By Tom Miller

 
 Young Rama girl, Bangkukuk - photo, Tom Miller

Young Rama girl, Bangkukuk - photo, Tom Miller

 

For Part 2 of this blog, I’m going to begin where Nuin-Tara left off – by posing the question: how do you develop and support adaptive capacity to climate change, in the face of myriad compounding economic, environmental and social pressures, that not only restrict future adaptations, but also threaten the very existence of a community and culture? For the next 3 days, as we filmed, traveled, and talked with community members in the Rama village of Bangkukuk, we thought about answers to this question.

 Chinese contingent - photo, Tom Miller

Chinese contingent - photo, Tom Miller

9/24 The workshop on Wednesday morning was slated to start at 8:00AM. We arrived at the small one-room schoolhouse in the village center but only a handful of community members had yet arrived.  We were told by one of the village elders that a Chinese contingent from the canal project had appeared asking to do a house-to-house census in the village. The village leaders had told them that some members from the village council were away in Bluefields, and without all the council members present, permission could not be granted to do the census.

After a while, we caught site of the Chinese contingent and their armed military escort coming over the hill. They stopped in the middle of a field, about 50 yards away from school, waiting in the hot sun. More community members began appearing at the school and we all stood around talking and watching the group. Eventually, the Chinese decided to leave, but stated that they would be back the following day to try again, and they walked off over the hill.

This simple event became the lens through which we considered the challenges the community faces during the remainder of our trip – challenges related to fishing, agriculture, land use, indigenous rights, economy, displacement, and livelihood. The issue of building an indigenous community’s adaptive capacity becomes enlarged, distorted, and infinitely more complicated when a 50 billon dollar, 250km long, mega project comes knocking at the door. How does a small, subsistence farming and fishing community adapt to the pressures and changes a trans-oceanic canal will bring? The answer is: it probably can’t. For Bangkukuk, their best chance of survival is to find help and stop the development before it starts. But for the moment, the canal is still a big question mark, and blueEnergy continues its work with the community.

 Nuin-Tara as Ponkine - photo, Tom Miller

Nuin-Tara as Ponkine - photo, Tom Miller

The workshop began with a game called “Pangero coming” (boatman coming). Everyone was given a picture of a sea creature or a type of food to attached to their shirt. We all took turns entering the schoolhouse door saying, “Pangero coming, Pangero coming. I’m looking for… Ponkine (Pumpkin)”.  The person with the Ponkine – in this case, Nuin-Tara, would say, “I’m not a ponkine, I’m a Nuin-Tara. Then, having just introduced herself, Nuin-Tara would leave and restart the process. It was a nice way to break the ice. I was a Jack fish, by the way. 

There was then an animated discussion about different types of ancestral practices and how those functioned. Then the group broke up into two groups: one concentrated on agricultural practices, and the other on fishing practices. blueEnergy was interested in collecting additional practices they might have missed the first time, and corroborating information they had gathered during previous visits. blueEnergy had a camera person there to record the events and to help gather footage for their indigenous knowledge and practices video they are developing.  

 Harpoon demonstration - video still, Tom Miller

Harpoon demonstration - video still, Tom Miller

After lunch, the group came back together for a discussion on fishing and different techniques the ancestral people used to use. There was a demonstration with a harpoon which would be repeated on the open ocean on Friday, cameras rolling.

 Thursday 9/25

Thursday morning began with a community meeting about the canal. In attendance to answer questions was Claus Kjaerby, a representative of the organization Bosques Del Mundo (Forests of the World). Also in attendance was a Danish film team, working on a piece about the canal for Danish national television. The crew had traveled with Claus from Panama, and were spending a few days in Bangkukuk and outer lying areas to talk with community members to get their perspective on the canal. At one point during the meeting, Claus explained that Danish taxpayers have funded programs that support capacity building, conservation of natural and protected areas, and human rights, in Bangkukuk and in other villages in the region. But, as Claus pointed out, this support by the Danish people seems at odds with the apparent interest of the Danish business and shipping conglomerate Maersk to support a canal project that would relocate hundreds of villages and indigenous peoples from their native lands. Part of Claus’ goal is to raise awareness around the need for Mearsk and other companies involved with the canal to adhere to international human rights treaties, including the territorial rights of communities like the Rama.

 Claus sits on left, listening - photo, Tom Miller

Claus sits on left, listening - photo, Tom Miller

 A member of the Danish film crew - photo, Tom Miller

A member of the Danish film crew - photo, Tom Miller

The community members spoke in turn about their thoughts on the canal project, each stating firmly for the record (for the community president, council, and the 2 video cameras that were rolling) that they were against the proposed canal. Many cited their rights to the land in the autonomous areas, and wondered how so much territory could be conceded by the government in Managua to a foreign company. Others pointed out how the community had never been consulted about the project and now they are hearing that it will start moving forward in December. The meeting adjourned with many questions still unanswered.

*

 Pop, Bangkukuk - video still, Tom Miller

Pop, Bangkukuk - video still, Tom Miller

 Pop on his finca - video still, Tom Miller

Pop on his finca - video still, Tom Miller

After the community meeting, OPOE went with Martina Luger, who works for HorizonT 3000, supporting blueEnergy and BICU, and a blueEnergy volunteer, Marie, to visit Pop (pronounced Pope).  At around 40, Pop is the youngest native speaker of the Rama language. Quiet and soft-spoken, Pop quickly showed us the garden by his home, and then we set off into the bush.  Along the way, Marie and Martina asked Pop about specific trees, foods, and different agricultural practices. When we arrived at his first plot, or finca (small farm), we opened up into a clearing in the forest. Most of the trees had been cut down a while back and there were young plants growing up through the felled trees. Martina and Marie continued with their questions, and Pop would answer in a quiet, thoughtful manner. (All the footage OPOE shot with Pop we copied and gave to blueEnergy to support a film they are developing on indigenous and ancestral practices for training and general information.) At one point, Pop took up a stick and a young pineapple starter. With a quick movement, Pop pounded one hole into the ground then stuck in the pineapple. He told us that the pineapple will now take one year to grow and bear fruit. He said if he had pounded twice in the same hole with his stick, the pineapple would take two years. Three pounds – three years. Martina and Marie took notes. 

 View of illegal deforestation of the Rama territory. Clear cutting for cattle grazing - video still, Tom Miller

View of illegal deforestation of the Rama territory. Clear cutting for cattle grazing - video still, Tom Miller

At the final plot, Pop’s banana farm, we flew our drone over the area. Pop had told us that illegal settlers had taken over the land next to his plot and we wanted to get a good view. Sure enough, just over the neighboring trees, massive tracts of forest had been clear-cut for cattle grazing. This illegal logging, grazing, and farming on Rama land is pervasive. These illegal settlers have taken lands all over Rama territory. There is no enforcement and there are sometimes violent clashes. One of women in the workshop shared that she had lost her son, who was killed by an illegal settler the year before, and our final interviewee in Bangkukuk, Jimmy, had been held down at his farm and shot in the back of the ear and through his hand. Jimmy no longer farms that land.

The Rama are subsistence farmers. They cultivate what they need for their families and some to store away. Crop rotation and resting of the land was a common practice by the Rama but they are now limited in their land use because of deforestation and illegal settlements. They are now forced to use the same land over and over again.  

*

 Dory shot - video still, Tom Miller

Dory shot - video still, Tom Miller

On Friday morning, OPOE and blueEnergy took to the water to film village elders demonstrating traditional fishing practices around the island of Booby Cay, located a few miles offshore of Bangkukuk. Like all traditional fishing grounds around Bangkukuk, Booby Cay’s fish population has been greatly reduced by overfishing by outsiders. The use of fine nets is prevalent, which take much larger catches and kill smaller fish before they have a chance to breed.

 Pop on prow of boat, heading to Booby Cay - video still, Tom Miller

Pop on prow of boat, heading to Booby Cay - video still, Tom Miller

 Jamie, fishing by Booby Cay - photo, Tom Miller

Jamie, fishing by Booby Cay - photo, Tom Miller

Once we arrived in Booby Cay, one of the village elders – Jose Luis - and Pop got into a small canoe-like boat, which the locals call a dory, and paddled away from the motor boat to demonstrate line fishing and harpooning. At one point, I got in the water with Jamie for some underwater spear fishing and spear-gunning shots. It was a sunny, perfect day to be on the water with everyone, and all the elders and participants were incredibly enthusiastic about sharing a few of their traditional practices with us.

 Pop throwing the harpoon - video still, Tom Miller

Pop throwing the harpoon - video still, Tom Miller

 Spear gun - gopro still, Tom Miller

Spear gun - gopro still, Tom Miller

 Traditional harpoon - photo, Tom Miller

Traditional harpoon - photo, Tom Miller

 Lena, cooking dinner in her kitchen - photo, Tom Miller

Lena, cooking dinner in her kitchen - photo, Tom Miller

After we returned to the village for lunch, Dan and I went off to film with Lena at her house to capture some of the domestic life of Bangkukuk. Cooking is done over an open fire and we stayed while Lena fed her kids, then she took us down the beach to see her father, Jimmy at his house. We ended up spending an hour talking to Jimmy about life in Bangkukuk, about the old times. Times when snook could be caught “right off the beach” and there was more than enough for everyone. “No gill net here. Only harpoon.”  Jimmy told us that everything had changed. “Now you don’t see snook. You got harpoon you only get frustrate.” He showed us the bullet hole behind his ear and in his palm from being shot by his farm. He told us that there are no more fish and they have to work much harder than they used to. “And if the Chinese come…more even happen to we.” From behind us, Lena chimed in, “we gonna die out. We gonna die out.”

It was getting dark, and we followed Jimmy and his 5 year old grandson quickly up the path, past relatives homes, though open prairie-like fields, and over soft rolling hills, until we reached his coconut farm. Jimmy stood in front of his trees and said,“This is my coconut. I have banana right there again. And that is why I am worried about the canal. When the canal is comin’ I’m losing all this…And what about my grandchildren here?” Jimmy put his hand on his grandson’s head. “We’re used to life like this. To workin’. Planting. And that’s why we have to worry about things like that.”  Jimmy turned around and gestured to his coconut trees. “This have five year since I plant it. Just five year. I was figuring to plant some more but now with the canal..I feel sorry. I don’t want to plant again, cause I fraid I lose it.”  

Standing in the grass in Jimmy’s coconut grove, the sounds of the forest were spectacular. Frogs and crickets. The wind rustling through the trees overhead. In the distance we heard howler monkeys bellow at the dusk. The low, warm blue light illuminated the forest, and as the heat of the day diminished slightly, the land felt lush and welcoming. Everything seemed in its place.  Looking around, I could understand Jimmy’s love for his land, and I tried to fathom what it would mean for him to lose it.

Jimmy cut us each a coconut to drink and as we sipped, Dan recorded the sounds of the forest around us. Writing this, and listening back to the wonderful audio, my sincere hope is that Jimmy and his grandson will be hearing the same sounds ten years from now.

 Jimmy and Grandson near his coconut farm, Ebo tree behind them - photo, Tom Miller

Jimmy and Grandson near his coconut farm, Ebo tree behind them - photo, Tom Miller


Check out our entire archive below...

1 Comment