An activity to be used in a study abroad course
Curricular materials created for the 2013 SAIL seminar:
Mediterranean Trivium: Earth, Sea, & Culture in Italy
This assignment was created for a study abroad course called The Impacts of Mining and Tourism on Indigenous Peoples and the Environment in Northern Chile. In this activity, students are asked to write a reflective essay to think about how native Atacameños manage to keep water sacred in spite of and in the midst of its commodification for the advance of mining and tourist industries in the region.
Use links or scroll down for:
- Background to the Assignment
- Context for the Assignment
- Learning Goals
- Adapting the Activity for Another Course
Background to the Assignment
In 2003, I had the opportunity to interview an Atacameño, whom I will call Pablo, about his particular view of the canal cleaning ritual, sacred mountains and their relation to water. He said:
Mountains are alive like people. You can have a conversation with a mountain. Mount Quimal is a tutelary mountain. I will tell you a story so you can understand what I mean. One of the most beautiful fiestas we have is the cleaning of canals. For us it is a pact we made with the Earth Mother when, eight thousand years ago, we became sedentary peoples, and settled in this desert. Then we made a pact with the Earth Mother to bring the mountains and have mountains provide water for the people. We see canals as equivalent to human veins. If we do not take care of our diet, we get ill with high cholesterol, our veins will get clogged. There will come the time when clean blood will not be able to flow through our veins and we will suffer an imbalance in our body. The same occurs in the cleaning of canals. What we are doing is complying with a millenary pact of cleaning our veins so our culture continues to reproduce and so the blood can flow through the veins so we can water the roots of our plants, but also our roots as humans. (Interview, Calama 2003)
For native Atacameño water is sacred. They engage in an annual ritual called the canal cleaning ceremony, to secure the wellbeing of the community and the environment. In this ritual they make offerings to the Earth Mother and ask for water. Atacameño live in a nation-state that disregards this sacred view and defines water in legal terms. Mining corporations adopt the nation-state’s water code that allows for the commoditization of water.
In this activity students will be asked to write a reflective essay to think about how native Atacameños manage to keep water sacred in spite of and in the midst of its commodification for the advance of mining and tourist industries in the region. As part of the assignment students will also need to turn in all associated field-notes written in the process of this assignment.
Context for the Assignment
This activity will be used in the study abroad course titled The Impacts of Mining and Tourism on Indigenous Peoples and the Environment in Northern Chile.
To complete the activity all students will have to read the manuscript titled: “Mining Uncertainties: the Social Life of Water and Indigenous Peoples in the Atacama Desert, Northern Chile.” (forthcoming)
In addition to the above article, each student will be asked to identify one or two additional peer-reviewed article in one of the local regional journals (Estudios Atacameños or Chungara). They will select a case study addressing some of the strategies Atacameños have employed to deal with mining and other extractive encroachments that make it difficult for them to protect the sacred character of water and or their culture and environment as a whole.
A native ritual specialist in charge of leading the canal cleaning ceremony will offer a formal talk about the importance and the meanings of the canal cleaning ceremony. As part of this talk, students will have to engage in a 3-hour hike in the village of Caspana, that will follow the path of the ritual and will culminate at the place where Atacameño make their offerings to the Earth Mother. This hike will give students the opportunity to ask specific questions to the ritual specialist and visualize the place where the ceremony actually takes place.