Weaving (Un)certain Futures

October 27, 2020

Weaving (Un)certain Futures:
The Long March of Ancestral and Indigenous People

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Francisco de Parras, “We Are the People,” 2019. First “Dance Another World” Dance Festival. Organized by the EZLN, Tulan Ka'u Collective, Chiapas. Image courtesy of the artist. Photograph of the II Puy ta Cuxlejaltic Film Festival, December 2019, where Zapatista collectives organized dance and film events to highlight the many autonomous struggles taking place in different places throughout the world.

We must look to the future,
while living in the present,
but without forgetting the past

(Aymara proverb)

I

To write about the future is to speak of something uncertain, undefined, something that has no distinguishable features as of yet. It is to speak of a blurry image whose contours, although barely visible, allow us to follow the path towards what we envision and imagine is to come. Whether the future is enriching or unfavorable is a matter conditioned by the present: the here and now to which we belong, or on the contrary, that distance us from thinking, feeling, and acting through and from komon, which is one of the main elements needed to reach our imagined horizons.

Among the Tseltale people of Chiapas, the concept of komon refers to the “common,” to “collectivity,” and it is put into practice not through words alone but through concrete actions. It is like the construction of a school or a highway; keeping rivers, sidewalks, and the corn harvest tidy; or preparing food—activities that both men and women in the community perform to achieve a shared objective: the overall wellbeing of the collective. Through assembly, these actions come together in an organized program: komon a’tel, or shared work, which also means work for the common good. komon a’tel is the precursor to the world to come, not of the “future,” for which there is no word in our Tseltal language. Rather the world to come is something that exists in practice, in everyday life, as the constant possibility of creation.

More and more, the practice of komon is in decline. The generations born after our grandmothers and grandfathers, our fathers and mothers, tend not to get involved in shared work and community activities, which is a symptom of the interruption of komon, an ancient and millenarian practice. By pursuing our individual goals, we risk losing our common horizons and destroying all possibilities of shared creativity. That is, we run the risk of eliminating the possibility of being in and being part of a world where we can exist with other humans and non-humans.

The separation from komon started with the long modern, colonial, and capitalist process which imposed distinct ways of constructing life upon our communities. This has brought about significant changes in relationships and forms of solidarity so that members of our communities distance themselves from the repetitive practices of everyday life in order to create and take control of practices that pertain to a different order, a different logic. These changes have made us ask what the (un)certain and possible future may be for indigenous peoples if we, the men and women of the present, do not see the world in the way that our grandfathers and grandmothers saw it. Everything changes, nothing remains static, but if we are able to look back and know that we have endured and survived 500 years of oppression, what is our historical responsibility to those who struggled to carry forth the path of life before us?

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Susanna Rostas, “March to Banabil Lagoon: Men and Women of Tenejapa” (Rostas, 2013). On the first day and at the midpoint of each year, the “traditional” families of Tenejapa, as well as the spiritual groups, sponsors and musicians, travel to the lagoon of the Virgin of Banabil to pray to her, make food offerings to her and to bring her new clothes. This ritual is undertaken in order to ask the Virgin of the lagoon for to look after the wellbeing of the community and the protection of the environment.

II

Every komon has its yorail, meaning its “time,” its “moment,” its “hour” and “place” in which things should occur or unfold. The future also has its own yorail, not in terms of time, but rather as a process that occurs in order to achieve what has been imagined. The future is in constant construction. Once we arrive at an objective, a new one is visualized. This is called pajelch/awej, meaning “tomorrow and the next day,” times that come together in a single word in order to refer to something for which it cannot be known, but which is possible if we take past experience and weave it together with the path that has not yet been traveled. The materialization of the possible is conditioned by our capacity for action and for individual and collective organization.

Pajelch’awej is said, for example, when two people say goodbye and don’t know exactly when they will see each other again but are confident they will.  This is, perhaps, a metaphor for life and for time. Thus, futures exist on the order of our imaginations, our yearnings, our predictions. Nothing can be dismissed or written off. Nothing dies in a definitive way, we are in a process of constant return, of rebirth. As long as pajelch’awej is said and believed, anything is possible. This can be interpreted from the Popol Vuh, the book of the Quiché Maya, which describes the creation of the world through constant cycles, several rebirths, and various clashes. This is also how the Andean world conceived and thought of Pachakuti: a constant struggle, over different cycles, to recover a time and space that has been relinquished and colonized. They are the horizons of two cultures that seem distant but whose visions are indeed not so distant from one another.

This is linked directly to the belief that the world will not end but that humans will go extinct since the world had already existed long before humankind. Birds do not depend on us to sing, nor trees to grow, nor rivers to flow. Me’tik kaxeltik (Mother Earth) can restore herself without the need for our existence; she rekindles her soul without so much as a thought for the “futures” that humankind may imagine for itself.  

III

Much of the future is shaped by the challenges of the present. Because of this, caring (for ourselves) is a political act, as well as an act of solidarity and humanity in these times of contingency. Offering support to families who are unable to interrupt their daily lives and who find themselves vulnerable without waiting on the actions of governments, which are useless. It is in everyday practices that the politics of care become visible and possible for it is here that we are able to comfort each other against the multiple adversities that we face, as a consequence of the expansion of the fragmented hegemonic, Eurocentric, capitalist, and colonial world. [1]

Only through organization, (shared) responsibility for ourselves and others, social-community care and Me’tik balumilal, will there be brighter horizons for the future. This can happen as long as we summon the strength, the will, the solidarity, the organizational capacity and the imagination, the ya’yel ko’tantike: feeling-thinking-doing by all and for all.


Delmar Ulises Méndez-Gómez is a Tseltal documentary maker and academic from Chiapas, Mexico. He holds a Master of Communications and Politics from the Metropolitan Autonomous University – Xochimilco. He is a fellow with the CESMECA-UNICACH Observatory on Democracies for southern Mexico and Central America. He is a member of the Young Mexican Researchers’ Network (ReMJI). He has devoted himself to the study of the artistic, communicative and cultural expressions of the ancestral people of Chiapas.


Notes for a Horizon-tality: Toward the Possibility of Becoming Together as an Assemblage is a project that responds to our multiple and seemingly multiplying emergencies. Since the growing uncertainty of living in a world in crisis seems to continuously threaten the possibility of the future, this editorial initiative seeks to contribute to the growing scholarship on this topic from the perspective of Latin American contemporary art.


[1] See Delmar Méndez-Gómez (2020). “The Culture of Care: The Indigenous People of Chiapas Face the Pandemic,” Young Mexican Researchers’ Network, available at: https://www.remji.mx/post/cultura-del-cuidado.