When a Commemoration IS a Commemoration

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Español Aqui!

I woke-up on Sunday morning to a higher-than-normal feeling of activity and tension in the air. I popped my head around the corner into Juana’s house, and interrupted her cleaning frenzy to ask what was going on.

“The MAPP OEA (Mission to Accompany the Peace Process of the Organization of the American States) is arriving today to film a documentary about their accompaniment of Mampuján. They want to film a commemoration of 13 years of displacement tomorrow and we haven’t even planned anything and nobody really wants to and the power is out and the well is dry and the film crew is arriving in 10 minutes and nobody knows anything!”

I, learning that as I have no control over these things anyways it is better to find them funny than stressful, went back to my house, had a good laugh, and emerged to be present and participate in whatever new madness the day would bring.

After last year’s disaster, no one wanted to plan or be involved in any way with a commemoration. However, it turned out not to be madness after all. During a break in the filming that afternoon, we sat down and planned a simple day. Everyone in the community would be invited and told to bring their own food. The MAPP would provide transportation and as a surprise for people, fried pork would be available.

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Besides the documentary team filming (and it simply would not be Mampuján if there wasn’t something not ordinary going on), the day turned out to be all about the community. We started with a symbolic march or return to Mampuján, where I directed the gritos, which was awesome, until they told me my accent was too noticeable in the filming. Nobody from outside the community, besides four people with cameras was there to impress. There were no big promises about anything, from gifts to food, so only the people who actually wanted to spend the day together and commemorate came. The addition of pork and yuca was simply that, a welcome addition, and people would have returned home happy without it.

The ceremony was simple and heartfelt. Alex gave a welcome, Dellis a prayer, a couple of the youth sang a song about the impacts of the displacement, written last year, two people recited poetry, an important cultural activity, and that was it. And it was beautiful. There were no long speeches and self-congratulations, just community members remembering for themselves and being visibly moved.

Plus, the leaders actually got to enjoy the day! Alex and Gabriel played baseball all afternoon; Juana swam in the creek with her daughters and participated in Gallina Ciega (Blind Hen), the world’s most dangerous version of the piñata. A watermelon is placed on the ground and participants take turns being blindfolded, spun in a circle, handed a machete, walk towards where they think the watermelon is and then attempt to split it open with the machete. I had visions of someone’s head being mistaken for a watermelon, especially as in the excitement of the moment, everyone crowded closer to observe, but thankfully the watermelon ended up being the only object hacked open.

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In the evening, the Communications Collective of the Montes de Maria arrived and set up a projector in the plaza in New Mampuján and whoever wanted to could watch documentaries and videos featuring Mampuján under the stars.

It wasn’t perfect- the government in Cartagena had their own meeting to commemorate the displacement of Mampuján, but neglected to invite the community, which is disrespectful way to take political advantage of a horrible event like displacement. Additionally, the activity in Mampuján would never have taken place if not for the external pressure of a documentary, which continues to raise questions about whose activity it really was and for whom, but it helped the community to recover from their paralysis and trauma of last year. IMG_8708

The whole day gave me hope about the future for the community. The film crew ended up having to leave early and we didn’t miss them at all. We are learning that not everything has to be a big event with tons of resources, but that simple things based on and directed by the community make sense for the community. The act of remembering includes remembering who the community is, what has happened to them, what their strengths and their weaknesses are and then commemorating that essence in a way that makes sense to them. And that is what happened yesterday.
 [Being happy, even if the well has dried up!]

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