Essay | Forest Beings by Keratuma Domicó (trans. Rahul Bery)

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    Sierra Nevada (Colombianas Ligeras) Acrylic on wood, 121x51cm (Pedro Ruiz, 2014)

    Keratuma Domicó (trans. Rahul Bery)


    Forest Beings

    I was born surrounded by forest, that’s what my mother used to say. She was a leader of our Embera nation: Hilda Domicó. We, the Eyabida – ‘mountain people’ – identify as part of this great nation, which joins many peoples together in harmony, including Chamí, Siapidara Eperara, Dobida, Oibida, Katio, Pusabidá and Wounan. In homage to the maternal line of my ascendance, we Eyabida are ‘forest beings’, which is why our names are related to nature, like my own name, Keratuma, which means ‘Aroma of the Forest’.

    The village I come from, in the province of Antioquia, which is a small village to be sure, is now called Mutatá although in the Embera community we have always called it Mongaratatadó, ‘the place of the stones’, a name that, in my simple way of thinking, connects it to the beautiful living rocks with which it shares a space. However, over the course of the historical process known as ‘invasion’, the ‘settlers’, unable to pronounce our words, changed the sounds to make them understandable to them, and so the village became known as Mutatá.

    The town is cut through by the Pan-American highway, a system that connects the south of the continent to the north of the continent (from Patagonia to Alaska, passing through thirteen countries). This road in the Urabá region takes us to the gateway to the Caribbean Sea in our neighbouring country, Panamá. If we take a trip down this highway we will find forest cheek by jowl with the highway, some crystal-clear rivers like the Tasidó, our own wooden houses, my family members clad in colourful dresses, curious children hawking goods to cars and the people travelling through and probably an orange-tinted sunset, set back against the mountains that surround the municipality, as well as great swathes of pastureland.

    The Eyabida people number more than 48,000 according to a National Census from 2018. Extended families are located mostly in Antioquia, as well as other neighbouring provinces like Córdoba, Chocó, Caldas, Caquetá and Putumayo, where I am now based. We also know of communities and families of Eyabida ascendance (historically called Katios) living in countries such as Panamá, Ecuador, Spain and Holland.

    It was our fate to be plunged into one of the wars that has taken place in Colombia. The 1990s took away the lives of many family members who were essential to our sense of being, in the cultural context. My mother then left with my sister and me. At around five years of age I came to a huge, distant city, completely different from the place I had left behind. Here there were little specks of light that weren’t stars; in this place they were everywhere, and they stayed lit all the time, terrestrial lights, lights in every house in that city, which was called Medellín. In that land the ground was firmer and easier to walk upon, it was made of asphalt and concrete from one edge to the other, and it was noisy, tremendously noisy, not at all comparable with the symphonies of the place of shelter we had come from.

    It was like this. That place signified much instability. As a girl, surviving the city was a constant haggle between days of having to privilege some needs over others; either we ate just so many times a day or we had no means of transport for study or work. My mother, wise as ever, wanted me to devote myself to my studies, and they made me take more lessons in the Spanish language, which to this day is the language I know best, perhaps even better than the ‘Embera Bedea’ language, our mother tongue.

    Looking back at my childhood in the city, I can tell you that it went by quickly, like a transition in a film that takes us instantly to the next sequence. One day in the city things began to change. My mother and I went from thinking that we were the only ones in that condition – indigenous women, displaced by the conflict, living hand to mouth – to meeting many other families in Medellín whose situations were similar to ours. Once this had happened, from the year 2003 onwards, I began to discover a more diverse Colombia, a Colombia that emerged from the small village of my birth and my beautiful Embera culture, expanding along the length and breadth of the national map. I allowed myself to identify with Wayuu families, and Camëntšá, Nasa, Misak, Siona, Inga, Kichwa, Bari, Pijao… There was untold beauty, despite the fact that we were all struggling to adapt to the city.

    My first job in the city was as an artisan – a weaver of beaded fabrics, which is an Embera tradition. I sold necklaces and earrings to my little schoolfriends. Then, when I was seventeen years old I began my studies – in Audiovisual and Multimedia Communication – at the University of Antioquia, in Medellín. At the start of the first semester, I received a message from Miguel Rocha Vivas, the teacher and ‘oralitor’ (a carrier of traditional oral expression), at the Pontifical Xaverian University in Bogotá. It was an invitation to his first ‘Image Mingas’ initiative. Mingas are meetings for a collective purpose and Miguel organised a series of these with Miguel Rojas Sotelo, from Duke University, for us to direct short audio-visual pieces narrating our experiences as migrants, as students from indigenous and non-indigenous backgrounds in urban environments.

    There were places for all of us in hands-on workshops, which made us question the conventional methodologies behind audio-visual work, and made us question our own imaginations. From there we became students of law, education, economics, literature, visual arts, audio-visual arts, ethnic journalists, oralitors and researchers. Among us there were Nonuya, Pastos, Iku, Camëntšá, Gunadule, mestizo and Embera. We all occupied a special place in the constructing of audio-visual work and reflections.

    When I finished university in 2016 I had already directed two short films in my village. I made Mu Drua (My Land) (2011) in my community of Cañaduzales de Mutatá. I also made Bania (Water) and we had just got a team to work on the pre-production of the short documentary film Truambi (Song). I have made several more films since.

    Now I am a member of the ‘Image Mingas’ Intercultural Creation Network. In 2020 we recorded ‘Intercultural Conversations’ with more than forty friends drawn from our members and collaborators, recording dialogues on topics such as Afro and Indigenous writing and oraliture (which encompasses both the written and the spoken word), Indigenous cinema of the Americas, and Indigenous Art and Medicine.

    Last year we set up ‘Poetics of the Forest’, a seminar series with the aim of understanding the forest’s relationship with cinema, medicines, neurosciences, forest therapies, pedagogical processes and poetry, and the protection of forests in different geographical regions. To contribute to the conversation, we dedicated special days to the sowing and rearing of trees, vegetables and other plants in Cundinamarca, Cauca, Guajira and Putumayo; as well as Ecuador, the US and France.

    In terms of learning to be a documentary maker, I think I learned the management tools and some of the audiovisual language in university. I have always said though that being a documentary maker, and that way of looking at things, is also something that comes very much from my culture and from the experience of my community.

    My mother used to say that when I was in her womb, in keeping with the Embera national ritual, she walked into the forest so that I, as the tiny being I was becoming, could hear the natural world that surrounds us. So, listening was revealed to me as one of the most fundamental principles of our Embera origin. Listening goes hand in hand with silence, a human silence that privileges the voices around it, the birds, the animals, the wind… Human silence gives way to the voices of the symphony that is all around us. Considering these two principles and with the permission of the world that authored it all, we can share the word, a sweet word that we can always repeat from our spaces. It is the shared word, the circular word deeply connecting every existence in the universe. Listening, silence and words, while we sowed cane, harvested lemons and visited our great grandmother who almost always generously shared songs in the Embera language. With more of a foundation in my learning of her language, I could have better understood the profound thought that came out of her voice.

    When I want to return to my forest being, from here into another territory of different mountains, I remember my great grandmother and return there to her side. There I sit, listening to her sing a truambi – sometimes whispered, sometimes unintelligible, sometimes forgotten… These repeated melodies take me back there, to her, to my forest being.

     

    The Colombian Edition of The London Magazine is out now and available from our online shop. Published in anticipation of next month’s Hay Festival in Cartagena de Indias, this issue will be followed by a Spanish language version, out in January 2022, in Colombia and the UK.

    Keratuma (Mileidy) Domicó is a woman from the Embera Eyabida village of Antioquia, Colombia. As well as being a mother, she is an indigenous audiovisual film-maker and a weaver. A graduate of Audiovisual and Multimedia Commuinication from the University of Antioquia, she has directed and participated in short films including: Mu Drua (Mi Tierra/My Land), Jendá (Volver/To Return), La Guajira, Kirincharúa (Piensa más allá/Think Beyond), Bania (Agua/Water), Truambi (Canto/Song), Iuja Beka (Tierra Mojada/Wet Earth), Vida Ora (Life Prays). She is also a collaborator with the Intercultural Creation Network of Image Mingas and she supports ethnic women collectives in cinema. She is a member of the Regional Council of Cinematography and Audiovisuals of Putumayo, in the south of the country.

    Rahul Bery translates from Portuguese and Spanish to English, and is based in Cardiff, Wales. His latest book translation is Kokoschka’s Doll by Afonso Cruz, and his debut translation, Rolling Fields by David Trueba, has recently been nominated for the 2021 Translators’ Association First Translation Prize. He was the British Library’s translator in residence from 2018-2019 and he does outreach work with the Stephen Spender Trust and the Translation Exchange at Queen’s College, Oxford University


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