Indigenous Calendar October, 2016: The Wisdom of Our Cocama Sisters and Brothers

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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.

"For the children and the flowers are my sisters and my brothers." This is the beginning of the chorus to a song that is still popular even though it was written almost fifty years ago. Its author, Henry John Deutschendorf, Jr., was criticized during his short life for writing such lyrics; he was accused of being sentimental, romantic and idealistic. In our world of scientific and technological advancement the notion that flowers could be your sisters and your brothers is surely a concept that belongs to ancient mythology.

A common theme in the spiritual beliefs, ritual practices and folkloric traditions of indigenous peoples the world over is that all living things are our sisters and our brothers. A term often used to express these beliefs in indigenous cultures is "The Tree of Life."

A year ago the popular scientific media did something unusual — it paid a lot of attention to a story that contained no new science. The Open Tree of Life project only collects scientific data that is already known about evolution on planet Earth. Its publication of the scientific "tree of life" solidifies indigenous peoples' belief — all living things are related to all other living things.

Years ago, I spent a few days in an isolated Cocama community in the Peruvian Amazon. I was, of course, an outsider and I always will be. Yet, for a brief moment, the children and the flowers of that community were as much my sisters and my brothers as they are yours. We shared our stories, we laughed together and we fished for our food.

Henry John Deutschendorf, Jr. is better known as John Denver. He identified with indigenous peoples, their culture and, especially, their spiritual beliefs — many of which he shared. He was a keen photographer and, for me personally, an inspiration. I like to think that this photo is one that he might have taken had he been in that isolated Cocama community for those few days instead of me.

One day, I saw these two children and I had a flashback to a memory of hitting trees with a stick when I was their age. They may not be sister and brother, but the flowers at the top of the tree were its signal that it was time to relinquish its berries. They enjoyed the berries little knowing that the tree could signal time only because of the very genes it shared with them. If our species is to survive, it will be perhaps through simple observations like these that we will, in the words of John Denver, "begin to seek the wisdom of the children."

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