5 reasons to be grateful about the Yachay Seminar — by Carlos Saavedra

We are only weeks away from the Yachay Seminar, one of the first seminars in Boston that seeks to become a bridge between our Western US world and the indigenous worlds of the Andes and Amazon.

As we write this note, we have Amazonian healer and teacher Alberto Manqueriapa waiting for the rivers near his home to subside so that he can travel to Cuzco to finalize his paperwork to come to the US. Our Memory Program Coordinators at Ayni, Fhatima and Rodrigo, are running at full speed, working on logistics to prepare the welcoming of participants coming from multiple states.

So far, people have been very excited about our seminar and we wanted to share 5 reasons why we are so grateful to have it:

Reason #1 - A unique visitor from the Amazon

Map of the Amazon in Latin America

The Amazon of Latin America is a magical place, not only do 30% of all species in the world belong to it, but there are also over 50,000 known plants, 1,700 bird species, and over 500 types of amphibians, mammals, and reptiles that call it their home. Its biodiversity is so massive that the space of only one acre can host more than 480 different types of trees.

While this jewel of our Mother Earth is constantly under threat from climate change, oil companies, and the voracious development of western urbanization, there are hundreds of Amazonian tribes that have resisted for centuries.

Two of them are from the Huachipaeri and Machiguenga tribe, located in the region of Madre de Dios in Peru. Their long tradition of healing is well known — imagine the biodiversity of plants that have existed in their region and the centuries-long practice of passing down healing knowledge from ancestor to ancestor.

One of the latest recipients of that ancestral healing knowledge is Alberto Manqueriapa, son of a Machiguenga mother and a Huachipaeri father. Alberto is a world-recognized healer so hundreds of people seek his spiritual and medicinal advice every year.

It’s truly a blessing that so many people are going to have access to him while he is in Boston. Please come ready with your questions.

Reason #2 - A special in-depth connection to Andean philosophy and society

In 2013, one of my mentors in Lima gave me a black and white copy of a book that changed my life. The book was called Ayni, by author Carlos Milla Villena. Even as a student of history, I had never seen such a holistic account of our indigenous cultures in Latin America. By holistic, I mean a historical, scientific, arquitectural, and medicinal account of our cultures.

Andean Chakana

Professor Milla was active in many indigenous movements, he criticized oppressive governments, funded his research out of his own pocket (the book Ayni is already on its 6th edition) and made the Chakana, our ancient symbol of the Southern Crux Constellation a symbol of pride for a new generation.

Zadir Milla remembers traveling across Peru as child with his father Carlos, to measure the size of temples, uncover ancient ceramics and learn from elders of many Andean communities.

Zadir, now 57, has spent most of his life expanding the work of his father by culminating profound research on the message, vision and science of Machu Picchu. With the support of our institute, Zadir has published and will be bringing to Boston two of his most important books, The Wira Qocha Code (the great creator deity in pre-Incan and Incan mythology) and The Secret Code of Machu Picchu.

Zadir & Carlos Milla

He is also an Ayahuasca healer and teacher, with over 15 years of experience in guiding people through that process.

Last year, Carlos Milla passed away at the age of 82 to join the ancestors. We honor his legacy by bringing the one he prepared to be with us after his departure.

Reason #3 - A real connection to indigenous communities in the south

It was 2014, and for the first time I was watching a documentary in Quechua (one of the most popular indigenous languages in the Andes) in Somerville, Massachusetts.

It was a small event and it was packed. After the film ended, José Huamán Turpo, the director of the film, indigenous, from Paucartambo, Cusco and extremely proud of his work, explained the genesis of the film.

Jose and Alejandrina doing what they do best

His partner Alejandrina Calancha, the producer of the film, and José had spent the last decade cultivating a relationship with the Q’eros nation. The Q’eros nation is an indigenous community in the highlands of Peru that has been able to preserve, through an oral tradition, their sacred healing and communal ceremonies since Inca times. They are a view into our world before colonialism.

José and Alejandrina, without government support, proceeded to do the impossible: create a documentary told from the perspective of the indigenous communities themselves, narrated by them, not by some western directors, and spoken in their own language in their own words, and not dubbed in Spanish or English. Their film would also go through the feedback of community members of the nation.

After spending their own money and working hard for years, their first major documentary premiered. This process of making documentaries is not just about films but about preserving the wisdom of our indigenous communities. Jose and Alejandrina have made this their life mission.

Their latest journey is no easy task. Their documentary Voices that Heal, which is about the amazon communities that Alberto Manqueriapa is a part of, is in post-production as we we write this article. This means that there are 2–3 translators from the Huachipaeri, Machiguenga, Amarakaeri, and Toyeri communities in their living room translating the movie from their four languages into Spanish and English so we can understand it.

Some of us get to meet filmmakers, but very few of us get to meet protectors of indigenous wisdom. We are so excited that you will get to be the first ones to see Voices That Heal sitting next to José and Alejandrina.

Reason #4 - Organized by community leaders

Every day over 3,300 people travel from all over the world to visit the sacred site of Machu Picchu. Thousands more travel each year to South America to seek spiritual wisdom from the sacred plant of Ayahuasca.

Yes, the dominant culture of the world is sick. We operate in a society where profit comes before people and our Mother Earth is just a commodity that we exploit for resources. Due to this illness, people from a majority of western countries are coming to the south because they want healing. This is good in many ways, some of those that have gone thorough the ritual of Ayahuasca have created new spiritual connections that have changed their lives. However, on the other hand, it has created an industry in which a sacred ritual can become just a product.

Many see indigenous leaders as products of tourism or just healers that we can hire when we feel sick. That is why at the Ayni Institute, we have taken a long time to make this seminar happen, to foster the relationships, to not ask of them, but to give to our leaders what they need. We have supported Jose and Alejandrina’s films by creating The Mysteries of the Andes series, and more recently supported Zadir Milla to publish his seminal work that has no support in the government of Peru.

Alejandrina & Jose from Cuzco — Rodrigo & Fhatima from the Ayni Team

They are coming as our teachers and we are happy to welcome them as such. This gathering is going to be a true community meeting, in which we can see each other, hear each other and change each other. This is not organized by a regular tourist office, or by people that want their healing but don’t want to stand with them when the oil companies are displacing them in the Amazon.

We are so grateful not just to host the seminar but to be a community.

Reason 5 - A small and beautiful victory for our immigrant community

As my brother recently wrote in an email to the Movimiento Cosecha members:

I’m Rodrigo Saavedra, a former volunteer organizer at Cosecha. This email may be of interest to you if you are an immigrant who like me is interested in learning about our indigenous roots or an ally who wants to support the work of indigenous communities.
I’ve been living here for over 20 years while being undocumented and now have DACA. This past year I’ve worked closely with indigenous elders of Latin America and it has given me the opportunity to reconnect with a part of my culture that’s rarely heard or usually misunderstood.
If you’re an immigrant like me who hasn’t been able to return home in far too many years, I invite you to join us and learn more about indigenous communities in Latin America. If you’re an ally who supports us and wishes to learn more about our rich indigenous cultures, we invite you to join us too.

This seminar is a small victory for the many immigrants that want to go to the south, that want to talk to the elders, that wants to see their culture but can’t because of this unjust immigration system. For many, this seminar is a special experience of seeing, talking and sharing with their elders, with our culture.

This seminar brings true resistance because even if they can’t go, their elders are coming here to see them, and that is worth celebrating.

If you want to join us you can sign up here