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an anarchist's wet-dream
by a nony mouse helper
14 Mar 2002
tHe author adventures to Equador and wakes up to ideas and lifestyles which affirm and inspire his once waning anarchist ideals. excerpt: "If you crush this leaf over here and drop it in water, the fish fall asleep and float to the surface... Or this type of termite: If you stick your hand in their nest and crush the bodies against your skin, it keeps the bugs away..." [he] literally knew the name, the uses and the stories behind every single plant we passed. When I asked him how he knew so much about so many plants, he turned to me and said, "I should know these plants. They are my neighbors, my family."
NOTE: This text is an excerpt from this space:
poster's note: what begins as some pretty cynical thoughts about holding anarchist ideals in today's world ends with this gem! (edited and "chopped up" into paragraphs for easier reading)
With a benign sense of resignation and a heartsick gut, I fled the snows of the Cascadian winter and headed of to warmer climates. I had no idea I was to experience things that would highlight the validity of my [anarchist] politics like so many thousands of flaming churches.
A heavy pre-dawn mist waited in from the Andes, swirling its way through the stagnant air, pausing only slightly as it clung desperately to the overgrown jungle along the banks of the Rio Napo. A pair of bats the size of pit bulls bickered back and forth overhead as our canoe slid silently through the muddy brown water. After too many days dodging buses and riot cops in Quito, it was quite a descanso to sit idly by with my partner Mamy watching kilometer after kilometer of wild jungle pass as we plummeted downhill with the river on its tireless journey Eastward. Within a matter of days, the Rio Napo would gouge its way through the artificial boundaries of Ecuador, Peru, and Brazil before conjugating with the glorious Amazon and washing into the saline bliss of the Atlantic ocean. But for now, the river was gracefully carrying us to a small Quiche Indian village 30 miles downstream like a giant liquid freight train.
Mamy and I, both being tree hugging eco-nerds, were super excited about seeing the virgin rainforest on the Southern side of the Equator. However, unlike the pale skinned tourists with towering backpacks and fancy shoes, things for us werenít as simple as plopping down $200 for a week long jungle adventure. In fact, after pooling the entire contents of our pockets together, we had $3 between us, not anywhere near enough to get us one of the jungle retreat yoga yuppie lodges. In fact, we didnít even have enough between us to guarantee passage out of the dreary little town. However, the best experiences traveling always come about through unexpected twists and good old fashioned improvisation.
Luckily, the duena of our dingy pension [(place to stay)] happened to have a brother, Chuato, who knew some native guide just downstream and who just happened to drive a canoe. A small child was sent to wake Chuato out of his drunken slumber in a hammock nearby and after a few minutes of haggling in broken Spanish, a "tour" was arranged.
After 45 minutes of dodging rapids and keeping a watchful eyes out for schools of piranha that could supposedly devour a whole cow in less than 30 seconds, we spun a sharp turn around a rock riffle and up a small tributary. The tributary narrowed and we abandoned the boat for a brief trek through knee deep mud. But we hadnít come 4000 miles to be denied a chance to see jungle just because we were short a bit of cash. Luck was with us and without incident we passed through a dense stand of twisted metapalo trees and into a small clearing lined with thatch huts. Chuato vanished for half an hour to track down our guide, leaving Mamy and I to make small talk with a group of men lounging outside the largest of the huts.
No sooner had I struck a conversation with a half naked, unemployed logger when our canoista slogged through the muddy trail, a stout man of maybe 5í2íí following a few yards behind, Chuato went to bum a cigarette from one of the lounging men as the stout man stepped forward. His bare torso rippled with muscles and his dark oaken skin was speckled with slivers of plants and dirt. A machete dangled flirtingly around his hip. i bet none of those yuppiesí tour guides had got done cutting banana stalks at the start of the tour.
"You wanna see some jungle?" he asked politely in broken Spanish. We nodded.
"My name is Franklin and I live in a village just North of here. The timber companies cut most of the huge trees and my people moved out here from where Puerto Misahualli now is 70 years ago, so if itís virgin forest you want to see, I canít really help you. But what we have is still very much alive and keeps us alive."
The gold-plated smile stretching across his weathered face was reassuring enough for us to follow him through an orchard of cocoa trees and into selva amazonica. Although the area had been heavily logged in the 1970ís and 1980ís, the forest had reclaimed every lost foot. As soon as the cultivated rows of cacao and platano faded to our rear, the forest engulfed us in a snarled canopy of trees, vines and epiphytes so dense that they seemed to grow later by several hours. Our borrowed rubber boots groaned agonizingly with every step through 6íí deep mud, while Franklin identified the plants and animals that had sustained his people over the past five millennia.
"If you crush this leaf over here and drop it in water, the fish fall asleep and float to the surface... Or this type of termite. If you stick your hand in their nest and crush the bodies against your skin, it keeps the bugs away... Or when a woman is having difficulty bleeding from illness or unwanted pregnancy, she sends her husband out to harvest this plant which makes her bleed... Or these ants here are good to eat of youíre tired or sore (the 1/2íí long ants tasted like sweet lemons and crawled around in my mouth for a good 15 minutes)... Or these fronds here are good for building houses or cooking... Or these roots are a special dessert... Or this spider over here keeps us from dying of fever... Or these over here..."
Franklin literally knew the name, the uses and the stories behind every single plant we passed. When I asked him how he knew so much about so many plants, he turned to me and said, "I should know these plants. They are my neighbors, my family. Without them, neither my people nor I would be here. I know hermana spider as well as I know my own children."
We passed through stands of massive ceibas, trees with snarled trunks the size of whole suburban tract homes. Past ant colonies three stories high, filled with busy little antsí who could kill a grown man with one bite. Past mobile strangler figs and small streams full of brilliant silver fish. Under whole ecosystems who survive without ever touching the ground, supported by the tireless generosity of their woody stemmed neighbors. Past natural plots of yucca and stunning flowers that make Mapplethorpe shit himself. Past plants bearing sweet fruits and powerful medicine and lethal poisons. It was Edenís grocery store, pharmacy and armory all wrapped up in one giant respiring body. But one thing struck me as odd. As much as Franklin had told us about the plants and animals of the forest, he hadnít mentioned a thing about himself or his village. We paused for a moment while Mamy struggled to dislodge her estranged rubber boot from a puddle of quicksand. "
So Franklin, all these plants and things are cool, but how is life for you, for your people?" He gave me a funny look.
"Youíre the first white person that has ever asked me that. Usually all people want to see are the trees and plants. Itís like they want roads bring in people who destroy our land and hurt our people. When the roads come, we must move or die. Eventually we will have to leave here and head further East. But for now, things are good. We have our small fields of banana, cacao, yucca, and a little bit of corn. And then we have the jungle. These provide all of our food except for our rice which we buy", he smiled. "With the money we make taking gringos on nature tours."
The winter of 2000 was a hard one for most of Ecuador. Everywhere one ventured, the people wore frowns of anxiety. The neo-liberal model, coupled with a corrupt bureaucracy and years of industrial exploitation had taken their toll on the Ecuatorianos. The economy was in shambles and for the landless masses, every meal might very well may be their last. It was the exact same conditions which had inspired so many dozens of revolutions in the region over the years. Perhaps this would be one of those years.
I asked Franklin what he thought of the dolarization process by which the Ecuatorian sucre was being discarded in lieu of the omnipotent U.S. dollar. He laughed, "It doesnít matter what the money looks like. As long as we have the ants and fish and jungle and a little bit of cacao, we can survive anything. The people in the cities fear the future greatly, but for us, it isnít a big deal... As long as they leave us alone."
"You must have to work a lot to live off the land like this." I queried.
"Oh yea," he said with a sincere look. "Some days we have to work FOUR hours a day. But usually we work two or three."
My jaw dropped and I shook my head in disbelief. He shot my question back at me with a laugh.
"How much do you work?"
"Ten or twelve hours a day."
He chuckled a deep belly laugh. "For what? What do you gringos need that makes you work so much of your life away?" I tried to explain taxes and mortgages and the temporal costs of living in the most prosperous nation in the world, but he kept shaking his head and muttering locos under his breath.
Subconsciously trying to defend my ridiculous work habits, I asked him another question. "Well if you only work three hours a day, what do you do with the rest of your time?" A look of seriousness entered his eyes.
"We rest. And talk with our neighbors. And teach our children." He looked around to make sure Mamy wasnít listening and grinned a huge grin. "And we make love a lot."
As the sun plummeted behind the protective shadows of the Andes and we headed back upriver with a hung-over Chuato, my mind raced. We had just taken a walk through an anarchist wet-dream. A self sufficient and rabidly independent culture that had survived outside the capitalist paradigm for thousands of years. A culture without cops or militaries that was apparently more or less egalitarian (at least as much as any anarchist scene Iíve ever seen). A culture that exemplified mutual aid and a symbiotic respect for Nature. The first living footnote I have ever seen of the things John Zerzan and Claude Levi Strauss wrote about. A paradise that at once inspired the shit out of me while simultaneously making me jealous as hell.
Fuck the Steelworkers and tedious coalitions with asshole Marxists. Fuck getting old and giving up. Fuck the upper class liberal ass kissers in the Direct Action Network. What I experienced in the jungles of the Amazon was a living case that we ARE right and that we are right without selling the soul of our convictions to whatever group is in style at the moment. Living self sufficiently without armies and pigs telling us what to do and killing our friends isnít some ideological pipedream, but a day to day reality for thousands of people who live outside the capitalist model of urban oppression.
There are places on Earth where anarchist ideals are practiced everyday that can and should stand as gleaming examples of what is possible in our own country, in our own lives. It is up to us here, in the most privileged (and therefore possible) nations on Earth, to get to work against progress and get back to the roots of anarchism; self-reliance, autonomy and independence.
It is up to us to derail the plans of global capital not by hoping to subvert the system through impotent street demos and bad three word chants, but by reclaiming the land and resources requisite for freedom. It is up to us to exchange our rhetoric for real tools and get to work and get to work reclaiming our freedom and the integrity of Nature. We are right and with the right amount of organization and perseverance there is nothing we canít accomplish. !Hasta la final!
concluding comment by posting person (not author above):
It seems to me that the most important tool of any resistance community is to become aware of the games being played upon comparibly weaker groups by authoritarian or terroristic power (re: diplomacy and State politics as usual). If we are able to understand that such is a *war game* being played against us, we can begin, collectively, to avoid and do jiu-jitsu (let the strength of an attack act as its own momentum to play itself out), and ultimately keep our desires intact.
And instead of being stuck in trusting our so-called "leaders" (who themselves are often uncritical products of the kinds of institutional educations which perpetuate existing ideologies of imperialism--at home and abroad), we re-learn the concept that *WE CAN* be our own leaders and actionists.
Finally, we've got to learn from history/herstory; from the situations that have continually worked to divide and conquer meaningful community in ways we're quite aware of (re: victimization of indigenous) to ways which we often seem to forget the value of (re: intergenerational connections in the "1st world"). And, what major concepts we can glean from history/herstory we can see perpetuated in slightly different forms today, like the concepts of "colonization" vs "development". If we can learn to do something like "connect the dots" of root similarity in the way invasive mindset continues to *over and over* play its ideology out, we can more seriously undermine it and not allow it to absorb us.
Sources of history/herstory which I've found excellent:
Cultural Survival Quarterly (magazine) (recent issue on the Maroons)
Bud and Ruth Schultz (more contemporary; interviews)
Studs Terkel (more contemporary; interviews)
Ward Churchill (NOTE: I look forward to an anarchist critique of his writings/analysis instead of the personal attacks now prevalent)
persons whose ideas excell in promoting increased autonomous thought:
John Trudell (re: resistance consciousness)
Noam Chomsky (re: intellectual self-defense)