GLOBAL HEALING COMMUNITY
Earth Treasure Vase for Democratic Republic of Congo
In April 2012, Alliance for the Earth buried the 27th Earth Treasure Vase in the Itombwe Forest of the Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, with the guidance and support of the Pygmy people.
Nowhere on Earth are the issues that we must face, heal and transform, as graphic as they are in the DRC. We, as a global community, are largely unaware of, or have turned our gaze away from what is happening there — the exploitation of natural resources, rapid loss of rainforest, endless war, and extreme violence; including the cannibalization of Pygmies and the epidemic rape of women.
At the time of writing (2012), the women of Congo are beginning to mobilize at the grassroots level for a new Congo. Alliance for the Earth is committed to support that fledgling movement and to help catalyze a global response to the violence and environmental devastation currently occurring in the DRC.
We believe story leads to action and, since our return, have launched a powerful digital storytelling project called Women Witness Congo in partnership with World Pulse that will bring the global community face-to-face with the women of Congo, their rising leadership and their compelling visions for change through four video documentaries of varying lengths.Other outcomes, including an initiative to bring Rights of Nature to protect the world’s second largest rainforest and its peoples, are now underway. To learn more, please read “The Healing of Congo,” written by our dear friend Charles Eisenstein for The Intelligent Optimist.
The Burial of the Vase for the Democratic Republic of Congo
By Cynthia Jurs
It was the journey of a lifetime.
We succeeded in planting our 27th Earth Treasure Vase in the Itombwe Forest of eastern Congo with the support and assistance of the Pygmy people.
Along the way we made meaningful relationships with many women and men who are eager to stand up and tell stories of a new Congo and to build peace … starting within. We feel certain that the prayers, commitments and creative ideas we generated together are already contributing to a shift there and that the vase, planted like a precious seed to be watered over time, will bear the fruit of our intentions.
The drive to Mwenga was without incident — although we got stuck in the mud for four hours on the way home! — and we arrived in the village of the local King of the Pygmies. He greeted us wearing a grass skirt and a special hat with beads hanging over his eyes and carrying a staff. All the women stood up on the hill singing. We made our way into their midst, singing and dancing into a central hall in the village. There, Charles Uwiragiye and I were given gifts and all of us were presented with the most delicious, locally grown or gathered foods served in palm leaves and baskets.
The next morning, after visiting a memorial shrine to commemorate the death of 12 women from being buried alive, we began the drive to meet a larger Pygmy village on the edge of the forest and plant the Earth Treasure Vase. A white dove flew directly in front of our vehicle, leading us forward and letting us know we were being accompanied by the holy spirit on the path of peace.
We drove about 12 km into the bush where we were greeted by hundreds of Pygmies. We walked to a clearing where they welcomed us again and enacted a theater performance. We then shared the Earth Treasure Vase with everyone. Several other chiefs came forward and along with many women and children offered their prayers to the vase. They were very curious to know what was in the vase, and all enthusiastically peered inside. When they understood there was nothing valuable in it but only spiritually meaningful or symbolic offerings, one person offered some cassava, the food of life; another offered a small fruit; and still another offered earth for the protection of their land.
When it was time, we sealed the vase. All the chiefs came forward to hold the vase together and give their word that once planted in the land, it would never be disturbed but be protected for all time. The “security” that accompanied us also recognized the need for this and gave their support. This responsibility was taken with great seriousness.
Then, in a long procession, the vase was carried in its basket down a long path out of the village, over a stream, past water lilies and a fish pond, through a cassava farm, and into the forest where a deep hole had already been dug. The site is a sacred place to the community and everyone was very happy as we lowered the vase into the earth. When it was fully covered and laid to rest, I rang the bell and gave katas to the chiefs and one women leader … and it was done.
The next day, after successfully accomplishing our mission, we awoke to the news that a new Prime Minister had been appointed, a man who is respected, fair and well-educated. Some years ago, he survived a plane crash that killed a number of his colleagues and gave new meaning to his life — a mission he may now have the opportunity to fulfill by serving Congo with compassion and wisdom. Neema and our other friends were overjoyed and I, of course, took it as a sign that the Earth Treasure Vase was at work!
Visions and projects for a healed, protected and prosperous Congo
Neema and her colleague Patrick, a Pygmy from Mwenga who organized our visit there, want to return within 30 days in order to seal the historic event with a sacrifice, as is the tradition. They also want to gather specific information about the sacredness of the area where the vase was planted and document some of the surrounding sites, such as an ancient tree that even 8 people holding hands cannot reach around, a miracle lake, and a rock in the highlands where every Pygmy king goes to perform rites of passage before he is officially enthroned. These are all in the vicinity of where the Earth Treasure Vase now rests…. places that could be visited, if there was peace, by people who also would love to learn the traditional knowledge and plant medicine of the Pygmies. Gorillas, elephants and many birds also still inhabit the forest.
Neema is birthing a vision to build a peace center/eco-lodge in the forest here where people could come to learn about the culture, experience the forest and conduct peacebuilding dialogues in a zone of peace. (This, despite the fact that 2 weeks before we arrived rebels attacked the village. The Pygmies banded together to successfully drive them off only four days before we came with the Earth Treasure Vase.)
The night after our ceremony a woman named Claudine, the president of Community Protection of Mwenga, came forward and without knowing about our efforts to equip women with media tools to tell their stories, asked us for a camera so she can report on the killings and violence against women that it is her calling to end. Neema will bring her one of our donated cameras and train her and other women in the region to be correspondents with World Pulse. (Neema also plans to go to other rural areas to connect women into a growing network of activists and voices for change, as well as continue this activity in Bukavu).
We learned that there are plans to get official protection for the Itombwe Forest, which until now has not had that status. While in Mwenga, we met the senior warden of the Itombwe Reserve, a friend of Neema’s (like everyone in Congo, it seems), who informed us that other forests with official protection have excluded the Pygmies and therefore these communities do not have access to their traditional way of life and are suffering greatly. We saw this firsthand at the Kahuzi Biega Park where we went to see the gorillas and where the Pygmies are starving.
This is not the case in Itombwe, where they still have access to the forest. The warden assured me that the plans for this forest’s protection are being done collaboratively with the Pygmies but they need our advocacy. Time is of the essence because the rebels are encroaching. Why? …Because they want to seize land for mining. So far they have been kept at bay, but it is only a matter of time.
Raji with media training participants
There are so many other stories and outcomes arising from taking the Earth Treasure Vase to Congo. The media work Raji and I did in Bukavu and all the incredible video footage we gathered needs to be edited now so that it can be shared widely as promised. Our unstoppable partner, Neema Namadamu, whose incredible vision and passion is a major force for a new Congo, must continue her work to empower women to tell their stories and join her in building a movement for change in Congo. She and Patrick must return to Itombwe to follow up and continue to water the seeds of peace we planted there.
For now, may peace take root and grow strong so that the creative vision of the women, the young activists, the indigenous people and the disabled, who Neema represents, may give rise to the healing, protection and prosperity so deserved in the rich and beautiful land that is Congo.
If you are interested you can follow Neema’s current work with her organization Hero Women Rising, here: www.herowomenrising.org.
Cynthia and Neema