The Blossoming of the Desert

We arrive early as the sun rises above the Andes mountains and payment is made to the mother earth and the ancestors. At the foothill of the Andes mountains, hidden in the desert, a herding community has come together, to practice the spiritual ceremonies of their culture. They pass down the cultural knowledge that has been gathered for over 10,000 years, since the first animal husbandry began, in one of the most inhospitable climates on earth. In the Salt Flats of the Atacama Desert, the ground cracks beneath our feet. Nothing grows here, and there is little shelter, aside from a few Tamarugo Trees. A species that has adapted to survive in this arid landscape. In Lickan Antay culture, they see plants as higher developed beings than humans. Plants provide for themselves, produce their own food and do not have to rely on other beings to survive. They admire this and aspire to them.

Smoke carries the aromas of sacred plants through the dry, dusty air and a low humming vocal chant pacifies the place. Animals are herded together with people, inside a formation of volcanic stones, gathered in the mountains. The stones possess a power and strength from within the earths core and the entrance of the formation faces Lickan Kabur - a gigantic volcano, high in the Andes mountains. We move in circles, sing, and offer wine to the earth and ancestors, whilst chewing on coca - sacred leaves of the Andes. The floramiento (blossoming) begins. Llama and sheep llana (wool) is hand-dyed with bright, natural colours of roots and plants of the Andes, in the weeks leading up to the ceremony. We  follow abuela’s (grandmothers) lead. The best herders of the desert are known to be women, and the women proceed the ceremony with men assisting in the rituals and tasks. We identify the different animals, genders and proceed to adorn them. The ceremony was born to honour the flowers, that the animals and herders will destroy as they graze across the land, and to identify the herd from afar as they roam freely through the rest of the year. The long day comes to an end giving thanks to the Mother Earth, that allows for their animals to survive in these harsh conditions. We share food, stories and appreciation by the fire.

We sit outdoors in the open Salar de Atacama, with an indigenous herding community, trying to keep their cultural traditions alive in todays world. Less than 200 km away are operating lithium mines. We are told they extract 800 litres, per second, per year of subterranean waters. Thats 25 billion litres per year. The native people have never touched subterranean waters before and have always relied on the renewable cycles of the rivers, flowing from snow-topped Andes, for their water supply. The subterranean waters are left for the plants and animals that exist here. Even in the driest place on earth, there exists a rich ecosystem of flora and fauna, including endangered species as flamingos and pumas. They say the landscape and ecology is changing, and won’t be like this for much longer. 

How do we begin to learn from this, to see what we have been calling ‘nature' in other ways. To feel it as a complex living being, that we are connected to and a part of. Beyond human control or comprehension, as something we must respect deeply. 

It is evident that we have lost this respect and knowledge. 

We move forward as the generation to have brought on the sixth mass extinction. We ignore climate change, and witness the Amazon Rainforest; one of the largest absorbers of co2 for the planet, home to over 1 million indigenous people and massive biodiversity of animals, plant life, insects and species, burn to ashes. We commit ecocide, from human hands of greed and a form of genocide for those indigenous peoples who live there. And for what?

There is no more time to spare. We must acknowledge our painful history, of violently colonising others and the natural world, that has led us to this point, instead of ignoring it in schools and institutions who are supposed to educate. We must create new ways of seeing, change our actions and leaders. Rebuild and rethink for a future of co-existence. Indigenous peoples around the world manage to live the most low impact lives on the planet today, whilst protecting the land through their culture and beliefs. We must move forward listening to them before it’s too late, and not destroy the little knowledge we may have left.

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