Culture

Your ‘Palo Santo-Burning’ Habit Is Causing The Deforestation Of What Indigenous Communities Consider A Sacred Tree

With #Selfcare culture in full swing, Palo Santo has become quite the sensation when it comes to wellness. Instagram users and influencers have been quick to popularize alternative methods of self-care and taking them to the masses —eg. “Cleanse yourself of bad vibes and let the good ones flow in.”

In recent years people have been flocking to crystal shops, yoga studios, shamans and whatnot, to grow their stash of healing and instagram-worthy veladoras, sage bundlescrystalsand other elements of ancient indigenous cultures’ traditions. Well, turns out that one of these ‘trendy’ items is Palo Santo, and the demand for it has started to affect communities and ecosystems —so how about we read about it before we keep ignorantly burning what is an ancient ‘holy’ plant to some communities.  

First off, what even is Palo Santo? 

Palo Santo, is a tree found in Ecuador and Peru. Other varieties of the tree are found in parts of Beazil. Argentina, Paraguay and Bolivia. Palo Santo, which is Spanish for ‘holy stick’, is a sacred tree for indigenous communities and their sacred practices. Shamans traditionally burn Palo Santo sticks in bundles, to cleanse their space and ward off spirits —a tradition which has been commodified and appropriated by self appointed shamans  in the west. 

The ‘holy stick’ has many therapeutic benefits.

The therapeutic benefits of Palo Santo are many— the tree is actually medicinal and healing. The only way to get the full benefit of this tree though, is by letting it die naturally, and allowing it a four to ten year resting period on the forest floor. The highest quality oils form in the aged heartwood, which is used in sacred ceremonies and to heal by specific local cultures.

Why is it a bad thing that we’re all burning it?

Credit: vidaconsciente / Instagram

“Cleanse yourself of bad vibes” read countless marketing emails announcing the cleansing properties of ‘Palo Santo’. For a few years now, wellness, beauty and homeware brands have been betting on the “good vibes” that are welcomed into your space by Palo Santo. 

What is a sacred and holy plant to some indigenous communities has now turned into an indie shop trinket. Sacred bundles of Palo Santo can be found everywhere from Urban Outfitters to farmer’s markets, and of course, your Instagram feed. It’s become commonplace to stop scrolling through selfies and vacation posts to see a photo of crystals, sage, and Palo Santo neatly arranged against some marble-top, basic af, backdrop. Sample caption: “Good Vibes Only.”

We should all know better by now. But if you don’t? Consider this your official notice: It’s time to stop burning Palo Santo. Here’s why.

1. It. Is. SACRED.

It is simply problematic to take an element of someone else’s culture simply because you like how it smells, it calms you or because everyone on instagram is doing it. It basically qualifies as cultural appropriation.

Not only are we picking and choosing part of Indigenous cultures that we like, while turning a blind eye to the things we don’t like, trends like this negate the actual importance behind the practice. We’ve turned something sacred into a commercial commodity. And ignoring the meaning that cultures have appointed to Palo Santo for hundreds of years further robs these sacred cultures of their revered traditions.

2.  The Palo Santo tree is currently endangered —and it’s on a watch-list. 

There are no more than 250 mature Palo Santo trees in the wild at the moment. And According to the United Plant Savers Medicinal Plant Conservation, those numbers are plummeting. While the tree is not extinct, it has been added to the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) list due to the over-harvesting that its been subjected to, which can lead to extinction. 

Fun fact: According to sacred beliefs; in order to gain the actual benefit of the tree, a Palo Santo tree should never be cut down, and it should not be sold as a commodity —LOL we’ve played ourselves. If you buy Palo Santo wood from ANY source, then you are contributing to the economic incentive that drives deforestation.

3. Burning the wood without being mindful of how it landed in your #selfcare kit, is the opposite of woke.

Acknowledging Indigenous communities, their traditions and rules when using the plant is key. Working with these communities, establishing a relationship and supporting their livelihood matters. However, most brands either don’t care about the process or have no idea where or how they get their Palo Santo.

There are many alternatives you can use for space cleansing, or for creating a calming atmosphere —just steer clear of Palo Santo and Sage, another vastly appropriated plant. If you find that you want to burn herbs for their beneficial properties, look for alternatives that you can use that don’t affect Indigenous rituals or that harm the earth. 

You can always use herbs that are aligned with your unique heritage and ancestry. Look into your own heritage to participate and continue your rituals. The best thing to do is source herbs that are grown locally, or even better; grow your own!

A New Report Finds That Puerto Rico Is The Most Vulnerable Country When It Comes To Climate Change

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A New Report Finds That Puerto Rico Is The Most Vulnerable Country When It Comes To Climate Change

Credit: Unsplash

According to a new report released on Tuesday, Puerto Rico was the most vulnerable country to extreme weather events over the last 20 years. The grim news comes from the Global Climate Risk Index 2020 by environmental and development organization Germanwatch. The report analyzed various countries and the impacts of weather-related events have had on these areas which include how often the extreme weather events occur and their impact, including death tolls. The study looked specifically at the 20-year period from 1999 to 2018 and the climate change effects that have struck all over the globe. 

In the case of Puerto Rico, the Caribbean island was ranked the highest in terms of being most affected by climate change in those 20 years, followed it was Myanmar and Haiti. Puerto Rico and Haiti were the sole Latin American representatives on the list.  

“The Climate Risk Index may serve as a red flag for already existing vulnerabilities that may further increase as extreme events will become more frequent or more severe due to climate change,” the report reads.

The report makes it clear that countries should look at its findings to serve as a warning sign in order to foresee more frequent or more severe natural disasters in the future.

There is no denying that the earth is getting warmer as record temperatures have struck across the globe over the past five years. This has led many researchers to believe it may be connected to extreme weather events becoming more frequent as a result of this changing climate. Another startling finding in the study shows the number of lives that been lost due to extreme weather events, 526,000, while economic losses have amounted close to $3.47 trillion. 

“In many cases (e.g. Puerto Rico), single exceptional disasters have such a strong impact that the countries and territories concerned also have a high ranking in the long-term index,” the report reads. This relates to the natural disasters that have hit Puerto Rico, most notably Hurricane Maria which struck in the fall of 2017. The Category 4 storm hit the small island and destroyed a majority of it’s electrical grid, homes and killed 2,975, a number that is still being disputed.

The report makes the argument that poorer developing countries have been a frequent target of these natural disasters and the death toll numbers highlight their vulnerability to future weather events. These countries at times rely on loans to deal with the consequences of these climate changes, meaning they will be threatened by excessive indebtedness, which undermines already vulnerable economies. During the 20-year period, Myanmar, 70th in GDP rank, leads all countries when it comes to fatalities per year on average with 7,000 deaths. In relation to financial losses related to the climate crisis, they are significantly greater in wealthier countries. 

Japan was the most weather-affected country in 2018, most notably by rising heat, which has been a relatively frequent effect of this climate change. The country last year was affected by extreme summer heat, killing 138 people, and the most powerful typhoon in 25 years. 

“Recent science has confirmed the long-established link between climate change and the frequency and severity of extreme heat,” the report reads. 

The report has got a lot of people talking about what it means about climate change, particularly how to use this information to prepare for future events. 

Climate change is an issue that should be discussed more frequently and has seen its share of critics. Many have taken to social media to express their frustrations with the report findings and what actions should be taken. 

“For older adults, the changing climate brings heightened vulnerability to environmental risks, temperature changes, and increased susceptibility of disease. However, in #PuertoRico, these vulnerabilities are exacerbated with the health care crisis. We need to talk about this,” one Twitter user wrote. 

The issue has even reached the attention of Democratic candidate Elizabeth Warren who took to Twitter to discuss the importance of listening to the report. She has made climate change one of her key platform issues for her campaign and has vowed to invest money to help curtail this crisis. 

“The devastating impacts of climate change in Puerto Rico have been made worse by decades of neglect and racism. Justice must be at the center of our response to the climate crisis and that’s why I will invest $1 trillion in vulnerable communities,” 

READ: Activists Interrupt Harvard-Yale Football Game To Protest Climate Change And Cancel Puerto Rico Debt Holdings

Seven Men Sentenced To Up To 50 Years For The Murder Of Honduran Environmental Activist Berta Caceres

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Seven Men Sentenced To Up To 50 Years For The Murder Of Honduran Environmental Activist Berta Caceres

Berta Caceres Flores / Facebook

Seven men were sentenced to up to 50 years in prison in a Honduras court on Monday for the 2016 murder of the environmental activist Berta Caceres. Four of the men, Elvin Rápalo, Henry Hernández, Edilson Duarte, and Oscar Torres Velásquez, who were identified as the hitmen hired to shoot Caceres dead in her own home, were sentenced to 34 years in prison each.

An additional 16 years and four months were handed down to them for the attempted murder of Mexican environmentalist Gustavo Castro, who was also with Caceres during the shooting. Three more prison terms of 30 years were handed down to other individuals that played a part in the murder including an officer, an ex-soldier, and a manager of the dam project that Caceres opposed. The three men reportedly paid the four gunmen $4,000 to kill Caceres because of her activism work. 

The slaying of Berta Caceres, then-45, brought international outrage and protests as she became a well-known women’s rights defender and indigenous lands rights activist. 

Caceras, a member of the Lenca indigenous community, may not have been a household name but her impact in the world of environmental rights was certainly felt. She was one of the co-founders of the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras, a grassroots organization that advocates for the rights of indigenous people. Caceras gained notoriety by protesting the company Desarrollos Energeticos (DESA), which had planned to create the $50 million Agua Zarca hydroelectric dam across from the Gualcarque River. Various indigenous communities depend on the river staying clean and healthy and free-flowing to sustain their communities.

“The river is like blood running through your veins. It’s unjust. Not only is it unjust, it’s a crime to attack a river that has life, that has spirits,” Caceres told Aljazeera in 2016. 

The building of the dam would have had major impact on water, food and medicine for her Lenca people and even caused flooding. One of her successful protests included placing a roadblock that halted construction workers from reaching the dam building site. After almost 10 years of opposition, the Chinese state-owned company Sinohydro, who was jointly developing the dam project with DESA, pulled out of the project citing community resistance. 

Her activism and work in stopping the building of the dam gave Caceres notoriety and international attention. Caceres was awarded the Goldman environmental prize in 2015 for her role in preventing the building of the dam. The project was suspended shortly following her untimely death.

Authorities have connected her death directly to her activism work against the failed dam project.

The individuals behind the death of Caceres were connected to executives that were connected to DESA and the failed dam project. The reasoning behind the plotted murder was due to multiple delays and financial losses that were linked to protests that Caceres was behind. Back in November 2018, a Honduran court convicted the seven men for the attack. 

“From the outset, the path to justice has been painful, as our rights as victims have not been respected. These sentences are a start in breaking the impunity, but we’re going to make every effort to ensure that all those responsible – the company executives and state officials identified in the trial – are prosecuted,” Bertita Zúñiga, Cáceres’ second-eldest daughter, said after the men were charged on Monday. 

While Caceres’ family is happy to see some justice be delivered, Zúñiga still believes the real culprits behind her the murder still on the loose. She has previously blamed the Atala-Zablah family, a well-known Honduran business group and DESA shareholders, as the ones behind her mother’s murder. 

“This is a day of pain because the intellectual authors of my mother’s murder are still enjoying impunity,” Zuniga said to reporters. “We are not going to believe that there’s true justice until these people are in jail.”

Despite this tragedy, Zuniga is not letting her mother’s legacy go to waste.

The message that Caceres spread of protecting indigenous communities still lives on according to her daughter, who continues to do similar work. She is committed to keeping her mother’s legacy alive and remembers her for the amazing impact she had on marginalized communities around the globe. 

“I remember her as a hardworking person. But I also remember her with a big smile on her face, because I believe that this struggle cannot be just to martyrize ourselves. We fight with joy and hope because if we do not, more than half of the struggle is lost,” Zúñiga told EarthJustice. “We always say that the image of my mother multiplied because we found her present in the struggle of so many women from so many communities who continue to fight very hard.

READ: Women Of The World Unite To Chant ‘A Rapist In Your Way’ A Chilean Song That Has Sparked A Global Feminist Movement