On board a VW van named Primavera, I travelled and photographed through Colombia and Ecuador with my father. Roots is the resulting series of my returning to South America in an approach to the actual human person of my father and the mother-force of the land and people explored in the journey.
My father’s spiritual and therapeutic search into pre-columbian shamanic practices mirrored my calling to honor and learn from the indigenous and land-working people, and create visual material shareable to my context. Under the circumstances of ecological short-sightedness expressed through the exploitation of resources in the regions, as well as the socio-historical ongoing trauma of race dominance and cultural eradication, the call to inquire on the world-views and every day attitudes of the peoples of the regions was relevant and spiritually inescapable for me. As an affluent cosmopolitan, with an agenda which included using photographic machinery to make portrayals of people and their environments, I had to make a pivot in the commonalities between my subjects and myself.
My Colombian upbringing, of Western-indigenous-afro syncretism resulting from generations of crisis and harmony between powers, religions, cultures, and languages, puts me in orbit with the dramas and characters of the regions. I summoned such commonalities through immersive participation in the every day activities of my hosts and entering with them into the shared experience of story-telling, humor, play,
work, and song.
Navigating the terrains and challenges of the road trip, entering into the emotional choreography of daughter-father relationships, and approaching subjects with ethical standing and artistic integrity are all vines of the one weaving plant resulting in Roots.
They are the children of the sidewalk, near Altaquer. For 30 years, Doña Gladys has taken care of them. Several generations have passed, and today, yesterday's boys take their children to the same house where they were taken in a long time ago. Her eyes witnessed the violence. She welcomed orphans, children stripped of their parents, in this absurd whirlpool of blood that was our country. Her gaze has the sparkle of hope for the future children that arrive each morning. More "Doña Gladys" is needed in this country.
AMAZONAS, RICH POVERTY
The Amazon's wealth is its indigenous communities, the green in nature, its waters, its biodiversity. Their poverty is the oil that is extracted from their entrails, the dollars that create needs that the natives do not have. The abandonment of the state is total; the politicians on duty are only interested in their own benefit. With civilization comes money that is not needed, a religion that enslaves, a destruction in contamination that harms everyone. From here, a cry for leaving the Amazon still and rich as it was.
THE ART OF ARTISANAL FISHING
At night, at dawn, under the hot sun, men and women challenge the waves in small boats in search of luck, in search of a fortune that is, every day, little more than an illusion. They are artisanal fishermen, brave and gentle, strong humans, tanned by the sun, with rough hands and tattered skin. "Sometimes there is fish, sometimes not," between smiles, "La India" María tells us of storms, empty nets, and long nights.
That day, after five hours on the high seas, when the dark night was already covering a horizon that was disappearing behind a dark curtain, they arrived at the beach with their boat: four small fish, a pair of crabs, and a prawn. Most of them were handed to Camila in a plastic bag. We said goodbye in a deep hug to Maria. I thanked her for taking care of my daughter and for having filled her head and soul with the strength of a brave fisherwoman.
The lights of the lanterns go out, the gloom surrounds us, the sound of the sea accompanies us... once again, we are amazed by such generosity, by such humble and good people.
YAGE, A JOURNEY SEARCHING FOR
THE SPIRITS OF THE JUNGLE
La Maloca is a round, spacious place with a wooden floor. In the center, there is a fire that will burn all night, surrounded by benches to sit on. An altar with a strange mixture of indigenous elements and Christian images creates a mosaic that gives a mystical and pagan atmosphere to the environment. Decorated with drawings depicting trances, jaguars, snakes, colorful hummingbirds, human faces, and vibrant tones, it reflects the souls of those who have traveled these paths. Some mats are placed against the walls of the maloca, along with blankets and sleeping bags, and each person chooses their own spot to discover their own visions.
The moment to consume the sacred drink arrives, and the Shaman sings and prays to the drink. We feel ourselves immersed in a jungle ritual; we are a part of it. By the fire, we imagine our intentions and offer them.
As dawn approaches, we are invited to a "cleanse". Shirtless, I hear the songs, the smoke surrounding me, and the Shaman "absorbing" my demons. When he internalizes my troubles, he approaches the window and expels them out of the Maloca. I truly believe that this is happening, and after repeating the process several times, as well as being sprayed with certain drinks and blown upon, I genuinely feel good, free, and light.
When he finishes, the Shaman approaches me, and in a paternal manner, he lifts me from the chair. We gaze into each other's eyes, and without voicing it, I express my gratitude. He nods in acknowledgment. Now it's Cami's turn. We are done; we are exhausted.
Guided by the uninhibited curiosity of the children, they join our camp. We set up the tents, gathering firewood that has been brought by the waters, awaiting its use or return with the next crescent of the river.
"Find Master Elber," with these words, we embark on a quest to locate this bagpipe player throughout the Caribbean region. In his humble house in Colomboy, he gathers people from all walks of life to interpret his instruments.
"We are traveling through Colombia in search of rhythms," Camila declares.
We schedule an appointment for the following day, which allows us to witness a rehearsal at his home. We have the privilege of filming the session and have the opportunity to immerse ourselves in his teachings.
A drum, a wooden cylinder with leather covers on both sides, known as "llamador," and another called "tambor alegre," a maraca, and finally, the bagpipes take center stage, infusing the space we share with joyous rhythms amidst the heat of the land.
As the hours pass, the masters showcase their individual skills, and amidst the drums, hides, and whistles, our souls are enriched by a tradition that now, we understand, brings us closer together, endears us, and fills us with great pride.
The route continues....
6,500 km traveled in 70 days, a beautiful country, humble people, absolutely wonderful places where we camped, rich nature, a daughter, a father. We had the fortune to explore most of Colombia, carrying with us impressions that will surely stay in our minds.
We embarked on a journey through territories largely marked by the scars of war, a legacy some wish to perpetuate, but which the inhabitants themselves yearn to forget.
Colombia is a country of extremes, from its breathtaking nature to its diverse people. We immersed ourselves in its music, food, dances, customs, and accents. We savored delicious meals and drinks in incredible locations, bathed in rivers, encountered frailejones and arid deserts. We ventured into caves, explored riverbeds, traversed endless savannas, and went rafting in the Guaviare. We witnessed cave paintings, marveled at fossils, and visited cattle ranchers at work. To summarize such an experience would be challenging, and to mention only a few individuals would be unfair.
On behalf of both of us, we extend our heartfelt gratitude to the people we were fortunate to encounter along the way. From the land of Colombia, we can only express admiration.
To those who accompanied us with their words and comments, we offer our deepest appreciation.
As for the next journey... may life flow as it may, but it is worthwhile to seek out another destination. It is our profound love to value, understand, and revel in our ROOTS.
RAIO DO SOL
"Raio Do Sol" is a song written by João Afojubá. This musical arrangement was composed and recorded during the second tour of Roots by Sylvain Bouysset and myself. Sylvain traveled with us, witnessing the teachings and inspiration we received from the masters we encountered along our journey.
Gracias Sylvano. Siempre todo el amor.