Granada Nicaragua. In this, the first colonial city in the Americas, churches, music and community life are central. Parque Colon vibrates with birdsong, children’s and sellers’ voices, bells marking six and twelve and a salsa beat. Two blocks away is a sixteenth century convent where the underlying stones and stories of this area wait to be heard.
El Convento de San Francisco houses 28 basalt figures taken from Zapaterra, the sacred island of the Choretegas in 1924. Its ceramics, ‘primitive’ art and displays tell the rest.
Stuck in cement bases, described with an arrogant eye and facing each other in an open almost wharehouse space at the back of the church, the Choretega figures bring tears to my eyes. Here David Abram’s wisdom in Becoming Animal crashes like waves in my chest and throat. In my mother tongue I feel it; Táim féin mar táimidne. I am because we are. And “we” includes the more-than-human world carved into each of these figures over 2000 years ago. I am moved to do my four directions morning meditation here. Beginning in the east, I honour the beginnings and the ancestors, theirs and mine. I see the child in me and the one carved by long dead hands above those four directions in the volcanic stone beside me.
There are jaguars, monkeys, crocodiles, birds and snakes within these stately figures. Even the one mislabeled “El Diablo” shows a fly-catching reptile tongue that melds the human with its origins. No map was made of their original placement on Zapaterra. There is speculation that they may have held up the roof of a huge sacred mound or temple. No explanation is given or apparently deemed necessary for their removal by Catholic and Jesuit explorers to this place after an American ‘discovered’ them in 1849. Drawings from 1920s and 30s show their deterioration since removal from their earthy protection and place. As I move into prayer in the south, I honour them in the fullness of their initial life and purpose. I honour these lands between the north and south hemispheres which may help us hear each other into fuller being. In the west I consider my own mature life journey to my Irish indigenous roots and stone-held knowledge in the mounds of the Boyne Valley and Carrowkeel. And I consider what came from the west to settle here in Central America in 1524 and ever since…. the belief that western ways were divinely right, that these ‘primitive’ people needed religions and ways of living to surplant and bury their own….the belief that particular groups of humans matter more than the community of all in the web of life…. the belief that this Earthly life is nothing compared to some hereafter, a belief so at odds with the cycle of life itself shown in indigenous traditions of ceremony and burial and in these figures. And the condradiction is that all those ‘divinely right’ beliefs were and are enforced by the power of armed might.
When I turn to the north, to the place where the elders sit, where we face the turn through death to begin the cycle of life again with the young, I am flooded with images and memories of the young creatives I work with in Spirit Matters. Here in Granada, in many places on the earth at this time, it is they who are the hope for the regeneration of what has been surpressed. Young indigenous artists and scholars are recovering and expanding the vision of their ancestors.
Masaya town in Nicaragua is a community of artists reclaiming their ‘primitive’ tradition. The image below by Morales celebrates the diversity of flora, fauna and village life locally. The Boruca mask on the left by Hernandez epitomizes the resurgence of indigenous spirit in the hummingbird-filled forests of Central America.
I leave El Convento de San Francisco with a promise… to speak to what has happened, to decolonise my own creative spirit and to support the young in unearthing what is sacred. That is reGeneration.