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.