Mama Bernardo’s description of the training of a Mama

Mama Bernardo features in ‘From the Heart of the World - The Elder Brothers’ Warning’ . His son, Mama Juancho, is a now Gonavindua Tairona official. These words are taken from The Heart of the World: 126-130.

‘To pass on the teaching well you have to choose a new-born child, and keep it in a ceremonial house. To make a really good Mama, you have to take the child right at the moment it is born, and then you keep it shut away. You bathe it in a stone mortar. And you move the water around in the stone mortar, so that it is purified, and then you bathe the baby in it. And then you have to shut away the child where there is no fire and no light. It should be kept where it sees nothing, no light, and is not seen by anybody. It is in a small ceremonial house, which has had partitions made inside it, so that there is a small room for the baby. It is alone with its mother, who lives in a house near by and takes care of it. A cabo looks after the baby all the time. He only brings it out in the middle of the night. Whenever the baby cries, the cabo calls the mother to come and feed it. At night, the mother comes and bathes it and dries it outside, she breast-feeds it, then the cabo takes it inside again.

The mother must not eat any food that has blood in it; no chicken, no pigs, no beef, nothing that has blood. She can only eat white beans, white potatoes and snails (a type of white grub called Moi hoi hoi), which have fat to make her milk. And she must not wander about or bathe in the river. She has to be in her house all the time.

To make its bed they use only watta which is hard underneath and soft on top. Its clothes are also made from watta. So that hard part of the watta is like the baby’s bench and there it lies. The bag that it is carried in is also made of watta, the soft fibre of the watta. But even the cabo doesn’t stay inside the room with it, he stays outside and he should not sleep, he should never sleep. He is always awake, looking after the moro.

And then the baby starts to grow and at five months it starts to crawl. So then the cabo has to be constantly alert so that it does not go out and leave the house. The mother still stays near the house looking after the baby, still eating only Moi hoi hoi. She feeds the baby and then leaves it alone, so that it stays there in the quiet. So then the child grows and gets older, one year, two years and the cabo and the mother are still looking after it, making sure nothing happens to it. The cabo is always thinking about it, looking out for it in case it gets ill. And so is the mother, always thinking about how to protect it.

And he cabo is there, always eating his poporo so that he does not sleep, he is always on the look out, always sitting there awake. But the mother can sleep. They feed the moro on flour ground from potatoes and bakata. Sometimes they put a little bit of a small coconut in it. The mother can only drink warm water, she must not drink cold water. Otherwise she could make the little boy cold - there are no fires remember, so she must not drink cold water. She cannot drink sugar water, but she can drink a sort of sweetened water, water that contains a plant from the paramo, high in the Sierra. That is good for her, it fills her breasts so that she can go on breast-feeding. They bring out the baby and she feeds it, first from the right breast and then from the left, and after it is fed it is taken back in again.

When the baby is four years old it is taken off its mother’s milk, the mother is blessed, and once she has been blessed she can go and bathe in the river again. When the child has been weaned the mother can go about again. But still the child cannot go out, he has to be shut away inside all the time.

One night the mother comes and she bathes him throughout the night in warm water:four times, every two hours through the night. And once she has done that then they can begin to bathe the child in cold water. After this his water doesn’t have to be warmed any more. And then she gives the child over to the cabos completely. They bathe it in water in stone mortars, they move the water about, they move it about, they’re swilling it about and they bathe the child in the cold water. And from then on the child grows up with the cabos. It grows and then it begins to sing. All by itself, it begins to sing. When it is older they begin to take it out at night, always with a straw head-shade on.

They take him out, to teach him, so that he can do offerings and he talks in aluna to the fathers and the masters of the world. Sometimes his mother still comes to the door of the house, and then the child dances, dances, dances, playing. He’s dancing and dancing and the mother sings to him and then he is shut in again.

So a moro doesn’t know about anything. He’s never seen a chicken and he’s never seen a pig, he’s never seen trees or birds, he doesn’t know anything about the world outside the house. And the Mamas are always praying to Serankua and asking him for food in aluna, for meat, all the foods, but in aluna. And they give these to the moro. They bless him and they give him food in aluna. And to make him grow strong, they rub him, they massage him, they massage him, massage him, massage him, with a sort of cloth which is also made from watta. The mother also rubs him with this so that he’ll grow up to be strong. She rubs him, she rubs him, she rubs him. They bring him out only for that and then he has to go back inside again. So he’s massaged and massaged, and massaged and massaged.

He’s also given a type of potato from the paramo to eat. That potato was planted there by Serankua. So he can eat white potatoes, he can eat the potato from the paramo and he can eat white corn. These are all cooked in a very small white pot that is special to the moro. They are cooked and then carried to the ceremonial house and given to the cabo. The cabo takes it inside and gives the moro his food. When they are cooking for him they have to count the things they cook. They put four white beans into the pot, then they put four white potatoes, and then on top they put a single white grub. They cook them together and then they give them to him. Sometimes they’ll give him one of the grubs having baked it on a piece of pottery from a broken pot over a fire. The grub has its own fat so it cooks in its own fat, until it is really brown and toasted all over. Then they give that to the moro to eat. But he only drinks purified water from the stone mortars, water that has been blessed. Every time he eats, they give him water to drink. But only water that has been blessed.

The child asks for water, he asks for it. And then perhaps he looks in the water and notices the bubbles and likes them. He goes on asking for water because he likes it, he learns by himself, the Mamas don’t really teach him anything, he learns from listening, listening spiritually. Knowledge comes to him in aluna, the Mamas themselves don’t teach him directly.

When you want to be a Mama you have to concentrate, you can’t wander about thinking about girls, thinking about this and about that. You have to concentrate and really listen to what the Mamas say to you. And when you start to be a moro you can’t just do whatever you want, everything is controlled. When the Mamas take you out to make an offering you have to fast, you go without eating, and when you come back they also don’t give you anything to eat. Perhaps in the middle of the night they’ll give you something to eat. So there you are, hungry, you want to sleep and you do not understand what the Mamas are saying - you want food, you want to be with your mother and father, you want a drink of water, but you are not allowed anything. It’s really hard learning to be a Mama. But in the end you get used to it. You get used to being hungry, to only eating in the middle of the night. When you’re older you get used to it.

So when you’ve grown up, When you are a man, they give you your poporo, they give you the beads and they give you the bowl for divining. When you receive these things, the beads and so on , then you learn and are taught by the elders. You take your knowledge from the Mamas. You are able to work alone, divining and helping people. You can do all this. I was taught by my elders.

The elders used to lecture me, they told me not to steal, not to take other women, how to act properly. They also told me that one day the Younger Brother would come and ask us about how the world was, and how it started. And I thought, no that’s impossible, why would the Younger Brother ever come up here asking about all this? But now that you have come, I remember what the old Mamas told me. So we’re not going to say here that we don’t know how to dance - when we do know how to dance. Our mothers teach us how to dance from the time we’re young children. We know how to dance, we know how to dance the dance of the drums, the dance of the flutes, and the dance of the staves. We know the dance of the sea-shells too. So we’re not going to say we don’t know how to dance, we do know how to dance. We have forgotten nothing.’