Water is sacred in Andean culture. It is both life and a human right; they are increasingly threatened by the mining system that poisons them.
In the Andean world, water is fundamental; it contains a spirit which enables life to maintain its vigour and continually renew itself… as it flows. The song of the rivers is a song of life announcing that life is regenerating itself… renewing itself.
Water irrigates the crops, the trees and the grasses that grow on its banks; at the same time, the animals drink, joyfully hydrating themselves. Best of all, it is water that unites us to the earth, to plants and to animals, because human beings need water as much as nature does. Singing, men and women celebrate life day after day as they row together on the rivers. By the water’s edge, the song of the rivers, the songs of the women, the laughter of children, the singing of the birds and the rustling of the trees can be heard. It seems they are all playing together and sharing life.
The rivers share and give life so it is important to approach them with respect and affection… asking permission when one is about to enter the waters. In some places in the Andes permission is asked to cross the waters by pouring some drops of alcohol or scattering some coca leaves either at the springs or the meeting points of rivers; this is a family and community rite called ch’alla.
The indigenous people believe strongly in this relationship and feel sad when the life of the rivers is violated by mining practices that poison or contaminate their waters with chemicals since they remove the spirit of life from the water. The rivers then cease generating a song of life and spread death with their contaminated waters. The land and the fish stop nourishing themselves and become poisonous for humans who eat them, the animals die because the waters which formerly hydrated them now poison them, human beings become sick… their voices are silenced. It is then that the song of the rivers becomes the cry of the inhabitants of the common home.
Seeing this situation, we may cry out: “Why do we humans destroy the biodiversity of God’s creation? Why do we endanger the integrity of the earth and contribute to climate change, despoiling the earth of its natural forests? Why do we contaminate the waters, the soil and the air? All these things are sins”, Pope Francis affirms in Laudato Si’ because they are “a crime against nature, a crime against ourselves and a sin against God” (LS 8).
“Our very bodies are made from the elements of the planet, it is its air that gives us breath and its waters that enliven and restore us” (LS 2).
Our bodies are 75% water and Sister Water is a human right. Nevertheless, “Some studies have shown that we are in danger of suffering an acute shortage of water within a few decades if we do not take urgent action. The environmental consequences may affect billions of people and furthermore, it is foreseen that the control of water by great world companies may become one of the main causes of conflict of this century” (LS 31). O humanity! Shall we really allow them to silence the Song of the Rivers?
Tania Avila Meneses