Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Before They Pass Away!

On Sunday evening on CNN, of all stations, there was a semi-documentary about a man traveling to places that are difficult to reach.  Because of that difficulty, in many instances, the indigenous are left alone to live the lives with the customs from "forever before".

The man commentating on this segment was Bill Weir.  The man with him was the photographer Jimmy Nelson who has made it his mission in life to document the indigenous tribes of the world in their best ceremonious ways for posterity.

On this segment they had traveled to remote islands of Vanuato.  Traveling by plane, then boat and then planchas or dug out canoes, they reached some tribes that I have never heard of or seen.

I too have always been entranced by the indigenous of the world.  I've read whatever I could get my hands on.  Along with that I have traveled throughout Mexico and Guatemala and even the USA to see tribal ceremonies.  At some of these ceremonies there have been only a handful of spectators.  One near Durango, Colorado comes to mind.  I sat in a tall grass field for hours and hours and hours.  It was mesmerizing.

This series on Sunday talked with some of the people who were the tribesmen and women of the various areas.  The question relayed at one point, as they talked about how tourism will change their life, was  what will you do with all the money that you make.  One man wanted solar panels.  Another wanted a freezer to
keep all the fish they catch.  They all said they would use the money for the collective good of the inhabitants of their area.

The book that Jimmy Nelson has had published from his worldwide travels is called "Before They Pass Away".  Amazon has it for a price slightly over $100USD.  Doubtful I'll be able to afford that, but still its
so wonderful that those traditions and ceremonies have been documented.

In my forty years of traveling around Mexico, I've seen many traditions fall by the wayside in favor of changing them to attract more tourists and therefore more money to help impoverished villages.  It makes
me sad.  I could tell you story after story after story of traditions that no longer exist.

In fact, right here in San Miguel in the last few years, I've seen a change in the tradition of the Day of the Dead.  It is one of the most spiritual and solemn ceremonies in other places in Mexico.  But, here in San Miguel, since they turned it into a La Calaca Festival, it has become something for tourists, not the solemn spiritual tradition.  In fact, they have even introduced the giving of candy to the children in the jardin.  Do they not realize that Halloween has nothing to do with Day of the Dead?  Now adults dress up as skeletons and parade and carouse. The whole thing is a distortion for the benefit of tourism.  How sad since the traditional ceremonies that you see at the cemeteries in and around Patzcuaro, just to name one place, are so authentically spiritual and beautiful that they give one so much more to take home in their hearts and memories.

So thanks to Bill Weir for this new series and especially to Jimmy Nelson who had the forethought to begin his quest of photographing for posterity a long time ago.

I'm grateful that I have seen the ceremonies that I have as well.  Heading to Chiapas next week and hope to be able to photograph and visit with the Lacondon in their area of the jungles that they call their home. They are still nomadic as are the Tarahumara and Huichols, among others.

"Before They Pass Away" can be reviewed on Amazon.  Enjoy.


Barbara Lane said...

Oh my! That book is priced out of my range as well, however after looking at it on Amazon (even the cover photo is mesmerizing!) I called my local library. They don't have it, but the Seattle library does and they are sending it to my library for me. It gave me chills just seeing a few photos on the Amazon pages. Thank you so much for this. I had no idea. Perhaps next time you're in Houston the library there could get it for you.

Anonymous said...

Think of all the nice traditions that are no longer observed in the USA. Many families don't have dinner together every night. Families are geographically spread out. I live on the opposite coast from my family. How about people putting on their "Sunday best" for church? Two-earner couples barely raise their own kids any more, outsourcing it to day care centers, boarding schools, and other parent-substitutes while mom & dad are working.

It's not just indigenous people who are trampled by the march of time. Sure, they can oftentimes be faced with incredible cultural pressure from exposure to more advanced civilizations, but it's affecting us all.

Sometimes one has to wonder about the concept of "progress."


Kim G
Boston, MA
Where we think George Orwell set a date about 40 years too early, but was otherwise 100% correct.

Unknown said...

oh, thank you for speaking up. i thought it was just me, but I was in town right before and after the La Calaca Festival, and glad to have missed it's ugly aberration. So cheesy and shallow.

norm said...

I like to pick out places that are at the end of the pavement on my trips. Those secluded places always have a different feel or vibration. Latin America has no end to such places. I tell people-"See them before they're gone" because they will be.

Jvineyard said...

The last time I was in SMA I observed a procession that went down the little street in front of the Hotel Real de Minas with "native indians?" playing instruments, banging drums, singing, decorated with facial paint, all ages, doing a march that included a circle spin every so many steps. I think there was a cemetry further down the street. J

Retired Teacher said...

In the best of all worlds, people would adopt the most beneficial aspects of modern life, but still maintain their traditions. Unfortunately that has never been the case throughout history. There has always been "cultural imperialism" in which some dominant culture (the Roman Empire, Christianity, Spanish conquistadores, the British Empire, American consumerism, etc.) have imposed their way of life on others. And today, with modern communications and transportation, that is much more far reaching.

Enjoy your trip to Chiapas!

Gilda said...

I, too, lament all of this contamination of the culture. And when children approach me for candy, I yell at them and tell them it is NOT Halloween. It's Dia de los Muertos, go home and honor your dead! I wish Americans would stop handing out this candy.

Babs said...

Barbara Lane, what a great idea. I had not thought of that.Of course, I don't have a library card in Houston anymore. Probably haven't had one since the kids have grown up, but, someone will! Thanks

Babs said...

Good point about family traditions Kim.
But I'm talking more about the ceremonies to the gods and things like that that have been held for thousands of years and are being obliterated by encroaching civilization.
I wish everyone could have seen that documentary. They talked about turning down $300,000 USD from a developer who wanted to build a big hotel on one of the islands! They said, "What would we do with money?" and the women of the tribe vetoed the whole idea. YEAH, but that won't always happen, sadly and for those of us that haven't seen these indigenous ceremonies, they'll be lost forever for us and them.

Babs said...

Dana, some day we'll talk in depth about the "cheesy and shallow" celebration that is promoted by someone who doesn't even live in SMA!
I'm appalled by it as are many, many local Mexican families. Their tradition of spirituality and reverence for the departed has been hijacked in the name of making money!

Babs said...

I do too Norm, I do too. Unfortunately, lots of people don't want to go through the inconvenience of getting to these places, like my 6 hour drive to go down into the canyon at Batopilas to see the Tarahumara. How far? 90 miles!

Babs said...

JVineyard, yes there is a cemetery down that street. Those were probably the Aztecan dancers honoring someone who had passed or a certain date of importance.

Babs said...

Gilda Carbonara, I'm horrified that you would yell at children who are asking for candy. After all, those children would not know to do that if the ex-pats had not brought that tradition to San Miguel.

Babs said...

Bill, this documentary was fascinating because some of the people in some of the villages had cell phones!But once they are inducted into a culture of material items and money, it is difficult to maintain the traditions on a regular basis. I so hope that show is on again for all to see.
I will have a wonderful time on my return trip to Chiapas. I've found out about a huge orchid sanctuary as well!