The Conference on Honduras ended on Saturday. Laura and I took another day in Copan Ruinas, before returning by bus to Tegucigalpa on Sunday. The bus itself is very nice. It’s a coach, as nice as any greyhound in the States. There are public busses that will stop at every small village, and on many of those you might indeed share your seat with a chicken, duck, or a small goat. But our bus was extremely comfortable and didn’t make stops along the long treks between major cities. The problem is the roads. There are only about five major ones in all of Honduras, and their conditions vary according to landslides, hard rains, and the general disrepair. Mostly you can’t drive fast, particularly in a bus, as you are trying to scale tremendously steep mountains or negotiate the omnipresent hairpin curves. Again, however, our return trip to Tegucigalpa was thankfully forgettable, and on Monday a group from Montaña de Luz picked us up and brought us to our new home. I’ll publish more on that in a future post.
The conference was great. We did a lot of networking that I’m sure will prove valuable as we become more invested in our work. There are a lot of people doing incredible things against tremendous odds with little to no resources. There is every reason to despair; poverty, drugs, violence, injustice, corruption, gangs, youth without opportunities, etc. But somehow there is still hope when persons of goodwill share their effort and conviction. As great as the conference was, what I will certainly remember had nothing to do with the conference per se. The most impressive thing, and I would venture this was true for almost all the participants, was the “Liberación de Las Guaras.”
The “guaras,” Spanish, “guacamayas,” Mayan, or Scarlet Macaws, in English, are the national bird of Honduras. They are truly breathtaking in their beauty and majestic grace. They have been around for millennia, sharing the world with the Mayan civilization. The Mayan and the macaw seemed to share a symbiotic relationship of respect. The Mayans held the macaw in high honor, seeing in them, and in their relationship with them, the sacredness of the world. Unfortunately, in recent years the macaw has become an endangered species, as, unlike the Mayans, our present civilization has not placed such a high value on the sacredness of life and nature. In the later years of the twentieth century on the vacation island of Roatán, Honduras, macaws and other tropical, rare birds were being abandoned by their owners who either lost interest or decided the extensive care of the birds was beyond their means. The birds were unprepared to live in the wild. A zoologist, living in Roatán, responded by buying land in Copan Ruinas, capturing the abandoned birds of Roatán, chartering a plane, and flying 90 + exotic birds from Roatán to Copan Ruinas. There, he cared for then, nursed them back into health, and retrained them to be wild birds. At the same time, in Copan Ruinas, at the archeological site of the Mayan Ruins, many macaws resided among the ancient ruins. These birds, however, were anything but majestic. Many of them couldn’t fly. They hopped around the grounds, pecking at the pants legs of tourists, begging Frito Lays and peanuts. In reality, most of these birds had also been domesticated and then released at the park when they became too much of a burden of care. The park owners certainly didn’t mind the presence of the birds as they drew the tourists, and there has been some suggestion that the macaws’ wings may have been clipped to keep them at the park, dependent on the tourists’ unhealthy food. These birds were also captured and taken to Bird Mountain were they were cared for, nursed back to health, and retrained to be wild, majestic, and free.
On the second day of the conference we, Laura, I, and the conferees, witnessed the third liberation of the macaws at the archeological park of the Mayan ruins of Copan. I could not do justice to the awesome nature of this event. Six beautiful Macaws had been placed in a huge cage within the confines of the park. They had been there for weeks. We, over 130 of us, gathered around to attest to the simple release, the physical opening of two gates, and their return to the sacred environment of the Mayan temple. We were not the only witnesses. Other macaws stood watch in the trees, flew overhead, and cawed, seemingly pronouncing their joy and prescience of what was about to occur. They awaited their brethren, sensing in a profound way that a spiritual reunion, a sacred atonement, was about to take place. The gates swung open and for a second or two, the six macaws stood motionless. But the free macaws sung to them, a deep call, to which they swooped from the confinement. All of the macaws flew toward and above the ancient temple, then circled back through the park and once again perched over us, loudly cawing, their echoes filling the forest with celebration. We could no longer discern the newly released macaws from the ones who had waited with us. Nor could we discern exactly what they wanted to say to us, but it was clear that they were addressing us. Were they trying to shame us for the injustice and cruelty we had committed? Or did they offer us absolution for our sins? Were they grateful? Or were they simply renewing an ancient pledge to live in harmonious respect?
What wondrous potential we have when we heed the call that claims the sacredness of life. What horror we can create when we fail to witness and uphold that same sacredness. As Laura and I witnessed this act of liberation, it is impossible to not consider how so very often humans have attempted to enslave classes, races, and cultures of peoples in quite the same way as we have enslaved birds. We trap then so that they are easily controlled. They become our entertainment. They perform our labor. We see them only as we want them to be for us, but fail to see them for who they are themselves. We fail their dignity, their sacredness. If this continues for generations, they become comfortable in their cages. They lose their ability to fly. Their wings are clipped. They hop around our ankles and beg our scraps. If you listen closely, however, you will hear their ancient call. Life, life’s relationships, nature, death and rebirth, the course of the sun, the flow of a stream, the rise of a tide, and all that feels is sacred.