Lynn Stephen Testimony in Indigenous Movements and Practices of Autonomy: Codices, Asambleas, Radio, and Rap
Processes of presenting, listening, and codifying oral testimony are fundamental elements of indigenous movements and practices of autonomy—particularly in relation to the specific political culture of the asamblea, indigenous community radio, and contemporary indigenous raps.
What is testimony? • Oral testimony: Refers to a person's account of an event or experience as delivered from the lips of a person through a speech act. It is an oral telling of a person’s perception of an event through seeing, hearing, smelling and other sensory information. It signifies witnessing., from the Latin root, testis or witness. Testimonials are also performative and public.
Knowledge production and codification: archive and repertoire Testimonials are events that join together memory and knowledge replication. • The archive includes, but is not limited to, written text. The repertoire contains verbal performances—songs, prayers, speeches—as well as non-verbal practices…. The repertoire, whether in terms of verbal or nonverbal expression, transmits live, embodied actions. As such, traditions are stored in the body through various pneumonic methods, and transmitted “live” in the here and now to a live audience. … (Diana Taylor 2003: 24).
Mixtec Codices and Oral Performance • “Mixtec books represent sacred texts or scripts for the performance of elite histories, including the ancient, mythic past, especially the genealogy-based stories with which we are all most familiar. These scripts were written in what was thought of as an ancient elite-class dialect” (King 1994)
Performing Codices • According to Fray Fransisco de Burgoa’s description of Mixtecos during the 1600s, Mixtec elites would recite from the lienzas in assemblies. “And they used to hang some of these papers extended as tables of cosmology in their main rooms as a sign of greatness and vanity, honoring themselves by dealing in their assemblies with such matters... “Codex Bodley begins with Lady One Death's birth from a tree (1). The tree is surmounted by a flame suggesting that this particular tree was probably located at Place of Flame or Achiutla. Although we often attribute tree birth legends with Apoala, Friar Francisco de Burgoa tells us that there were at least three different creation places for the Mixtec royal ancestors, and Codex Zouche-Nuttall suggests the existence of several more (Pohl, Mesoamerica website, Codex Bodleyhttp://www.famsi.org/research/pohl/jpcodices/bodley/
How does testimony create political identities? • The experience of testifying, and also of witnessing others as they testify (directly and indirectly), is an important part of how political identities develop in individuals, how those individuals seek to provide others with the knowledge and confidence to analyze the world from their particular social locations, and how groups of people participate in the ideological work of shifting public political discourses and perceptions.
Asamblea Teotitlán del Valle: nombramiento y discusion de policías • People raise their hands and begin to interject testimonials, often speaking for five to ten minutes at a time. While this appears to disrupt the process of naming the individuals who will assume the positions of municipal police, no one seems to mind. Instead, the process opens up a broad conversation about crime, safety, and what the police actually are able to do. This continues for more than an hour. When it seems all who wanted to have spoken, the síndico moves back to the process of naming new police. The assembly goes on until about one in the morning. At different points in the meeting people stand one after another to offer testimonials about what they have experienced and how they feel in relation to different themes of discussion. This style of interaction produces an assembly that often lasts for three, four, or five hours, and sometimes even longer.
Testimonios en Asambleas Asamblea en Santa Ana Zegache, Oaxaca August 2012 • In this community assembly speakers anchor themselves as legitimate members of a shared community by locating themselves in a specific place (in the community assembly as part of a particular neighborhood in Teotitlán del Valle, by identifying themselves with their names, and by describing experiences that they have shared with those they are speaking to). Once they are located, testimonial speakers proceed to deploy their rights to speak and to be heard by a larger public. The ways that testimony functions in assemblies can also be reflected in community radio stations.
Testimonios en Radio Comunitaria Indigenous community radio—which can mirror the process of decision-making and the culture of participation —provides one of the most important forums for realizing local aspirations for a public culture of participatory democracy. • The testimonial positions the speaker as one who is speaking from a personal perspective within the context of larger, shared structural, political, economic, and cultural circumstances. Its synthetic ability to simultaneously profile a distinct perspective and opinion within a larger context of shared circumstances makes the testimonial a natural vehicle of expression in cultures of participatory democracy. • ______________________ • Radio Mixe Jënpoj,
Radio Zaachila • Adán López Santiago, one of the founders of Radio Zaachila, and elected as presidente municipal (mayor) in 2010. • Adán: The radio really emerged as a part of the movement. We conceptualized the radio as a medium which was necessary to accompany the social movement… • We brought a transmitter to Zaachila and we began to broadcast… In the beginning we didn’t have fixed times for our programming. It was itinerant. Our main idea was to inform people about what was happening every day, what actions were planned. Later, when there were not as many activities in the city from the movement, we decided we needed to provide regular programming and give our listeners a specific orientation.
Asambleas en Zaachila …The assembly is a historical element here in how we organize ourselves in Zaachila….Right now we are thinking that the assembly model is fundamental to the way we make decisions in Zaachila. When we arrive at agreements, anyone who does not agree with the outcome has to consider the fact that the decision was made by the entire assembly. If people disagree, they have to share their point of view in the assembly. So for us, the model of the assembly is fundamental.
The importance of community radio in the effort to prevent construction of the Libramiento Sur in Zaachila territory • Adán Lopez: • We are convinced that our territory is a historical construction created by our ancestors… When our territory is being invaded, we go out and we defend it. Recently the state government has wanted to trespass on our territory with a new highway which is called the Libramiento Sur. So we got together and we went and pulled up the stakes that were marking the topography of where the road was supposed to go. We began to work with others and started a group of organizations that allowed us to stop the Libramiento Sur. We started an organization that we call the Consejo de Pueblos en Defense de la Tierra y el Territorio, which is against the Libramiento Sur. • We defended our territory with mobilizations, press conferences, and seeking legal injunctions for the process. We have made a national campaign about this and the radio has played a very important part of this process and in creating consciousness about defending our territory. • Integrantes del Consejo de Pueblos en Defensa de la Tierra resguardarán sus ejidos Foto Octavio Vélez A. Photo from La Jornada. 21 February, 2010.
Testimony, Oral Performance, Knowledge Production and Rap The performances of codices—the broadcast of their information as suggested by Monaghan (1990:133)—offers a testimonial version of a particular person’s perspective in an attempt to communicate with a larger audience and situate and legitimate the speaker’s words. This person’s truth is communicated through their oral performance. If we accept the relationship between performed oral and visual repertoires and the archiving of knowledge and histories , we also have to consider the performances of indigenous youth such as trilingual rapper Miguel Villegas and Zapotec hip-hop artist Mare from Advertencia Lirika as historical sources of information
Testimonios Contemporaneos: Raps • Advertencia Lirika in Oaxaca Zocalo in the fall of 2006
Mujer Maiz de Advertencia Lirika , released in 2008 La moneda que domina pero no domina mi vida. Intenten aplastarnos pero no doblejaran nuestra ira. Piensen que nuestro tesoro ya ha sido robado. No dejemos que eliminen también nuestro pasado. Peliemos no dejemos que eliminen lo que hemos logrado. Hay que rescatar nuestra agricultura nuestro legado Coro Es la fuerza que nos une la que viene de la tierra el maíz es la semilla por la que la gente pelea la injusticia de los hombres solo trae mas violencia el maíz me dio la vida y ahora yo le doy conciencia. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j5VwOIQDZ2A&feature=related
Cuando Una Mujer Avanza I was born a woman in the time of breast cancer, when sexism killed many sisters, when lesbians were hunted like witches, among secret abortions, AIDS, and sex slavery. I am one, among so many and the few Who like me have suffered the failures Always so the same and so different from the others We are the majority only when it comes to statistics. What are you waiting for to tell your truth? Life itself is going extinct in the middle of darkness. What are you waiting for to stop waiting? Do it for yourself and for all women. Take a step forward.
Boligrafo (Miguel Villegas), Mixteco, Trilingüe Rapero http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TnVDjn1beEA&feature=youtu.be Yo levanto la cabeza con orgullo de Benito Juarez El respeto al derecho ajeno es la paz y ya lo sabes. I got so much to give so much to change with this gift of my roots with the map working off the mentally oppressed. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TnVDjn1beEA&feature=youtu.be Promover la cultura, por el rap porque es algo ya sabes muchas culturas se están perdiendo el lenguaje, el conocimiento y a través del rap quiero preservar eso, lo que es la cultura. Promoting culture with rap because it is something, you know, that a lot of cultures are losing their language, the knowledge, so thatiswhat I want to do is preserve culture through rap.
More than an epistemology—which it may well be—my discussion here suggests that testimony and oral performance is a consistent indigenous strategy that can successfully navigate systems of colonialism, nationalism, and modernity. If Miguel Villegas is rapping in Mixteco, English, and Spanish in Fresno and is being heard and talked about in multiple languages, medium, and sources, then the historical record and archives continue to expand and reconnect to the telling and singing of histories to audiences in the past by Mixtec, Zapotec, Nahua, and other performers • . One of the Cantares Mexicanos recorded in the sixteenth century quotes a Nahuatl scholar as saying: • I sing the pictures of the book • And then see them spread out; • I am an elegant bird • For I make the codices speak • Within the house of the pictures. • (Boone 1994:71, originally from León Portilla 1969:11) • Let the singing continue.