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Saturday, June 29, 2019

The Real 'Face of the Amazon': A Culture of Death

Written by  Kathy Clubb
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Infanticide and suicide have traditionally been part of the culture in many parts of the Amazon region. So why does the working document for October's Pan-Amazon Synod suggest that the Catholic Church 'puts on an Amazon face'?

The synod will focus on a group of countries that surround Latin America's Amazon Basin; that is Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, French Guyana, Guyana, Perú, Venezuela and Surinam. When announcing the synod, Pope Francis called on the Church to  “find new ways to evangelize that portion of the people of God, especially indigenous people, often forgotten and without the prospect of a peaceful future". What the Pope and his collaborators fail to mention is that, as well as the suffering caused by the exploitative corporations, the communities themselves are also the source of this lack of peace. While particular attention is given to 'ecocide', there is no mention made of the infanticide, suicide or patricide that are part of the fabric of life in the Amazon.

October's upcoming synod has been a cause of concern since its preparatory document, with its calls for 'ecological conversion' and ordained women, was released in 2018. Since then, a suggestion that hosts be made of yuca, rather than wheat flour - thereby rendering the sacramant invalid - has thankfully lost traction. Now the working document, the Instrumentum Laboris, (IL) has been released and many areas of concern remain: a focus on integral ecology and eco-theology, promotion of Indian theology - an offshoot of heretical Liberation Theology - and the consistent theme that the Church has much to learn from pagan spirituality.

There are many good articles available exposing the synod's threats to priestly celibacy, exclusive-male priesthood and doctrinal purity, so the focus of this article will be the anti-life practices of  tribes in Pan-Amazon region. According to the documents released so far, modern, western, 'colonialism' is blamed for an increase in abortions, family violence and drug use in the area. There are no references to the traditional acceptance of these anti-life practices in Amazonian culture.

Infanticide in the Amazon

It's difficult to find the precise number of infanticides being committed in the region, since many cases are not reported and efforts are being hampered by a political theory that labels all outside intervention as 'imperialist','colonialist' or 'patriarchal'. Cultural relativists claim that indigenous populations should be protected from prosecution for enacting cultural practises like infanticide and euthanasia, and frown on any attempts to discover how many children and adults are being killed. Such activists claim that data collection “is in many cases an attempt to incriminate and express prejudice against indigenous peoples”, and is a new form of colonialism.

According to a 2018 article, around twenty tribal groups out of Brazil's three hundred practise infanticide, and it's estimated that around one hundred children are killed each year.

One study on infanticide among Brazil's Zuruahá tribe sheds some light on the philosophy behind the practise. It notes that infanticide was tolerated historically for several reasons: as a means of ridding the tribal communities, who were living in very harsh conditions, of the burden of caring for weaker members or to ensure mothers were able to adequately care for their born children. Thus twins, disabled or sick children were killed (and are still being killed) after birth. And if a mother dies in childbirth, her child will almost certainly be killed.

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Superstition also plays a part in these cultures, even in contemporary Latin America. Albino children are considered evil and are killed once the condition is discovered. An example is given in the study of a family from the Kuikúru tribe who killed three children with albinism. A previous child was allowed to live, despite also having the condition, because her parents thought she would change colour as time went on.

Social norms also drive infanticide: babies born to unwed mothers are usually killed and it is acceptable to kill a child of an unwanted gender, particularly girls, since the preference is for boys. One tribe allows for infanticide once four siblings of the same gender have been born, without regard to which sex that is. 

This commentary on the Yanomámi tribe, explains their justification of child-killing:

"Yanomámi women had full autonomy to decide whether their children should live or not. The mother withdraws into the forest to give birth and if she does not welcome the child into her arms, it is as if the child had never been born. Thus, it is interpreted that, in that culture, there is also a "post-delivery birth", in other words an act of being "culturally born": when the mother does not welcome the newborn, she does not touch it and abandons it in the forest. In this way, the child is not born into the community."

Another example shows how these practises play out in real life. The following episode took place in the Surawaha tribe in the 1990's with whom the Suzuki family were living as Christian missionaries.. The Suruwhahas had had no contact with the outside world until the 1970's. 

"At one point during the Suzukis stay with the Suruwaha, the tribe apparently decided that two children who did not appear to be developing properly should die. The children’s parents committed suicide rather than kill the two. The tribe then buried the children alive anyway, as was the custom, Suzuki says. One, a girl named Hakani, survived the ordeal but was subsequently left to die by starvation. Her older brother kept her alive for a few years, smuggling her scraps of food, before eventually depositing her at the Suzukis’ feet."

The Suzukis went on to adopt the little girl, a move that raised the issue of Brazil's tolerance of infanticide to international prominence.

This tolerance is nurtured by support from Hollywood celebrities, some of whom have adopted the protection of death-dealing cultural practices in much the same way as they have adopted the cause of legal abortion. These cultural relativists rely on academics, ethicists and anthropologists to support their claims. For example, an anthropologist from the University of Brasilia describes the natives' rationalisation of child-killing in this way:

“An indigenous child, when he or she is born, is not a person. He or she will undergo a long personalization process until acquiring a name and, with that, the status of a ‘person.’ Therefore, the very rare cases of newborns who are not inserted in the community’s social life cannot be described as death, because that is what it is not. Infanticide, then, it is never.”

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Suicide is 'the highest of all values'

The study on infanticide among the Zuruahá tribe also mentions suicide as a related issue, since some parents whose children have been marked by the community for infanticide prefer to commit suicide, rather than see the children killed. For the average westerner, to whom protection of one's offspring would be unquestionable, this practice is abhorrent and irresponsible in the extreme. But it becomes easier to understand when the tribe's religious devotion to suicide is explained:

"Suicide among the Zuruahá involves historical and religious characteristics and even social tensions and crises. It is seen as a form of human existence, such that only through death is it possible to attain true existence: "The Indians say that human existence only makes sense if its aim is suicide. Their guidelines for understanding life indicate that suicide is the highest of all values. The philosophy of the Zuruahá says that there are only two paths for human existence: the first, via suicide by poisoning, called kunaha, which leads to heaven for those who take the poison (...). Their rites, chants and prayers relate to and are aimed towards this true existence. The second path leads to death through old age; this is a path that today is considered arduous...4 (p. 78).

Given this understanding of human life, waiting to grow old is not synonymous with wisdom. For this reason, in this culture, old people do not have the status of venerable wise men, as is commonly seen among other indigenous peoples. Here, they are called hosa, a word that means "useless" or "spent". Moreover, most of them have already made attempts to commit suicide. To avoid a future of pain and disrespect in old age, children start from an early age to live with the possibility of committing suicide. In their games, boys and girls act out how they will die and what their funeral rite will be like. They all know about how to use timbó, a species of liana that contains a deadly poison. Using it is an act of courage. For this reason, "parents live with the conviction that one day their children will drink poison4 (p. 78)...."

Statistics gathered on the tribe between 2003 and 2005 showed that approximately one-sixth of the populaton committed suicide in that time. (There were also two cases of infanticide in the same period.) This pagan understanding of old-age and death, and the absence of an understanding of human life's intrinsic value contradicts the numerous references in the working document to the 'wisdom of the elderly.'

Cannibalism 

One of the most shocking customs found in the Amazon is ritual cannibalism. This has been documented as being practised by the Yanomami and Wari' tribes. According to the TFP website:

One primitive custom of this ethnic group is ritual cannibalism. In a collective and sacred ritual funeral, they cremate the corpse of a dead relative and eat the ashes of the bones, mixing them with “pijiguao” paste (made with the fruit of a kind of palm tree). They believe that the deceased’s vital energy lies in the bones and is thus reintegrated into the family group. A Yanomami who kills an adversary in enemy territory also practices this form of cannibalism to purify himself.

Similarly, the Wari' tribe  of Brazil, ate the flesh of both their own dead tribesmen and of their enemies, even into the late twentieth century. Endocannibalsim - the eating of insiders, was seen as a type of funerary rite, proving that the deceased had actually passed from the earth. To the Wari', this was not cannibalism, since the tribes' dead members had transcended into the 'other.' By contrast, exocannibalism was approached with enthusiasm rather than awe, a sign of domination over a weaker tribe.

Interestingly, Paul Erlich, author of the book, The Population Bomb and one of the world greatest proponents of population control, announced back in 2014 'that overpopulation and resource scarcity would eventually drive hungry humans to cannibalism.' (Erlich was a guest at the Vatican's Pontifical Academy of Science at a 2017 conference on Biological Extinction, much to the chagrin of faithful Catholics everywhere. )

Drug use is part of the tribal religion 

Throughout the Instrumentum Laboris, social ills, such violence against women and drug-trafficking, are consistently blamed on 'extractive industry' and 'mega-projects'. But it is disingenuous to claim that modern projects are the sole cause of such evils. Violence against women is part of the tribal culture of many of these communities, and the use of drugs in spiritual healing rituals is common. In fact, a new industry has sprung up around the culture's hallucenogenic drug, ayahuasca, as foreigners flock to try out a novel mind-altering experience. In several tragic cases, tourists have murdered friends and associates while under the influence of ayahuasca.

Despite this widespread use of these hallucinagenic drugs in 'spirit-assisted health-care', the Instrumentum Laboris suggests that 'indigenous rituals and ceremonies are essential for intergral health because they intergrate the different cycles of human life and nature. They create harmony and balance between human beings and nature. They protect life from evils that can be caused by both human beings and other living beings....' (#87) 

Here's a little bit about the traditional Amazonian medicine, ayahuasca, from the Temple of the Way of Light website. 

"The use of ayahuasca is widespread and represents the basis of traditional medicine practice for at least 75 different indigenous tribes across the Lower and Upper Amazon....

Traditionally, the use of ayahuasca in Amazonian healing practices has been limited to the healers, who use it as diagnostic tool for a variety of tasks that reflect vastly different psychological and cultural values than we are familiar with in the West.

Ayahuasca was not taken by patients, who would simply come to ceremony to receive the diagnosis and subsequent treatments. By identifying the cause of illness, bad luck and witchcraft, for example, and resolving the energetic damage caused by jealousy and envy, indigenous healers recognize the destructive power of negative human emotions and their impact not just on the individual but the health of the whole community. Ayahuasca is used by the healers for other purposes, too: to help inform important decisions; ask the spirits for advice; solve personal conflicts (between families and communities); exercise one’s divine capacities; elucidate mysteries, thefts and disappearances; discover if we have enemies; and to see if a spouse is being disloyal.

Ayahuasca is also used to prescribe treatments to patients – through directing the healer to administer ikaros and plant remedies. But it is not the only plant spirit involved. Ayahuasca works with the healer in combination with a plethora of other plant-spirit doctors to provide treatment. Ayahuasca is a nexus within a much larger system of ‘spirit-assisted’ healthcare in the Amazon. Traditional Amazonian healing offers solutions to illnesses and disorders that typically cannot be treated by conventional medicine."

So, far from being a simple matter of intergrating traditional herbal medicine into contemporary healthcare, it becomes obvious that much of the Amazon's folk medicine is impossible to separate from their pagan rituals and even involve divination and witchcraft. When coupled with the use of hallucinogens, this becomes a dangerous proposition - posing risks to both the physical and spiritual health of patients.

But, instead of issuing a warning about the dangers of dabbling in occult practices, the Instrumentum Laboris recommends that we emulate these tribal families, where '... one learns to live in harmony: between peoples, between generations, with nature, in dialogue with the spirits.' (IL #75)

And in case there is any doubt as to the nature of the power being harnessed by these pagan shamans, the following example will serve as a reminder. A Dutch missionary told the story of a priest who was sent to the Amazon to share the Gospel. He was confronted on a number of accasions by a local sorcerer, "He was able to move in an incomprehensible way, letting the good father go down the river alone only to meet him again far downstream, insulting him copiously in his native dialect … "

'Colonialism' 

It has already been mentioned that in much of the working document,  'colonialism' is blamed for a plethora of social ills facing people in the Amazon region. And in the course of investigating some of their struggles, it becomes obvious that there is a great deal of injustice being perpetrated against the native inhabitants, especially regarding appropriation of their land and open-slather development by foreign entities. But the document goes even further, pointing to an ongoing class struggle as the cause of many inhabitants' poverty. It is very superficial, and a crime against the truth, to state that Christian, western influence has reaped only bad fruits in the region and that western culture should conform more to this pagan model.

As one commentator has said: "The evil that strikes them bears only one name: colonization. As in liberation theology, but under a more populist than Marxist variant (the famous theology of the people dear to Pope Francis), these peoples and communities must be considered as depositories of a riches that civilized countries are lacking after centuries of Christianity."

Are our collective memories so short that we can't remember the extreme levels of barbarism that were common in this are and the surrounding civilisations only a few hundred years ago? This is the homeland of the blood-thirsty Incas, and the close neighbour of the Aztecs and Mayans, all of whom practised human sacrifice on an unbelievable scale. As Steve Mosher points out is his article, it is only because of the work of early missionaries that these murderous practices were stopped. If the Church fails in its mission to evangelise, then what is to stop these tribes from sliding back into their barbaric practices? If they maintain the same philosophy that underpins barbarism, then a return to barbarism seems inevitable.

Marcia Suzuki, the Christian missionary who adopted an unwanted child from the Yanomami tribe, said that, rather than colonialism being the problem, "The real enemy is invisible: it is the moral and cultural relativism that makes questioning the practice of infanticide taboo."

'Pastoral Conversion'?

It could be argued that child-killing, homicide and so on are found among only a handful of the tribes found in the Amazon region. Numerically, this is true, of course. But the problem lies in the philosophy employed by these peoples to justify their actions, and the fact that the Instrumentum Laboris exhorts Catholics to adopt those philosophies. So while human sacrifice has been practised in the area for hundreds of years, to varying degrees, the problem now is that Catholic missionaries are being dissuaded from condemning those practises, and from engaging in the spiritual warfare that would ensure their success. In fact, the IL advises Catholics to adopt, rather than challenge, a form of spirituality diametrically opposed to the Gospel message of salvation through Jesus Christ.

This 'non-missionary' effort is not a new phenomenon and has been applauded within the Church for some time; here are but two examples.

The Yanomamis, besides their habits of killing their offspring and eating their enemies, are also extremely resistant to evangelisation. In 53 years of missionary presence, there have been no baptisms. But far from being discouraged, the current director of missionary activity there, Fr. Corrado Dalmonego states that the Yanonami tribe has much to offer the Church, who must: “pay attention to how indigenous peoples live their community experience, social relations and leadership structures. For us, Yanomamis are witnesses that enable us to appreciate this value of community life.”

Fr Dalmonego, undeterred by his lack of success, exhorts us to mine this pagan religion for spiritual advice, since "... finally, the Church is enriched “by research done on shamanism, mythologies, different knowledge, visions of the world, and visions of God.” This is because strong moments of dialogue help missionaries “discover the essence of our faith, often disguised by ornaments and cultural traditions.” 

Another Braziilan case of dubious evangelisation was the activity of the Little Sisters of Jesus among the Tapirapé people. This tribe had practised infanticide but eventually abandoned it, apparently due to the 'good example' of the sisters. The nuns, disciples of Charles de Foucauld, lived among that community from 1952 and decided not to catechise the small tribe of 47 natives. Instead, they chose to engage in a 'silent mission' which is closely aligned with the current buzz-word, 'dialogue.'

It appears that the sisters were less concerned about the infanticide they witnessed as being an objectively immoral act - contrary to the Gospel and to the natural law - than they were about the possibility of the tribe dying out. Thus they decided to begin the 'dialogue' which facilitated an end to child-killing on the basis of social concerns:

"However, the discussion only became possible after the Tapirapé people identified the missionaries as their allies in the struggle against oppression caused by segments of the society to which the nuns themselves belonged. Thus, infanticide came to be discussed within an agenda that also included other topics of importance to the people: demarcation of their lands, expulsion of invaders from their territory, attention to individuals' health, etc. There was logic to this, since an increase in population depended on ensuring conditions of survival for everyone .... In the anthropological literature, this case has become recognized as an experience of successful intervention."

So, what appears to most rational people as a failure, and what would have certainly been deemed a failure by almost every Catholic missionary during the last 2000 years, is hailed as a success by anthropologists and to the missionaries themselves. The most worrying outcome, though, is that this is precisely the model for evangelisation that is being proposed by the synod.

Surely, this is not what the authors of the working document mean by the term 'pastoral conversion'? (IL #5)

This non-missionary approach can be contrasted with advice from the greatest minds of the Church, Sts Thomas Aquinas and Augustine, as found in Cardinal Robert Sarah's book, The Power of Silence. Cardinal Sarah writes:

"Of course we have the duty to seek new pastoral approaches, But in his Commentary on the Gospel of John, St Thomas Aquinas warns us:

'If then, you ask which way to go, accept Christ, for he is the way. "This is the way, walk in it" (Is 30:21). And Augustine says: "Walk like this human being and you will come to God. It is better to limp along on the way than to walk briskly off the way." For one who limps on the way, even though he makes just a little progress, is approaching his destination; but if one walks off the way, the faster he goes the further he gets from his destination. If you ask where to go, cling to Christ, for he is the truth which we desire to reach."

A new definition of martyrdom

The Instrumentem Laboris concludes with the suggestion that there are many 'martyrs' in the Amazon region. However, this term doesn't refer to those who have given up their lives for the Faith, but rather to those who have spoken out in favour of the natives against the appropriation of their land by other groups. So while it is true that the Church has always defended the right of every person to protect their own property, such defence is not considered martyrdom. One such 'martyr' is singles out for special mention: Sr Dorothy Stang. Sr Dorothy was part of the religious order, the Sisters of Notre Dame, a group of nuns dedicated to fighting social injustices, especially against women, and who work closely with the UN to implement its Sustainable Development Goals. 

Similarly, the official website for the synod features pages dedicated to Catholic religious who have been murdered in the region, suggesting that each of these persons was martyred for the Faith, while also implying that natives are forced by their poverty to to commit acts of violence. In fact, there have been more than a thousand land-conflict killings in Brazil alone during the last few decades, a reminder that violence is built into the tribal culture. There is no question that each of these religious dedicated their lives to helping the impoverished people of the Amazon or that their deaths were tragic. But to refer to them as 'martyrs' is incorrect, especially as in most cases, they appeared to have denied their own Faith to some extent and instead assumed the pagan culture around them, in the name of 'encounter.' 

The Amazonian face

The Instrumentum Laboris tells us that the Amazonian face is a Church with a preferential option for (and with) the poor and for the care of creation. ( IL #109)

When read in the context of the entire document, with its Marxist-inspired horizontalism, its rejection of capitalism, its call for renewable energy, its reliance on communing with nature-spirits, its clear denunciation of objective doctrine, it isn't difficult to envisage the world its authors have in mind. That is, a universalist Catholic Church, devoid of beautiful cathedrals, music and art (too Western), ministering to people without access to clean water and sanitation (for infrastructure relies on capitalism), with intermittent electicity (renewables aren't known for their reliability) exisitng in a landscape of extreme, grinding poverty (egalitarianism) from which there is no escape, except through mind-altering drugs and suicide.

However, there is an even more sinister concern amongst the many urgent questions posed by the synod's working document. It is related to the current papal administration's devotion to the global elite and their population control agenda. Up until now, Pope Francis has rejected the use of contraception and abortion as methods of population control. In fact, this is one area in which he has been remarkably consistent. But the Church is under an enormous amount of pressure from globalists, from governments and from the majority of the public to endorse contraception/abortion, in order to limit the world's population, if not for the motivation of outright approval for women's so-called reproductive rights. 

The synod has been suspected of being a vehicle for married priests, women deacons, liberation theology. Is it possible that this meeting will also become a vehicle for a change in the Church's teaching on abortion, infanticide and euthanasia?

Is it merely a co-incidence that the current papal administration, which is so enamoured of the suite of policies being promulgated by population controllers, should focus its attention on a culture which includes infanticide and euthanasia as methods of population control? And which embraces a philosophy of life and death that justifies these crimes by categorising some humans as non-persons? And that, most shocking of all, we Catholics are bring asked to embrace a related spirituality?

Forget eco-cide: infanticide is a sin that cries to heaven

The Amazon region is full of injustices, to be sure, but an honest examination reveals that the bulk of these conflicts lie outside the scope of the Church's mission. The most glaring omission in this document - apart from its rejection of time-honoured methods of evangelisation and catechesis - is its failure to acknowledge the immense suffering being caused by the adherence of tribal cultures of the practice of infanticide. The adopted survivor of child-killing, Kanhu Suzuki, spoke to a congressional hearing on disability rights in 2017. 

“When the subject of child killing comes up, there are people who will say, ‘Oh, but that’s their culture. We have to respect it.’ Folks, for God’s sake! A culture that involves the death of innocent people has to stop,” she said. “It’s sad to think about how we are ignored. You abandon us, you pretend we’re invisible, since we’re way out there in the middle of the jungle. You pretend that we’re nothing and use the culture excuse. I ask you one more time to rethink that. We’re here.… We’re screaming for help. We’re screaming for rights.”

Perhaps the authors of this working document should take heed from the words of their mentor, Pope Francis. As he stated in Laudato Si, "Once the human being declares independence from reality, and behaves with absolute dominion, the very foundations of our life begin to crumble." (LS 177) For to claim that cultures which promulgate child-killing are our hope and that Indian Theology should replace revealed truth is an attempted departure from reality of truly epic proportions.

“In the process of thinking of a Church with an Amazonian face, we dream with our feet grounded in our origins, and with our eyes open we consider the future shape of this Church, starting from its peoples’ experience of cultural diversity. Our new paths will impact ministries, liturgy, and theology.”

From the Preparatory Document for the Synod on the Pan Amazon Region  (#15) citing the 2017 Symposium on Indian Theology.

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Submitted by the author, Kathy Clubb. This article first appeared on The Freedoms Project.

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Read 5189 times Last modified on Sunday, June 30, 2019

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