The trip for Monday 4th of August can be described with two words: van and colonialism. Those terms seem to be unrelated, but it will all become clear to you after reading this blog!
The day started out in UniTierra, where we started with a small conversation with this man named Restaurador Alejandro Rivadeneyra, an interesting and knowledgeable fellow with a love for mushrooms (ask Beau about this story). Alejandro gave a short, dense and probably unfinished history of the Spanish colonial force when it came to take over Mexico. It became clear then that the day was going to be about the submission and consequent emerging of the indigenous communities of Mexico with the Spanish Catholic tradition. The main goal for the Spanish, after learning that the indigenous people were still people, was to evangalise them to save these estranged ‘children of God’. They submitted the indigenous peoples to becoming Catholics not through violence, but through politics. After the conquest, they made agreements with the peoples in order to build their churches using the tequios, or communal tasks, that were already tradition and mandatory for the indigenous peoples.
When we went to go see some of the churches, about two hours away from Oaxaca City, we were thoroughly disappointed as the church was closed. We did stop for food on the way, but it wasn’t our fault though! This is where the van comes in: up until now, we had never spend so much consecutive time in the van. Of course, this is all preparation for Chiapas. The church was visible from the highway already, it was that big. Churches in itself are most of the times really beautiful: they are made with historical perspective from the creators, because they want to make a monument to last a thousand generations. However what was interesting about this church, is that the indigenous people made it, over the course of 25 years. Because they themselves build it, there was a lot of evidence of the lingering spirituality of the indigenous. For example. a picture of Jesus Christ holding a corn plant: for the Spanish Christians it meant that Jesus blessed the corn, but the indigenous had entered a piece of their own religion into this picture: the corn plant was often used as a depiction of the corn god for this people. After seeing this church, we drove (in the van) another 40 minutes to a next church on top of the hill. It was opened especially for us, and located in a beautiful place: the scenery could be used as a film set for Eat, Pray, Love or The Sound of Music, with all the mountains and the serenity. Again with this church, the indigenous people of the town had build it through tequios. And again, their own spiritual elements were included. After a short visit and a look inside, we all entered the van and drove back to Oaxaca, about three and a half hours later then expected. The view of Oaxaca City at night is spectacular though.
What came to mind quite soon in the examination of the churches, is that history has so many perspectives, and we only are taught one. The Western perspective of the conquest was victorious; the New World was a blank canvas, that we could use to create the most beautiful Utopian societies. What we tend to forget, was that there were already people living there, with their whole own beautiful societies, that we conveniently ignore when being taught history. It was interesting to see that the indigenous had not gone down without forgetting themselves: they merged, instead of being submerged. As history is written by winners, it is valuable for everyone to know the “losing” side as well: what did they lose? Did they lose at all, or were they only put back a little? And what can we do for current times, if we know how the indigenous peoples dealt with their merging with the Catholic church? Can this happen to modern colonialism too?
Yes my friends, they didn’t tell us it would be a trip of answers. And yet, if we can answer just one, we will have succeeded. Also, if no one gets sick in the van.