A meeting of Cultures part 3
Leaving the village behind us our coach trundled a few miles further across the plain until we abruptly turned left and approached a farmstead. The farm was made up of small single story dwellings with mud walls and thatched roofs. We were no longer in a 21st century setting, clearly this is the traditional way of living in the mountains that has changed little over thousands of years.
It was explained to me that this is the family home of a great Aymara teacher. There was a time before Bolivia had an indigenous government when Aymara culture, language and traditions were treated as undesirable and inferior to imported colonial Spanish ways. During this time the old ways endured but the wise ones became ever fewer. In this story of the farm, If I remember correctly how it was told to me, the young Fernando was driving along the dusty road to Tiwanaku when he came across an old man at the side of the road. The old man was weeping.
Stopping to see what was the matter, Fernando asked ‘Grandfather, why do you weep?’. The old man replied ‘I am a master of the old ways of the Aymara, I have nine sons, but no students’. Many of the young generation saw their futures in abandoning the mountains and traditional ways to seek their fortune in the city. The old man’s wisdom would die with him, and that is why he wept.
Fernando smiled at the old man and said ‘Grandfather this is not so, for you now have one student’. And so Fernando and others stayed to learn from this old man, who’s teaching and strength gave new life to the Aymara people.
He died, but still once every year on winter solstice, the Sariri clan gather at the farm where the teachers Widow and daughters still live. His spirit is in this place they say. I had observed to Kate how all the Aymara stand feet apart, square on and hands by the side, looking directly at you. This posture carries neither hostile nor passive energy, it is simply grounded and strong. I was later to learn that this way of standing is an ancient tradition, the survival of which owes much to this teacher.
We put our sleeping bags and kit into a small barn which would be accommodation for the community tonight. A flag pole was erected nearby with a great multi colored flag, it must have been 3 meters by two in size and I thought that this flag was beautiful.
Tiwanaku tour and Ceremony
There were many more Sarari at the Farm than I had met at the Garden in La Paz, but by now many of the faces were familiar and friendly towards Kate and I. We did not have long to settle however. One of our three coaches was about to leave for the great Tiwanaku temple itself. Tiwanaku we discovered is closed to everyone on Solstice eve, however the Director of the temple turned out in person to let us in and to show us around personally.
There are three temples in the complex. There is a sky temple, an earth temple and an ancestor temple. The sky temple is perched upon a ridge, the earth temple is on level ground, the ancestor temple is sunken into the earth. Unlike Stonehenge, the three temples are not arranged into circles, but instead are laid out as huge rectangles. The alignments to the sun are the same though.
There is a raised platform in the center of the earth temple where offerings are made. The temple is larger than the stone circle of Stonehenge. The trilithon entrance ways are deeper and more precisely engineered than those of Stonehenge. The stone has regular sides, right angles, smooth faces. The wall of the temple is made of stones arranged as a wall between standing stones that are rough cut and similar to the sarcens of Stonehenge. Intuition tells me that these are the oldest features of this temple, the wall filling in between the standing stones coming later.
We are shown carved statues of men covered in symbols, some of which are understood and relate to time, others which still await rediscovered meaning. We descend to the outside via seven steps to reach a place where priests underwent testing. Part of this testing would be to sit in an underground cell with just a small hole above for light food and water. Alone in here for up to 30 days the priests would receive understanding and achieve mastery over their fears or else I imagine it would be awful for them.
We were then led to the ancestors temple. We waited at the top of steps, seven again, down which we descended to face a central statue. Our Aymara hosts formed a circle around this statue and together we held ceremony. In this ceremony we were introduced to the ancestors. This was making history, for never have Stonehenge Druids and the Amauta held ceremony together at Tiwanaku.
Fernando told us how we must stand, by ancient tradition. I asked him how he could be certain that this was the correct way. He replied ‘Look at the statue, the ancestor shows you how’, and sure enough, the statue in front of us was standing just so, with right hand over the heart, and left over the belly. This way, Fernando explained our energy is balanced and circulates correctly. I adapted my stance to match that of the statue and sure enough I felt immediately grounded and balanced. It works.
Embedded in the outer walls of the ancestor temple are very accurate sculptures of men’s faces. Some are worn away by time but many are not. This temple which is at least 1500 years old and probably very much older. What is very strange is that contains the faces of Europeans, Africans, Mongolians etc. It is not up for debate that our ancestors had visual contact long before we are supposed to have had by modern histories, the evidence here is absolute.
The questions are only how and when?
Seeing this so soon after my intuition at ‘the village’ that our ancestors had been here once before again left me feeling a strong sense of confused wonder.
I asked Fernando how often the Sariri worship in the temple of the ancestors. ‘Not often’ he replied, ‘this, with you, is our first time. Normally this place is too special even to allow us in here’. The full sense of the high honor with which the Aymara, Amautas, Tiwanaku Management were gifting to their Druid guests was starting to sink in. Some of the Aymara had moist eyes after our time in the very sacred temple of the ancestors was over. The sun was setting, Kate and I grabbed some photo’s.
Tiwanaku has some elements that are very familiar to the Druid and some elements that are less so. In the temple of the ancestors , both our people’s belong and may feel welcome by the spirits of the place.
The Farm Ceremony
Back at the farm, now in the dark, we arrived just in time for yet another community ceremony and offering around the fire. Kate and I were given ‘honored position’ and we broke Walnuts into the sugar offering. This time in front of a larger group we were grateful for having been through this before at the garden ceremony. Our hosts must have realized that among peoples it’s the failure to follow simple ‘taken for granted’ protocols that make inevitable judgments about quality, class or good manners of visitors.
I was so grateful also for Jaun and Veronica Pablos explaining how to eat, drink and greet Aymara style when we first arrived in La Paz. The Garden ceremony had also been a good preparation, observing the wonderful Mama Eulalia taught us much.
For all the small differences between our ceremonies it is remarkable how many features we share in common. For example the Aymara circle anti clockwise (sunwise) for the south, with the south pole representing the cardinal direction for Mother Earth. In the north we circle clockwise (sunwise) in ceremony and look to our pole (North) as representing the Earth. Both groups stand in a circle for ceremony, and dance in circles.
It was now time for everyone to get some rest and ride out a very cold night. We all gathered in the barn. Trying to get some sleep, I could not immediately do so. Every few minutes of the last 24 hours had brought me vivid new experiences and my head wanted to make sense of everything. I listened to old people talking and laughing somewhere in the darkness. Clearly old friends and kin forever, these people reminded me of my own grand-parents.
Little children had built tents and dens to sleep in and from these came the sounds of giggling chatter. The young and the old all sleep crammed in together, as a clan, ‘a community’. In my sleeping bag I was warm and comfortable and waiting to sleep on this hard mud floor in a mud-walled barn on a farm in the land of the sky, and it was there that I finally understood that word ‘community’. It was here, around me.
This circle of people belong with each other, choose to be with each other, and love each other.
This is deeper than the western understanding of the word. These are the children of Pachumama.
I wanted to cry for what we have lost in Britain. We had this once, yet it has slipped away from our grasp especially throughout the 20th century. It is what our hearts still seek. It is the hole within. We need our community, it validates who we are and it completes us. From far away I might be, but Druids are children of the Goddess too, and here this community enfolded me with a warmth beyond my imagining. I was truly happy.
Dash back to Tiwanaku
By around three in the morning the banter in the Barn had died down to the sounds of around 60 people sleeping. The temperature had dropped to around -10 degrees. I had just managed to fall asleep. Click Click, Click Click! Arghhh I struggled to wake. Someone was banging two sticks together right next to my ear! ‘Wake up’ they said ‘it is time for you to go to Tiwanaku, the car is waiting’. Kate, Tina and I reluctantly dragged ourselves free of the relative warmth of our sleeping bags and made our way to the car which I assumed was our taxi.
Time was short because it would not be all that long before the sun rise. Our car sped along the road to Tiwanaku, overtaking cars, vans and coaches of pilgrims also on their way there. We came up behind a car that wasn’t letting us pass and the taxi driver sounded a police siren. I thought this very funny as the offending car pulled over to let us pass. Only after we arrived at the Temple compound passing through the armed guards did I realize that we were in an unmarked Police car. We had arrived at the high security entrance used by officials.
Still half asleep we were led into the earth temple where chairs had been arranged in a great semicircle around 20 rows deep around the altar platform. To our left was a platform for the media. As the total darkness gave way to pre sunrise dawn we were told to sit in the front row, just left of centre. The places to our left and behind us filled with people. I started to introduce myself to my neighbors only to discover that they were all Ambassadors. The closest to the front and centre were the most honored of these guests.
The Aymara Amautas arrived in traditional costume with drums and music and after standing in formation before the altar they seated to the right. Media with big TV cameras gathered on the platform. The sky grew lighter.
White helmeted soldiers stood in line facing the assembled crowd, whilst very tough looking and armed, they were not rude. The sky took on the blue pink of a sky just five minutes from sunrise. The earth temple contained us, the media, probably 500 Amauta and around 100 Ambassadors. We could now see the sky temple and surrounding ridges which were crammed full with people, perhaps 40000 waited outside for the sunrise.
Suddenly great drums sounded from the distance, trumpets sounded and people unseen beyond the temple walls started to cheer. To this sound of approaching drums Bolivian flags at the corners of the temple slowly rose to fly proudly atop their masts and through the trilithon gate below a procession of Amouta, military escort and the Bolivian president with his ministers walked toward us and seated themselves in the centre of the semi-circle.
Evo Morales stood just a few government ministers to my right. The Amauta leaders formed a line in front of the President. Men and women of great wisdom and authority. One walked over to me. He asked if we would like to take part in the offering ceremony. If I had said yes, then our pictures would have gone out world-wide, but I realized in that instant that this is a moment that belongs to the Amautas. It was very generous to ask, but in front of their president and their gods, this ceremony needed to be done correctly.
I thanked him but said ‘this honor belongs to the Amauta’.
After the offerings were made and smoke rose into the newborn sky with the wishes of the Aymara people carried with it, I was asked to step forward to meet the president, Kate and Tina in line behind me.
At this point I was presented with a situation for which life had not prepared me. Nothing in my childhood, college, university, druid or professional life told me what to do when confronted with the president of a sovereign nation surrounded by his ministers and a very capable looking armed security force. I looked at the man in his uniform of office, and extended my hand.
In Britain we might shake hands and say ‘Good Morning Mr Prime Minister, delighted to meet you, I am…’ and that would be it, but the Sariri had taught me their traditional greeting which starts with firmly holding the right hand with eye contact, an embrace like a bit like a bear hug, and second hand shake with a bow. This is how the President of Bolivia, first American indigenous president, Eco champion and people’s hero was greeted by the tall Druid in front of him:
Grab hand…“Hello Mr President, I am Frank Somers from the Stonehenge Druids, it is a pleasure and an honor to be here and to meet you!” BIG HUG (President now enveloped in Druid robes), Grab hand, Bow, JaJalia!! I hoped Kate and Tina behind me knew what to do. I fairly sure that this was not the correct formal way to greet this great man, but at least it was sincere.
Back in our semi-circle I could see people flooding in to the temple, at sunrise the people may enter.
A tap on my shoulder, it was our friend from the British Embassy, big smile and telling us that we’ve positively represented the relationship between Britain and Bolivia by our visit. It warms my heart to think that Druids, so much ridiculed and abused back home, are suddenly being recognized for our worth in this way. Kate loses her camera in the crush of people who make their way to the altar platform.
One of the Amauta priests came and hugged both Kate and I, posed for tourists with us, and left us in no doubt as to the warmth of our welcome.
Sadly with Kate’s camera now lost, we had no photo’s of this event.
Return to the farm for feast and dance
We were then taken by unmarked Police car back to the farm. The Sariri had laid out a feast of eggs and tubers on a blanket. Each brings what they can. No-one knows who has provided much or little, each may consume whatever they need. This is community. It is a circle of blessing. We eat.
While we ate, an Aymara band of Drum and Pipes dancers start to play. Their anticlockwise circle dance tells a story. A shaman blows a horn and earths using a stick to drive off dark spirits. Then the song is of phrase and reply with the pipes. I’m loving this all now and decide to ask if I might join in with my Celtic Bodhran. The Bodhran is a small round drum about 18 inches across but 5inches deep. The Aymara dancers are beating Drums that are massive.
Without any interpreter, the language of musicians being universal, they invite me to join in.
It is not easy. The drum beat follows an irregular pattern. Only after a while do I realize that they strike the drum on the first letter of each word if you were to sing the Aymara lyrics to the song. This is very hard! My Aymara musician friends ask for a go on my small Celtic drum, and laugh and tease each other as they try it. I sense that they wonder why such a tiny drum and beater is used. I explain that a travelling musician or a warrior can carry this drum easily over long distances.
Then I take the Bodhrans bone, and beat one of their big drums with it to a fast Irish beat and rhythm. Looks of amazement pass round the circle, they ‘get it now’ the power of the Celtic technique. We swap gifts and hugs, and the music continues. I dance with the old women and the young, we all dance. I have never been so happy. I completely forgot that I was a visitor among these people and for a few blissful hours I was part of these people and I belonged too.
I believe that Kate felt similarly to myself. It would be very hard for us to part from these people who understand us better than do our own, and for whom the gifts of mother earth to her people do not need explanation or apology. Thinking about that day, five months later, I long to be back among my new brothers and sisters of the Sariri Aymara. I am determined that we will meet again.
La Paz Goodbyes
Back in La Paz Kate and I pack. We have a short time to explore the wool markets and Tina volunteered to take us around. Down narrow streets, hundreds of shops sell the finest wool and leather products dreamed of. We buy gifts, and our money goes a long way. I one shop we meet a lovely girl who remembers us from Tiwanaku. She promises to send pictures.
When we return to the flat of our hosts Wan Paulo and Veronica, we find that many of the Sariri have gathered there bringing with them their pictures to share with us. Fernando records a message for us to take back with our people. Then he embraced Kate and I as his brother and sister, and presented us with a very special flag. This flag, we would later learn, is a symbol of those of Inca decent. In allowing us to carry this flag we acknowledge our ancestors as being brothers.
We were asked to record a message for the Aymara. They asked about the Druids and our beliefs and of what we thought of them and of Tiwanaku. Both Kate and I spoke. When it came to the essence of our message I will leave that for a future post because It is important for our futures, and once again I must discuss this with my Druids first. At last I found the Awen, and for this time spoke with the poetic truth of a Druid, our poor interpreter Tina was in floods of tears and could barely translate as the Awen spoke through me.
In the last minutes before leaving the flat we were told about a visit to La Paz by the Navajo Indigenous people from north America three years ago. They had shared a prophesy with the Amauta that priests of an ancient tradition from Europe who also worship in a great sun temple would come and visit. This would happen within the next few years. When this has come to pass prophesy predicts that the spiritual tribes of rainbow would begin to join up in a great web of wisdom.
We gave our gifts and could hardly see through tearful eyes as one by one, they hug us and say goodbye.
We arrived just a few days earlier as strangers from a far away land and we parted with hearts joined somehow, bonds of friendship made to last lifetimes.
At the airport Kate and I bungle our paper work, and I get stopped at security. A very tough looking inspector asked me to open my bags. Getting increasingly suspicious he asked me to open the woolen bag containing gifts from Fernando. It has two toy alpacas inside which honestly would be as suspicious looking a container as could be imagined. These he removes. Then he takes out a bundle of clothe and slowly unwraps it.
Inside rests the Aymara flag.
He looked at me, he seemed very confused for a few seconds, then suddenly, his entire countenance changed into a broad smile and he said to me in accented English
“Ah YOU are the one who hugged our President! 😀 “