With this text, lawyer Alejandro Valencia Villa initiated the Mnemofilia and Lotofagia laboratory, a reflection on the way in which different indigenous peoples of America understand the past, the present and the future.
In Spanish the verbs are conjugated in four moods: indicative, subjunctive, conditional and imperative. The subjunctive mood is used to express concepts that are hypothetical, for example: "It is possible that tomorrow I will remember". The conditional mood is used to express uncertainty, for example: "If I remembered more, I would feel less nostalgia," (not likely to remember more). The imperative mood expresses an order, request or prohibition, for example: "Remember! Forget! "The indicative mood is used to describe the world of reality: What is (present), what was (past tense), what will be (future). For example: "I remember a story" (present), "What happened" (past), "Next week I will forget" (future).
Verbs and their tenses are linked with memory and oblivion. I wish to address three references of the American indigenous peoples, one on memory and oblivion and the other two on how those cultures experience time, the indicative mode. Searching for a regional representation in diversity, the references come from the indigenous peoples of North America, Central America and South America. An inquiry has yet to be made on the subject of time, memory and neglect of our indigenous peoples.
The first reference is from an indigenous group that fascinates me, recalling of the stories my father told me as a child: the Red Skins. The second is from the Mayan people, on whose land I have lived and worked, trying to shed light on serious human rights violations. The third is from an indigenous people of the Amazon, a jungle that I was able to visit and even navigate through its rivers, always wanting to linger and extend the experience. These three stories tell of light and darkness, of the past and the present, and of the now.
First reference: An old saying of the Lakotas, a tribe of the Sioux people, to which Red Cloud, the only red-skinned leader who defeated the US Army in a war, belonged in his glory days, and who forced the government to peace under the terms imposed by the Indian chief. The proverb says: "Memory is like riding through a field at night with a torch burning, the torch throws its light only to a point. Beyond, everything is darkness."
Second reference: We have been educated under the notion that the past is behind and that the future lies ahead. For the Mayan indigenous Tojolabales of Chiapas, where the EZLN arose, the past, as time lived, time seen, is in front, not behind, while the future, as time not lived, time not seen, is behind, not before us.
Third reference: The indigenous Piraha people of the Brazilian Amazon have one of the most complex languages in the world. The Piraha language is in danger, as is the Piraha tribe, the survival of its people. Their language reveals one of the smallest sets of sounds or phonemes in the world. Their culture is so simple that they enjoy the luxury of using only very few sounds, since no more are needed. Their language is impossible to understand unless one studies their culture. The immediacy of experience conditions the Piraha grammar.
The Piraha never talk about things they have not experienced, such as events from the past or the distant future or fictional themes, and they seem to always focus on the present and on the immediate experience. Piraha statements only contain references directly related to the moment in which they are spoken, whether it is a personal experience of the speaker or a fact witnessed by a contemporary of the speaker.
They only use the present, the past and the simple future, because they all refer to the moment in which they speak and therefore lack the perfect tenses we all learned in school. The perfect tense is used to describe an action already finished, for example, "The participants of the workshop of Oliver Grosstet constructed a monument". The verb 'constructed' refers to an action that has already been completed. The Piraha do not have myths of creation, nor traditional legends, stories of fiction or any other narrative which exceeds the immediate experience of the speaker or the eyewitness of the event to which the speaker refers. Any story requires the need for a live eyewitness at the time of the story. As Piraha stories must exemplify the immediacy of experience, it is impossible to translate religious texts or even speak of religions, since no eyewitness remains to these stories.
These are the three references I wanted to share with you. The light and darkness of the Lakotas teach us that we should fan the lighted torches so that it expands its light from memory and thus illuminate the darkness of oblivion. The position of the times is different as we believe, say the Tojolabales of Chiapas, only the seen can be in front, and it seems that violence tells us that the past is ahead and it seems that hope tells us that the future is behind. The beginning of the immediacy of the experience of the Piraha means that the stories you tell are irrelevant if you have not lived directly or if there are no eyewitnesses.
The testimony that we are about to hear would be a torch lit for the Lakotas, a time seen and lived that is the front for the Tojolabales, the beginning of the immediacy of the experience for the Piraha.
Let us listen to the testimony of a victim. Why the testimony of a victim? Victims should be heard. The person who relates it, is the one who ends up making history, and so it is the victim who must tell it. To speak on behalf of another is to steal his voice, his words and his silence. No one can speak for the victim. No one can appropriate his words. The ethical way of approaching the victim is not to take the floor on behalf of the victim, but to listen to it. We, all of us in this room, will make this testimony a first ethical exercise with a poetic outcome.
This lit torch, this time seen and lived and the immediacy of the experience, are not metaphors. They are forms and processes of memory and forgetting, of mnemofilia and lotofagia, that we have at our disposal, that we are witnesses and performers of this exercise.