More about the Techno-pelli Thing

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Thumbnail image for 2009 Ecuador Kokopelli002.JPG

According to one theory, the humpbacked flute-player that is so common throughout the American Southwest, is a representation of a historical pattern of lone traders traveling long distances to trade and swap stories among various peoples. The hump on his back represents a pack full of seeds (according to the Papao/Tohono O'odham people of the Sonoran Desert), and other trade goods. Kokpelli traveled and played songs and swapped stories with the folks he met. As a metaphor or mythic figure he combines the wandering of Odysseus, the talents of a traveling salesman, and the tale telling of a journeying griot.

Here's a description of this theory as told by Sharman Apt Russell (Songs of the Flute Player, Addison-Wesley Publishing, 1991: p.38--this IS a professor's blog after all--I'll try to keep citations simple and clear!):

"Most archeologists agree that Kokopelli 'diffused upward' from the south to northern Mexico and the American Southwest. In this spread of culture, a main source of influence was the pochteca or trader: a solitary merchant who traveled up and down the continent exchanging goods such as macaws, shells, pyrite mirrors, peyote, slaves, and turquoise. In the pochteca theory, the hump on Kokopelli's back is actually a pack of goods, and one botanist has suggested that the Quichua Indians of the Andes are the specific ancestors of Kokopelli. Evidence of this lies in plant genetics. Ancient ears of a pod corn found in Arizona ruins are similar to a relic corn commonly stocked by Bolivian medicine men; in the mid-twentieth century, these merchants were still traveling through Central and South America playing their traditional reed flute, carrying a small blanket-pack, selling the corn as a cure for respiratory problems."

So, what does any of this have to do with my travels?

Kokopelli has always been an important figure to me--one of the earliest bead necklaces I made for myself has a kokopelli figure on it. I seriously considered writing my dissertation on "genetic erosion" in food seedstock caused by increasing corporate control over our food systems.Years ago I wrote a few dozen pages of a sci fi novel set not too far in the future when corporations control the seedstock of all plants, and raising your own food is considered a violation of patent law, and the people who make that possible are "kokopellis" who carry seeds across the borders of corporate states.

This trip, I'm doing the same--bringing a few packets of seeds (sunflowers especially, as requested by Mami Petrona when I last visited) across international borders--hope they get through in my luggage.

I also feel like one of my roles is to go to hear and gather stories about life in another part of the world and share them with my community in MN-WI, with my students, with the scholarly world; as well, I want to share stories from my community and place with folks in Ecuador--the two times I've visited Saraguro, the people who have become my friends have been very curious about what life is like in my country and in my place. Perhaps this small exchange is part of what makes new kinds of "globalization from below" that serve human interests instead of "globalization from above" serving primarily the interests of capital and the elites who control it?

So, I'm a "techno-pelli," carrying good will, stories, a few seeds, way too many gadgets (one of the nicknames I've been given by Anita, my beading teacher in Saraguro is "un hombre of muchas cosas/a man of many things), a battered Olds Ambassador cornet (the folks in Saraguro play flutes way better than anything I could do!) and hoping that by these small steps towards cross-cultural understanding I can contribute my meager talents and voice to a more holistically connected world where people treasure their own places, as well as the stories and places of others.

1 Comment

Thanks for the updates! May spirits mercurial guide your feet and safeguard your travels.

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This page contains a single entry by David Syring published on July 7, 2009 11:41 PM.

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