News From Kathy And Phil Dahl-Bredine In Oaxaca January-February, 2015
We have had the unique privilege of walking in the indigenous culture here for the last 14 years. It has been a great learning experience for us and has truly changed many of our ways of seeing the world. But it has also given us the opportunity to see our U.S. and western culture more clearly from the outside. Surprisingly, with our wars, consumerism, corporate trade deals , and our torture centers, we appear somewhat barbaric from within this other
And yet we tend to continue to unconsciously measure who is “civilized” much the way the first European colonizers did over 5 centuries ago: by wealth and technological (often military) prowess. The last 6 centuries of western history suggest that neither our money nor our technology will civilize us and help us repair our relationships with one another, with other nations, and with the planet we share with a glorious array of living species.
Ironically, those who western culture then and now judge to be less civilized, the indigenous peoples of the Americas, have a civilization project to suggest to the West. Here in Oaxaca it is has been called “comunalidad”, or communality. In the Andean nations it is called “el buen vivir” or living well.
The tsotsil people of Chiapas call it “el lekil kuxlejal”. Indigenous communities there isolated the basic civilatory, philosophical, and moral principles of this advanced way of living:
Ich’el ta muk means we take ourselves and others as of great importance and dignity worthy of respect, good works, and reciprocal help.
Ta Ko’ol ich’el muk means that we not only mutually take each other as of great importance and dignity, but we also take all living things and the Mother Earth as of equal dignity and importance. The human being is not superior to the earth, but a small and passing part of her.
Co mon ts’unbajel emphasizes the importance of doing work together, be it in the fields or in the village. Ko’ol ambtel means we share work equally in the family and in the community. Complementarity and unity,
rather than competition, should guide our community and family life.
Komon patan ambtel, or voluntary work to support the community, is also an essential part of living well together.
Komon k’anbail signifies the mutual acceptance and the mutual love we must share, and this love must be expressed practically in reciprocal giving and sharing and in a commitment to one another.
Komon k’elbail represents our need to care for and about each other , to care for the community and for its mountains, rivers, its animals and its minerals with responsibility and commitment.
Komon k’uxumbail describes the mutual esteem we must have for each other and the mutual solidarity that makes us feel for each other from our hearts.
Komon k’in indicates the importance of sharing community fiestas. Celebrating together and sharing together solidifies our commitment to live together and enjoy being with one another.
Komon ve’el , sharing meals together as a family and community and especially when there is economic need, is part of living well together.
Komon chapanel, lekil chapanel is community problem and conflict solving with a sense of the common good, instead of individualism and separatism.
All the good struggles that we North Americans are involved in, from stopping the wars, to ending the attack on the environment, from building new local economies, to ending racist public policies and police behavior, can take hope from this indigenous vision. The human family clearly has sources of deep wisdom to help us move to a different kind of future.
Here these indigenous cultures which have such high and civilized principles and understandings about life are, nevertheless, threatened economically and culturally. We and the people of the village of Yukuyoko are trying to meet both of those threats with small cooperative projects and a promotion and clarification of the cultural and economic values that still permeate life here. A small nursery project once again sold nochebuenas (the Christmas plant “discovered” by the Frenchman who gave it it’s name in the north, Poinsetta) and there are 11 new small greenhouses in the community to produce vegetables for sale in the new farmers market project in Tilantongo. Ferro-cement cisterns caught the summer rains that will be used to irrigate the vegetables. And, of course, the new bilingual book, Milpa! From Seed to Salsa will be out this spring to reinforce the vital importance of the Mixtec culture’s agriculture and culinary traditions, as well as its vision of community life. Hopefully, this indigenous way of life can grow and prosper so that perhaps one day it can “bring civilization” to our Western world.
Many thanks, and we always love hearing from you.
Peace and Blessings to you all,
Phil and Kathy
(Mexico address: Apdo 29, Nochixtlan, Oaxaca, 69600, Mexico, firstname.lastname@example.org