Cloud Forest Conservation begins with Community.
Community Cloud Forest Conservation alleviates poverty and protects cloud forests through education, reforestation, academic scholarships, agricultural development, food security, income generation and holistic community / human development.
In many cases throughout the developing world, environmental degradation can be linked to conditions of extreme poverty. Poverty and lack of education create environmental problems. Wide spread degradation of natural resources deepens poverty.
Environmental and social concerns are inextricably woven together. M. Jeanrenaud, 1999
Our work focuses on the villages of the central highlands that border the cloud forests of the Sierras: Yalijux, Caquipec, Xucaneb and Sacranix. CCFC works with local partner organizations at a grass roots level in 60 villages.
Community means neighbor helping neighbor, mutual aid and sharing. CCFC's work both fosters community and depends on community. Working with and through community is the best way to alleviate poverty and improve quality of life.
The population of the remote, rural villages of Guatemala's central highlands is solidly Q'eqchi' Maya. In these villages few speak Spanish. The world view, or cosmo-vision, is uniquely Maya. One cannot understand the central highlands without entering into this cosmo-vision. The community: the families, women and men, youth and children, schools and churches, mountains and valleys, forests and fields, caves and clouds, springs and streams... all things, taken together constitute community. Community encompasses the relationships of neighbor with neighbor and people with land.
Culture, Geography and Environment
Cultural geography and physical geography go hand in hand. Over hundreds of years, Q'eqchi' village life and agricultural practices developed agroecosystems in which families and communities lived and worked. The physical conditions of the environment, the mountains and the mists of Guatemala's central highlands shaped these practices. The mountains shaped the Q'eqchi' Maya.
The mountain was here before we were and will be here long after we are forgotten. Do not be fooled. We are children of the mountain.Village elder of the community of Sesalche'
At the same time, these agricultural practices shaped the environment of the central highlands. The Q'eqchi' Maya shaped the mountains and the mountains shaped the Q'eqchi'. A complex co-evolution took place between a landscape and its people. The dynamic interactions of forest and field, over hundreds of years have left their mark on both the land and its people. As the landscape shaped the Q'eqchi' Maya, their concept of the divine creator emerged. Their word for "God" Qaawa' Tzuul Taq'a (Lord Mountain-valley) is an encompassing word meaning not just mountain-valley but everything in between. (In the way that Alpha and Omega means more than two letters of the greek alphabet.)
Community takes into account the human and ecological dimension: society and citizenship, culture and customs, lore and language, religion and rituals, traditions and beliefs. Community development must include society, culture and environment. Community, and especially community development is also about change. Therefore community includes: dreams and desires, plans, aspirations and visions. Community has three times, past, present and future. Therefore community is also about stories and hopes.
Culture and Nature
It is impossible to separate culture from nature.Tariq Banuri
No where is this more obvious than among the Maya. From the names of their villages and the sir names of their families to the dances and legends of their folklore. Animal and plant names demonstrate the prevalence of nature and nature symbolism in Q'eqchi' culture.
Q'eqchi' Maya folklore and legends are full of images from the forest. Jaguars, hummingbirds, dragonflies, monkeys, and eagles populate their ancient stories as they populated their ancient forests. Today these stories are remembered mainly through dances. Deers and jaguares enact part of the creation myth. Bearded masks represent Spanish conquistadors.
It is also impossible to separate culture from geography. The Q'eqchi' Maya people, their story and their place are a large part of their cultural identity.
Nature, Imagination and Culture
How we see nature and how we imagine the natural world around us influences how we treat nature. Our eyes and our imaginations are the filters through which our actions and interactions with nature are determined. To begin to see the beauty of nature is to take an important first step toward appreciation. Along this line, the french novelist wrote:
The whole secret of the study of nature lies in learning how to use one's eyes.George Sand
Learning to use our eyes to see beauty motivates us to appreciate, take care of and protect the beauty we see. Learning to use our eyes to see "deeply" means understanding.
Drawing, painting and photography are exercises that develop the eye. Seeing, recognizing and capturing beauty in the natural world develops appreciation. Science and scientific inquiry are invitations to wonder.
At the heart of the Q'eqchi' Maya culture is a profound respect, one might say, an awe, of the power of the natural world. While one could agree with the sentiment of the awe-inspiring power of nature, one has to immediately admit that nature has little power to defend herself. In fact, we run a great risk when we overestimate the power of nature. Learning to see beauty and training our eyes to see deeply are important steps in the development of an environmental ethic.
CCFC's An Artful Eye Of Appreciation On The Earth focuses on elementary school children and uses drawing, coloring, painting, photography and bio-acoustic work to help children develop an appreciation for the beauty and the complexity of nature.
The pages under the rubric community are brief summaries of some of the discoveries that we have made in our years with the Q'eqchi' Maya in Guatemala's central highlands.
Community, Culture and Nature
The ancient Maya associated the god Itzamnah with the gift of writing. Today the Q'eqchi' Maya associate the goddess Itzamna' with the gift of weaving. For the Q'eqchi' Maya, weaving is like writing. Symbols from their lore, such as hummingbirds, jaguars, and corn plants are woven into the fabric of their blouses. These symbols are worn in daily dress.
The Q'eqchi' Maya understand landscape and community as a seamless cloth. The mountain is as much a part of the community as the family, the school or the hermitage. And the community is as much a part of mountain as the birds that sing in the branches of the ancient trees and the animal glyph-like symbols woven into the blouses of the women. Q'eqchi' weaving brings together the human artistic impulse to create beauty and the cultural mandate to remember. In this sense, weaving not only functions to some degree as something akin to writing, it also provides cultural continuity, connections to the natural world and community identity.
In February of 2011, on a CCFC learning tour to Guatemala's central highlands, photographer and university student Spencer Robins, along with her class visited Sanimtaca. Spencer's remarkable photo shows to intricate work of weaving images into cloth.
The highland village of Sanimtaca is a village of accomplished weavers. Most of the adult women and young women weave for their primary source of income. The hand in this photo is that of Ana Maria Col Caal. As a member of her villages weaving cooperative, Ana earns her living. 2011 is the third year for Ana Maria to receive a CCFC agroecology scholarship. With CCFC's partnership with this village, Ana and her friends have been able to keep going on in school. Ana is now in the 10th grade.
The photo shows the complex work as she keeps track of her many threads.
In the fall of 2010, Ana Maria traveled to western Canada with seven other young women to take part in a cross cultural exchange that included visits to first nations and eco-tour destinations. While in Canada, Ana Maria and her friends gave weaving demonstrations in schools, universities and social gatherings from British Columbia to Saskatchewan.
While in Canada, Ana Maria had the opportunity to learn the traditional weaving of the Sto:lo nation in British Colombia. Ana and her friends were impressed by the continuity of aboriginal weaving traditions. Given a chance to try weaving Ana took to the Sto:lo techniques immediately.
Ana is proud of her cultural heritage. She loves to weave, especially projects that challenge her abilities and push her to learn new techniques. In 2011, Ana elected to specialize in computer science.
Music and dance play an important role in community ritual. Every year communities gather together to celebrate the feast day of their patron saint. This ritual called Pabank is accompanied by music and dance. Traditionally, music also accompanied the rituals around planting and harvest. The traditional musical ensemble is the trio of Q'eqchi' harp, violin and percussion. Today, the Q'eqchi' harp is becoming rare. In fact, musical ensembles are generally harder to find than they were ten years ago. Q'eqchi' music is repetitive, almost hypnotic. It is music created to make you loose your mind. Q'eqchi' dance is also repetitive. Dancers sometimes go into a trance like state induced partly by the hypnotic rhythms of harp and drum and partly by alcohol.
Sharing of ceremonial drink from the traditional gourd vessels: Q'eqchi' expressions of religion and faith all involve community. Traditionally, religion was a community action. Both the annual Pabank ceremony as well as in weekly prayers, communities come together in important ways. The experience of the community in religious activities was as important as planting and harvest. In fact, work groups for corn planting and corn harvest are usually organized around the religious community.
Authentic cultural encounter engages every aspect of society, including religion and faith, without taking sides in local sectarian rivalries or seeking to persuade or proselytize. Religion plays an important role in Q'eqchi' Maya culture. To ignore religion would be a mistake.
Ancient Maya pottery shows us how important corn was in ancient religious traditions and rituals. To this day for the Q'eqchi' Maya corn continues to occupy a place of sacred relevance.