PAMPA DEL INDIO, Argentina – Here in this town in northern Argentina’s Chaco province, the Caring Mothers of the Qom Culture have spent 20 years fighting to recover and spread their culture via initiatives that have managed to revive the traditional dances and legends of their people.
Now, to consolidate this progress, they have decided to transfer this knowledge to classrooms, as evidenced by the 12 scientists and artists who are on a tour of the Gran Chaco region, including Argentina, Bolivia and Paraguay, as part of a project funded by the Spanish government.
The Qom Mothers have managed to gather together the history of their group and have updated the names of their sacred and traditional places, the games, stories and even ancestral medicinal techniques that their relatives practice.
One of their most prominent projects has been placing signs with the names their people originally gave to different spots in the area.
“We’re traveling through all our ancestral territory to note down the names our grandparents remembered. They were enthusiastic about it and accompanied us,” one of the Mothers, Juana Silvestre, told Efe.
In addition, the launching of bilingual education in Spanish and Qom has resulted in a qualitative leap in the transmission of their cultural values, she said.
Getting to this point has not been easy. The group began in 1985 with just 15 women who gathered under an orange tree, and they began to help others with the most immediate problems their communities were experiencing.
“First, we concerned ourselves with learning how to make orchards to feed our families well. After that, to make clothing, and only starting in 2003 were we able to begin to focus on recovering our cultural values,” Silvestre said.
The challenge ahead of them now is to get more indigenous teachers, and not just auxiliary lecturers as they have had so far, she said.
“We still to be able to apply in the classrooms ... all our cultural knowledge,” she said.
Another problem facing this indigenous people is the fumigation of crops in the vicinity, as Mariano Peñalosa, an Indian peasant with a long history of resistance against a large company that uses pesticides on its fields of genetically modified crops, told Efe.
He belongs to a Qom community that for 22 years has held the land title to 704 hectares (about 1,760 acres), where they have produced cattle, orchard crops and the first gallon of honey made by Indians in the region for export.
However, the development of his group was stalled for five years after the owner of the nearby property, consisting of 50,000 hectares (some 125,000 acres) began to spray his fields.
The community’s trees and vegetables began to dry up and die, their chickens and pigs began to suffer spontaneous abortions and their water sources ceased being potable.
Peñalosa had to file several complaints and put up with the behavior of a prosecutor who, in collusion with the company, ignored his requests for help until 2013.
Now, the peasant activist and his family are working to recover their poisoned land and increase their livestock holdings.