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A fable of the post-pandemic rower of the Amazon

The Light of Life

 The Light of Life  ING-038
22 September 2023

The following is a fable written by Sister Lucia Galiccio on several of the issues faced by Indigenous people in Latin America. Among the anecdotes it narrates, is the use of natural remedies to cure Covid.

Arbol Pequeño is the name of an Indigenous man who can row down any bend of the Amazon River. When he was a child, he slipped off his mother’s back and fell into the river. Out of fright, she dropped all the logs she was carrying. Immediately realizing that the current was strong, she cried out to her son in a soft and powerful voice: “My child, hold on to the log tightly and row! Row with your hands without ever stopping. Do not stop; I will come for you on the other side”. And so it was. Árbol Pequeño survived the fierce current and became an expert rower.

When people from the first world came in search of the forest’s riches, they hired Árbol to help them travel along the Mamoré River, well-known for its rapids and difficult navigation.

Árbol Pequeño was confused. If he refused to help them, he would risk losing a good source of income. However, if he worked with them, he was certain that they would harm his brother trees and all of nature. His heart ached! Suddenly, he remembered his mother’s words: “Row without ever stopping”.

When the ‘extractivists’ were ashore, Árbol sat on a log and began to row quietly, so they would not realize that he was leaving them to their fate. He covered himself with branches so as not to be discovered and stayed there, camouflaged among the leaves. He fell asleep, weary with exhaustion. When the morning sun caressed his face, he got up and headed for the nearest village.

He caught sight of huts in the distance, but as he got closer, he began to hear wailing and realized it was coming from his brothers in the community who had caught Covid. He heard a faint but firm voice in the distance: it was Chief Ojos de Águila, who was walking with some difficulty, dragging his weak legs. He said, “Go away brother, go back. Do not get any closer. The plague has spread this far. The time has come to join our ancestors”. But Árbol Pequeño remained motionless and again remembered his mother’s words: “Row without ever stopping”.

He then went to look for the Shaman. He knew where he lived, a place hidden among the leafy Pequiá piqui trees. He ran, enduring the thorny journey, using his hands to open a path through the reeds, without fear of sinking into the mud. Every now and then, he paused to ask Mother Earth for permission to proceed quickly because it was a matter of life and death. Árbol prayed to God the Creator with these words:

Lord of Heaven and earth, Lord of the wind and the water: You are the Lord of life. Do not let your beloved creatures become extinct. Come to clear away the thick fog of discomfort and fear that wants to invade everything. Come with your Holy Spirit. Come with the four winds, breathe on this community to confirm that love is stronger.

The animals in the forest gathered around Árbol, preceding him along the way. The sun’s rays lit up the path and the brisk wind of the south cooled his face, burnt by the summer heat. Almost without realizing how much time had passed, he reached the Shaman’s house and fervidly told him what had happened in the village, begging him to heal his people with his herbs. And so it was. The Shaman brought his supply of guava leaves, eucalyptus, lemon, boldo, crocodile oil and honey, as well other remedies to combat the virus.

With the tender care of Árbol Pequeño and the loyal healer, and their determined use of natural medicine, everyone was healed. Slowly they recovered their original strength. Their shoulders no longer hurt, the fire of fever no longer burned, and their strength was re-emerging from within. They could once more sing and praise their creator along with the birds in the sky. The women began making their delicious food, chichas, and mocochinchi to drink and to savour the flavours and fragrance of Mother Nature.

And do you want to know what happened to the “extractivists” that Árbol Pequeño had left behind on that journey along the Mamoré River? Well, they got lost in the forest and were eaten by vultures. And so Mother Nature returned to her original state, and restored the harmony of living well so that everyone could do so without distinction or exclusion, according to the needs of each. Because everything is interconnected.

Árbol Pequeño persisted in his mission as a “rower”, and he continues to row in the sea of life and history. Sometimes in his heart he gets the feeling that innovators expect people to forget their past. They say: “live your moment and nothing more”, “look at history before it is deleted”, “read before it disappears” … but his grateful memory knows that history is like the root of a tree. It is what sustains and gives solidity to the integral growth of every creature.

In this post-pandemic time, Árbol Pequeño continues to listen to the soft and powerful voice of his mother saying, “Keep on rowing!”. This is the story of Árbol Pequeño, the post-pandemic rower.