Lenca Statement on “Traditional Knowledge: generation, transmission and protection.”
Our tribal contribution to the UNPFII Eighteenth Session: 22 April – 3 May 2019 Honourable members of the committee, honourable chair, your excellencies and distinguished audience at large. Thank you for convening this commendable event of great relevance, we are grateful to be included.
We the Lenca people, the first nation of Central America, is proud and pleased to be here, supporting and endorsing in presence and inputs as partners in this noble commitment. The topic discussed is not a theoretical concept to us, it is an issue that we have struggled for millennia.
Our early ancestral remains in the land are calculated to be from the time of the last ice age. Time, earth challenges and human-made adverse events, have not stopped our human desire to survive and thrive. We are here, with many lessons learnt and with the desire to share and to receive insights, that makes us more antifragile along the way.
The Lenca journey epitomizes the challenges faced by many indigenous societies around the world. As the surviving hereditary chief, I want to highlight the key obstacles and barriers that we must overcome, to survive and safeguard our philosophies and wisdoms from extinction.
- The people called Lenca, began as the Taulepa or jaguar people, created by a female divinity and governed by a matriarchal system, as far back as the last ice age. Gradually, our female-centric creation story suffered many attempts of extinction by the patriarchy that evolved in successive millennia. With the Christianisation, the female centric-creation was sanctioned as forbidden discourse. The male god was enforced and institutionalized in the colonies. This caused considerable damage to the existing cosmovision of our people.
- It has been dangerous and extremely difficult to preserve and to transmit our ancient knowledge to our new generations and the world. The conditions that put our knowledge at risk of extinctions include the following:
- a) Because of the Lenca war of resistance against colonists, most Lencas were intentionally left unregistered as Castilian subjects, so that they were ‘unlabelled and disposable human stock’ on standby, ready to top up declining numbers of slaves in the Caribbean and South America. Thousands of our tribal members were hunted, branded and exported. With each one taken away and dying, a part of our oral tradition was lost forever. Modern forced migration is doing the same damage.
- b) In 1932-33, the Republic of El Salvador dictated the death penalty for all tribal chiefs of the Western and Central region if its territory, leaving alive, only the Lenca nobles of the Eastern region. ‘Being or behaving indigenous’, was deemed a crime. Fortunately, the chiefly Lenca family was located far from the capital city, away from public gaze, thus, surviving and saving thousands of years of cultural wisdom through narrative and ritual. Today, from exile in Australia, this oral corpus of knowledge is being distributed to Lenca diaspora by the Lenca office via a variety of means that include modern media.
- c) The Lenca people, while makes approximately a 10% of the contemporary genome in El Salvador, with a smaller number in neighbouring states, still preserves the unbroken hereditary clan. Something lost by all neighbouring ethnic groups. The hereditary leaders have preserved, promote and defended their own ancestral philosophies and traditions. Even though 90% of overall discourse and resources in their lands, is to perpetuate the knowledge and wisdom of the dominant culture.
- The Lenca have been punished by both, colonial and contemporary institutions. Today, leaders like the Lenca Chief (El Salvador) and Berta Caceres (Honduras) are just two, who have faced lethal force by groups with other agendas. Unlike Berta who died, the Lenca chief survived assassination attempts. This comes to demonstrate that acting on indigenous principles and philosophies can lead to clashes of values, particularly on ethics around environmental protection and extraction of resources to maximize profits. Earth care is baked in Lenca wisdom and oral narratives, so, it is not optional. In extractive kleptocracies and narco-democracies, living the ancestral cultural wisdom, can be lethal and needs vigilance by the UN Human rights bodies. Killing of Lenca leaders is an ongoing issue in the region.
- Despite these obstacles, the Lenca office in exile has continued to preserve, promote, document and disseminate Lenca wisdom. This is made available online and by face to face events organized by our people whenever possible. The Lenca leadership utilizes a pragmatic approach to cultural management, involving indigenous and non-indigenous partnership, public and private sector, to create engagements that benefit both. Transmission of an individual’s own cultural wisdom reduces radicalization and violence, because it increases a sense of social belonging and a place in the world.
- At present, we are proud to say that we were partners in successfully bringing to fruition the constitutional reform in 2015, when El Salvador, ratified its recognition of its indigenous people, which include the Lenca. Our journey shows that persistence, peaceful engagement and the use of international system such as the UNPFII, UNHCR and others, lead to constructive outcomes. Each entity and each event, adding knowledge on the ‘how to’ for those involved, who equipped with their wisdom and tools, can impact humanity.
- We encourage all indigenous people to continue their journey, rescuing, preserving and disseminating their cultural assets. We encourage the UN to continue addressing the topic on indigenous issue at the highest level, so that it can be deemed as serious as other human rights. We, the indigenous people are the living proof of the efficacy of our wisdom, frameworks and ritual practices. Let’s make a global effort in rescuing, safeguarding and managing the creation and transmission of this powerful human asset, the intergenerational indigenous knowledge of the world.
Once again, thank you all for letting us be a part of this sessions.
His Excellency : Chief Chevez, The Lenca People
Official letter Lenca UN Statement