The Eagle and The Condor
Maya Khankhoje

When the eagle from the North
and the condor from the South
fly together again.
Maya Khankhoje has recently won First Prize for "Las Manos de Samira", a short story in Spanish soon to appear in "A Quien Corresponda", a literary magazine published out of Tamaulipas, Mexico.
"The certainty that some are born to be free and others to be slaves has guided all empires since the world began. But it was with the Renaissance and the conquest of the Americas that racism became a system of moral absolution at the service of European gluttony. Since then, racism has ruled, dismissing majorities among the colonized and excluding minorities among the colonizers." Eduardo Galeano, Upside Down. A Primer for the Looking-Glass World.

"According to an old prophesy, we are living in the period of the great meeting called ‘mastay’ and of the coming together of the peoples from the four directions. The Q'ero are disseminating their teachings to the West, preparing for the day when the Eagle from the North and the Condor from the South fly together again. They believe that ‘munay,’ love and compassion, will be the restoring force of this great meeting of the peoples." Inca Q'ero Shaman.*

It's not quite clear whether the year 2001 ushered in the Third Millennium or whether it all started last year. But what’s clear is that the year 2001 is the year for globalizing movements symbolized by the Summit of the Americas held in April in Quebec City, and the Indigenous Summit of the Americas held in March in Ottawa.

Both meetings are very important not only for the Americas but for the whole world. The meeting in Quebec City discussed the subject of the free movement of goods and capital from the Arctic to the Antarctic. In Ottawa the issue dealt with was the free movement of the human beings who produce such goods and capital, but who don‘t always benefit proportionately from their efforts. Another important difference: the Summit of the Americas was held behind closed doors, so closed that a fence was erected to protect the rulers from the ruled, making people wonder: “who’s afraid of whom and why?” On the other hand, the Indigenous Summit of the Americas was an open meeting, so open that it was inaugurated with the connection of an internet portal to bring together all the indigenous peoples of the Americas, making people wonder: “who has faith in whom and why not?”

The nations of the Americas are the product of the clash between the European culture and the indigenous culture. In spite of the mixing of blood that occurred to a greater or lesser extent in the different countries of the continent, we can still see a close correlation between ethnic origins and economic and social status. The whiter the skin color, the greener the greenback. In other words, it is still easy to tell the colonizer apart from the colonized. And let’s not forget the Africans who were kidnapped and sold like cheap merchandise by pirates who acted with the blessings and protection of the European courts. Slave trading was carried out to replace the indigenous labor which was decimated by overseas pathogens and pathological forms of production to feed “European gluttony.” Afro-Americans were and continue to be doubly victims of colonialism and displacement.

What does the conquest of the East and West Indies and slave trading have to do with globalization? Well, it so happens that globalization, as we know it today, is the continuation of the globalizing process initiated by Isabel La Catolica who expelled the Jews and Moors from Spain and then sent Christopher Columbus off to the ‘Indies’ in 1492. Elizabeth I, who was neither Spanish nor a Catholic, but was certainly as ambitious as her namesake, further continued with this process by sealing the fate of an empire upon which the sun would never set with the incorporation of the East India Company. Ironically, her empire was to have many ‘Moors’ or Arabs as well as some Jews, whose descendents are still battling out the effects of the artificial borders imposed by the British Crown. And the African and Asian Continents continue to suffer the effects of colonialism at great physical and human cost.

But let’s return to our continent. The battles that are being waged today in the streets of our cities and in the sierras and jungles of our hinterlands is a struggle between a cyber empire on which the sun never sets so that computers can continue to record financial transactions day and night in total disregard for lives lived on a human scale and for a world where the sun rises at dawn to make life flourish and sets at dusk so that this life can enjoy a well earned rest.

The First Nations leaders who met in Ottawa last March are not against the idea of globalization per se. On the contrary. They aim to strengthen alliances between the original inhabitants of the Americas to protect their traditional way of life whilst respecting their diverse cultures and the environment. Their position is one of trust in their capacity to recover their history and their understanding that they owe nothing to governments that have settled down on their lands without a by-your-leave. However, they don’t necessarily consider the former colonizers as the enemy, provided the latter are willing to live in peace and mutual respect as one of several communities that live on this continent. But beware! The slogan of the conference was clear: no globalization without mobilization of human and environmental rights.

Until recently it was fashionable to equate progress with industrialization and welfare with consumerism. But even today, there are people, who -- despite having played only on pavement as children, and later worked in alienating skyscrapers, and made love with cyber lovers -- still yearn to return to that mythical past where industrialization-run-amok and the-sky-is-the-limit consumerism do not suffocate their lungs nor squish their heart. Indigenous culture still nurtures the world vision that has sustained life on our planet from the beginning of time. We have a lot to learn from this culture.

In fact, Europe learned much from the people it colonized. It learned and became aggrandized. Without America’s raw materials and traditional native know-how, it’s quite possible that the industrial revolution in Europe might not have taken place.

The silver from the Potosi mines filled the coffers of Europe, giving rise to a monetary economy and to the new mercantile and capitalist class. For the first time a world market was created when American silver circulated through the Ottoman Empire, China and the East Indies, for the purchase of goods from the East and West Indies. Native labor, together with African slaves, permitted pre-capitalist forms of production. Transnational corporations were born, the oldest being the Hudson’s Bay Company, which has been operating continuously since May 1670, when Charles II signed its incorporation. The economic transformation of the whole world took place within two centuries of Columbus’ arrival in the Americas.

New World crops provided the food stability required for the development of Europe. Potato crops, which grew throughout the year, eliminated famines caused by failed seasonal crops such as wheat and sorghum. The Irish famine resulted from an infestation of a single variety of potato. If the Irish had valued biodiversity like the natives did (the Incas grew 3000 varieties of potatoes which thrived under different environmental conditions whereas Peru now imports potato seeds from Holland), they would not have been stricken by the potato famine, and would have thus avoided massive migrations to America. Who knows, if there had been multiple crops in Ireland, the assassination of an American president of Irish origin and his brother would never have happened, as well as the tragic death of a Princess of Irish origin in Monaco!

Besides precious metals, raw materials from the Americas contributed to the formation of European capitalism. American cotton, with long and resistant fibers, made it possible for the first textile mills in Europe to be established. The 109 hues of dye from Peru and brazilin, a purple and red dye derived from the brazil wood tree, gave rise to a wider range of colors for textiles. British soldiers came to be known as redcoats thanks to the red dye extracted from the female of a scale insect that feeds on a Mexican cactus. Peruvian rubber made it possible to attach hoses to equipment and tires to cars. American natives knew how to vulcanize rubber with sulphur way before Charles de La Condamine, a French scientist, stumbled upon this procedure in 1735.

The First Nations of the Americas contributed to this revolution with their traditional know-how. They had the technology to smelt metals at high altitudes under low oxygen conditions, for which they created the ‘guayra,’ a wind-driven furnace. They waterproofed boats with tar and made sugar from sugarcane. Sugar mills, which combined rural and industrial labor, might well be the precursors of modern factories. The milling of sugar led to the making of rum and alcohol.

It's true that without the technology and organization of the Europeans, the industrial revolution would have never started in America. But it's also true that without the precious metals and processes of the native peoples, the industrial revolution would have never spread to Europe. This could be a metaphor for our times, a model for a future society of the Americas and of the world: a society in which we are all mentors and apprentices at the same time.

Of all the revolutions created by the meeting of these two currents, perhaps the most exciting one is the food revolution. The Inca Empire never suffered from famines in spite of, or maybe because of its lack of money. Jack Weatherford, author of the excellent book: Indian Givers. How the Indians of the Americas Transformed the World believes that Machu Picchu, with its numerous and narrow terraces at different altitudes above sea level, is merely an experimental agricultural station. He reached this conclusion while noticing that there was different vegetation on each terrace, exposed to different conditions such as sunlight, humidity, temperature and altitude. Once again, it is evident that pre-Columbian peoples recognized the importance of biodiversity for sustainable development. However, it is also quite possible that Machu Picchu was indeed a sacred spot, since the Incas adored Pacha Mama, or mother earth as well as Inti, or father sun. Andean farmers freeze dried potatoes for easier transportation and preservation. They also dried meat, giving rise to the American jerky, whose name is a Quechua word. American Indians gave the world three fourths of modern foods, including protein-rich beans, healthy sunflowers, popcorn for movie-goers and avocado to make dips and chips. Chocolate, of course, was reserved for Aztec warriors at the battle front.

The indigenous peoples of the Americas contributed to the idea of an egalitarian society which we still aspire to achieve. For the first time the British and the French realized that there could be forms of government based on harmony and prosperity without a king. Sir Thomas More based his Utopia on accounts from the New World. Michel de Montaigne praised the social equality of Indians from Brazil. Europe was enlightened by the torch of indigenous freedom. Proudhon, father of modern anarchist theory, stressed the idea of mutuality as a model for a society based on cooperation. All these ideas, including the American electoral system, were deeply rooted in indigenous soil. Of course, the Iroquois cannot be blamed for recent electoral failures in the United States! And our own Canadian parliamentary system could certainly benefit from the period of silence imposed by the Iroquois on speakers so they can have a chance to rethink their position. Benjamin Franklin was so impressed with indigenous democracy that he adopted a system whereby soldiers voted for the officer who would send them out to war. Talk about accountability! The League of Nations also based itself on Iroquois democracy when they allowed each country a single vote, regardless of their size.

Karl Marx and Thomas Jefferson were inspired by the primitive communism of the First Nations. Mexico's 1910 revolution, which preceded the Bolshevik revolution, was led by Emiliano Zapata, a mestizo of Indian culture. Zapata’s name continues to resonate today, as does the name of the last rebel Inca: Tupac Amaru.

A lot has been said about the political, social and economic contribution of the First Nations, but little has been said about how they continue to be a storehouse of information on the largest pharmacopoeia in the world: the jungles of the American continent. Most of the herbs, plants and trees that produce magic medicines grow there. We owe quinine, aspirin, ipecac and annedda (a cure for scurvy) to them. Brazilian curare is used as a muscular relaxant and cascara sagrada gets rid of constipation. If you enter any health food store you realize that native wisdom and the jungles that this wisdom wishes to protect are still looking after your health.

And here I will arbitrarily cut short my inventory of indigenous offerings to return to the possible impact of globalization on modern society. Some say globalization is full of goodies and that in any case, it is inevitable. Others are resolutely opposed to it. I will merely give you the point of view of the First Nations, custodians of this lovely land for the last 40,000 years or so.

In their Final Declaration, the Indigenous Summit of the Americas affirmed the inherent right of First Nations to form part of the new economy, their inalienable human right to self-determination, the Supremacy of the Great Creator, their unique physical and spiritual relationship with our Mother Earth and the whole of the natural world, their devotion to collective forms of society, their profound concern for the protection of the wholeness of our environment, their rejection of racism, genocide, colonization and the depredation of natural resources and the need for economic initiatives to take place only within the framework that validates the principles of indigenous peoples and the overwhelming need to respect human rights.

Let’s hope that Eduardo Galeano’s statement becomes a lie someday. Let’s hope that the prophesy of the Inca shaman is fulfilled and that one day the Eagle and the Condor fly together over the mountain ranges which are the vertebral column of our American Continent. Let’s pray for the globalization of ‘munay’ so that our children and their children may enjoy their benefits.


* My translation.

N.B. I owe a deep debt of gratitude to Jack Weatherford, Eduardo Galeano and the Indigenous Summit of the Americas, whose deliberations I had the privilege to witness, for helping me articulate what I learnt as a child in my native Mexico.

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