24th birthday and the Maize Fair

“...if we keep silent, they’ll kill us, if we speak, they’ll kill us anyway. This is why we are going to speak”
(Cristina Bautista, indigenous leader killed in October 2019)

On March 23rd the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó celebrated its 24 years of life and fights. No one like the Peace Community has been able to resist and persist. Their members have transformed in hope the pain of a conflict which has been lasting for years and has been marking the bodies and souls of all these farmers.
This year, as usual, the Peace Community recalled some of the most memorable steps of its history. Their members read the Constitution of their Community, they sang their songs about resilience and sacrifice all day long, while their anthem was resonating across the hills from dawn to dusk. They listened to the words of the deceased members of the Community, which had been recorded years before in distant countries by crackling microphones. But despite the years and the crackle, you could still hear the most important words in their speeches loud and clear: justice, peace, truth.
This year, as usual, people gathered around the entrance gate grabbing in their hands and holding in their chests the pictures of the Community members who have sacrificed their lives in the name of their dream of freedom. All the Community together walked to reach the places where new innocent people had been killed even in these months. These people were not members of the Community, but they still deserved a prayer and a thought, because oblivion can kill twice.

Children, as usual, were celebrating and sharing both joy and pain, and they sang for peace: “...let the children sing, let them raise their voices and be heard...let the children sing, let them live in peace...let the children sing for those who will not be able to sing because they were stolen their voice…”.
They are the little leading members of this Community which wants to defy violence by living in peace.

The day before the birthday, the Community’s members started the Maize Fair in order to celebrate in a deeper way the bonds among them and with their land. In a very short time, and with a lot of enthusiasm, the members of the Community transformed San Josecito de la Dignidad in a real exhibition of all the fruits of the earth which everyone could gather from their fields and their homes.
The main protagonist of the fair was undeniably Maize.
Women started boiling and grinding maize early in the morning, and they transformed it into delicious arepas, pan de queso, mazamorra, colada, bollo, peto… those who walked past the Community kitchen could see the people smiling and sweating in the heat of the oven, waiting for all kinds of delicacies and typical food to be baked and toasted.

Typical dishes from the mountains were mixed with those from the coast, from coconut to cinnamon, via brown sugar. People who were not in the comedor, the Community restaurant, were at home cooking something different, probably frying, which is a must in these situations: empanadas made with maize flour, buñuelos made with maize flour and homemade cheese, chicha from fermented maize.
The thatched stand for food had been adorned with bunches of bananas and plantains, with a big table in the middle where people could put all their fruits and seeds. Everyone was eager to tell you the stories of their products, the small and dark beans which were different from the purple ones, or from those which could not be sown anymore this year, as it was not the right season. And the sound of those seeds flowing through their fingers was so sweet, as if each bean could produce a different sound according to its colour.
People were sharing their pride and knowledge, which tastes like soil and bread. They were sharing seeds which belong to their farming tradition and are endangered by multinational corporations and their extensive farming.

Part of the maize in the fair had been collected the previous week in a village located 6 hours far from San Josecito. As volunteers of Operazione Colomba we went there to observe how the baskets got filled with cobs and were carried on shoulders along narrow paths on a very steep and uncomfortable street.
Wild boars, monkeys, squirrels (and our neighbour’s pig, too!) had eaten almost one hectare of the maize, but everyone was smiling and laughing about the probable destiny of the pig, nobody could be upset. Maize farming has been abandoned in this area because the value of maize on the market has plummeted, but it is still relevant inside the Community. In fact, with maize they can feed their farm animals, which in turn can feed human beings. Moreover, with the golden and white kernels they can cook arepas, which in Antioquia is like their daily bread. All in all, they have everything they need in this area...except for peace.

They have celebrated 24 years of love and ceaseless protests against injustice and violence. Years in which they have been defending their land, which is now seriously at risk: losing their land would mean losing their soul and life.
If they denounce the injustices which we have contributed to create, as Western people, they will risk their life. But if they keep silent, they will risk their life anyway. This is why they decided to speak and denounce, as the indigenous leader Cristina Bautista did a few days before she was killed on October 29th 2019.
That’s for sure, they are going to speak. They will keep speaking to our souls and hearts in order to make us braver and to make us wish to hear the sound of seeds flowing through our fingers again.