Things That Matter

Want To Learn About The Indigenous History Of Your Neighborhood? This New App Will Help You

For all the (let’s be absolutely honest here!) banal uses of social media out there, sometimes developers use the geolocative capabilities of smartphones to make the world a more inclusive place. This app looks at the history of a place and reveals how it was originally organized by the traditional owners of the land before processes of colonization and dispossession reshaped the maps of what is now known as the Americas. Digital media allows us to visualize things that are already there, so next time you step on indigenous land you can quietly acknowledge it. 

Through location, the Native Land app lets you unearth the indigenous heritage of a place.

Credit: Native Land

The app was developed in Canada, a country which was a complex network of indigenous groups before French and British colonial powers redrew the map. The app can be accessed both through mobile devices (it works on iOS and Android) and through a browser based map. It includes key information such as a group’s language, name and whether the land was ceded (most likely by force or through a deceptive deal) through a treaty. It is a work in progress, so bear with the developers please!

They state before you even start looking for the indigenous past of a territory based on your postcode: “This map does not represent or intend to represent official or legal boundaries of any Indigenous nations. To learn about definitive boundaries, contact the nations in question. Also, this map is not perfect — it is a work in progress with tons of contributions from the community. Please send us fixes if you find errors”. So if you have information that the developers could use to make the app more precise, they are more than open to new findings that could make this collaborative tool a more accurate representation of the indigenous imprint on a place. Ready to find out more about the place that you call home? Click here

Remember: maps are only political and not set on stone, so the map you know was drawn by colonial powers.

Credit: Native Land

Contrary to what we might believe, maps are hardly set on stone. In fact, how a territory is named and where boundaries sit is evidence of historical processes through which lands are taken. Just look at this map of North America and think about all the blood that has been shed by the original owners of the land just so we can identify just three countries today. There were hundreds of discreet ethnic groups in Canada, Mexico and the United States before the European superpowers of Britain, France and Spain landed and created havoc. 

But the past is past, right? So why should we care? Well, we should care, a lot, particularly in today’s political climate. Let’s take this map of the California area as an example.

Credit: Native Land

So why is becoming familiar with the indigenous past of place important? Because it tells us that the borders that exist today are practically a human invention rather than something set on stone, and that unless you have indigenous heritage we are all guests. California, for example, was populated by a wide variety of peoples who were conquered by the Spanish or assimilated into mestizo culture through religion and language. So when white supremacists get all “America for the Americans” on Brown folk, they should be reminded that the land is and has always been indigenous. 

And this map of Australia is just nuts! Can you believe that colonial settlers have tried to make this country fully white and monolingual in the past?

Credit: Native Land

Australia is a young country that nevertheless has faced racism due to the aires de grandeza of some colonial settlers. Even though there has been a formal apology from the government towards aboriginal Australians, and there are constant acknowledgements to the fact that the land was never ceded, there remain great challenges to make the country truly inclusive for those who owned and thrived in the land in the first place. Just looking at this map makes you think of the wide variety of languages and traditions that existed in the island before the Dutch and English arrived

This Indigenous Group From Michoacán Is Getting Ready To Celebrate A Pre-Hispanic New Year: The ‘New Fire’

Culture

This Indigenous Group From Michoacán Is Getting Ready To Celebrate A Pre-Hispanic New Year: The ‘New Fire’

Purépechaoficial / Instagram

With all the Chinese New Year celebrations we saw this week, we wanted to highlight another Spring New Year party. Based on a very different calendar and with very different traditions; the Purépecha people of Mexico are also celebrating a New Year’s celebration soon. And their traditions hail from a distant past.

Each year, the Purépechas light a fire to celebrate the new year, according to the ancient mesoamerican calendar.

Every year, since 1983, the Purépechas of Michoacán celebrate the new year on the nights of the 1st and the 2nd of February. The lighting ceremony of the New Fire, goes back to the pre-Hispanic period.

The Purépechas are descendants of a pre-columbian empire.

Purépechas today, are concentrated in the northwestern part of the state of Michoacán in Mexico. Their calendar is similar to the Mesoamerican calendar —a system that emerged with the Olmecs, and was passed down to Mayans, Zapotecs and Aztecs.

The most widely known version of the calendar is the Aztec version.

The ‘piedra del sol’ is one of the most photographed pieces in the Museum of Anthropology of Mexico City. The use of this calendar was halted in 1521, when the Christian calendar and rituals were implemented by the Spanish.

Like its variants, the Purépecha calendar also consisted of 18 months.

Each month was made up by 20 days, for a total of 360 days in a year. To keep the calendar in alignments with the cycle of the sun, Purépechas would add 5 days periodically —and since they didn’t align with any month, those days were considered ominous.

In 1983, a group of Purépecha intellectuals and community activists reintroduced the use of the old calendar by celebrating its new year.

This date is marked by the night when the constellation of Orion reaches its highest point in the sky. In the past, this meant it was time to make offerings to Kurhíkuaeri, the god of the Sun and of fire. It usually happens on the night of February 1-2.

The Purépecha new year is now celebrated with what is called the New Fire ceremony.

The New Fire ceremony is a Mesoamerican ritual, but originally it was performed once every 52 years, corresponding to the cycle of Pleiades; it was also the day when the civil and ritual calendars coincided.

Today, the New Fire ceremony has been repurposed so that the celebration of the new year can move from town to town in the territory once defined by the Purépecha Empire.

The ritual is carried out in a different town each year. The new village receives the Old Fire from the community that guarded it during the previous year, and lights the New Fire that remains under its protection until it is delivered to the next guardian.

The first time this festivity took place after being reinstated, it was held in Tzintzuntzan.

Since then it has been taking place every year, being an important element for the strengthening and cohesion of the Purépecha people.

The purpose of the festivity, is to keep traditions alive and to rescue cultural elements of the past.

“Even though the New Fire ceremony is the most representative aspect of this indigenous people, it is one of reflection rather than religious or political in nature,” says Patricia Terán Escobar, a researcher at the National Institute for Anthropology and History (INAH). “Some of the objectives are to rescue the collective memory and all the cultural elements of the past, such as the ancient Purépecha tradition of verbally transmitting knowledge from one generation to the next.”

The Purépecha council, Consejo de Cargueros del Fuego Nuevo Purépecha, approved the request for this year’s host.

This year’s Fuego Nuevo celebration was disputed between the villages of Ario de Rosales, Zacapu, Comanja, Erongarícuaro and Capacuaro. The latter was the winner and will be the bearer of the new fire for 2020. The village of Capacuaro was chosen to honor its over 500 years of history.

Capacuaro is one of the most ancient Purépecha communities.

“It was a necessary stop for tradespeople and travelers who were making the journey between Paracho and Uruapan —a trek that took travelers through the mountains, across the ‘sierra P’urhépecha’, a road that Don Vasco de Quiroga, a famous evangelist, often trekked.

This year, the New Fire —aka. New Year ceremony— will take place on February 1 in Capácuaro, which will receive the Old Fire from Cuanajo. Capácuaro is located north of the city of Uruapan, near Paracho.

These Mayan Women Are Reclaiming Their Heritage And Designing The Coolest Products Ever

Things That Matter

These Mayan Women Are Reclaiming Their Heritage And Designing The Coolest Products Ever

Amir Rodrigues / Unsplash

Much has been said about the vulnerable position that indigenous populations in general, and indigenous women in particular, are in when it comes to protecting the intellectual property derived from their traditional designs.

The Mexican Congress recently passed a law through which companies that steal designs from indigenous communities will be subject to hefty fines. The culprits are generally big international brands such as Zara and Carolina Herrera, which should know better when it comes to presenting designs as their own when they are clearly very “heavily inspired” by the work of craftspeople who earn a small fraction of what they should, only to see their designs being sold in hundreds and even thousands of dollars.

So it comes as a welcome surprise to find out some indigenous Mayan women have gotten together to profit from their millenary wisdom and dexterous hands to launch a startup that promises to become a way of living for many of them. 

An entrepreneur, una jefa de jefas, named Nancy Zavala launched a small company, Zavy, that employs Mayan women.

The company’s mission is to help women achieve financial independence through their work. Zavala knows that the key in a small company is specialization and they have focused on a particular product: camera straps. So far 20 women have joined Zavy. As Zavala told El Universal, these women feel a sense of accomplishment as their children see them work and their husbands, who previously “did not allow them” to do so, now also want to help. Women from other Mayan communities have approached Zavala, wanting to join in.

This is a great step for many Mayan women who not only live in an environment with very clearly and strictly demarcated gender roles, but are also part of an indigenous group in Mexico that has historically been discriminated against. Zavala put her heart, soul and money in this enterprise: the first straps were produced entirely with her savings.

Their camera straps are garnering attention among semi professional and professional circles.

The craftswomen receive 50% of the profits and the rest is reinvested in the company to buy materials and strengthen their web presence. They have been able to sell to Mexico. the United States and some Latin American countries. These camera straps are seriously cool and we can see any professional photojournalist use them…. Pero por supuesto.

We did a search on Etsy and found that plenty of pages not run my Mayans are selling “Mayan camera straps.” They either copy the design or “repurpose” other artefacts such as belts or clothing with traditional Mayan embroidery. This is like adding insult to injury: they are reselling objects that took hours for someone to make and sell for a fraction of what these repurposed straps sell on Etsy. This is why initiatives such as Zavala’s are so important. 

Nancy founded Zavy to honor her Mayan heritage.

Nancy was born in the small community of Saye and she grew up watching her grandmother make blouses, shirts and other products in the traditional Mayan style. But she knew that in order to achieve financial independence she had to study. And so she went to university and became one of the members of the 1% of indigenous Mexicans who finish a graduate degree. She got a Bachelors in Project Development, a huge achievement in and of itself. But her journey did not end there and she wanted to inspire other women and get them to be independent as well. And so Zavy was born.

Nancy is 28 years old now and she is doing her Master’s degree in Merida, the capital of her home state of Yucatan. We are sure she will keep using her knowledge to empower indigenous women. 

And Zany is just one among other initiatives that aim to help Mayan communities.

With some classmates, Nancy established a foundation that helps communities develop through applying their traditional knowledge into businesses. In addition to Zany, Nancy and her friends helped Mayan communities establish Biozano, a company that produces natural, organic makeup. 

Some of the women had to drastically change their careers due to unfortunate accidents.

Such is the case of Cecilia Dzul Tuyb, who used to be a police officer before a car crash prevented her from walking for several months. She was risking depression but found solace in traditional knitting. She was contacted by Nancy Zavala and the rest, as they say, is history: Cecilia has found a community of fellow women who do not want to depend economically on anyone else and who value their independence.