The End of Macha

harris_machaWith the end of the world approaching, I will be snuggling up somewhere beneath a mosquito net, floating down a river through the mostly still-wild and mysterious Bolivian Amazon. I look forward to staring up at the stars, trying to piece together exactly what the Mayans had in mind (or didn’t—they may have just gotten tired of counting).

As I float through, I will be reflecting on my work for the last five months here, researching the traditions of the Kallawaya healers and their ecological wisdom in relation to global climate change. I am interested in understanding alternative existences, alternative ways of understanding the world. In doing so, I realize that some worlds end everyday.

As climate change wreaks havoc in the High Andes—Bolivia’s most vulnerable ecosystem—indigenous groups that depend on the land for physical and spiritual sustenance are undergoing indelible, irreparable change.

The Kallawaya healers depend on complex ecological knowledge, based upon thousands of years of experiential wisdom, to pursue their healing practice, the ultimate goal of which is to maintain spiritual equilibrium between humanity and nature. Their worldview is intrinsically linked to their environment. When the environment is damaged, their world is damaged.

As I continue to float down the river, my thoughts may drift towards another indigenous conflict that is actually taking place in the Bolivian Amazon. The ever-worsening TIPNIS conflict highlights another world that may be coming to an end. Bolivia’s President Evo Morales, proposed the building of a cross-country highway that would connect Brazil to the Pacific coasts of Peru and Chile.

The project is framed as an opportunity for the region, a way to introduce development into a largely untouched region. It follows the scheme of Bolivian Vice President Álvaron García Linera’s notion of “Green Capitalism” (a supposedly more sustainable alternative to normal capitalism). The road project cuts right through the heart of the rainforest, damaging indigenous lands and introducing droves of traffic to the region.

In opposition to the project, the indigenous groups in the region have fought back. They have organized innumerable marches to the capital city of La Paz. Many people have died. Despite their best efforts, and after a brief period of suspension, the project is still on. To the people from the TIPNIS region, this road spells out the end of their world.

According to Bolivia’s infamous indigenous, pro-Mother Earth President Morales, December 21, 2012, is the end of the world as we know it. In a fiery speech at the 67th Session of the UN General Assembly, Morales declared that the date marks the end of Macha (selfishness) and the beginning of Pacha (brotherhood). And, in celebration, he is holding a(nother) international conference, much like the 2010 People’s Summit in Cochabamba, to discuss the rights of Mother Earth, the end of capitalism, a return to ancestral practices, etc. However, as with most things Morales promotes, this conference will probably amount to another slathering of populist icing on his paradoxical presidential cake.

Morales’s rhetoric at the global level is interlaced with indigenous Bolivian ideology, giving special reverence to Pachamama (Mother Earth) as an entity worthy of rights. However, his international policies contrast with his domestic politics. Indigenous religions, mostly practiced by the still-poor indigenous populations, seem to be only important inasmuch as they keep the global progressive left interested in Bolivia. But the reality of Morales’s domestic politics, as evidenced by his same-problem-different-name politics, tell a much different, less-Pacha story.

I can imagine myself now on December 21st. I will be swinging peacefully on a hammock tied taught between a rusting pole and the cargo boat’s guardrail. Trees full of birds will float lazily through my field of vision. The stealthy Amazonian pink dolphins will probably be floating just far enough beneath the murky river waters to elude me. My world probably (maybe) won’t end, but I will keep thinking about those worlds that are ending.

Despite my best intentions to relax, I am sure I will be thinking about Bolivia’s indigenous populations, and the way their worldviews are warping and ending everyday… unfortunately under the watch of the one person—the world’s first indigenous president—who could actually make strides towards actually creating a much-needed Pacha world.

Dylan Harris is a writer currently based in La Paz, Bolivia.