I wrote this text in a choreographic form and as a quilt of words to contextualize Weichafe Moira Ivana's Millan text “On the European Tradition of Stealing” published independently by the editorial dance collective i am proudly a part of: Dancing at the Crossroads (as we walk).

1986

My mother, Maite Eliceche gave birth to me in the colonial settlement of Bahía Blanca, the southernmost fort in Roca's genocidal campaign in the wrongly named desert (1878–1885). I was born in Wallmapu territory (on the colonial frontier of Argentina). I always say that the territories i walk also inhabit me. With my mother and bebote, i am engaged in a process of territorial recovery that i call choreography, where the river Quequén meets the Atlantic Ocean. I spend as much time as i can in Salvador de Bahía, Brazil, where i am currently doing a PhD in anthropology. And although i am unable to be in Haiti physically, my heart is in my spiritual home of Port-au-Prince, at the sacred temple of Na-Ri-Véh. Because my choreographic practice is legitimized and funded by the Flemish government and Flemish cultural institutions, my professional artistic home is Brussels.

2016

For my thirtieth birthday, i received a most beautiful gift from my mother: a silver necklace made by the Mapuche artist Javier Cayupán. The necklace, a trapelakuche, is exquisitely beautiful and so profoundly Mapuche.1 To me, the gift meant that upon wearing it i was responsible for understanding the history of the Mapuche nation and committed to always standing in solidarity with their struggles. I began to understand these struggles as my own. This was an oath i swore to myself.

2017

I was surprised to see the Kunsten Festival des Arts announce the following: “To open the festival, [Eszter] Salamon is offering us LANDING, a group ritual consisting of dances and songs of the South American Mapuche tribe.” The announcement alone made me profoundly uncomfortable, to say the least. “Tribe”?2 The Mapuche are a nation,3 but in any case, who on earth uses the word “tribe” to refer to any group of people? Did the choreographer, the festival's director, the dramaturges, and the festival's communications team not notice this racist nomenclature? In 2017? It was hard for me to make myself go to the opening. I had seen this choreographer's previous work, Monument 0, at Kaaitheater and had found it to be a contemporary piece of minstrelsy. But i had sworn an oath to myself. So i put on Javier Cayupan's divine necklace and went to the opening, hoping that i might be pleasantly surprised.

I was shocked. I saw a big group of young dancers from all over the planet, dancers i had taught at the Performing Arts Research and Training Studios (PARTS)4 as an assistant to ballet master Janet Panetta. These dancers were dear to me, and were performing clumsily, moving in a walking pattern at night, with their faces painted different colors and their bodies covered in thermal metal blankets, before an artsy Brussels audience at Wiels, a “contemporary” art museum. I was shocked. I was shocked to see one of the dancers from an older generation at PARTS on the mic singing a supposedly Mapuche song while playing what seemed to be an Indigenous percussive instrument from Abya Yala that was not a kultrun. I felt hurt. I felt pain in my heart.

But i kept that sadness to myself. Although i was born in Wallmapu, i am not, as far as i know, a genetic descendant of Mapuche people, and i was not raised in a Mapuche community. So i did not find my sadness as representative of how a Mapuche person or community would feel upon witnessing this work, and i did not feel i could legitimately speak up against this piece for that reason. I kept that experience to myself, as i discreetly asked the dancers questions about the process, whenever i had the chance, in an attempt to understand what had happened.

1980

Publicist Oliviero Toscani starts working for United Colors of Benetton. Together, Oliviero and Luciano Benetton transform the brand into a worldwide photographic and advertising phenomenon. The pure color palette, the white background, and the multiculturalism of the models become the brand's signature. At the top of their game, Benetton and Toscani add social justice issues to their campaign: HIV, migration, the death penalty, hunger, feminism. They play with multiculturalism and a pure color palette in a more sophisticated way than what we see in the painted faces of the dancers in the Brussels performance, which directly invoke European primitivist fantasies (as exemplified in the recent renovation of the blackface figure Zwarte Piet into Kleuren de Pieten). The Mapuche do not paint their faces with garish colors. Toscani and Benetton sweaters are made with 100-percent merino wool from Patagonian sheep.

2019

August 1: Santiago Maldonado is disappeared during the violent invasion of Lof Cushamen, recovered territory on Luciano Benetton's property.5

2019

October 17: Maldonado's lifeless body is found.

2019

November 11: The territorial recuperation of Lof Lafken Winkul Mapu begins, sparked by the historical event of Betiana Colhuan Nahuel becoming a Machi, a person in charge of medical care. Amid so much violence against the Mapuche nation, this is an enormously significant and celebratory moment since there has not been a Machi in Puelmapu for more than one hundred years.

2019

November 25: Rafael Nahuel is murdered by government troops. Nahuel took part in the territorial recuperation of Lof Lafken Winkul Mapu in the disputed land of Lago Mascardi National Park.

2018

Leandro Nerefuh invited me to collaborate with him, Caetano de Souza, and other illustrious guests for “the Clovis Horizon” at Kunsten Festival de Arts, a profound and poetic anticolonial process that commemorates times before, after, and beyond the brutal invasion by Europeans and their linear, compartmentalizing epistemologies. As we were presenting the work, i received a message from some of the students at PARTS, asking me for tickets and wondering if they could meet us for a conversation. They explained that the school had scheduled a theory workshop meant to frame the work that the Hungarian choreographer was presenting at the Kunsten Festival (again!) that year. The students mentioned that they were uncomfortable with how she was using non-European dances and how the school was justifying that work, so they decided to reach out to us: actual non-European artists presenting work at the same festival. That same year, two former non-European PARTS students were presenting work dealing with colonial histories. Moya Michael, from South Africa, was presenting a work with Faustin Linyekula dealing with pillaged objects from the Democratic Republic of Congo, and, together with Leandro and Caetano, I was presenting an experimental program rooted in the solar6 cosmogonies of Abya Yala. The school seemed to have been uninformed of this fact or chose to actively ignore it. However, they did apparently make an effort to organize what, in a personal message to me, were called “theory classes on postcolonial texts” to frame the Hungarian choreographer's work.

Jaider Esbell: What are the challenges of decoloniality?7

Ailton Krenak: In the context of a battered/scourged/whipped (azotado) continent, it is the whites who are calling the congress, it is the typically colonial institutions. Institutions that still haven't managed to change the blood, once in a while they do a hemodialysis, they take somebody’s blood in order to continue working.8

2020

My father, César Rubén Lisa, drove me, the tiny baby growing inside my belly, and Leandro Nerefuh two thousand kilometers from Necochea to Lof Pillan Mauiza for the founding of the Movimiento de Pueblos contra el Terricidio, summoned by the Movimiento de Mujeres y Diversidades Indígenas por el Buen Vivir. “Terracide” is a term coined by Weichafe Moira Ivana Millán to name the destruction of the visible and invisible forces, the tangible and intangible beings, that share territory with us. Terracide is a synthesis of:

+ Feminicide, transfeminicide, and travesticide, because it is the organized and continued murder directed against our body-territories in the everyday. The violence of the patriarchal system is integral; it promotes segregation, rape, and murder and establishes a hierarchy determining which lives matter and which don't. Sanctioned by this state politics, a host of radicalized religious sects devise discourses of hate, including those we have come to call “gender religious violence.”

+ Epistemicide, because colonization has attempted to eliminate our ways of understanding life. Ecclesiastic religions impose their religious violence, robbing us of the possibility of conserving and transmitting ancestral spiritualities.

+ Genocide, because the systematic extermination of peoples never stopped.

+ Ecocide, because it destroys, pillages, and pollutes whole territories indiscriminately. Its destruction is irreversible.

Many people gathered in what was called the “climate camp”: women and other members of the more than thirty-six nations pre-existing the modern colonial state of Argentina. The horrors of today's neocolonial terror seemed too great; this wasn't the place for me to bring up the piece i had seen in Brussels. It seemed too banal to mention in the face of so much death and in the context of discussions of such urgent matters as the abolition of chineo.9 And so the week ended, and my father and i drove back to Necochea.

2020

February 17: Weichafe Moira Ivana Millán calls me from Las Grutas to say that she has decided to travel the two thousand kilometers from Pillan Mauiza to Necochea because she felt we needed to talk. We spend a week together, talking, walking, getting to know each other, and dreaming. After some time, i decide i have to tell Moira about the piece i had seen. And so the text Dancing at the Crossroads (as we walk) is publishing, “On the European Tradition of Stealing,” by Weichafe Millán, was born.

I translate Moira's text into English with Salvador Santillán and sent it to rekto:verso and Etcetera (two Flemish arts publications) to ask them if they would publish it in their magazines.

Moira writes, “Curiously she named the series Monuments. While in this part of the world we are talking about demonumentalizing the genocides, looking for a way to take the ‘civilizing’ model off its pedestal, Salamon's dance series seeks to place in the collective unconscious a museological language that is nothing other than the language of annihilation. We must replace this language with memorials whose discourse will be collective and come from the people.”

2020

May 25: The public lynching of George Floyd takes place, on East Thirty-Eighth Street and Chicago Avenue in the Powderhorn Park neighborhood of Minneapolis.

Following this human sacrifice, multiple statues of Christopher Columbus and other colonial patriarchs are destroyed, burned, thrown into rivers by members of social justice movements around the world.

2020

On July 13, in the midst of the toppling of so many monuments, rekto:verso responds (all emphases are mine):

“Unfortunately, we will have to decline your offer kindly. It proved too difficult to look past the fact that we would be publishing, today, an opinion about a piece that was performed in 2017. . . . This goes against our guidelines and mission for online publications, and we have to stay true to them.

Of course we follow the argument in your previous email: the relevance of the subject itself is there as long as cultural appropriation and oppression exist. But that is exactly why we insist on actual examples or other references to a RECENT cultural event, or in-depth analyses with more artistic examples: if you have a broad public, you have to make something accessible to understand.”

Since 1492, European colonialism has been obsessed with the now, the newest, and the monopoly of the contemporary. This obsession with owning the present is a foundation of the colonial epistemology that separates the modern from the “primitive,” the contemporary from the traditional, the identitarian from the abstract, civilization from “savagery,” and so on. It is also an infectious epidemic that converts humans into zombie consumers, making them desire the latest model of phone, the latest style of jeans, the latest model of car—at the cost of other human lives and other-than-human lives and ecosystems.

Etcetera's response was different: “We have discussed the text with the Etcetera editors, and we would like to give it an online platform. We think the plea against cultural extractivism is a very important one to make, even more so in these troubling times.” However, the journal set forth two conditions: (1) They wanted to offer a platform for Salamon to respond, because, they wrote, “the text is very personal; . . . we think it's right to give her the opportunity to react and to publish the opinion together with her written response.” (2) They demanded that footnotes be added to Moira Millán's text.

Both Etcetera and rekto:verso are very quick to apply the colonial method of delegitimizing a sophisticated act of theorizing by arguing it is “an opinion” and “very personal.” Intellectual and novelist Weichafe Moira Millán wrote a lucid critical analysis, presenting concepts that are novel to the colonial academy and offering a structural analysis of “the European tradition of stealing” by unpacking a specific case study within the arts cultural market and connecting it to events in kindred political and commercial spheres. This is not opinion; it is not a matter of whether she liked the color of a shirt or the taste of a particular ice cream. This colonial device to delegitimize countercolonial epistemologies is not new.

To the second demand, Moira respectfully responded by providing a link to the Kunsten Festival's website, where all the information referring to the performance she is addressing is available, together with the words of the choreographer herself. It is important to note that since Moira's text has been circulated independently, it seems that some changes were made to the website.

To the first demand, i respond by noting that Etcetera had already given a platform to the choreographer, promoting and giving voice to her work in an extensive interview published in 2017 in preparation for her series at the Kunsten Festival:10

In this interview, the Hungarian choreographer does not once name any of the dances she employs from outside Europe. She does, however, makes one mention of the communities that “inspired” her: “cannibal tribes from Papua New Guinea.” I don't see any article in Etcetera accompanying this interview that names those who are not mentioned by the choreographer, those who are silenced, the non-European peoples she says she takes dances from, without making it clear who they are, let alone inviting them to respond to her statements.

I have not found on its website any article written by or interview with members of the so-called cannibal tribes from Papua New Guinea. They were not given the right of reply. There is an explicit double standard in the editorial rules of Etcetera magazine.

I find it ridiculous to even have to point out how incredibly racist and untruthful that phrase is. The “cannibal tribes from Papua New Guinea” exist only in the Hungarian choreographer's and Theodor de Bry's imagination.

“What primitivism does is to source, to obtain ‘aesthetic resources,’ from outside the aesthetic and epistemic territory of modernity. These aesthetic resources are obtained from other worlds of sensing and meaning, from other geo-genealogies, and then they are mobilized to challenge the canon of figurative representation of Western aesthetics.” —Rolando Vázquez11

What is fascinating in the interview is the purposeful conversation around cultural appropriation, where two white people talk arrogantly, patronizingly, and in a tutelary manner, aggressively calling non-European peoples reductive, violent, and colonized for pointing out the hypocrisy in being a white European choreographer appropriating non-European dances. I was also informed by the dancers that when Millán's text was circulated the choreographer refused to discuss the matter with her collaborators, claiming she was “too hurt.” So too was King Baudouin hurt by Patrice Lumumba's moving independence speech. Here we have two classic cases of white fragility in the midst of white aggression. Furthermore, the interviewer and the chorographer work hard to represent themselves as benign and even apparently rebellious in their relationship to colonial histories. This shows the twistedness of the colonial discursive apparatus, where those who serve modernity present themselves as antisystemic in order to enforce the very hierarchies of white supremacy that justify their supposed right to pillage and their apparent freedom to do whatever they want.

“Universities, artists, NGOs, governments, companies [and we should add arts publications] use their tentacles to loot the spirit of the peoples and their territories. . . . Lately we have seen the legitimation of fashion companies, snobbish artists, and even government officials who have defended practices of cultural appropriation and extractivism. Immediately the European supremacist voice legitimizes this conduct, bestowing a gaze that is exotic, postmodern, and cool.” —Moira Millán12

In the Etcetera interview, the Hungarian choreographer says, “For MONUMENT 0, I suggested that the performers learn a series of dances from five different continents, which the dancers and I were not familiar with. . . . I decided not to work with gurus or specialists, but with videomaterial, so we had to look for techniques ourselves to deal with that material.”13

In the program notes for the Kunsten Festival, she writes of “playing on the scale of mimesis. Picking up, stealing, and repeatingwithout waiting to be taught.14

The dancers who participated in the performance communicated to me that the choreographer had created an atlas of non-European dances, which she had “obsessively gathered from Google.” No contextualization was offered to the dancers to inform them where the dances came from, what they meant, or how they were created. Their task was to watch YouTube videos and copy the movements by mimicking what they saw. The choreographer had an assistant, also Hungarian and a former PARTS student, who was described to me as in charge of teaching, of making sure the dancers learned the materials properly. She was the figure of authority, claiming expertise in dances that she had only seen on YouTube. While the choreographer claims she does not work with gurus or specialists, she does make a young dancer who has no contact with these ancestral movements the expert, one paid to ensure that the dancers’ learning process was adequate.

There are salaries allocated to the choreographer and her assistant, paid by the school. In addition to these payments, the piece received support in the form of coproduction, that is, additional money, from other important cultural institutions that allowed for it to continue outside the school and to tour extensively. Aside from the money they earn, the choreographer and her collaborators amass professional prestige from working in such prominent European institutions that in turn provide these people the capacity to return to these institutions as teachers and choreographers in a circular colonial economy that feeds and renovates itself financially and discursively.

“While Eszter Salamon was announcing the revival of a forgotten dance, of an almost extinct people, in Wallmapu, both in Puelmapu as in Gulumapu the territories were assaulted by the bullets of army repressors and police torturers. This ‘almost extinct’ people called the Mapuche Nation has no less than four million people. They exist in the south of South America as guardians of life, confronting extractivist, polluting enterprises, mercenary landowners, and corrupt officers. At the moment when the choreographer was receiving significant pay in Euros to fill her pockets, many of us were collecting coins so that we could go to the nearby courts to report the systematic hunting of our people.” —Moira Millán15

“Innocence . . . thickly describes part of a dominant Dutch way of being in the world. The claim of innocence, however, is a double edged sword: it contains not-knowing, but also not wanting to know . . . Succinctly stated, ‘the epistemology of ignorance is part of a white supremacist state in which the human race is racially divided into full persons and sub-persons. Even though—or more accurately, precisely because—they tend not to understand the racist world in which they live, white people are able to fully benefit from its racial hierarchies, ontologies and economies.’ . . . This not-understanding, which can afflict white and nonwhite people alike, is connected to practices of knowing and not knowing, which are forcefully defended. Essed and Hoving also point to ‘the anxious Dutch claim of innocence and how disavowal and denial of racism may emerge into what we have called smug ignorance (aggressively) rejecting the possibility to know’ . . . The behavior and speech acts of his defenders do not speak of innocence but rather of ‘an ignorance militant, aggressive, not to be intimidated, an ignorance that is active, dynamic, that refuses to go quietly—not all confined to the illiterate and uneducated but propagated at the highest levels of the land, indeed presenting itself unblushingly as knowledge.’” —Gloria Wekker16

I felt called to write a contextualization of Moira's text but was troubled by the possibility of drowning in colonial arrogance myself. I decided that i needed to officially interview the dancers who had participated in the performance to understand their experiences and potentially ameliorate some of my horror. It got worse. As i interviewed the dancers, i became more horrified, convinced that the work was a sad case study in neocolonial spiritual extractivism. How can one denounce such terracidal practices? How can one work unapologetically with humility, love, and understanding?17 How can one avoid falling into the logic of modernity's punitivism? I asked myself these questions and others. How can one not fall into the trap of modern expertise? My spiritual father, Houngan Jean-Daniel Lafontant, told me, “Remember there is no Vodou expert, every Lakou has their own way of practicing the cosmogony.” The dancers explained to me that Salamon was looking for dances that involved strong facial expression, significant muscle tone, and loud hand gestures. As I heard the dancers mentioning Oxúm, Xangô, and the Gede in this context, I felt conflicted thinking about how disparate their visions of these entities were from mine. I reminded myself that although i have encountered these vibrations in Haiti and Bahia, I am not an expert. Still the representations were too disparate. Again, I had a feeling that the performance had been an act of minstrelsy: a caricatured production of the “other.” The choreographer's promotional images and the dancers’ descriptions reminded me too much of Zwarte Piet.

“Control, stability, and composure under the African rubric of the cool seem to constitute elements of an all-embracing aesthetic attitude. Struck by the re-occurrence of this vital notion elsewhere in tropical Africa and in the Black Americas, I have come to term the attitude ‘an aesthetic of the cool’ in the sense of a deeply and complexly motivated, consciously artistic interweaving of elements serious and pleasurable, of responsibility and of play.

“Manifest within this philosophy of the cool is the belief that the purer, the cooler, a person becomes, the more ancestral he becomes. In other words, mastery of self enables a person to transcend time and elude preoccupation. He can concentrate or she can concentrate upon truly important matters of social balance and aesthetic substance, creative matters, full of motion and brilliance. Quite logically, such gifted men and women are, in some West and Central African cultures, compared in their coolness to the strong, moving, pure waters of the river.”—Robert Farris Thompson18

OXUM, Orixa of sweet waters

My mentor, Dr. Egbomi Nancy de Souza (Mãe Cici de Oxala),19 told me the following story:

Every year the Oba (ruler) of Yoruba country would organize a big dancing festival where he would invite all of the Ayabas (important women) to present their dances. It was a time of celebration, and the Oba would always reward the women with cowrie shells, fabrics, and jewelry to thank them for their dances. One year when almost all the Ayabas had danced, Oya's turn came. She danced with her typical power, blowing with her winds and heating the space with her warmth and fire. After Oya came the last to dance, Oxum. As she stepped onto the dance floor, she noticed how hot the sand was. Oya had left the floor burning with her energy. As if nothing of the kind were happening, Oxum decided to do her dance anyway. She went onto the dance floor with incredibly small steps, barely lifting up her feet from the floor. To accompany her tiny steps, she swayed her torso and undulated her arms in the most elegant and fluid manner. Her face always poised and cool, showing depth of dignity, finesse, commanding power of the body and mind, grace, character, charm, and Ase! When she finished her dance, everyone was in awe, admiring such an elegant and original performance.20

The words in this song for Oxum mean more or less: “Mother, queen, woman of great importance who dances, celebrates, she who wears a crown and elegantly moves over burning ashes.”

XANGO, Orixa of thunder and justice

Xango is directly associated with the splendor achieved by the Yoruba civilization, the dynasty of Oyo. He was the third Alafin king.

According to anthropologist and Babalorixa21 Vilson Caetano de Souza,

Afogueira de Xangô consists of a celebration held around a bonfire placed at the entrance of the shed. After the songs in praise of the orixás, everyone heads outside. The lit bonfire recalls Xangô, the divinity itself, represented in its most primordial aspect, the fire that makes the wood burn. . . . Oiá, in turn, takes a copper pot full of akarajés, his favorite food and craft. After singing and dancing around the fire, the iabás place the offerings on the fire. Xangô receives from the hands of his women the fruit of his work, from the hands of Iansã the fire. Now the akarajés that filled the copper pot will be replaced by the embers that Oiá takes on his head and takes to a place where they will be scattered. “It's time to measure forces.” Xangô and Iansã jump over the embers and dance over the fire. Another way of doing this ceremony is for these two orixás to exchange a pot with fire on their heads. It is the ajeré, when Xangô receives on his head a pot of akará, swaths of cotton soaked in palm oil and ignited. . . . It is the great moment of the representation of the day the world caught fire. It caught fire in the sense that it received from the hands of Oiá an essential element of civilization.22

This fire proof is a source of pride in Candomble Terreiros of Bahia because it shows that Xango has really arrived and taken possession of the devotee's body. There are no signs of pain or discomfort during this dance, and once Xango leaves the body of the devotee, the human host is left with no wounds or marks.

“There is another transoceanic relationship to consider here, one that suggests that great heat is sublimated and controlled in Haitian mystic coolness. This relationship is especially manifest in rites of initiation or rebirth. In Dahomey and Yorubaland, a person sworn into the cult of the thunder god, patron of warriors and lord of lightning, must prove upon initiation special mastery of the pain of heat. He must dance with a fire burning in a vessel on his head. He must literally balance heat with ease. He must also thrust his hands into a vessel containing boiling gruel without flinching. He thus proves, by tasting heat with nonchalance, that his control is derived from his god, a possession actual and not feigned. This splendidly dramatic test apparently came to Haiti from the Dahomean and Yoruba cults of thunder to become the means of entrance into the entire vodun religion of the black folk of that important Caribbean black republic. . . . Thus we come back, at the beginning, as at the end, of life to the purity of self that is an imperative of the cool.”—Robert Farris Thompson23

A dancer's testimony: “The museum piece ended with all the dancers coming together to perform a Gede dance: the dance consisted of fast shaking, ecstatic trance-like shaking, that ends with everyone falling on the floor.” That is “voodoo” not Vodou. “Voodoo” is a racist Hollywood invention created to demonize and destroy the high science of life that is Haitian Vodou. “Voodoo” is a construction the white world has created to depict vodouisants as hysterical and out of control. Vodou dances require discipline and much bodily sophistication.

GEDE

2019

In November, I found myself in Port-au-Prince, presenting the work that Leandro Nerefuh and I made in honor of the riches, wealth, and power of Haiti and Haitians. It is Gede season. In my spiritual home, the Sacred Temple Na-Ri-Vèh, the Gede requested that this year there only be a small ceremony performed in the cemetery. I beg my father, Houngan Jean-Daniel Lafontant, to take us to a Fèt Gede, and so one day he asks us all at the Lakou to get ready. Respeur, Rit, Emmanuela, Floralda, Manhorita, Mathieu, Leandro, and I get ready to go. Papa Da takes us to Sosyete Saut d'Eau in the central Marche Salamon. If America menea, the Gede are Mecca. They are the source of the vital force that makes us wind our hips and keeps us alive and sensual. They are the Goudou Goudou, the first movement, source of all life: a divine sphere of meeting called gouyad. At the Fèt, the Gede blessed me with the sacred initiation into motherhood. They gave me my baby Toya. Divine Toya, who changed my life, who gave me life. I thank the Gede in eternity. But the Gede always remind us that with life comes death. On June 28, 2020, my father César Rubén Lisa left his soul's casing and transitioned to his next state. The Gede came back to aid me and taught me how to bury and mourn my father. Kwa Senbo!

2022

Tuesday, October 4, 7 a.m.: The violent repression and eviction of the Lof Lafken Winkul Mapu begins, ordered by Federal Judge María Silvina Domínguez. The comando unificado is a special state-sponsored terrorist force that brings together the federal and provincial militaries and police to target Mapuche communities specifically. This unit violently enters the Lof, destroying the rewe (ceremonial space) and attacking people with lead bullets and teargas. They abuse and torture Machi Betiana Colhuan Nahuel, a spiritual authority, two patients who are there receiving treatment, and more lamngen (women/sisters), one of them forty weeks pregnant, the mothers of two-month-old babies, as well as pu wentru (men), and thirteen minors. The children run into the mountains. Their grandmothers are forbidden by the military forces from going into the mountains to look for them for more than twelve hours.

2022

October 5: Machi Betiana Colhuan Nahuel, Luciana Jaramillo, Celeste Huenumil, Debora Vera, Florencia Melo, Romina Rosas, and Andrea Despo Cañuequeo—seven women, mothers, one pregnant—are flown to the female penitentiary in Buenos Aires more than fifteen-hundred kilometers away from their babies and children, reminding us of the times of Roca's genocide campaign.

2022

October 8: Elizabeth Gómez Alcorta, the minister of women, gender and diversity, presents her resignation as a form of protest and after an outcry for human rights violations, the lamngen are brought back to Furilofche.

Debora Vera and Florencia Melo, who do not have children, are imprisoned in the airport police station; they are put in isolation without legal help and go on hunger strike. The lamngen with children (who are also breastfeeding) are held under house arrest in a cultural center that is attached to a police training facility where they hear shots every day, since they are not allowed to go back to their Lof. Romina Rosas is held in custody in the hospital where she finally gives birth on October 16, surrounded by police. The whole procedure is done under maximum legal secrecy. The women are not even informed of why they are being arrested.

2022

October 26: The federal judge releases Debora Vera and Florencia Melo and continues to hold Machi Betiana Colhuan Nahuel, Luciana Jaramillo, María Celeste Huenumil, and Romina Rosas in prison.

2023

May 9: For eleven months, the Mapuche political prisoners are held captive for an “offense” that legally does not mean a prison sentence.

¡Libertad immedaita pu lamngen y retorno de la Machi Betiana a su Rewe!

“In a similar movement to that of epistemic violence, the aesthetic violence of modernity names the reduction of the radical plurality of other worlds’ aestheses, to turn them into aesthetic resources for the field of modern and contemporary art, and more generally to cement the aesthetic order of modernity . . . In primitivism, we can see the workings of colonial difference, the movement of appropriation, and the control of representation, the movement of incorporation as erasure. The condition of possibility of primitivism is the modern/colonial order. Here we see how the radical diversity of the aesthesis of the peoples of the world becomes a resource for the western avant-garde artist.”—Rolando Vázquez24

If the Hungarian choreographer had been genuinely interested in exposing neocolonial practices in the arts institutions of Belgium, Hungary, and the countries she frequents, she could have used her visibility to denounce the complicity of her own countrymen and women in the present exploitation of peoples and territories. She could have denounced and exposed the ongoing territorial disputes that the Mapuche communities have with Hungarian George Soros, Belgian Huber Gosse, and the nefarious Belgian real estate group BURCO at the heart of the disputes over Lof Lafken Winkul Mapu. How do those stolen dances relate to corporatocratic colonial enterprise? How is the European arts market, with its aesthetics and its forms of epistemic extractivism, a branch of the colonial apparatus? How could the choreographer have used her work to stand in solidarity with the peoples she stole dances from, to unite with them in the struggle for earth justice?

I believe not only that European artists can do this, but that they actually should. And they do! In contrast to the piece at source of this dispute, a piece was done at the same time for the European arts market by Chilean theater director Txalo Toloza and Basque choreographer Laida Azkona. Tierras del Sur is a refined, pedagogical, and militant work that syncs up with territorial and cosmic struggles and that does so with immense respect and infinite heart. It traces the history of the invasion of the Argentine nation-state and Europe's complicity with the colonial terracidal project.

Dance schools and art schools operate as bastions of colonialities, their workers educating the future artist who will uphold modernity's aesthetics and the ethics that define and feed colonial difference and therefore further the erasure of other worlds, other ways of sensing and inhabiting the earth. Arts education institutions play a fundamental role in upholding Eurocentric aesthetics, which is none other than white supremacy's extermination project. It is in these schools that the dancers are trained to aspire to have certain bodies, to dance in particular ways, formatted to adhere to particular rules, and to admire and aspire to work with certain choreographers. It is here that their colonial and imperial dreams are materialized professionally.

It is my understanding that in the ancestral cosmogonies mentioned in this text, dances are portals for communication with the forces of nature that share territory with humans. They are therefore fundamental keys for the work of recovery and restitution, for the restoration of the fabric of life on our planet. These dances are not performed in a vacuum; they are performed in a territory.

Taking them out of context, emptying them of content, desacralizing, disenchanting, and banalizing such a sophisticated technology for sacred communication is terracide.

The dances were extracted from the land where they have a fundamental power and performed at dates that are out of sync with telluric and cosmic time.

The dances were emptied of potency, meaning, and their fundamental communal functions and put in the service of one individual choreographer's personal career in the European arts market.

CULTURAL APPROPRIATION is the commodification of a cultural expression of a people that the dominant culture bids on in the market. It can be a dance or a craft. CULTURAL EXTRACTIVISM is the removal of the knowledge, wisdom/science, or art of oppressed peoples in order to destroy them. An example of this is learning a language, emptying its words of meaning, misrepresenting the conceptual origins of words, and at times replacing them with others.” —Moira Millán25

Yes, artists can learn dances that are not from their own cultures and even reinterpret and reinvent them with respect, in solidarity with struggles and remaining committed to earth justice.

Yes, one does have to ask for permission. The times of white supremacist entitled arrogance are over.

Yes, one does have to take time to study, to learn the dances on their own terms. The times of white supremacist militant ignorance are over.

Yes, one does have to study with elders, with the practitioners and members of a particular society.

“The civilizational crisis that we are experiencing sets out categorically the difference between the ways of inhabiting the world of indigenous nations and the dominant culture. This civilization that has expanded throughout the planet is an anthropocentric, patriarchal, racist, therefore sexist civilization, an extremely speciesist, materialist, individualist civilization. All these values that constitute it, that give structure to this civilizational model, today they are in a huge crisis throughout the planet, because there is no way out. All the colonial states, as well as the different mechanisms of pseudo-democracy that respond to this structure, are not succeeding in recycling this civilizational model. It is falling. The presence of indigenous nations is so important because they have thousands of years of cultural, historical, spiritual development on the territories and propose a new way of living in the world that responds to this civilizational crisis precisely. An epistemology for life and not for death.

“It is very important to recover the spirituality of the indigenous peoples, of the indigenous nations, because it is here that wisdom and knowledge dwell, the keys for the dialogue, for the communication with the Pu Ngen, with the powers of nature, with the spirit of the animals. It is very important to reconstitute the bonds of reciprocity with animals, with the mountains, to restore the bonds of reciprocity with all land, with all the elements and the vital powers that live in it. Before, there was a dialogue. Thousands of years of dialogue between the original people and the environment where we lived our lives.”—Moira Millán26

I call upon Xango to bring us justice. I ask Oxum that our struggle be done with elegance, sweetness, and care. May the Gede who are omnipresent in all healing help us overcome the sickness of coloniality, terracide, tout ça qui e fet nan terre a, and restore telluric and cosmic balance, pou ramener tout bagay a l'adroi! Let us be guided by the precepts of the Mapuche kimun.

Mariciwew! (We will win one and a thousand times!)

Acknowledgments

This text was written over the period of more than two years in the context of the dance editorial grupa I am proud to be a part of: Dancing at the Crossroads (as we walk). I am thankful for and honored by the opportunity to write this contextualization of Weichafe Moira Ivana Millán's text “On the European Tradition of Stealing.” I thank Fabián Barba, Atabey Mamasita, Moya Michael, Natalia Brizuela, Dr. Egbomi Nancy de Souza, Dr. Kyrah Malika Daniels, Beatriz Gonzáles, Houngan Jean-Daniel Lafontant, Rolando Vázquez, Moisés Lino e Silva, Leandro Nerefuh, Workspace Brussels, and my beloved baby Toya for supporting me in the writing process and contributing their thoughts, feelings, energy, and words. I am no one without others.

Notes

1.

The trapelakuche is a protective pectoral that conveys key aspects of Mapuche cosmogony: complementary duality, fertility, childhood, motherhood, the spirits, a home in harmony with the forces of the earth, and the ancestors who are always watching.

2.

Among those who used the word “tribe” to refer to non-European societies is anthropologist Henry Lewis Morgan. He, like most classical anthropologists, constructed one of the arms of white supremacy, the idea that non-European societies were inferior. He argued that the non-European societies that still survived were at best an example of the West’s past to be studied in the present and elements to be preserved in museums. Among his brethren were racist theorists Karl Marx and Charles Darwin.

3.

1992 is a relevant date to note. Across the Americas, colonial nation-states were getting ready to celebrate five hundred years of colonization. In parallel, many Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples of Abya Yala organized to denounce the five-hundredth anniversary of the European invasion and its continuation through the extractivist projects of modern nation-states. In that context, it is all the more important to note the idea of a Mapuche Nation grounded in the historical fact of there being a preexisting people with a political-social-economic spiritual organization, language, history, and philosophy.

4.

The Performing Arts Research and Training Studios present themselves as a pioneering “school for contemporary dance.” It was founded by famous Belgian choreographer Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker.

6.

Abya Yala means “mature land,” “living land,” “flourishing land.” It is a term the Kuna people use to name the continents now known as the Americas. “Solar narratives of Abya Yala ride on energetic vectors, like the solar magnetic field or the Sun-Earth axis, that open out new dimensions of spacetime for humans on Earth. Enabling peoples of the Earth to summon and interact with an infinite multitude of cosmic agents and learn about the vastness and sacredness of life (sentience and sapience) in the cosmos” (Leandro Nerefuh, pers. comm.).

9.

Chineo is a colonial term for a systematic cultural practice involving the rape, torture, and murder of young Indigenous children within the colonial borders of Argentina. This infanticide is performed by criollos in complicity with the state. In 2019, the Movimiento de Mujeres Indígenas y Discidencias por el Buen Vivir initiated a campaign to abolish this criminal practice that continues to this day. ¡Basta de chineo YA!

13.

Engels, “‘Ik wil het ongehoorde blootleggen.’”

14.

Salamon, “Monument 0.4.”

17.

This is a call Mambo Dr. Charlene Desire movingly made at the Fet Kouzin of Sosyete Nago (Lakou of Mambo Maude Evans) on May 28, 2022.

18.

Thompson, “An Aesthetics of the Cool,” 41.

19.

Dr. Egbomi Nancy de Souza is a Grio, a spiritual authority from the Terreiro Ilê Axé Opô Aganjú, and one of the greatest researchers of Abya Yala. She was assistant to Pierre Verger and consultant to innumerable international scholars and artists of Africana and AfroDiasporic Spiritualities. In July 2023 she was given the Doctorate Honoris Causa by the Federal University of Bahia. You can follow her on her fantastic Instagram profile, https://www.instagram.com/cicideoxala/.

20.

In minute 2:13:30 of this podcast with Mano Brau, Mãe Cici sings for Oxum: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tNe3F93M008.

21.

A Babalorixa is the highest authority in a Candomble Terreiro, the male guardian of a community of humans and other-than-humans within a territory organized according to Yoruba and other African-derived cosmogonies in Brazil.

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This is an open access article distributed under the terms of a Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0).