The beginning of May, 2021. As we formulate these words, Colombia, the land in which we live and work, is in turmoil. First, we underwent a period of (voluntary) isolation as a result of the pandemic, and now, a period of social, economic and political unrest has led to the vast majority of the population tenaciously taking to the streets to protest, despite fear of contagion and brutal repression – both government-sanctioned and unofficial.
For two-and-a-half years, Mapa Teatro has been reflecting on several indigenous peoples of the Amazon and their determination to avoid contact with others. This is an act of resistance and survival in the face of plundering, the systematic reduction of their habitat, and the eradication of their culture and ideology. Our reflections began after we stumbled upon a news item in the local press about the discovery of a community living in voluntary isolation in the Colombian Amazon: This chance encounter led us to investigate other, earlier encounters. It is only through the current situation that we became aware of what implications such an act of resistance might have for our Western lives.
We can imagine the circumstances leading to the isolated community cutting ties with others. We would likely have reacted the same way. What we do not know, however, is what they think about us and the world in which we live. What is their take on what we call »progress« and »technology«? On our need to be part of a global communications network, and on our incessant and distracted consumption of information? How much longer can they remain distanced, cut off from the rest of the world like an island in the ever-deepening sea of humanity?
Other indigenous groups contact the isolated community by means of plants, animals, dance and song; we resort to our imaginations. We sense, however, how their thoughts constantly return to us, blocking our progress, stopping us in our tracks like crossed spears on a path, or like an arrow flying straight at us.
If we want to restore their anonymity and defend their resolve to live in the shadows, we have to forget them, erasing every scrap of news about their existence from our memories. Faced with this unknown is like trying to reconstruct an image of a black hole in space. Having insufficient tools to detect its presence, we opt to focus instead on the interference its gravitational force inflicts on its surroundings.
We oscillate between two parallel and contemporaneous worlds that remain alien to one another. We want to transcend our anthropocentric Western way of life and become intimate with an existence that lies beyond the limits of our experience. But try as we may to close the gap, we cannot see them, hear them or touch them. What kind of invocation would we need to step over the physical and mental borders that continue to separate us?
Never before has the non-linear progress of human history been felt as palpably as in 1969. In this year, two (white, Western) men stepped onto the surface of the moon. In the same year, but seemingly situated in a parallel universe in which progress occurs at a different rate, a community in the Colombian Amazon that had actively and consciously avoided all kind of contact for generations was disturbed by the arrival of a small group of explorers (also white, also Western).
Fifty years later, an encounter in Bogotá with someone who had fled the community when the white explorers appeared before their communal home, the maloca, led us to begin a work of »ethno-fiction« on the community and traces of its existence. The man we met, a gold-prospector turned goldsmith, became our medium. By creating small gold figures when he awoke from his dreams, he was able to facilitate potential poetic connections between us and the world of the isolated community.