13 Dec 2016

From Patagonia and Alaska to Panama. Running for Mother Earth

The idea of strong-willed people, people who make the decision of running through large territories, is very appealing to many. The reason: there could be a "peregrine" spirit in them.
In 2008, I heard about a group of “runners” who were coming to the City of Knowledge in Panama. They had started their journey on both ends of the Americas. I want to dedicate this Full Moon Bulletin to the VII Journey of Peace and Dignity (Jornada de Paz y Dignidad: JPD), which gathered almost one hundred people representing diverse cultures and similar ideals from different regions in the continent from November 14 - 17, 2016.  


JPD logo
These Journeys could be referred to as relay races. They take place every 4 years. This time, it had two “arrows” (this is how groups who travel in the same direction are called). One arrow left Ushuaia (Patagonia, Argentina) on August 6th this year. It was known as the “Route of the Condor”. The other one, the northern arrow or “Route of the Eagle”, started the journey in Chickaloon, Alaska. On November 14, both human arrows met at the Bridge of the Americas.
This is a great joint effort, as the organizers point out, “…based on trust, on the different ways in which these people can help as runners, either locally or as base runners, on the different routes throughout the whole continent. Currently we receive no permanent financial help but we do have the support of many people on the different locations where the runners travel, including a local organizer for each country. This organizer takes care of welcoming the runners, and coordinates any transportation or supplies needed.”
You can't help but wonder why would they be part of something like this. Why would today's societies value an activity like this which, in addition, lasts for about six months, and goes from each end of the continent, converging in Panama. Most of the times it is either for money or for reasons of the heart.
One of the official documents gives the following explanation:
“The Journey of Peace and Dignity is a traditional race, it is a way of honoring our ancestral legacy, represented by native nations of this continent. It is meant to be an offering to the Giver of Life, in our desire that the seeds of light flourish on the hearts of every being inhabiting Mother Earth. It is an instrument for the unification of humanity, represented by its 4 directions; it is a demonstration of awareness aimed to the return to a harmonious and balanced understanding towards all forms of life. It is an offering made by us, for the improvement of life conditions today in the benefit of future generations.”
"The beginning of the Journey, in Patagonia. 
PH: Página oficial de la Ruta Sur.
Ana María Vásquez, a friend from Colombia who currently lives in Mexico, who knew about my interest in these Journeys, wrote to me several months ago, to tell me that the runners from Patagonia had already begun their journey. She helped me contact one of them and, on November 12, my wife, my daughter, and I went to the house of our friends Hermer and Diamantina Barrigón, in the Piriatí Emberá community, in the Bayano area. The group of runners from South America was already there. They entered Panama through Colombia, via Guna Yala, going from the Caribbean to the Pacific through the El Llano-Cartí road. On the following day, we had the opportunity of welcoming them in our home. Then, they went to the Summit Park where the meeting with the group coming from the North, through Costa Rica, took place.
In the city, the group is escorted by children and Panamanian indigenous authorities. 
PH: Olo Villaláz.
I would like to acknowledge here the contribution of several organizations that helped the VII version of the Journey of Peace and Dignity in the country. The Municipio de Panamá (highest authority of the District of Panama) offered their support and camping sites at the Summit Park; the City of Knowledge, Fundación Cuatro Mundos, the Guna General Congress, several communities, shelters, and boatmen from Guna Yala, the Guna Organization of Madungandi (ORKUM), the "comuneros" of Piriatí and Akuayala, the Coordination of Ngabe, Bugle and Country Women (which received the northern arrow in the border and escorted them to Panama City), among others, provided their help.
Musicians and dancers of all ages from native groups of Panama, Embera, Wounnan, Ngabe, Bugle and Guna, took turns during 4 days to entertain visitors a the Summit Park. The day of the encounter of the North and the South, which was planned for a full moon night, a “sacred fire” was lighted, and it was kept burning during those 4 days, even against weather conditions.  
It was before that sacred fire at the Summit Park that I had the opportunity of talking with one of the three women from the group of “guardians of the fire”. Yaya O´Qllo was her name, and she is a 70-year old Quechua woman from Peru who has been part of the Journeys for 29 years. Currently she is not able to do the entire journey to Panama by land, but she stills covers some parts of the journey that way. She told me that she was happy to see nature in Panama, and that it reminded her of the Amazon. She mentioned that here in Panama she had found some of her old favorite plants again.
The meeting of delegations from the South and North America, in the Summit Park.
PH: Olo Villaláz.
“The Journeys of Peace of Dignity is a spiritual movement, if you want to call it that way. It is neither a political party or a religious group”, she told me from the very beginning. “It started in the year of 1990 with the purpose of serving as a reminder and for providing current generation with valuable information about the ancestral legacy of native people in this continent, known as America today, but originally known as Abya Yala.”
-Who came up with the idea of these Journeys?, I asked.
“In 1990, elders, spiritual leaders, community leaders, native communities, met in Quito, Ecuador. There were representatives of North and South Abya Yala. This encounter was used for reflection and decision-making regarding the end and the beginning of a new Pachacuti, a Runasimi word [Quechua language] used in Tawa Inti Suyu for describing a period that lasted 500 years. That year marked the ending of an era or Pachacuti of obscurantism in which the Abya Yala suffered an invasion [1492]. The next era or Pachacuti of Light began in 1992, where everything would be exposed and known, nothing would remain hidden.”
While feeding the fire, Yaya O´Qllo continued talking. “On that meeting in Quito, we remembered the prophecy of the Anka [eagle] and the Kuntur [condor], which said that people on both ends, after being separated, would be brought together again. The North had a spiritual expression that would be followed in the whole continent, the spiritual races. That is how these Journeys of Peace and Dignity were born." she told me.
-How do you feel after running through South America, all the way to Panama?, I asked René Vergara, a Quechua man who was part of the southern arrow that came from the Patagonia and who was there with us, sitting by the fire.
“We are part of these relay races just as if we were centipedes.  We are the chaskys, those of us who travel the entire route; others join us for a couple of weeks or a few kilometers, through the entire territory of a province or of a country. We are in harmony with the Earth; we don't feel tired anymore. Running becomes an offering, a relationship of harmonious coexistence with Mother Earth and with all living things,” he told me.
Presentation of ceremonial canes. Summit Park.
Foto de Olo Villaláz.
When René finished talking, Yaya O´Qllo wanted to clarify other things… “It is important to mention that every runner is a "spiritual runner", whether they run the entire route or just for a few kilometers. Many brothers with ancestral ties to the Tawa Inti Suyu territory, believe the word “runner” is not the most appropriate choice for the spiritual purpose of the Journeys of Peace and Dignity. For that reason we, on the southern route, call ourselves chaskys.  We do not run, we dance for Pachamama. It is a prayer, an offering to the Great Creator and to all forms of Creation. It means joining the heartbeat of the Earth and Pachamama. It means being one with the wind, the water, the fire. It means joining every element given to us by life. For that reason, a chasky can accomplish running his or her route without feeling tired, always at a good pace, whatever the distance. It is possible because it is an offering to the Great Creator and to all the Creation. That is how we pray, which is the purpose of every Spiritual Journey.
José Vergara, sitting close to us as well, nodded as to agree to the words of someone who has being part of these Journeys for almost 30 years.
In 2020, the meeting point will be Quito, the capital of Ecuador and, again, many runners will start their journey on both ends of the continent. Secondary arrows may start their journey in other areas.
We are absolutely certain that there is more information and a strong message related to the Journeys of Peace and Dignity. This is one of those events which sometimes just go under the radar but that, indeed, carries an important message about our roots which we must certainly need to listen. For this reason, experiences like this are worth sharing.
Interested individuals can find more information regarding this year's Journey or about past events on the internet.