The Lenca in El Salvador Encourage Us to Share our Own Valued Stories
A friend of mine, Chris Burbridge, attended a leadership seminar with Antonio Leonel Chevez, hereditary chief of the Lenca Tribe of El Salvador. At that time, I was very anxiously processing Climate Collapse, and Chris shared his notes from the talk with me, as he felt they would help me. They did, impacting me deeply and positively.
Chief Chevez’s words have stayed with me, and recently in the Reflections session of the Conscious Learning Festival, they came back to me when several of the participants were discussing the value of story-telling. In his work, Chief Chevez shares about the stories that his tribe have passed down that refer to their survival through the last Ice Age. He draws some lessons from those stories that we can apply today. They talk about the role the Lenca tribe played, living as they did in the area now called El Salvador near the Equator, which was a ‘climate refuge’ at that time for many people and animals.
After reading my friend’s notes, I went on to read Chief Chevez’s memoir, Ti Manauelike: The Lenca Taulepa Chief and watched the few videos of him speaking that I could find online. Although all of them were interesting and valuable, nowhere did he speak so directly to the value of stories in preserving what is important through the coming Climate Crisis.
For that reason, I wrote to Chief Chevez asking for permission to share these notes. He responded generously saying, “I am so pleased you also share the awareness, concerns and enthusiasm regarding the plight of our home, the Earth. Please feel free to craft your work and if you feel that some comments make a contribution, please feel free to include it. In this issue, we can’t be too academic, our voices must join in our various quirky ways to awaken, inform, ignite and transform. Please let me know if you need additional comments. Have a wonderful day. Chief Chevez, The Lenca People.”
What follows here are the original notes that my friend Chris Burbridge took while Chief Chevez spoke. I have edited them lightly for this blog.
“In March, I got to attend an event with Lenca-Maya Hereditary Chief Leonel Chevez. I found him one of the most remarkable people—extraordinarily articulate in Western academic terms, yet he spoke from some ancient place that had a certain feel about it, a certain truth, gentleness, wisdom. He believes that his tribe (a threatened minority in El Salvador) have stories that go back to the Ice Age, and before. Here are some notes.
“ ‘Create stories of the things you want to keep—to survive to the next bubble.’ What Chief Chevez means is, if we go through very tough times, he was taught to spread the seeds of the most important things, scatter them throughout the world, so that they would survive through that time. He says he has evidence and stories from his people from before the Ice Age that happened 11,000 years ago, and that they and their culture survived through and beyond that.
“He did not just say that. I wrote as fast as I could. He said:
” ‘As people we are able, can read the ebb and flow of economic cycles and seize the moment and dance with it, and influence it with something. It is important to ask ourselves, ‘how can I, in my little time, alleviate some of the suffering? Kairos is so malnourished here. ‘ [Kairos—a Greek concept of time that represents flow, feel, and the ripeness of the moment, as opposed to linear clock time]
” ‘If systems get unstable in the world in one place, we can tell people, there’s more food over here—here. We can do that. We can help everyone flourish.’
” ‘You will be the ancestors to future generations. What stories will they tell about you? Be those ancestors, like my past ones who predicted the coming ice age (11,000 years ago), and planned for it. Somehow, humans survive. You have made it this far. In 1,000 years, if someone asks you, ‘what did you do?’ what will be your answer? We need to do something if we can, while we can. What are the key talents that we are here to develop?’
“He says he gets paid a lot of money to fly around the world and work with leaders, because they have these perfect-looking lives, but still they feel empty, and they don’t know what to do.”
The seminar was held in Marin County, California in March of 2019, organized by Kairos Leadership Development Group. Antonio Leonel Chevez is a principal presenter for the leadership consultant group, Neuro Power, Chief Antonio Leonel Chevez, Chris Burbridge and Mark Morey of Kairos Leadership Group have all given their permission for these notes to be published.
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