world. In my case, I provided close accompaniment to the Q'anjob'al sisters and sisters from the Q'eqchi' and Poqomchí peoples. Despite the state measures, women human rights defenders have demonstrated political reciprocity, creativity and awareness. Seeing this has been vital for me, because it has allowed me to continue taking actions without putting myself or other colleagues at risk. And I'm not just talking about the health risk due to the pandemic, but about the political risk due to the application of state measures that specifically violate the reality of women defenders. Over the course of these months, we have had to accompany each other at a distance, through calls, which have sometimes lasted more than five hours, where we have provided support by listening. On another occasion, I had to record myself on video while encouraging the spirit of the colleague I was supporting in front of the fire, and only later sharing the video with her. Other times I have used a photo accompanied by a text that will help me to encourage the spirit of my colleague and to provide her with ideas. Providing accompaniment like this has been very difficult but at the same time it has filled me with joy because it has made me feel less enclosed and co-opted by the colonial nation state and its decisions. Although there is a lot of sadness and a great need to rethink an endless number of things at the political level, I celebrate all that we have managed to do and the imagination and political creativity that we have discovered to continue accompanying ourselves.
TO: The Network of Healers spiritually and physically accompanies women from across our territories and from our political struggles who have undertaken political risks in their defense of the land, territory, natural goods, and the women’s rights. The Network accompanies by threading the memory of our grandmother’s ancestral knowledge and the medicinal, spiritual and political wisdom they left us. It is important to braid these threads from the memory of our ancestral knowledge, to share the knowledge of plants, ancestral soaps, oils and different medicinal herbs that exist across the peoples and territories. We also accompany by sharing medicinal recipes, ancestral soaps and natural oils to support our colleagues whose circumstances have, in many ways, been aggravated because of the Covid-19 quarantine. But also, as Álex mentioned, we have been able to use the internet to remain spiritually connected with the collective light of our ceremonies by accompanying women defenders in the different territories, our candles are lit across our territories,
LC: We are accompanying some cases of COVID but we are also awakening the immunological memory in the communities. For us, it is important to do engage in political healing, not only now because of the coronavirus, but before as well. For example, our peoples did not consume sugar. It is not in our ancestral memory. Sugar is one of the capitalist colonial impositions that was introduced into the life of the ancestral peoples. It is extremely addictive and that is terrible to our liver, pancreas, veins and arteries. One thing we recommend, whether or not we have symptoms, is for people to reduce their intake of sugar. It is something to work on politically, relating the fact that the lands where the large plantations that cultivate sugar cane have been usurped by landowners for producing monocultures. The healing processes also involves detoxification processes. In relation to the coronavirus, this is necessary if we have the disease but also as a preventive process, since sugar is propitious for viruses and bacteria. We also emphasize the importance of reducing the levels of saturated fat that we eat. This can be a political act by stimulating another dimension of consciousness that links these daily acts with the memory of the dispossession that we have experienced as people. We relate this diet to how the nutritional memory of the people is being destroyed. Processed products are displacing our relationship with fruits, tubers, seeds, flowers, buds, leaves. This diversity of plants, which is what our people have always eaten, help strengthen the immunity that is the answer to resisting the attacks of viruses and bacteria with which we have lived for millions of years. What happens is that today the irresponsibility of power over nature has changed the cycles of life, polluting the waters, the air, the earth. So viruses and bacteria have other manifestations in our bodies. The manipulation of viruses and bacteria also has a root in capitalism. If we awaken our nutritional memory, it will help us to have strengthened bodies against COVID.
PBI: What are the main concerns that the Network of Healers has at this time?
AV: Women human rights defenders have many worries and fears in the face of the pandemic, government measures and quarantine. It is important to be clear that there has been a conscious effort to generate pandemic fear that has become global. It is a tool for world population control. Remember that when fear is welcomed into the body, it will cause our body to produce hormones, including cortisone, that cause stress and generate tension. The wisdom of the peoples calls us to reflect that fear is a tool of control. We need to heal not only COVID and the fear that COVID gives us, but heal the impacts of extractivism, the power relations over bodies.
LC: One concern is that this pandemic and the quarantine is marking our bodies with a memory that we have to examine in the medium and long term. In the case of human rights defenders who have been given protection due to the risks we suffer, perhaps in refuges or outside our territories, we are experiencing a double quarantine, the legalized one and the one that we experience due to political risk. The quarantine and the measures taken as part of the State of Calamity also awaken painful memories from the States of Siege used during the period of the war against insurgents.
PBI: Is there any concrete suggestion the Network has for the human rights defenders you accompany at a distance?
LC: We urge you to go out in nature, to grow your own plants and to carry out conscious breathing processes with plants, for example with basil, which is a natural antibiotic. This helps us to harmonize with nature and also works as prevention against coronavirus and even in other illnesses. Connect the healing memory with the plants in this lain ut laat, laat ut lain. In a context in which life is at risk, we need to develop the awareness that our body and corporality need to be strengthened through conscious eating and the use of plants that awaken ancestral memory and complement the contributions of medicines. We are weaving a network of plants that sustain people while they are medicating with Western medicines. We are going through a time when we have to use both medicines, without losing awareness of what capitalist drug can mean for our communities.
AV: We call on our sisters to not forget to take off our shoes on earth, that we do not forget to cry before the fire, laugh before the fire, share our gratitude, that we do not forget the principles from our cosmogony. To take advantage of this time to bring awareness and not return to the habits of pollution and exploitation, but to recover our relationship with plants, water and stones and heal in a cosmic sense, putting the body in another energy vibration that allows us to overcome fear with political creativity and calmly acknowledging that we do not know what to do, because this recognition leads us to another dimension for searching. Invite us to recognize our emotional processes and to strengthen the multi-dimensionality that exists in all of us.
LC: We are inviting, calling on our sister human rights defenders to turn to women who carry a plurality of wisdoms in their families and communities, to strengthen their relationships with their elders, grandmothers, ancestral midwives, herbalists, healers, spiritual guides, indigenous doctors, so that they can share their experience of how they have lived and endured other plagues, so that forms and practices of ancient Mayan medicine are passed down orally. We invite children and young people to awaken their healing curiosity and the desire for ancestral ways. We call this "The awakening of the Healing memory of our ancestors", to re-believe, feel, verify that plants and lunar phases, plants and thoughts, plants and neurotransmitters, plants and functioning of the lymphatic and immune system. It is possible to wake up and create immunoglobulins or defenses that collaborate with the body to be encouraged and continue our resistance against the neoliberal and pandemic capitalist patriarchy of Covid19, and against extractive industries, that is, the force and energy for the defense of our land-body-territory.
Because by healing you, I heal, and in my healing, you heal, we all heal.
If you want to know more you can listen to the reflections and recommendations of the Network of Ancestral Healers of Community Feminism from Iximuew for the healing and prevention of covid-19 in this video. (only in Spanish)