Linked with UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and with Articles for Indigenous Peoples on our blogs.
She is one of the 1000 women proposed for the Nobel Peace Price 2005.
She says: “Life and earth are the same. In our Nasa communities we fight for respect for our autonomy, our territory and our lives” … and: “I will remain here explaining and spreading the rights of my people”.
She says also very clearly: “the indigenous people have to organize themselves because they are constantly being attacked”.
María Beatriz Aniceto Pardo – Colombia
“To speak about respect for our territory and for our lives is exactly the same, because life and the earth are the same and life depends on the earth”, says Maria Beatriz Brown Aniceto, a 40-year-old indigenous Colombian woman. She was born in a Nasa resguardo, in the Valley of the Cauca, west of Bogotá, the capital city of Colombia.
Resguardo is the way she refers to her Nasa community and the territory where she was born, and from which she will never go away.
But once, when she was very young, she left the valley. “As the resguardo was far from the city and there were no highways, the children were first sent to school when they were older than usual, when they were able to undertake the long walk”, remembers Maria. But Maria Beatriz had to begin to work early in life as a domestic worker and school was left behind. In the house where she worked she had to withstand maltreatment.
She does not like to remember that. “I am very fond of weeping”, she says, but her indigenous blood, her Nasa heritage, comforts her and she explains, “When I am sad I go to the top of a hill, a high place, and I look at the sky to fill myself with energy. And I drink of the water of joy, which is a mixture of different herbs, siempre viva (always alive) and alegría (joy)”. And thus she replenishes the strength that comes from the Earth and from her Gods, who she calls duendes.
Duendes; “for us they are small beings that get angry when we behave badly and they help us when we behave well”. They saw that Maria Beatriz behaved well, working as a domestic worker, carrying the burden of both her work and her studies.
With great effort she completed her Secondary studies and obtained new work.
“But they cheated me; they did not pay me what they had promised”. And then she decided to return to the Cauca where she began to work for her community. Soon she saw that her ethnic group had lost its identity: “Young people did not speak our language, Nasa yuwe, anymore”. It had to be taught again. She worked in workshops for women aimed at learning and spreading their mother tongue. The language had been “only maintained by the old people and was still alive thanks to them”.
The duendes saw what she was doing and they liked it. She continued working, but now only with women: “We developed workshops on self-esteem and workshops for the recovery of our identity. We also talked about other matters, like the commercial agreement ALCA (Area of Free Commerce of the Américas)”.
The main strategy that they used to recover and maintain the identity and the memory of the Nasa people was a simple activity that was undertaken daily: weaving. We taught women to weave cuetanderas, knapsacks woven by hand with ewe wool and aloe fibre. (Aloe is a plant that grows in the high and cold zone of the Cauca.)
“A cuetandera “is like a woman’s womb: growing like the child inside it, the womb widens to give enough space to all those who want to fill it”, explains Maria Beatriz.
And there was even more to the knapsacks: “it was as if, into each one was woven the story of the community, a historical narrative. And so, as they wove, they recovered their identity “.
The strategy worked and the duendes smiled.
In 1998, the Association of Cabildos Nasa Chxachxa changed their director. “Today the community chooses and makes suggestions and the actual leader consults the Gods, the duendes, and they decide”. And the duendes decided to choose her as leader.
“May the gods accompany you,” she was wished during the ceremony when she took over the directorship. And thus was the greeting for the first woman leader of the Cabildo of Avirama, the place where she had been born 40 years before.
The authority of the Cabildos had not always rested in the hands of men. “Before the conquest they were directed by women, but with the arrival of the Spaniards, the men took over the authority”.
The Nasa identity returned, the language and the memories of the people began to be recovered, as the authority of the Cabildo, a kind of assembly that has governed indigenous life from ancestral times, returned back to the hands of women.
But outside the resguardo life was different. Since the sixties, Colombia had been suffering from an internal war, which impacted on the indigenous communities. As the leader of the community, Maria Beatriz had to negotiate with the Colombian Revolutionary Armed Forces that had assassinated several Nasa sages and had recruited by force young indigenous men from her ethnic group.
In the nineties the war broke out again. The indigenous community of the Nasa was united against the guerrillas, but later the Armed Forces arrived at the resguardo.
“We said to them that according to the redefinition of the constitution of Colombia of 1991, we as indigenous community had autonomy, and asked them to stop putting us in the firing line. We told them that we were not in favour of any side”.
But there were no changes. “We cannot say that we suffered massacres, but they came to our resguardos, took our young people by force and stripped the communities of all their food”, says Maria Beatriz. She is convinced that peace must arrive by means of respect and harmony.
After a year she was re-elected. A few years later she left that post and since then she has participated in the Cabildo as treasurer. Now she has joined with the Pacific Route of the Women of Colombia that seeks independence, autonomy, respect and above all, peace for its people.
In the meantime, the Regional Council of Indigenous Communities of the Cauca, with which she also works, organized a march that crossed part of Colombia. For four days during September 2004, 70 thousand Colombian people, along with the indigenous and social communities, marched to ask for an end to the war. Maria Beatriz walked without shoes.
In order to avoid becoming weak, Maria Beatriz continues to drink the water of joy: “It is necessary to drink it always, so that the duendes protect me and take care of me”. (1000PeaceWomen).
Mujeres y paz, Colombia;
Women, Peace and Justice in Colombia, April 16, 2002;
Colombia Peace Presence Update, May 2004;
Mujeres colombianas nominadas al Nóbel de Paz piden solución;
Doce mujeres colombianas que trabajan en contra de la guerra aspiran al Premio Nobel de Paz.