Indigenous Calendar March, 2017: Preoccupied

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Any opinions expressed do not necessarily represent the policies of The Peoples of the World Foundation. Unless otherwise noted, the author and photographer is Dr. Ray Waddington.

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Palestine is one of the most continually human-occupied areas of the world. When humans first passed through that area, and eventually arrived in Europe and Central Asia, they were not asked whether they had arrived illegally; nor were they told to get out and then murdered. Instead, the archaic humans who had previously migrated out of Africa were so welcoming that the human migrants made love, not war — they interbred with them. It might be a difficult pill for racist supremacists to swallow, but a small percentage of their DNA is Neanderthal or Denisovan. They would probably deny that, but the science on this subject is not a matter of opinion and it is not open to alternate facts. In fact, any "supremacy" that supremacists have may well stem from their Neanderthal or Denisovan DNA — a finding confirmed in a handful of scientific articles published in the last year, one of which was published only a few days ago.

When Columbus first crossed the Atlantic Ocean he could not have known that his Neanderthal DNA crossed it with him. He was also wrong about where he had landed, believing he had reached India. Unlike the first human migration out of Africa, Columbus had arrived in a place that had been pre-occupied by humans for thousands of years. Srinivas Kuchibhotla was from India — even though his murderer thought he was from Iran. Two days before the Neanderthal DNA article was published, he was asked whether he was in the United States illegally. (He wasn't.) He was then told to "get out of my country" before being murdered.

The last twelve months were bookended by two contrasting "occupy" movements. This time last year "occupy Oregon" — a 41-day takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, including ancestral, indigenous Paiute land — had just ended. Last month, the Standing Rock Sioux were forced off land they had been occupying in North Dakota. In both cases these were protest movements. But in the first case the occupiers were armed, violent and destructive toward indigenous land; they also failed to understand the notion of pre-occupied land according to statements made last month in the continuing legal prosecution. In the second case the occupiers were unarmed, peaceful and trying to protect it.

I was preoccupied for a long time with a desire to occupy, temporarily, the area that is now Chiapas State in southeastern Mexico. I realized that desire many years ago and was rewarded with this month's photo. The subject is a Tzotzil Maya woman. She is the wife of a Maya priest. She is blessing the Maya cross outside their house in an ancient ritual that she performs many times each day during the year that her husband serves his appointed role. She is a descendant of our ancient ancestors whose DNA passed through Asia. Those ancestors arrived in Chiapas at least four thousand years ago. So that land had been pre-occupied for many generations before the Spanish arrived to claim it as their own. The Spanish believed that the indigenous Maya pre-occupiers were devil worshipers. In their attempt to convert them to Catholicism, they destroyed what would otherwise be one of the richest legacies in human history — Maya art and literature.

The phrase "ignorance is bliss" is sometimes appropriate. But not when it compels us to act on a sense of superiority or supremacy that is born of that ignorance. We are preoccupied with the occupation of land that has been pre-occupied for thousands of years. Without education that preoccupation may never end.

The Tzotzil Maya are featured in our documentary, Ancient and Modern Mayan Peoples.

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