Abel Rodriguez is an indigenous ethnobotanist with considerable knowledge of the Amazon rainforest. In 2014 he was awarded the Principal Laureate by the Prince Claus Foundation. For Better Than, Abel and Catalina Vargas, who has worked closely with Abel for many years, posed a series of poetic questions and insights into nature.
Water runs, words heal is published in Better Than.
Water Flows, Words Heal
By Abel Rodriguez and Catalina Vargas
At first there was nothingness, unrepresentable. The voice that narrates this nothingness is above the echo, beyond any particle; it sounds like a different person. Who talks to me in this moment?
This is how this story of power begins. Made up of thunder words.
Each tribe narrates what was left to them. Each tribe and each community, seeing their birth and origin, tells the story. Mythologically, water has her own truthful story.
Talking about these topics in my community, I would say: who can I trust right now? The old folks, who had the knowledge, are no longer here: Where can I find the support? Who will guide me? Where do I recover what is missing?
Of the people who are of the same era as me, almost everyone knows maybe what I know. Perhaps a little bit more in some areas. That’s where the weakness lies, as I just said: there are no witchdoctors… My fellow countrymen from Mirití said the same thing when I talked to them. In the past, there was real witchcraft, there were real witchdoctors that could say, with just a glance, this is what is happening, we have to take care of this and that, and what they said was true. But now everyone is a witchdoctor and what they say can be true or it can be invented. That is why I say: there is knowledge but it is not complete.
Pauses are long followed by the occurrence of the voice. A long intonation, a language grown green. This is how the spirit words are known: transmitting the silence to the rhythm of the composition. Behind those eyes there is another voice: Who exactly is talking to me in this moment? The phone rings for the first time.
So I could say that I heard a story somewhere and another story somewhere else. That is what I say many times.
For my part, I think about the figure of the clairvoyant. Talking is permeated by language itself: to hold a conversation that is like a tunnel (I go in, I go through the middle) with open blueprints and cards on the table. Although there is no table and the hand is not important.
When nothing existed, only air and word, in that moment, well, there was nothing, in that moment he was water, he was earth, he was trees; that’s why the account says that he appeared in the form of a tree with fruits so that people would see him. He showed himself in that way, all things were in him before that moment. Before that… well, I don’t know, one story says one thing and in another one he takes a different form; that is why I ask myself: What story should I believe? Who can I ask about that part? Who will correct me? Who will guide me? That is the puzzle.
– What would you say?
– From the tree.
– From the tree, which tree?
– He got water out from nothing. From the rain. From the air and the rain. – No, that is why I told you that he came first. To show how it is narrated, how it is told, he took the form of a tree. And what was that tree?
– That tree was… Are you asking me?
– Just asking.
– The tree was the creator himself.
– Exactly. That’s why I told you: he existed and everything is in him before he created the earth.
I am so used to being absent in the comfortable position behind the recorder, with my hands on the keyboard, with the phone interruptions in my favour… Now acoustic waves weave braids.
Thus, he was everything, beginning. He was tobacco, he was coca, he was cassava, he was manicuera, he was fruit. Everything, everything. What will be sown in the chagra, what will be produced, he was in all that. Word, thought, knowledge, witchcraft, healing: he was that. The remedy was in him. That is why many times we don’t need healing with medicine: there are herbs, along with words to finish it up. And words heal.
Stories, tales. Those are what prevent, what heal, what dispel. But as they say, you must believe to be safe.
Nothingness, words, things: without chronological order. From nothingness words are created, nothingness has breath. A mythological
beginning: creation as the consequence of the voice, materialization of words.
– Why do you think water flows?
– Are you asking me or are you going to tell me?
– It’s a question, a difficult question. That is why it is said that whatever exists is in the word, life is in it.
– What is the beginning of life? What would it be? Why do we resist? Why do we exist? What do we live from? What guides us? Not just me, but the world in general. What can we do without and what can’t we do without? What is the most necessary thing for life? Another question. (He laughs).
– I have also asked those questions. I asked you down there: Why does the impulse of evil win over the impulse of life? Why is life not winning the battle? But I don’t want to deviate from the topic because I like your questions.
– If we are dying, what should be done in that moment to return again to life? What could be done? Medicine? Or what could it be?
– I think you are going to say water.
– Finally, after going around in circles.
– I was waiting to see if you were going to say it spontaneously.
Without water there is no life, trees, or ants, or people, the entire world without water cannot live, even if there is silver, even if there is money, even if there are mines, even if there is gold, nothing. None of this creates life.
Why do people die? Oxygen finishes, a person falls, becomes unconscious. To return him to life you must bring a plant, not just an herb, but one that is water. To moisten the throat, to bring down that water, and again he recovers, he becomes refreshed, the throat opens and the breathing starts again. That is why the body, when it begins to revive, lets air out strongly. (He sighs). The person again collects air.
That is why we baptise a newly born child. To give him that life water, collected, baptized, named. The creator did it this way. I did not see it, but thus I was told.
Hence, in order for him to collect that water to bless it, he took water out from where there was no river or anything. He shook his body and wrought it out thus (he moves his hand from his head towards his forehead and brings a lock of hair down simulating a fall). Water spurted out and flowed, opening into a river. That is why it is said that it spurted from that lock down, that form remained as rain. And the rain is pure water, clean, clear, fresh, sweet. That is how he did it. That is a part about the birth of water.
Other voices: Why is it important to know the origin of things? Is it not more practical to make believe? More voices: Don’t take the question so seriously. Learn to appreciate the gesture. Mister Abel: Who’s talk- ing to us in this moment?
The healing is in the origin, knowledge of the stories guarantees the management of the world. Everything that exists has its story and the name evokes the energy of creation.
– And what management norms does water have?
Management of water is management of life. At the time when water did not appear as we see it running, raining, it nevertheless existed. How do trees live? They live and are born with water. That substance is its blood. We are born with water in our blood. If my body were dry, then what would I be? Who can move without water? The dummy, maybe. (Laughter). By contrast, water is essential for the bodies of human beings and of animals, even if it is just a drop. Even if it does not breathe, a leaf cannot live without water, it cannot live dry. It is dry but if you squeeze it, water comes out.
That is why in the words, in the narration, medicine is not the only source of life. To kill the illness you need medicine, but you must know how to catch the virus it contains. And what can clean that? If you are going to put the same venom that is in the body, it will kill the person because venom with venom is not life, fire with fire is not life, ice with ice is not life, stick with stick is not life, and so on. Everything is delicate.
– Hence, first, what do you have? What must you do? – What must you do to know the virus? Try it?
– Try it. Yes. What else?
– Take its juice out.
– Take its juice out. What else?
– To bring out its healing power? Speech: the story is also important. – Yes. What must be done for that?
– To give water. (Laughter).
– At first it was okay, but you strayed from the topic.
– To listen.
The site of thought is cool: dialogue does not occur just anywhere. And even though there are motorcyclists passing by on the street in front, the wind that blows over the tops of the trees give us a sign to enter that place where nothingness dissolves.
The result of that is the celebration, the dance, the joy. The first part ends there, but the customs continue, work continues. If you see the results of your work, then again you can make a dance celebration. That is how we say: there is summer each year, not everything happens only once, before summer arrives one must work. Our mother does not come in the summer with her hands crossed but with many different products. One must decide and make it emerge in order to receive and accommodate the products she brings. How do you receive it? Who receives that? With the word things are asked for and are given to those who ask for them: results appear by means of your work in the harvest.
(Silence, the rustle of leaves).
– I am going to say something and you will tell me if I understood, because I am not sure.
– But why do you mistrust yourself?
– Because I can be wrong (Laughter). Since I asked about water management and you were saying that management comes through the word and the thought one puts upon that word, the intention and also how that same word has the capacity to heal, then in order to generate that management one must listen, and prepare, organize things according to their origin, participate in the maloca, follow the program of celebration and dances. That is why the management of water is the management of life.
– Yes, the main points are not many. But commenting, narrating, talking, that is like letting loose an anthill, and lots of stories appear. I mentioned the two parts: the most necessary thing for life is food and drink. Necessary to have life is movement and body. The rest are medicine: many times fruit are medicine and from them you can heal so that the heart does not dry up. You must set that water, even if just a drop, but it must not lack. No seed lives without water, not a single one.
The centre is the body: mortal jump from nothingness to movement. Water is born of a gesture and then the dances appear: the joy of the body.
– Mister Abel, and water is used in the healing process, right?
– I told you already: without water, nothing. But if you named it, thus it remained. Just as you named it, thus it exists. If you cursed it, even if you do not give it poison, well maybe your word is strong. This water must not lack in this body, if thus you name it, thus it stays. The same water, I don’t know where from, but it arrived spiritually.
– Can you talk to water?
– Yes, you can also pray to it. As I mentioned, what lacks water? Maybe the skin, maybe iron. But because they are made by men: what the creator makes always leaves a drop of water.
– It’s just that I am getting some curtains installed in my house. In order to sleep better.
– Ah, without curtains you couldn’t sleep well?
– I wake up often…
– No, to look with ideas of seeing daylight arrive.