She is one of the 1000 women proposed for the Nobel Peace Price 2005.
She says: “Under a strange empire, the martyrdoms amassed, and destroyed; perplexed, lost, their memory denied, alone” (an Apu Inka Apawllkaman–Quechua poetry).
She helps young Salvadoran people apply native knowledge and skills to modern business, instilling pride in indigenous culture and preserving community ties. (ashoka).
She says also: “To learn the language of our ancestors helped me to understand what was hidden in this earth. It awakened my consciousness even more and I understood what I had to do and whom I had to serve. I cleaned my home and my body. In the evenings I wrote down my impressions in a kind of diary. Indigenous themes were my main concern”.
María Eugenia Aguilar Castro – El Salvador
She works for the Rescate Ancestral Indígena Salvadoreño RAIS.
And she says: “All my life I will remember that dawn when the old men came down from the mountainside bringing us the sacred wrappers. They prepared a bonfire for each one of us and gave us our respective sacred wrappers. When my turn came, my grandfather guide told me that from that moment on I was a Mayan priestess. I felt the transfer of all his ancient wisdom and the enormous responsibility that it meant. It is a level of commitment and service towards my people. I have committed my own life to this and I must be conscious of everything I do because I am a guardian of that ancestral wisdom”
María Eugenia Aguilar was born 1948. As a small girl she was introduced to the ancestral world through an indigenous nanny who spoke the Quiché language. She transmitted to her a profound love for life and nature. This was María Eugenia’s first contact with her original culture.
When she married the painter and architect Julio Reyes, she dedicated herself to raising their first two children and accompanying him when he had to travel because of his work. One of those trips took her to Mexico where she met the local indigenous bonesetter María Sabina who spoke her own language: “That meeting influenced me greatly because it stirred up memories of my experiences as a child and awakened the yearning to recapture the culture of my childhood”.
And from that moment on, her life became a chain of involuntary meetings with notable Indigenous Americans that marked and defined her options.
A few years later she was divorced and because of her work she began to travel the length and breadth of El Salvador. In Nahuizalco she got to know grand mother Chin-Chin and Don Chico Tepas, who taught her Náhuatl.
In Guatemala, she met Adrián Inés Chávez for the first time. “He was a little old man. I liked him immediately. He opened up a path for me that I have never left. Thanks to him I got to know the family that carries my name: the Tzunún Ja, which means sparrow, the one who carries the message. They received me as one of themselves and presented me in front of the sacred altars. All this changed my life forever”.
Some time later when the Venezuelan, Domingo Díaz Port, founded the Association of Indigenous Solar America (MAIS) – an international organization located in Mexico – María Eugenia joined it. “There I began my work, giving seminars and workshops on culture and language. I got an invitation to go to Arizona, in the United States and participated in the encounter “Song for the earth,” organized by the Navajo Indigenous Americans.
There I saw how they respect all creatures, even the smallest. I saw how they do not cause any harm, how they do not speak with a hard tongue but from the heart. I could always understand them even if I did not talk English very well. They displayed what they call The Wisdom of the Seven Hearts or The Culture of Unity, present in all other indigenous people under different names.
In occidental culture everything develops outside the home; laws, religion and education. It results in violent people who lack love and respect. In Western culture we are taught to think in one way but to feel in another and to act in yet another way, creating disjointed human beings. But indigenous culture creates holistic, empathetic, peaceful individuals.
It teaches children to respect law and order from the time they are born and not from the first moment they transgress it”.
When this meeting was finished the old people decided to hold another one in El Salvador in order to fulfil the prophecy of breaking the silence of the indigenous people and unifying the Eagle (The North) with the Condor (The South). María Eugenia was put in charge and acted as coordinator of the event. In 1981, while the Salvadoran war (1980-1993), was still going on, they organized IN LAKECH, which means You are my other ego, with the support of the Revolutionary Junta.
She then travelled to Guatemala to study with the Maya-Quiché sage, Cirilo Pérez Oxlaj, in preparation for receiving the sacred wand or tzinté. “It is really not a wand but a sacred wrapper that the one who is both ‘grand father’ and guide prepares and fills with the sacred elements that he considers necessary for the jorney of each person.
In my case he prepared non-edible beans from a tree venerated since our ancestors’ time, seeds, conches, quartz and feathers. The journey consists in arriving at different ancestral altars located on different mountains. Each of them connect you with different energies, which are awakened at that moment.
A calculation relating to my date of birth and elements of nature such as water springs, cascades, and open mountains dictate the number of ancient altars to be visited. The itinerary I walked with the wise man lasted for several months because he had assigned twenty altars to me”.
When the journey was finished and after a new pilgrimage in which the wise men and initiates like María Eugenia participated, the sages retired to a mountain to meditate, and the others fasted.
She went back to El Salvador as a member of the Great Confederation of the Mayan People. “I founded the Centre for Cultural Training and Human Development, KAL TUNAL- The House of the Sun which has now been converted into a training school. In 1994 I founded the Salvadoran Indigenous Ancestral Recovery (RAIS), with a permanent consultancy on the indigenous peoples”, (of which she is currently the director).
This new stage, with emphasis on the cultural components of spirituality and education, continued with the research project Diagnosis of the Educational Reality of the Indigenous People, carried out by the Foundation Rigoberta Menchú Tun in 1996. This was the start of the establishment of participative workshops where the knowledge of the people was studied and looked at objectively.
“In this way we share experiences ‘from heart to heart”. The ‘thread of life’ does not break and there is continuity in our historical memory. People gain awareness about their other roots. It is part of my work: to validate the memory, the wisdom, the knowledge and the arts of the communities”.
In 1997 she was nominated as a member of the Consejo Asesor de la Secretaría de Pueblos Indígenas part of the international body, “The Earth Council” located in Costa Rica. She is the national and international representative and delegate of El Salvador.
María Eugenia is author of the book Women’s Empowerment through their ancestral wisdom, and of the first Indigenous Profile of El Salvador, under the auspices of the World Bank and the Salvadoran National Council for Culture and Arts.
Today she is a member of “Traditional Indigenous Healers” of Canada; collaborates with the University “Dr. José Matías Delgado”in El Salvador and works to recover the original looms which are now rare finds in the country.
She also works with la Cooperación Europea on the project ‘Territorial Development with Bi-national Identity’, the basis of which is to give respect to ancestral cultural roots.
“A peaceful world will be possible when old people are involved with young people so that traditional cultures will not be forgotten and destroyed: The current concept of sustainability will be understood like the sustainability of life itself.” (1000peacewomen).
María Eugenia is helping El Salvador’s native people break the cycle of poverty and maintain their cultural roots. By encouraging community organizing, enabling future business entrepreneurs, and actively pursuing educational improvements, María Eugenia is changing the way Central America searches for cultural preservation. In the past, the sales of handicrafts and art have generated considerable revenue for indigenous communities. However, this economic development is often achieved at the expense of native knowledge and traditional practices. Because María Eugenia asserts that this sort of commerce is detrimental to the cultural identities of young Salvadorans, she has developed a model that uses traditional wisdom and beliefs along with local technical knowledge to address new, far-reaching problems. By articulating the importance of source expertise like language, specialized ability, and environmental intimacy in the development of business strategies, María Eugenia places local people in a position of authority. She has designed a series of programs that help minority, often scattered, indigenous groups earn money, systematically conserve native expertise, and contribute to the mainstream without shedding their cultural identities. María Eugenia’s work is expanding in El Salvador and has potential to reach indigenous people all over the world. (ashoka).
She writes: We would like to share the ways we have been taught to live with love and respect on Mother Earth. These teachings are within our historic memory and are handed over to us from heart to heart. We speak especially of our home, of our family, of the Nahuat Pipil. We live on this land whose sacred name is Ketzalcuatitán, Land given to Lord Ketzalcuat, which is now called El Salvador. In this land, many people think that we, the Nahuat Pipil, no longer exist. They believe that we have died. But we are still here; our culture, our faces, and above all, our spirituality have been kept alive. We have wisely held these things secret. We have hidden our sacred corn in our mats and made invisible our flutes, drums, and dances. Mother Earth has known how to protect us through her grandkeepers, the Living Faces of Codices. The Sacred Grandmothers have had the courage to carry day to day on her body the wardrobe of Mother Earth … (full long text).
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