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Pan-Amazon Synod, the Latest Avatar of the Anthropologically Fake ‘Land without Evils’

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On October 12, the celebration of a “Mass for a Land without Evils” will be among the more than 130 events that the Pan-Amazonian Ecclesial Network holds in Rome and across Italy in parallel to the Synod under the slogan “Amazon: Our Common Home.” The Mass was composed in 1979 by Most Rev. Pedro Casaldáliga, the self-proclaimed “Monsignor hammer and sickle.” The prelate explains that “the Mass respects the liturgical scheme” so that “it is not just a prayer, let alone a ‘show:’ it is a recited musical text that the indigenous places into a setting and which translates the real Eucharistic Celebration.”[1]

The Holy See forbade that Mass after its first celebration, with almost forty bishops, in the Cathedral of São Paulo on April 22, 1979, because “the Eucharistic celebration should only be a memorial of the death and resurrection of the Lord and contain no claim by any human and racial group.”[2] Times have changed, and the forbidden Mass will be celebrated again within a few days only a few steps from the Vatican.

The title of the Mass – “Land without Evils” – is not an invention of the poet bishop. The expression, “discovered” by anthropologists who studied Guaraní culture, has been used and abused by followers of Indigenous Theology. Now it appears twice in the Instrumentum laboris for the Pan-Amazon Synod.

Referring to the “good living ideal,” in which the natives live in communion with both tribe and nature, the document explains that “some speak of walking towards the ‘land without evils’ or in search of ‘the holy hill,’ images that reflect their communal movement and notion of existence”(n ° 13). It later explains that “An inculturated liturgy will also be a sounding board for the struggles and aspirations of the communities and a transforming impulse towards a “land without evil’” (n ° 125).

In the writings of Indigenous theologians, the “Land without Evil” is a substitute for the communist “kingdom” that liberation theologians longed for, and which Cardinal Ratzinger denounced in Libertatis Nuntio as a manifestation of “historicist immanentism,” which has “a tendency to identify the kingdom of God and its growth with the human liberation movement . . . as a process of the self-redemption of man by means of the class struggle.”[3]

 

After the decline of Liberation Theology, that “temporary messianism” which entails “the secularization of the Kingdom of God”[4] switched from the political struggle of the poor (who turned their backs on liberationist “social movements” and became for the most part evangelical Protestants) to the cultural struggle of aboriginal peoples against the colonialism of European missionaries. The “Kingdom” became the “Land without Evils” or “Land without Evil,” interchangeably.

For example, the Fourth Latin American Ecumenical Encounter-Workshop of Indian Theology, held in Asunción (Paraguay) in May 2002, had this slogan: “Searching for the land without evil: Indigenous peoples’ original myths and dreams for the future.” In the opening session, the Spanish Jesuit Bartomeu Meliá explained that the Guarani myth of the Earth without Evil is a quest but insisted that “it is a land on earth, it is not a land in heaven,” which “one searches for horizontally to the east, never looking up” (or maybe down, as after he spoke, “the family of a Guarani shaman performed a purification ritual”).[5]

In turn, in his presentation during the same meeting in Asunción, the German missionary Paulo Suess, main editor of the Lineamenta for this coming Synod, highlighted that “it is not a terrestrial paradise, an illusion, nor a happy life without pain or a heaven on earth, but the possibility of a society structurally different for being free.”[6]  The reason is that “in Guaraní life, there is no Cartesian separation between time and space, free time and work, between ‘perfect land’ and ‘Land without Evils,’ between earthly and celestial. It is a world without property lines.”[7]

The same hatred for everything that is not collective, which appears on the lips of Suess and under an indigenous mantle, shows up in the verses by Bishop Casaldáliga, author of the ‘Mass of the Land without Evils’: “Cursed be all fences! / Cursed be all private property / that deprive us of living and loving!”[8]

Most interestingly, the “Cartesian” separation between historical truth and fake news is apparently overcome, as this communist utopia on an ‘Earth Without Evils’ is being built and spread by a succession of… anthropologists!

* * *

The tale began with a German (this Synod is more polluted by waters from the Rhine than from the Amazon). Curt Unckel was born in 1883 in Saxony and arrived in Brazil at the age of 20. Soon after, he moved to live in the countryside. In 1906, he was adopted by a Guaraní family, which gave him the name of Nimuendajú. The family was part of the apapocúva branch of the Guaraní ethnic group, distributed across the States of Paraná, São Paulo, and Mato Grosso do Sul. After learning their dialect, he conducted anthropological field surveys with them.

Six years later, Curt Ninuendajú found himself on the banks of the Tietê River with a group of very primitive and famished Guarani from Paraguay and eager to continue heading east to reach the sea. He accompanies them for three days to their destination and notices their perplexity facing the immensity of the ocean. He convinces them to settle in a nearby indigenous reservation, where he maintains contact with them. Two years later, he publishes Die Sagen von der Erschaffung und Vernichtung der Welt (The Legends of Creation and Destruction of the World). In it, the expression that would become legendary appears for the first time: yvy marãey, “Land without Evil.” While the underlying idea of the legend is that the earth today is old and the apocalypse is at hand, the Apapocúvas are confident that they can undertake the journey to an Earth without Evil, in which the party is eternal and death does not exist.

The original legend, which the German collected from the lips of the Apapocúva, was taken up by a Swiss, Alfred Métraux, who spreads it to the entire Tupi-Guarani ethnic group. He turns it into the central axis of their religious mythology and the key to interpreting all ethnic migrations since pre-Columbian times and especially after the arrival of the Iberian conquerors, when it takes on the character of a flight and a fight against the European oppressor.

In the 1950s, the tree consolidates and flourishes into several interpretive currents. For some, the ultimate cause of all evils is the frustrating experience of inter-ethnic contact, and religion serves as the core of resistance of tribal culture (the Swiss Schaden). For others, the myth fits within the framework of the ancient prophecy of Amerindian peoples in opposition to the centralized headquarters that emerged in indigenous society in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, which dismantled the traditional egalitarian order (Pierre and Hélène Castres). On a more religious note, the saga displays a mystique impregnated with sadness for the ailments of this “imperfect” earth and nostalgia for the primordial time of the gods (Australian Leon Cadogán, whose parents migrated to Paraguay to settle in a socialist colony).

However, beginning with the Slovenian Branislava Susnik, between 1960 and 1980, the overinflated legend begins to break down, and in the passage to the new millennium, the link between the saga and migrations is openly questioned.

In a very well-documented study titled “The Land without Evil: the Saga of the Creation and Destruction of a Myth,” Diego Villar and Isabel Combès show that authors such as Cristina Pompa, Francisco Noelli, Catherine Julien or Charlotte of Castelnau-L’Estoile declare without hesitation that it is an “academic myth” invented and disseminated by anthropologists in the culturalist context of early twentieth-century anthropology.

However, Pablo A. Barbosa, of the Federal University of Bahia, in his work Nimuendajú and the Construction of the Anthropological Myth on the ‘Land without Evil’[9] put the last nail into the coffin of the myth linking the supposed quest for the Land without Evils to the repeated Guarani migrations from pre-Columbian times to the twentieth century.

In his study, Barbosa explains that in the mid-19th century, almost a century after the expulsion of the Jesuits from their famous Reductions, the Brazilian government allowed the missionaries to return while promoting the gathering of indigenous people in “villages” to build roads and railway lines crossing the jungle region of the States of Paraná, São Paulo, and Mato Grosso to ensure Brazilian sovereignty over that territory.

The Guarani migrations took place within the framework of this village policy, which Curt Nimuendajú romanticized in his famous work Die Sagen, giving them an exclusively religious motivation. While recognizing that the Guarani likely interpreted the migrations to villages in a religious way, Barbosa insists that the main motivation for their exodus was probably to go to a village, that is, an indigenous reservation organized by the colonizers. In the eyes of natives fleeing from misery, that reservation could appear as a Land without Evil. Their paradise would not be to live in the jungle (as says the Instrumentum laboris) but on the contrary, to participate in the benefits of an outpost of European civilization.

The above-cited Jesuit Bartomeu Melià recognizes that in the first dictionary of the Guaraní dialect, composed in the first half of the seventeenth century by the Peruvian Jesuit missionary Antonio Ruiz de Montoya, the expression yvy marãey has a purely economic sense without religious connotations. It would mean an “intact soil,” which has not been built on. Pablo Barbosa’s hypothesis is that Curt Nimuendajú was the one who translated “Land without Evil” as yvy marãey, and not the opposite. So, Land without Evil would be “a neologism,” “an anthropological category” that the author of Die Sagen created to describe a series of superstitions about the relationship between the end of the world and the existence of a paradise capable of saving the Guarani.

Something happened with ‘With Earth without Evil’ similar to what Umberto Eco observed in Africa: “When I went to Mali, I discovered the country of the Dogon, whose cosmology Marcel Griaule described in his famous Dieu d’Eau. Critics say Griaule invented a lot. Today, however, if you are going to question an old Dogon about his religion he will tell you exactly what Griaule wrote – that is to say, what Griaule wrote has become the historical memory of the Dogon.”

Despite its fictional character, the “original sin” of Nimuendajú, Métraux, and the Castres spouses (the expression is by Cristina Pompa), the inclusion of yvy marãey among the ethical-moral principles, which the Bolivian Constitution promulgated by Evo Morales requires the State to promote, corroborates this idea. Ditto the poem “In search of a Land without Evil,” by the Paraguayan poet Moncho Azuaga: “The Earth without Evils, or communist paradise / they tell me, Ava, it does not exist / they tell me. / The Land without Evils or imperialist Wall Street / they tell me, Ava, it doesn’t exist / they tell me, etc.”

Another victim of Nimuendajú’s fake legend could have been Bishop Pedro Casaldáliga and his Mass of the Land without Evils, which, according to Diego Villar and Isabelle Combès “depicts the natives as repositories of Faith in its most authentic and pristine state, and the colonizers – even early missionaries – as agents of destruction.” Casaldáliga’s Mass explains Guaraní migrations “in the light of the Exodus, the flight of the chosen people from Egypt, and their tireless search for divinity,” highlighting its contemporary application in the final Song: “Amerindian America, you still live your Crucifixion: / One day your Death will end in Resurrection; / We the Poor of this Earth want to invent / That Land without Evils that is born every morning.”

For Curt Unckel Nimuendajú, the ultimate accolade for his neologism would be its adoption as the title of the next post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation: “Quaerens de Terra sine Mala” – in search of a Land without Evil.

 

 

Translated by the staff of Pan-Amazon Synod-Watch.

[1] http://www.servicioskoinonia.org/Casaldaliga/poesia/terra.htm

[2] Letter from the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments to Bishop Ivo Lorscheiter, Rome, March 2, 1982, no. 1649/81” in COMUNICADO MENSAL DA CNBB, no. 354, March 1982, p. 265.

[3] N° 3, http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_19840806_theology-liberation_en.html

[4] Ibid. n° 6.

[5] En busca de la tierra sin mal: Mitos de origen y sueños de futuro de los pueblos indios, Ed. AbyaYala, Quito, 2004, p. 23-24.

[6] Idem, p. 257.

[7] Idem. p. 259.

[8] Cantares de la entera libertad: Antología para la Nueva Nicaragua, IHCA, Manuagua, 1984, p. 16.

[9] http://www.berose.fr/?Nimuendaju-et-la-construction-du-mythe-anthropologique-de-la-Terre-sans-Mal

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