The Concept of Place and Recognizing Its Complexity
Paraphrasing some parts of the myth: one day, the community saw a man carrying large loads of fish and water, and asked him if he would share it with them, but he refused, as a punishment Karagabí the creator of everything turned him into ´Jenzerá´ that means ant, an animal that cannot drink water but instead have to carry it working in a collective way. ´Jenzerá´, as an act of revenge, blocked the sky with a big tree that also stops the flow of the water. Karagabí called the community and asked them to work together in order to tear down the tree, some days later, the tree fell down, the log became the ocean, the branches the rivers and the flowers the swamps. And Karagabí named the Embera the keepers of the rivers and gave to them the mission of ensuring that water will be for the benefit of everyone (Domicó, 2001). We can find some references in the myth with the specific case of Urrá, the tree that obscure the vision, can be seen as the dam, the obstacle that the community will face together. The Embera Katíos del Alto Sinú aware of the implication of this plant not only in environmental terms but also in their identity got actively engaged with a mobilization against it. Attracting international support, they played a key role in the negative of the World Bank (WB) and Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) –organizations that are known as promoters of development- to fund the project (Ramírez, 2010). As Arturo Escobar said, “the visibility of indigenous peoples and ethnic minorities as development subjects, objects, and conceptualizers has also increased dramatically. These actors are at the cutting edge of critical development work in important ways, for instance, in terms of denouncing the irrationality of development and the incompatibility for many development projects with indigenous worldviews” (Escobar, A., 2011: x). The implications of the project can be listed and just to mention a few: 1. Environmental, damage caused by the flood of extensive territory 2. Social injustice, violation of collective rights by displacement 3. Cultural, affectation in the identity of the community due to changes in their organization and form of living. 4. Economic due to the disappearance of ´bocachico´-a fish species- that affected their main source of protein. The community, acting together as in the myth, not only as the recipients of the problems, were actors of development trying to fight for their rights. As Kimy Pernía Domicó an indigenous leader said: the river is dying and with it the community (Domicó, 2001), those affectations were reproduced with changes in the dimension of the territory, and reshaping social relations and place making of the community.
Even though the negative impacts of the project, the community is still fighting against those changes with a strong relation with place. The configuration of place can be understood in the process of changes of human groups, and also, as a result of the representation, construction and appropriation that those groups make of it, in a way that the human group and places are transformed through history (Velásquez, M., 2012:7). Initiatives of association between the groups that were affected by the project are taking place. As an example of this, ASPROCIG was created, as an association of Embera Katíos, fisherman and peasant that not only are thinking of projects to resolve specific problems caused by the construction of the dam, like food insecurity and water sanitation, they are addressing global issues such as climate change, agroecology, gender equality, and institutional development. At the same time, Embera Katío del Alto Sinú leaders are appealing for reorganization and cohesion, based in their cultural dimension, especially myths to reinforce their identity.
Place can be seen as a simple concept, and if we do not address it with care can be something taken for granted. But recognizing its complexity is important to question ourselves about how we have been working with it our everyday life, especially in development studies. Being aware of the strong link between people and places, and how they mutually affect each other, tell us about the dynamic nature of place that is constantly represented, constructed and appropriated. This complexity explains why there are different academic interpretations, that can be too broader that can lose it sense, and too abstract that make it difficult to apply. Taking into account the necessity of alternatives to development as response to the actual problems that the world is facing, especially those related to development issues, can start addressing place in its more human meaning.
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Paraphrasing some parts of the myth: one day, the community saw a man carrying large loads of fish and water, and asked him if he would share it with them, […]