Creative mingas: weaving networks of solidarity, emotion and pleasure

The uramba, minga and tonga are ancestral cultural practices based on sharing and unity; they are cornerstones of identity, spaces for solidarity and reciprocity, that have survived over time, constructing and tightening social ties.

Minga and Uramba, interview with Héctor Micolta. Buenaventura, May 2020. Video: Prácticas Artísticas y Memoria en el Pacífico research project (UdeA – RHUL).

Mingas are political, spiritual and communal actions that assert the potential for self-naming, self-definition and self-organisation based on communally built foundations. They are strategies for transmitting memory and intergenerational dialogues for sharing dreams, knowledge and narratives to create together on the basis of people’s own experiences.

Young people from the Escuela de Comunicación Popular UBUNTU of Fundescodes [UBUNTU School of Popular Communication]. Buenaventura, undated. Photo: Fundescodes.

These practices of solidarity and communal work have been at the heart of struggles for the right to collective ownership of land that has consolidated spaces for collaborative work, like the Proceso de Comunidades Negras (PCN) and the many community councils that have acquired ownership of most of the rural territories in Buenaventura.

Many communal social organisations and artistic practices from the region are based on collective work, inspired by the concepts of uramba and minga, which are organisational systems typical of the African-descendant and Indigenous communities, that can be summed up in the traditional phrase from the Pacific that is used when speaking about spaces of community and support:

“I put in, you put in, and if someone doesn’t, they also eat”

In the urban area of Buenaventura, some of these organisations have come together to defend their rights and territories. The Mingas and urambas of the Isla de la Paz and La Cima neighbourhoods support the struggles of the people from the territories reclaimed from the sea against dispossession and the megaprojects associated with the expansion of the port. As a consequence, social leaders like Temístocles Machado have been murdered.

“Yo también soy don Temis” [I am Don Temis too]. Collective improvisation at the funeral of the social leader Temístocles Machado. Buenaventura, 4 February 2018
 Video recording: Nomadesc.

Artistic practices have played a central role in mingas and urambas for defending life, territory and human rights in Buenaventura, accompanying and leading strategies for recognising, constructing and strengthening identities through creative and educational experiences.

The Corporación Centro de Pastoral Afrocolombiana (CEPAC) (Afro-Colombian Pastoral Centre Corporation) has accompanied these mingas and communal meetings with intercultural masses and artistic performances with the participation of Arambeé, a youth folk group promoted by CEPAC, which contributes to processes of mourning and construction of memory by creating artistic productions and performances that transform and reinterpret the poetic, spiritual and political aspects of cultural traditions.

Performance by Arambeé youth folk group in Buenaventura (Buenaventura). 12 October 2018. Photograph: Corporación Centro de Pastoral Afrocolombiana (CEPAC).

Arambeé, which means cry for freedom, works with traditional forms of expression, integrating dance, coplas, songs and theatrical work in its repertoire of social piecesin which it adapts dances and rhythms like the moña and the piece El cuerpo presente/ausente(The Present/Absent Body) to consider social problems from the area and Afro-Colombian identity.

“Look, in the name of God, we must maintain our autonomy and defend our rights, night and day. So, I call on you all to the rhythm of this song, fight for Buenaventura and for the whole region.” Copla from La moña social [The Social Moña], Arambeé

Arambeé at the Mandala created in the act of union to accompany the mourning for the murder of the child Diana Tatiana Rodríguez. Bahía La Cruz Waterfront (Buenaventura), 9 June 2019. Photo: Centro de Pastoral Afrocolombiano.

Linked to the process of recovering Afro-Pacific funeral rites led by CEPAC, Arambeé also re-signifies and re-interprets local ancestral traditions, alabaos, arrullos and mandalas to adapt them to mourn the dead and disappeared victims of the armed conflict. In this way, they support commemorations like those of the Madres de Punta del Este and the Madres por la Vida, among others.

Performance by the Arambeé group on the seventh anniversary of the Capilla por la Memoria. Buenaventura, 17 July 2016. Photo: Fundescodes
“Alivio” [Relief]. Traditional. Performer: Berenita Casto V. Production: Centro de Pastoral Social Afrocolombiana. CEPAC.

The traditional practices and ancestral knowledges that communities use to confront violence and armed conflict are recovered and re-signified through the arts and the bodies in movement. This has happened with the festival of the Matachines of Yurumanguí, which has moved with its inhabitants from the river Yurumanguí to the urban area where it has evolved to process painful events like the massacre of twelve young people in Punta del Este.

Another community organisation from Buenaventura that also works in mingas that articulate processes of memory and defend human rights and artistic practices is the Fundación espacios de convivencia y desarrollo social (Fundescodes) [Foundation for the Spaces of Coexistence and Social Development]. The premises of this cultural organisation houses meeting spaces like the Capilla de la memoria (memory chapel) and the community library, and it promotes educational, community, popular communication and artistic creation processes to strengthen life and provide reparation for victims. Numerous organisations come together there to create art and construct the memory and the future of the territory in communal mingas.

The Semillero de Teatro por la Vida [Theatre for Life] is one of Fundescodes’ processes. It stages a variety of its own pieces and adaptations, building spaces for social reflection and artistic enjoyment. It also does theatre-based educational work regarding areas of coexistence in the territory, such as gender equality and the rights of children. This is how Jhon Erick Caicedo, its director, describes it:

It is, you could say, a school for thinking. I would say it is a theatre school. Because when [the works] are adapted or you ground them in the context… when you ground these works from other places, the first thing you do is analyse the life of the society we have around us. So, the kids also go through a process of understanding their territory, their culture, through the process of making the theatrical work.

Through theatre, the Semillero does pedagogical work to create a protective and caring space that encourages creation, expression, coexistence and collective work.

The works and adaptation that the Semillero de Teatro por la Vida does encourage reflection on the conditions of life in Buenaventura. The theatrical work Doña Florencia la mujer presidenta, [Doña Florencia the Woman President] pays homage to the leader Florencia Arrechea. Con carne y sin pescado [With meat and no Fish] is an adaptation 
commemorating the struggles and the killing of the leader Temístocles Machado.

Performance of the theatrical work Con carne y sin pescado. Collective creation: Semillero de teatro por la vida. Buenaventura, 2018. Photographs: Víctor Ospina, Nomadesc

“That was what Don Temis struggled for; he struggled so that development would not sweep away the communities. Don Temis fought to defend the territory, and the protagonist of the work Con carne y sin pescado also fought so that this progress would not finish off the life people have in their territories.” (Jhon Erick Caicedo)

Mural in honour of Temístocles Machado. Art: Rostros Urbanos, José Luis Ramírez Garcerá and Len Smith. Buenaventura, April 2019. Photo: Prácticas Artísticas y Memoria en el Pacífico research project (UdeA – RHUL).

Fundescodes, the Capilla de la Memoria, Madres por la Vida, Madres de los 12 de Punta del Este and Arambeé are some of the organisations that comprise the Minga por la Memoria, or Minga for Memory, one of the most important spaces in which a number of organisations from Buenaventura come together to position memory as a right of the people. This minga works collectively to rebuild and dynamize the social fabric; constructing mechanisms that, through art, ritual, performative and pedagogical actions, openly denounce the lived reality of the city.

People and organisations that comprise the Minga por la Memoria at the presentation of the Mention of Honour for Research in Social Science awarded by the Alejandro Ángel Escobar Foundation. Buenaventura, 2018. Photo: Constanza Millán.

The report Buenaventura, un puertosin comunidad [Buenaventura, a Port without a Community] is the result of the collective actions undertaken by the Minga por la Memoria, which asked the Centro Nacional de Memoria Histórica (CNMH) to make Buenaventura an emblematic case within the processes of construction of memory of the conflict. This report was brought to the stage by various organisations with the coordination of the Semillero in the work Tocando la marea [Touching the Tide].

Portada del informe Buenaventura, un puerto sin comunidad. Fotografías: Pbro. Adriel Ruiz Galbán, publicación del Centro Nacional de Memoria Histórica.
Performance of the work Tocando la marea. Tumaco, 18 September 2015. Photograph: Archivo Fundescodes

Tocando la Marea is a collective work that offers its own creative reading of a historical moment in the conflict in Colombia. Based on memories and oral narratives, music and objects that symbolise the territory, such as wooden boards and animal masks, they connect with the topics of the report to create a work of collective memory constructed in a minga with their bodies in movement.

Themes in “Tocando la Marea”. Video: Prácticas Artísticas y Memoria en el Pacífico research project (UdeA – RHUL).

Rostros Urbanos is also part of the Minga for the Memory. It combines works of historical memory, construction of peace, creation of settings for artistic and political training with the production of musical and graphic pieces that create impacts in communities.It promotes art as a strategy for peace and peaceful resistance through urban music and graffiti.

 “Vamos caminando” [We Walk]. Music, lyrics and performance: Nereida Montaño. Audiovisual production: Prácticas Artísticas y Memoria en el Pacífico research project (UdeA – RHUL).

In the rural area, the Escuela de poetas de la vereda La Gloria [La Gloria Village Poetry School], is also part of the Minga por la Memoria. It works on the art of the word in the processes of transmitting knowledge, preserving popular traditions and redressing the effects of the conflict.

“La memoria”. Author: Johnny Viveros Valencia, Performer: José Mario Riascos. Sound recording: Centro Nacional de Memoria Histórica

The whole of the history of social mobilisation and communal organisation in the territory was reflected in the Civic Strike of 2017, which stopped the everyday activities of the port and the city for twenty days, calling the people into the streets to demand immediate solutions from the state in health, education, culture, infrastructure, access to justice and reparations for victims.

During the strike, music and dance invited entire families to take to the streets in more than ten concentration points established all across the city:

“The first three days were days of music, singing and prayer. We set out to pray in the spaces of popular gathering and we gathered there around the bombos and guasás, cununos and marimbas. There were no political statements and we did not make any calls to maintain discipline. Nor did we have any confrontations with the security forces. We danced the currulao. We sang. We played dominoes. We spoke to each other calmly and spoke to the few representatives of the media that asked us what was happening. Mi Buenaventura [My Buenaventura] became our hymn and we danced to it tirelessly”. (Enrique Patiño, in ¡Carajo! Una narración de las movilizaciones sociales. Paros cívicos: Chocó y Buenaventura, 2017. [Dammit! A narrative of social Mobilisations: Civic Strikes in Chocó and Buenaventura)

March of Artists of Buenaventura on day 20 of the Civic Strike. Buenaventura, 04 June 2017. Audiovisual production: Asociación Nomadesc.

“Because the land is ours, totally ours, the people don’t give in dammit!”

Rallying around this slogan, artists and organisations joined the activities of the Civic Strike by marching in the streets, carrying out artistic displays, cultural barricades, communal meals, and interreligious acts, demanding solutions to the city’s problems and opened paths for negotiation, making the government undertake them in order to fulfil the requests of the different panels and committees.

 “Buenaventura no se rinde carajo”. Music: Various artists; Musical production: Deres, DJMora, Sony; Audiovisual production: Fundación Tura Hip Hop.
Buenaventura, 2019.

The strike lasted for 22 days having been called by 61 social, political, artistic and cultural organisations. Its achievements include the commitment by the national government and the Centro Nacional de Memoria Histórica, in the Mesa de Acceso a la Justicia, Protección, Víctimas y Memoria [Access to Justice, Protection, Victims and Memory Panel], to create the Centro de Memoria Histórica para el Litoral Pacífico [Pacific Coast Historical Memory Centre].

 Ejercicio de Satisfacción y Memoria at the presentation of the Centro de Memoria Histórica para el Litoral Pacífico. Buenaventura, 15 September 2020. Photo: Centro Nacional de Memoria Histórica.

For the people of Buenaventura, protesting through the arts is a safe way to be in the street and exercise their rights to peaceful protest. Being in the street, together as families, singing, dancing, playing bombos, cununos and guasás is one of the most valuable ways of expressing their humanity and calling for dignified treatment.

Coming together through mingas and urambas in Buenaventura is a way of gathering together to create, opening spaces to construct emotion and moments of socialisation in which pain, anger, valour, hope and sadness are expressions that are permitted and are collectively experienced. Personal memories are exchanged and shared, creating a network of collective memories of the community and encountering the possibility of processing the marks that violence leaves.