“Put some air into our lungs!” (Bahia audience member)

Bahia de Caraquez, Ecuador Eco-gathering Report #5

Our species has probably been as intelligent, creative and physically similar for at least the last 100,000 years. Agriculture has been practiced for only about the last 10,000 years, or one-tenth of that time. The Industrial Era probably began in the middle of the 17th Century, but has been prominent for only the last 200 years, or just 0.2% of our whole history.

There were people in the present location of Bahia de Caraquez in 14,000 BP who left arrow points behind. A culture that is now termed Las Vegas left a collective cemetery six centuries later, and they were followed by the Valdivians whose pottery remains date from 5,000 BP. There’s a sharp break in the archeological record after that, with a suspicious layer of volcanic ash before the next entry. The following Bahia culture from roughly 2,500-1,500 BP had a successful, full-scale society that isn’t sufficiently recognized for its achievements as the “Phoenicians of the Americas.” They not only traded items such as beautiful spondylos (thorny oyster) shells which are found in burial sites up and down the Pacific coast and inland, but also exported technology that was used to build the civilizations of Mexico and Peru. They were supplanted in the area by the Chirije, Manta, Jama and Coaque “cholos” people who the Spanish encountered a thousand years later. (A reproduction of a traditional village named “Chirije” has been built on the coast near Bahia and is the outstanding local monument that recognizes pre-European forebearers.)

A public presentation about Eco-Bahia in the Cultural Center at 5PM  Friday (2/19) attracted over 50 people from many sectors including  barrio representatives, students, some mothers with small children, the city’s priest, the vice-mayor, tour company operators, hotel and restaurant owners, a uniformed officer of the Ecuadoran navy, and others for whom I regretfully didn’t possess enough local exposure to recognize.

Calling this meeting was necessary to build community support for the Eco-Gathering with the Eco-city Declaration and first International Mangrove Day next weekend as well as the subsequent eco-municipality-building process. Credit for such wide and interested attendance goes to Flor-Maria Tamariz who personally wrote, telephoned and talked to most of the attendees. The program was assembled in an informal, organic way that unfolded right up to the presentation. An audience member shouted, “Put some air into our lungs! Give us a reason to live!” Dario introduced the eco-city vision and explained what pieces of it were represented by the panel of speakers. Nicola explained the new recycling program while Dario handed out brochures about it. My role was to put Eco-Bahia into a worldwide (or in this case, biospheric) context starting with the probable contributing effect of global warming on the severity of last year’s El Nino rains. The mammoth mudflows they created are an immediately tangible example of the necessity to live more ecologically everywhere. Bahia’s ruin can now be viewed as an opportunity to rebuild as a recognizable model for other places. Eco-Bahia is a community process rather than an outside or top-down operation, and it requires everyone in the community in order to succeed. It can bring better living conditions, create employment, attract visitors, and become a continuous source of participation and pride. Practical accomplishments within this year could include municipal bins for different recyclable materials on the streets (colored green with depictions of native flowers), forming Green Teams, collecting kitchen scraps for composting, and what has become a standard suggestion because of its appeal, painting the traditional Bahia triciclos green and attaching signs that say, “Bienvenidos a Bahia, La Ciudad Verde” (explosive applause). There are longer-term infrastructure changes that need to be researched, selected, funded, and finally built. A barrio leader nicknamed “Abeja” (The Bee) who is known for his hard-working nature had previously told me that the catastrophic mudslide just across the road from where he lives which killed 16 people and caused survivors to surround his still-standing house with shacks afterwards had made “All of us brothers and sisters.” I reminded the audience of that generous sense of mutuality and asked them to use it as a foundation for cooperation in making the future Eco-Bahia. There were questions and then Patricio described the Eco-Gathering program, asked everyone to take part, suggested continuing self-selected support committees for different sustainability activities after the gathering, and requested that each person in attendance bring at least one other friend into the eco-municipality process. We closed with everyone taking home a seedling neen tree (once again the donor was Flor-Maria) to plant as a commemoration of the meeting and to initiate green city as a visible growing entity.

People mingled and eventually left carrying a foot-high plant, regardless of their position or condition, and it was like watching a community-created performance piece to redefine the city. 

(Meetings in barrios yesterday and today will be in the next report, and more details of life in the center of the city where I’m making a base of operations tomorrow until the gathering is over.) 

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