HAVANA TIMES, Sept. 3 – How can the scales of the Cuban caiman be turned into feathers? In Amerindian mythology, such a transformation is indispensable for the crocodile to fly. GECNA (the Our America Cultural Studies Group) aspires to defy not the gravity on the island, but something that is even more restricting: the individual ego.
The group chose to follow the mystics of pre-Columbian Mesoamerica; the cultures of those who we are only told were swept away by the colonizers. In history classes they never talked to us about the power they possessed.
(While this interview occurred late at night, Hilda and Delonis listened to the dialogue while they packed, since they were leaving for Mexico the following day. Once again it was Ruben Balmida who responded to my questions)
How did GECNA emerge?
“See this image?” Ruben said, pointing to a poster unfurled on the floor. “That posture is of a ‘chac-mool,’ (a type of Pre-Columbian Mesoamerican stone statue) and you’ll see many images like that all throughout Mesoamerica in the entrances of temples. Specialists have racked their brains hoping to find out how to interpret what it means…
And what does it mean?
It’s a meditation posture. This is the same chac mool that Jose Marti was familiar with and in whose position he drew himself in a cartoon. Over time, some Latin American students conceived of the project and sculptor Rene Negrin created it. It was in fact at the unveiling of that statue at the Union of Cuban Journalists headquarters that it struck us as being a sign. We told ourselves: “We’re going to formalize the group as “Our America Cultural Studies.”
And what’s its purpose?
A little of it was to begin to define the project in our minds through my trip to Mexico, and of course later it was to start outreach and communicating to people the path we were following. It’s for all of those people who are interested in American cultures and want to learn more than what we were taught in school.
We organized a first conference on what would be the practice of connecting with the divine aspect, the occult part of toltequidad (the ideological legacy of Mesoamerican or pre-Columbian cultures). In this way, what had been our private spiritual project began to carry over into a more public realm… This led us to decode certain technical terms; in other words, we spoke of nahuatlisms, practices of expanding one’s consciousness, but in terms that anyone could understand.
And what is nahuatlism?
Nahuatl comes from the root word “nau,” which means “to bend” or “to be projected,” and it refers to the metaphysical aspect of existence. Due to the prejudiced and colonial vision of the West, it’s common for this to be interpreted in a pejorative sense as a superstition of the campesinos of Mexico and neighboring countries. However, it’s an entire philosophical system that has practical elements as well as common points with yoga in many respects in that it includes certain postures or asanas (which means “uncomfortable”). That same chac mool, for example, assumes a posture that allows one to be alert and conscious, and in a position that one can retain.
What does chac mool mean literally?
Chac mool means red jaguar. In Mayan temples there are always red jaguars, and the archaeologist who discovered that figure had been obsessed with finding one. He shared with the Indians, and I don’t know if he had drunk something with them but it seems that in a certain conscious state he said, “This is a red jaguar although it’s not a red jaguar” – and the name stuck.
What did all of you do at La Madriguera (the provincial headquarters of the Asociacion Hermanos Saiz)? Some kind of performance?
It was a ceremony that used to be conducted in Mesoamerica and whose purpose is to dismantle all the structures that have aged, those that impede access to divinity. It’s a practice of social renewal. In those times, all of the fires in the city were put out, objects were thrown away, clothes were discarded… as was everything else that was considered as needing to be changed. People withdrew into the forest to meditate, to fast, acts like this.
Then, on the date that now coincides with November 19 on the Gregorian calendar, a new fire was lit in the center of the city, and from it they went around re-lighting all the fires in all of the houses in the city. Every 52-year cycle this ceremony was repeated as they would destroy the temples and statues to prevent people from remaining as symbols, as representations. Moreover, every 1,040 years the city was completely destroyed. All this was done at the time when the Pleiades star cluster reached the center of the heavens. We had a telescope in La Madriguera so that people could see it.
When did the idea arise for the magazine El Caiman Emplumado (The Feathered Cayman)?
That was a little later, and after thinking about how we were Cubans and how what we did was from that perspective. We tried to play with that image of the caiman asleep in the sea, also with the Caiman Barbudo (the Bearded Cayman, a Cuban cultural magazine) and the symbology of the mutation from a reptile to a bird. Slithering is to move in a horizontal direction, as opposed to flying…
But I want to clarify why we call ourselves the “Cultural Studies Group.” When we say “studies” we’re talking about practice, the experience of a state of consciousness that has gotten lost. Accordingly, “cultural” does not refer to the folkloric aspect but to the conscious state that those cultures possessed. This is what we are, a group that anyone can join, wherever they’re from, even if they don’t know anything about the Americas.
Have you tried to legally incorporate yourselves as an organization?
We tried it once. We went to what used to be the Mexico Center, where we told them about our group – thinking that they could help us. However, that institution was already under the purview of the State (the Havana’s Office of the City Historian, headed by Eusebio Leal). The center had changed a lot and they told us that it was a part of the nation’s heritage. Now it’s called the Benito Juarez Center.
Legal status facilitates many things, if one could – hey? A headquarters can unite members and promotion; and serve as a center for retreats…
Organizations are groups that seek to develop human interests. It’s necessary for each institution to look for personal and collective realization. Even in the statutes of many of these groups you can glimpse these principles; you can find the words “collective well-being,” “harmony,” “discipline”… These are elements of personal realization. We reject the word “discipline” because of the way it’s been imposed against us. But discipline is what allows one to use their energy and emotions efficiently. Becoming organized facilitates in undertaking and achieving something. Even animals are organized!
(At this moment Hilda intervened):
It’s going to be a long time before that’s possible. I don’t believe now is the time to create new institutions. What we should do is use and strengthen those that already exist.
This is something that we have thought about but haven’t pursued. But I want to talk to you about a project that arose from GECMA: Tejido de Memoria Original (the Weaving from Original Memory Project. In it, what we are doing is registering networks that unite people in the Americas who are doing more or less the same thing. These are networks in which people unite to seek objectives that are common and non-divisive.
I think there are many people who are waking up around the whole world, and there are projects and networks of projects emerging right here in Cuba… But in terms of this vision of the past cultures, how is it that in Mexico itself isn’t stronger? They are its own sources…
It’s what you find there. Look, it’s incredible…the consumerism…people are lost. You might see a book of Toltec (Aztec) wisdom, but all rained on I don’t know how many times, and beside it there’s an ad for a Rolex watch… It’s pure marketing. People cannot discern what is or isn’t. In Mexico, like in Cuba, any change will only come when people change, but from her internal being.
What you see in history is a constant cycle of insurrectionists who are overthrown by other insurrectionists… social systems are only seeking to perpetuate humanity as it has been for millennia. When each human being wakes up they will integrate themself with the rest of society and a true change is going to take place, this will be the end of this vicious circle where there is only the appearance of change. Any aspiration for collective well-being (which is what everyone wants everywhere) comes from the balance between individual autonomy and that aspiration for collective well-being.
What do you think is needed in Cuba?
Social problems are based on individual and collective trauma. The old cultures kept that in mind; they continually revolutionized their structures. If you look at basic psychiatry right now, the indices of insanity experienced around the world…are shocking. There are illnesses that didn’t exist previously – beginning with the fact that a lunatic in those cultures was not a lunatic but an aspiring shaman, a person whose possibility to remain trapped in material hypnotism was truncated; what was necessary was to educate that need, and guide it.
We no longer have culture but inertia that we call progress. We believe that we are discovering new things but everything that we are discovering was already discovered by those in the past… And for them progress didn’t consist of developing technology and depending on it, but in maintaining the consciousness of their divine origin. What we call “new” is only a refried version of what previously existed, a kind of retro fashion. Do you realize this?
Right. It’s clear that we’re recycling. So is this the focus that you as a group can contribute?
There’s one thing we learned from [Carlos] Castaneda that we like a lot because it’s almost a formula that allows us to understand when we’re asked something like that. It’s that the past cultures (and this is something that all powers know) had solutions. We only have alternatives for remaining stuck on earth, and these can be infinite! At the horizontal level we have a tremendous number of ways to be the limited humans that we are. When one says: “I want to better the world,” what they’re basically saying is: “I want to make my opinion heard.”
We are not coming to any agreement or we’re hoping to figure out how to not do something, like defining ahead of time that it’s impossible. People don’t think about how to become a better human being. The world order can change and everything will remain the same. Those at the head of the world are the ones who have kicked the can at that moment.
Look, in Brazil now there are reserves of fresh water, almost inexhaustible supplies. Who knows if Brazil will one day be a world power for possessing such an abundance of fresh water? In Cuba, for example, the fact of it having frightened the US government a little is a profitable circumstance that is not taken full advantage of. It is an opportunity for sovereignty that will allow us an authentic search.
If we overcome capitalism, for example, what will succeed it? You’ll have the spirituality of a can, like the ones who live over there, where anyone can go to the best yoga school and feel like they’re in great shape but…that’s all! They don’t do anything for anyone else, not even for the poor who are dying on all sides. All of this spirit of solidarity that characterizes Cubans —which now seems to have worn too thin, because it’s what is used to say that we’re doing fine— will indeed be lost. And we’ll miss it just the same, like we now miss the 1980s.
But with all those reactions, with those groups that are emerging and looking for points of contact, isn’t that too an awakening?
That’s the problem, it’s only reactive and the reaction is something that tires out, something that becomes dissolved. Disillusion drains a great deal of energy. When we stop being reactive and begin to be pro-active, when we start making something of ourselves, a true change will take place. When we speak of past cultures, we are referring to cultures that cultivated an evolutionary process: the conscience of a divine origin that ended up as a divine state.
A long time ago humanity didn’t have that vision, or it had a divine origin of pure invention, a mythology, a dogma that ended up being punished or in a paradise if you behaved well according to my terms. People don’t grow up thinking that they’re divine, which is a state of consciousness that doesn’t depend on the body or on the projections that the mind creates.
No, people believe that they can only develop as diverse egos: either you’re a man or a woman, hetero or homosexual or bisexual, either you’re a chemist or a musician or a politician… an entire repertoire of transitory roles. The thing is to wake up the high consciousness that we possess, and what doesn’t fit is this simian body.