One of the key elements of indigenous worldviews in Latin America rests on harmonic relations between nature and humans. Recent indigenous discourses and activism focus on restoring the harmonic relationship between humans and nature. Arturo Escobar has suggested that one of the key differences between indigenous cosmovisions and modern worldviews is in their perceptions of nature. Indigenous societies and their cosmovisions see elements of nature as persons, whereas modern and modernizing worldviews see nature as an object that can be owned and exploited, which hinders the balance that exists in nature (2013 CALACS Congress).
As I stared at the Izalco volcano recently, I began to see it as a person. More than this, I saw it as a living entity that has come under human domination because of its perceived inactivity. Once, the Izalco volcano would have been seen as a living entity. As its eruptions lit the sky and the earth trembled because of its might, it reminded people of its life. Moreover, the volcano was involved in a cycle of life, whereby its fertile soils made the earth arable and allowed people to settle at its foot.
Presently, however, the Izalco volcano is “dormant.” This particular volcano was seen as a person when it was still active and indigenous and non indigenous people saw it in all its glory. Yet, this is not the case anymore, because it is dormant and dormant is often equated with inactive (or dead). Yet, there is activity happening within dormant volcanoes, as can be evidenced by the smoke that adorns the Izalco’s peak day after day, after day. However, this diminished activity has also contributed to its invisibility. After all, it is “not active anymore” because it has stopped erupting. I would certainly challenge this commonly held assumption on the basis that a dormant volcano does not equate to a dead volcano.
There is activity happening inside the volcano, we just don’t see it.
And just because we don’t see any activity, we feel that we can assume ownership. Why do we feel that we can own forests? But moving away from the issue of volcanoes, this observation has gotten me to think about other “dormant” objects that we see as dead, just because we don’t perceive any activity. Why do we feel a sense of ownership to lakes and everything within them? More than ownership, the problem is that often, ownership is coupled with over-exploitation (as is the case in this part of the world). The point of this post is not to overburden everyone with a list of objects that we feel the need to possess. Instead, I want to end this post as with an open question: What elements in nature have we come to see as lifeless and dared to own and exploit as if they have no soul?