“This [event] speaks of a growing interest in finding our own roots in our lives. I have often seen how the native elders remind us all to look at our own grandparents, our ancestors, to help us know who we are as mestizos (mixed blood), to know where we came from in order to know where we are going”.
What’s the Kiva ceremony?
The Kiva ceremony is a medicine that was lost for a long time.
In the 1970’s, a man named Reymundo Perez had a vision following the Sun Dance ceremony. In it, he saw a circular hole dug below the ground and a woman crying in its center. She stopped crying when different people went to her speaking in their native language.
He shared his vision with Navajo and Lakota elders, and they told him that what he had seen was an ancient ceremony that had not been performed for many years. That it was a Kiva.
The Kiva is a bowl-like excavation with a depth of 2.5 meters with a diameter of 13 meters. When used for ceremonial purposes, there is a fire on the alter at its center that burns for the duration of the 4 day ceremony and 4 more alters are located in each cardinal direction. During the ceremony, elder men and women who conserve their native traditions enter the Kiva from the east, like the sun, every morning and again every evening. Inside, they share their words and prayers, each in their own language, with the fire.
At the spiritual level, the Kiva is an ancient practice dedicated to the reunification of peoples in the same voice: the strength of prayer and respect and unity around the fire. In a way, it is an antechamber, where one descends into Mother Earth to sow ancient words that help maintain the balance between kingdoms: minerals, animals, plants.
When Reymundo Perez began to hold the Kiva, elders told him that it was something that had been done hundreds of years ago and that it had almost been lost. He found the way to revive the ceremony from stories he was able to collect. It was like dusting off a source of medicine, of healing, that is helping many native peoples reconnect today.
This is a strong ceremony not only in the sense of being an offering for and connection with Mother Earth, Pachamama, or Tonanzin (or however you want to call Her). Its strength also lies in the reunification of the peoples of the Americas in one voice and one common fire.
In which countries has the Kiva been celebrated and what's the criteria for selection?
The Kiva began with the family of Reymundo Perez in the United States about 1974. It was usually held on Indian reservations during that time. Then, in 1989, it was held for the first time in Mexico, in a community called Teopantli Kalpulli, and from there, the Kiva ceremony spread to other places in Mexico.
Reymundo Perez died in 1995, but different people had been given instructions to direct the ceremony. On one hand there was the family of Reymundo, and Fred Contreras, who did not continue to hold the Kiva. On the other hand, instructions were given to Lauro “Capri” Garza, who continued the work of the Kiva in Mexico under the name Viento Solar. The ashes and instructions were also placed in the hands of Heriberto Villaseñor, who also went forward with the work, under the name of Raices de la Tierra.
The family here in Chile, and myself, are helping and learning this path of the Kiva through Heriberto Villaseñor. He has dedicated 25 years of his life, to bring Elders together from different places in the Americas and Europe, to hold the ceremony.
With the encouragement of by brother Rafael Retamales, in 2009 it was decided to hold the first Kiva in Chile. We didn’t know very well what we were getting into. Since then, Kivas have also opened in Colombia and Austria.
The Family Raices de la Tierra has been very expansive in that way. This medicine is an ancient dream and it has grown a lot over the years, in different corners of the world and with the help of everyone.
I explain this at length to say that whether the Kiva goes to a particular country or not, does not correspond to a “selection process.” The motive is related to cycles and the spiritual commitment of a family. This is done by the unity of different factors.
For example, the Kiva that began in Colombia in 2011: it so happened that the Mamos of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, with their representative Lorenzo Seuny Izquierdo, dreamed that the Kiva went to Colombia. So, when the first cycle of 4 consecutive years in Chile was coming to a close, the fire went with the Mamos to Colombia. They had nothing ready, not even a place to hold it, but the spiritual sign had been made. Prayer is very important, but it is also lot of hard work.
I like to think, and I think everyone accompanying me on this road agrees: that the Kiva and the place it is held correspond to a call from the Earth, and we are in the service of this plan to bring Elders of many different native peoples together to pray.
What can you tell us about the experience of “Raices de la Tierra” as organizers of the event?
Raices de la Tierra in Chile will complete its second 4-year cycle in 2016. It’s been quite a way these 8 years. We have found that the most powerful things happen when everyone comes together and shares. Above all, this is a human experience. It is very simple, but very profound at the same time: to share words, ceremonies, affection between native peoples and everyone, provides a tremendous magic of healing.
During these years over 200 different native representatives have passed through our Kiva ceremony in Chile.
In Chile, the best known original peoples are the Mapuche, Rapa Nui, Quechua and Aymara. But over time we have discovered that there are other native peoples here living a sort of revival through the recuperation of their languages. And in Raices we see how the enthusiasm of the elders is renewed, to recover their songs, their words, and reestablish a pride in their traditions. Examples of this are the Licanantay and the Colla in Northern Chile.
The other thing that has really caught our attention is the quantity of people interested in this ceremony.
The first year about 300 people came. Today we are close to 5000 people. This speaks of a growing interest in finding our own roots in our lives. I have often seen how the native elders remind us all to look at our own grandparents, our ancestors, to help us know who we are as mestizos (mixed blood), to know where we came from in order to know where we are going.
“Raices de la Tierra has been part of an effort of many active members who believe that race, sexual orientation, or social/economic status make no difference in the construction of an integrated, multi-cultural society that acknowledges where we come from and stands up proudly, recognizing its ancestral roots - not only native roots, but also criolla and European”.
There is a phrase that Heriberto always repeats in the Kiva: “These grandparents here are living books, take advantage of this opportunity.” This sensation is in the air every year, that we are bringing our humble grain of sand to revitalize, appreciate, and cultivate an American (I don’t like to talk about Latin American, South American, or even Native American, because we are all in the same Big Continent) type of dignity, based on an inheritance that has not died and that has never been defeated or lost.
Chile, in particular, is a country that lived under a violent dictatorship. It was accompanied by the implementation of a neo-liberal economy, like many places in the world. This dictatorship and model, in the end, drove a wedge between Chileans, separating and isolating them and negating social movements.
In that sense, Raices de la Tierra has been part of an effort of many active members (we are about 50 voluntary members in the organization) who believe that race, sexual orientation, or social/economic status make no difference in the construction of an integrated, multi-cultural society that acknowledges where we come from and stands up proudly, recognizing its ancestral roots - not only native roots, but also criolla and european.
In Raices de la Tierra we are part of a larger movement that is happening in Chile, where during the past 20 years cultural and citizen movements have revitalized and grown stronger.
In our case, our contribution has to do with putting value on the traditions of native peoples and how the inter-cultural and inter-tribal alliances can mark the difference for everyone when they ask themselves who they are and what they want from life.
I believe that in Raices de la Tierra we are helping to repair and decolonize – in part - a fragmented identity. We are helping everyone, native, mixed-bloods, chileans and foreigners, to look at themselves and one another, and know who we are and what we stand for.
Why do you consider it is important to keep this tradition alive?
This tradition of the Kiva its helping many people and many communities throughout the Americas.
To us, the fire is a living being, and – as long as we know how to care for it well – the fire itself is helping with the prayer of all the Elders who have passed through the Kiva. It will help wake up and revitalize the best of our human experience: respect, compassion, affection, patience. They are all simple values that in this world many communities and groups have tended to loose.
Next to this fire, we have seen how many communities of native peoples are learning to look towards the inter-connectedness with other peoples. We have been witnesses to how many communities are realizing they are not alone, that they are confronting similar problems with the models of progress of international economies. And, while they share, there is a conversation that is not only cultural, but also about learning how to advance in the road towards the protection of constitutive rights of original peoples: rights to water, alimentary resources, how to perpetuate original languages in the formal education system of countries, or provide intercultural medicine in hospital installations of different countries.
All of this, and each of these group conversations, are helped along by a renewed spiritual strength that the fire drives and fills with life and energy.
As long as the fire and the word exist, we will take time during the year to come together and use the Kiva as an intertribal instrument of union and subsistence for future generations.
Manuel O’Brien is Director and Co-Founder of Raices de la Tierra Chile, a psychologist by profession and author of the book “Linaje Mestizo.”
Familia Raices de la Tierra Chile is a non-profit organization, which works all year long to develop projects and activities, to promote the revitalization and communication of the cultural and spiritual patrimony of native peoples across America. It has a presence in Mexico, Austria, Colombia and Chile.
More info at www.raicesdelatierra.org