To The Land With No Evil: Remembering Carlos Martínez Sarasola

By | 29 June, 2018

Carlos Martínez Sarasola taught, gave talks and conducted his radio program until the end of his life, passing on the knowledge he had collected to new audiences. He died on May 29th, at the age of 69, a few hours after finishing a speech for an Americanists encounter in Spain that he had been preparing with his assistant of the last 16 years, Lorena Ottolina.

Sarasola was an Argentine anthropologist, graduating from the University of Buenos Aires in 1974. He was a specialist in indigenous, ethno historical and border studies as a metaphor for the construction of Argentina. He was a professor and researcher at diverse Argentinean universities, and also professor in postgraduate activities at universities in Colombia, United States, and Spain. He is the author of several books that are references for the indigenous theme.

Nuestros Paisanos los Indios: Vida, Historia y Destino de las Comunidades Indígenas en la Argentina (Our Fellow Countrymen, The Indians: The Life, History and Destiny of the Indigenous Communities in Argentina), whose first edition appeared in 1992, was the fruit of more than 15 years of investigation. In recent years, he had been researching the American indigenous worldview, the conception of reality that sustains it and shamanism, within the framework of the processes of re-ignition and spirituality emerging in America. Carlos was the creator and director of the El Orejiverde project, which includes a Journal of Indigenous Peoples since July 2015 as well as a radio program since June 2014. As a member of the community Günün ä küna Mapuche, Vicente Catrunao Pincén, for the past decade he had a close personal connection with the indigenous world.

More or less the above information is what any search engine on the internet will tell you about Carlos, you could read the Wikipedia articles about him for a detailed list of his books, or also this autobiography that he wrote at the beginning of this year when he revamped his website, with the help of María Andrea Fanzoni, his webmaster. I am one of his last collaborators, we were working on several concrete projects and dreaming others, and what I can tell you is that Carlos studied and practiced a loving way of being in the world and in life. In the next paragraphs I will reminisce about our relationship, excuse me if I ramble or if its over long.

Every time we met, new ideas emerged for us to collaborate on. We met in August 2017, I had been reading his books for years, we were in a popular celebration in Los Andes Park in Buenos Aires city, a gathering of sikuri bands. He was coming by the same sidewalk where I was with my bicycle, walking with his life partner Ana María LLamazares. I greeted them and asked him if he was Carlos Martinez Sarasola: “I read your work, I would like to congratulate you. I also read El Orejiverde”, I said, and told him my name and that I am a journalist, that I had recently been published in England in a book about Argentina [Pablo’s article, “Older Than Borders: The Culture And History Of Argentina’s Native People, And Their Continued Search For Recognition” features in Sounds and Colours Argentina], and that I closed the text with a quote from his book La Argentina de los Caciques (Argentina of the Caciques). Carlos smiled, he said: “I know Sounds and Colours [Editor: we had been in touch with Carlos about translating Nuestros Paisanos los Indios into English], you should write for El Orejiverde. What are you writing about now?” I told him that I was researching about indigenous comic books, and that I was writing an article, also for Sounds and Colours about the indigenous origins of Juan Domingo Peron.

“I’m interested in everything!” he said, “give me your phone number, and take mine, and oh, excuse me, this is Ana María Llamazares.” She had been smiling, watching our improvised meeting, while flutes and drums still played loud in the park.

My article on Perón was published in Sounds and Colours, but also translated into Spanish for Carlos’ website. As an editor Carlos respected the full extension of the article, suggesting to publish it in two parts, adding a few and necessary comments. The Spanish version [read it here and here] was released at the end of November, and we also spoke about the story on his radio program.

It was a difficult moment at that time in Argentina. Santiago Maldonado was missing after a confrontation between Mapuche citizens and gendarmes that repressed them over a claim about occupied lands. Carlos spoke in the mainstream media: “We have to insist in dialogue, eight masked people do not define the thinking of an entire people”. He was clearly against violence of any kind. In his own words: “My generation was marked by violence”. Carlos visited me in January 2018, with a copy of Nuestros Paisanos for me. It was a hot day, we drank tereré, the traditional guaraní way of making mate with cold water and fruit juice.

I wanted to make clear my background to him, because I’m not an academic or a scholarly investigator. I did graduate in journalism, but I’m a practitioner of DIY in different fields of cultural life, from journalism to releasing music, carpentry to harvesting and distributing organic food, and Carlos’ books helped me to accept and honour my indigenous origins, they reinforced my practice. But before I could say half of a word he, after looking at the furniture in the living room, pointed to some instruments and said: “You are a musician.”

– “I’m a producer, I answered. I play but I do not get on stage,” wanting to change quickly the subject.

– “I’m a musician, in fact, I’m excited about the project of translation for England because it has to do with my beginnings. I had a beat music band, we recorded a demo and showed to a local record company and they told us: ‘this is very good, so good that you guys should take it to the Beatles that just launched a label’.”

“So with my great friend, the other guitarist and my adventure partner, Eugenio Carutti, we embarked with two guitars and bags to bring our songs to The Beatles. It was the winter of 1969, summer in Europe. We got to Apple Records office and presented ourselves at the reception: We came from Argentina to leave this demo for The Beatles. “

“And the guy on the desk said: ‘Oh great, well they are entering the building right now, behind you. Excuse me, where did you said you came from?’. And then introduced us to John Lennon, George Harrison, Paul McCartney and Yoko Ono. Ringo didn’t arrive that day to the office”.

According to Carlos The Beatles ordered tea for everybody and sat to talk with these two young foreign musicians in the hall of Apple for a few hours. A producer in charge of listening to the tape asked them if they could contact them again in two weeks. “I really enjoyed living that time in London, full of individual freedoms, of barefoot hippies with huge hair – in Ramos Mejía, the police of the dictatorship ruled by Onganía pursued us with scissors to cut our hair -, miniskirts, rock concerts, a great multiculturalism put into action. When we came back to Apple, they gave us the tape that had clearly been listened to, it was unfolded in the box. But with a few words they said that the label will pass from releasing the album.”

“Then we headed to Paris, where I observed what was left of the [civil unrest of] Mayo de 1968 en Francia, in graffiti that called for the impossible. And, finally, we got to Rome. One night when I was rummaging through the shelves of a great library I chose a book that I “devoured” in a couple of days and that marked my life. It was Lost City of the Incas: The Story of Machu Picchu and Its Builders by Hiram Bingham. I said to myself, when I come back to Buenos Aires I will drop everything and start anthropology”.

– “You quit music?”

– “[I quit] law school! I was in the third year of University. I didn’t know what to study, so I thought, I can´t be a bad lawyer. But after the experience in Europe, things became clear to me. It was difficult to end the studies, because I was a political militant, of the Peronist youth. [And] in the end yes, I didn’t continue with music.”

– “You may not release an album but for sure you made a hit, Nuestros Paisanos is a best seller.”

Carlos liked the idea, and smiled. He was a tireless reader that wrote in an enjoyable way about complicated subjects. His books have a large bibliography that is a great route to continued explorations. In that sense he was a Lennonist. In the documentary The U.S. vs. John Lennon there is a recording of an interview with a British journalist who says to Lennon: “Darling, you used to be fun, and make pretty songs, and now you are ugly and talking about ugly things”.

Lennon replied: “I don’t do songs to entertain people. What should I do, write boring papers that only middle class intellectuals read and that won’t change nothing? I do 3 minute songs that may make you want to change your life and the world”.

To me, digging into the discography of Lennon led me to his collaboration with Jessie Ed Davis, the Native American guitar player that recorded the solo in his version of “Stand By Me” on the Rock ‘n’ Roll album, and he led me then to poet and activist John Trudell, whose album Tribal Voice, along with Carlos’ book, is top of my list of examples of indigenous life seen artistically, including as an activist. The book Nuestros Paisanos Los Indios was celebrated by readers of different backgrounds; university professors, students, indigenous and non indigenous. It was reprinted 11 times and Carlos continued publishing books that gained a good reception and reached specialized and non-specialized readers, often using songs as titles: Toda la Tierra es una Sola Alma (The Whole Earth is One Soul), Los Hijos de la Tierra (The Sons of Earth). Along with Ana, he kept working on the anthropology of consciousness; from 1992 until 2012 with the Foundation Desde America, they aimed to “reinstate the anthropological practice”, as “doing [it] by attending fundamentally to a respect for life”. Their books feedback each other and reinforce the fact that science needs a spiritualization. They opposed projects that were disrespectful to native peoples and continued a path marked by the insight of spirituality, clearly influenced by The Beatles and yes, also by Carlos Castaneda’s practice.

We agreed on advancing the translation of Nuestros Paisanos Los Indios, and elaborated a crowd funding campaign to publish it [with Sound and Colours]. Carlos wanted to know about crowd funding, he told me: “I’m a nineteenth century humanist, you have to take care of this internet thing”.

– “I´m an indiginerd. Think of it as a minga, but a virtual minga (a communal ancient native practice used among members of a tribe to help each other build a house or make a harvest).”

Carlos was witty, ageless. He totally grasped the concept, and became enthusiastic. When he smiled his long and white hair seemed to glow red again, as it was for most of his life. From thinking about how to finance the translation and the printing of the book through a presale we started talking to about a presale for releasing a publication of El Orejiverde. By the end of the meeting I had a list of articles to work on and two books to produce.

Carlos had to come often to the dentist, a few blocks from my house, so during March we met again a few times and in April I went to his house to prepare a video to promote the presale of the El Orejiverde yearbook project. We gathered with Lorena, his assistant, and I gave him a cactus for his balcony. After talking many ideas for the project and for new articles, I told him I had some notes on how to continue with the translation of his book, he said that we should also translate a book of Ana. We continued talking trying to put an end to the meeting. On the side walk I told him “I have an idea for a book, about Ceferino Namuncura and Kateri Tekakwhita, the mapuche and the mohawk that both have been called Lillys by the catholic church and soon both are going to be officially indigenous saints. I’d being picking quotes from books and adding ideas and, I have over 80 pages and an ideaof an index and chapters”. Immediately Carlos encouraged me, he said: “Ceferino is a polemical character to many, but looking from the right angle he is a really special figure and key in our history, and I think you can tell that well”.

By telling these memories I hope you can get an idea of how intense and generous Carlos was. He encouraged people into action, he didn’t want to be the center of anything, but if he could support someone to achieve a goal he will do it. In march Ñ, the weekly cultural magazine of the largest newspaper, Clarín, included Carlos as one of of a number of people interviewed for an article about native people in Argentina. Carlos said: “Argentines have been educated in ignorance towards indigenous peoples. Our educational system is the responsible for not having a more accurate and rigorous vision about them, about their role in history and their current presence. Because the Indians are often spoken of as if they were a thing of the past, when they have total validity and are our compatriots “.

Carlos had a hard time thinking about facing a camera and presenting the El Orejiverde project. I told him to trust his ability to conduct the radio program. We agreed to shoot in the studio where every Thursday he made his radio broadcast. When I arrived, the camera was set with Carlos sitting at a table with the script that I had sent him by e-mail. There was an engineer for the radio and a cameraman. It was like a jam session, we all just flowed. He relaxed, we took several shots, I asked him to put on headphones and pretend to be conducting the program. He did it naturally, said his lines and even changed them around without any trouble.

At one point I proposed to make some detail plans to the cameraman. I said: “You can say anything, we are using the images, not the audio”. Carlos, amused, began to say: “We announce that the Argentine government has restored 100 million hectares to the original peoples,” when he finished the sentence he looked at us smiling. “You imagine how nice it would be.” The amount he chose wasn’t random: today in Argentina there are over 58 million hectares of land used for monocultives of soy, using pesticides and agro toxics, and this cash crops are the basis of our economy, despite not even employing one person per hectare.

For the final greeting he was relaxed, and smiling. “Pablo, I liked that [bit about] helping to consolidate a community in harmony, you wrote it very well”, he said to congratulate me for the script.

– “It’s a quote from one of your books”, I replied.

– “Really? I forget what I write!”

– “I took it from the introduction to Nuestros Paisanos.”

– “Ha! I’m like Borges when he was asked if he was reading something he said: ‘I do not read anymore. Bah… when I want to read something, I write it…’”

We all laughed. Carlos gave his phone to the radio operator and asked him to take a group picture with the cameraman and me. I never imagined that will be our last hug and laugh.

I started to edit the recording with the help of a film production company run by Carlos’ son, Lucas. In May we were planning to meet again, to keep working, and exchanging emails meanwhile. But the week I hoped to see him I received the news of his departure.

In the introduction to Los Paisanos los Indios Carlos quoted Rodolfo Kusch, an investigator that he admired and with whom he would collaborate. Kusch said that the Argentinean problem was of not being able to recognise ourselves and that in many cases this was motivated by the fear to accept ourselves. Carlos wrote: “That is the essence of our ever searching identity: the consciousness of the heterogeneity. The consciousness of multi-ethnicity and pluri culturality that characterizes our way of life. That discovery will be the cultural strength of the Argentinean, it will be the possibility of recognising ourselves as we are, on any given day, if we stayed for an instant longer looking at our face in the mirror.“

“And that will be the instant in which we accept, valorise and be more or less satisfied with being an indian, a criollo, an immigrant, a porteño, a southerner, a northerner, (….) and so many others. It will be the moment in which we realize that as other Argentineans can learn from ourselves, we can learn from the others. From the guaranís, for example, or from the chiriguanos in Salta, more precisely. They believe in the existence of a ‘land with no evil’, a fair and painless land. During entire generations, during centuries, they have searched the entire continent for it. And so they arrived to our present territory, and they settled down and stayed. The guaraní myth, alive in tradition, blends today with the objective of the entire Argentinean community, that seeks its own ‘land with no evil’, that knows that its below their very feet, in our own smirched soil”.

Carlos not only wrote with polite intentions, he put them into practice in his daily life. At his wake a gathering of diverse people, men and women, Indians, whites, scholars and artists from different ages had the need to present their respects to Carlos.

I wasn’t able to write a piece quickly after Carlos departure from this dimension of life. It was shocking and unexpected. I’m just one of the people that he was working with. We are all still trying to figure out how to continue. I will miss him forever, but I’m happy to have got to know him. He will be forever a master and a friend to me. One thing I know for sure: his spirit has gone towards the ‘land without evil’. In life Carlos did his best to encourage people to accept the beauty of being together in this life, on this planet, and he was working to reach more people in new ways. As happens with brave and good songs, I have no doubt that his work will resonate far and wide for generations.

Find out more about Carlos Martínez Sarasola and his work at cmartinezsarasola.com


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