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!

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Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro Blames Indigenous Tribes For Amazon Fires

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Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro Blames Indigenous Tribes For Amazon Fires

jairmessiasbolsonaro / Instagram

President Jair Bolsonaro is blaming the indigenous community for the fires that raged in the Amazon. The fires set off international outrage as the rainforest faced unprecedented destruction by out of control fires. President Bolsonaro went against the rest of the international community during a speech to the U.N.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro wants the United Nations to know that indigenous people were responsible for the Amazon fires.

In a remote session opening the U.N. General Assembly, President Bolsonaro spoke at length about the indigenous communities starting the fires. He also used the speech to speak out against the criticism his administration is receiving over his environmental policies and his response to Covid. Brazil is currently the second most infected country in the world with the second highest death rate.

The Amazon has experienced increased fires since President Bolsonaro took office.

For the first seven months of 2020, 13,000 sq. km. (5,019 sq. miles) of the Brazilian rainforest have burned. This year saw the second-highest level of fires on a global scale with fires raging across the Amazon, Australia, and the West Coast of the U.S.

President Bolsonaro openly contradicted expert findings to fit his narrative.

President Bolsonaro claims that the humidity of the forest contains the fires. According to President Bolsonaro’s speech, fires in the Amazon only happen in certain areas because of how well the humidity can keep the fires in check.

“The fires practically occur in the same places, on the east side of the forest, where peasants and Indians burn their fields in already deforested areas,” Bolsonaro said.

President Bolsonaro’s speech touches on the environmental record his administration is known for.

The Bolsonaro administration has made dismantling environmental and indigenous rights since taking power. The administration has worked to limit the amount of land available to indigenous people and to open up Amazonian rainforest to miners, loggers, farmers, developers, and other uses that are damaging and contributing to the fires. Deforestation by these industries are largely to blame for the out-of-control wildfires that burned for a very long time in the Brazilian Amazon.

Activists are getting ready to fight for the indigenous community and the rainforest.

“We must denounce this political catastrophe that destroys the environment and our future,” Sonia Guajajara, head of Brazil’s main Indigenous umbrella organization, to NBC News.

READ: Under Bolsonaro, The Brazilian Amazon Has Reached Record-Breaking Levels Of Deforestation

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Greta Thunberg Is Donating $114,000 To The Brazilian Amazon

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Greta Thunberg Is Donating $114,000 To The Brazilian Amazon

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Greta Thunberg’s activism has mobilized hundreds of thousands of people across the globe to make the world a better place. She first gripped the attention of people the world over when she began holding climate strikes and further captured awareness a year later when she was 16. At the time she condemned political leaders like Donald Trump and Boris Johnson in a speech for their part in the environmental crisis.

Now, even as the world seems to be on pause with the current pandemic, Thunberg is showing no signs of slowing down with her efforts

The teen climate activist announced that she will donate a portion of a $1.14 million prize she received to fighting the ongoing coronavirus crisis in the Brazilian Amazon.

Earlier this week, the teen activist won the very first Gulbenkian Prize for Humanity for her role in environmental activism. The prize was launched by Portugal’s Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation.

In a video posted to her Twitter account, Thunberg accepted the honor and said the winning prize was “more money than [she] can even begin to imagine.” The large amount inspired Thunberg to give the money away through her foundation. Thunberg says that she will give $114,000 to SOS Amazônia, an environmental organization that CNN says is “working to protect the rainforest that also works to fight the pandemic in indigenous territories of the Amazon through access to basic hygiene, food, and health equipment.”

Thunberg will also donate $114,000 to the Stop Ecocide Foundation.

The foundation works to make environmental destruction (or ecocide) a recognized international crime. Thunberg explained in her Twitter announcement that the rest of the prize money will be given to causes that “help people on the front lines affected by the climate crisis and ecological crisis especially in the global South.”

One hundred and thirty-six nominees from forty-six countries were considered for the prize that Thunberg was ultimately selected for.

The Chair of the Grand Jury Prize, Jorge Sampaio, explained in the announcement for the winner that Thunberg was selected for her effort to “mobilize younger generations for the cause of climate change.”

It’s not the first prize that Thunberg has won in recent months. Earlier in May she was honored with a $100,000 award for her activism and donated all of it to UNICEF “to protect children from the Covid-19 pandemic.” The award was given to her by Denmark’s Human Act foundation.

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