Participants in the Defend the Sacred gathering on Odeceixe beach in Portugal, August 12 2017. Credit: Copyright Tamera Institute. All rights reserved.
There are people who think that Odeceixe is the most beautiful beach in the world. Nature has created a pearl in southern Portugal, a sandbank between the green meanders of the Seixe River and the blue of the Atlantic Ocean. Each day in summer, the sandbank is flooded with tourists, and on this particular day—August 12 2017—they expect nothing more spectactular than sunscreen, surfboards and sandcastles. They don´t yet know it, but today they will be part of a prayer. A widely visible prayer, formed with their bodies to protect the coastline from oil drilling by national and international corporations
From early morning, a part of the beach is being separated, and people are working hard in the sun, forming a giant image in the sand. In the afternoon buses arrive, full with hundreds of indigenous elders from different cultures, activists, trade unionists, shamans from Latin America, Palestinians and Israelis arm in arm, musicians, and lots of young people.
“We know the world stood with us, so we come to stand with you,” a powerful mature woman says into a microphone. It is LaDonna Brave Bull Allard, one of the initiators of the Standing Rock struggles. A young man adds, “Water is life. Water is sacred. Life is sacred. We must protect the very things that our lives depend on. For our NO to succeed, we have to know what we say YES to.”
This gathering—called Defend the Sacred—is being hosted at Tamera, a community dedicated to the task of finding alternatives that are both visionary and concrete, strongly rooted in its own place but working with activists from the wider region and across the global South. Tamera had invited activists to reflect on their experience from Standing Rock, Sumud Freedom Camp in Palestine, the peace village San José de Apartadó in Colombia, and many others from around the world who actively protect what is sacred to them, whether water, nature, human rights or freedom. The idea of the gathering was to envision a global community of sacred activism and discuss how this movement could continue and succeed.
Situated a little more than an hour from Odeceixe, Tamera is an international peace research community of nearly 200 people from many different countries and age groups. The community was founded in 1978 in Germany and moved to Portugal in 1995. Its founders—the sociologist and psychoanalyst Dieter Duhm and the theologist and peace ambassador Sabine Lichtenfels—intended to create a holistic model for a peaceful society.
“The issues of our time are so interwoven and so closely linked to each other,” wrote Duhm, “that they cannot be solved individually. It will only be possible to carry out the tasks for the future on the basis of a well functioning community.” In his view, humanity has separated itself from the universal powers of life. In order to survive we need to reconnect, a process Duhm calls “human revolution.”
“Trust is the most original and most efficient of all healing forces,” he continues, “The very first task of a community is therefore to create trust among the participants.” That’s why Tamera invests such large amounts of time, skills and care in building trust and truth among their members.
On a daily basis they meet to reveal what they think and feel, to envision their common aims, to provide mutual support and to create transparency. This daily “Forum” is a crucial part of the community, without which it would not have survived for so many years. In all its activities, Tamera follows a plan of what it calls “global healing biotopes”—model communities with autonomy over water, food and energy but strong regional and global linkages, and connected to the divine forces of life in everything.
Arriving in Tamera in summer after driving through a landscape threatened by desertification and woodfires is like arriving at an oasis. Bodies of water fill the valleys, surrounded by terraces with gardens and fruit orchards. Water has been a core topic in Tamera from the beginning. Under the guidance of mountain farmer and ecological visionary Sepp Holzer, Tamera created a natural ‘Water Retention Landscape’—a series of interwoven ponds, lakes and orchards designed to slow down rainwater runoff and give it time to filter deep down so the soil is fertile throughout the year. Other work focuses on decentralized energy solutions, holistic healing, alternative education, permaculture, biologic building and communication and cooperation with animals and plants.
However the most crucial element of Tamera´s work is love, the core work of peace. “There will be no peace in the world as long as there is war between the genders” says co-founder Lichtenfels, “Our intention is to create a field for love free from fear. This also includes sexual love.” Every choice that somebody makes in Tamera—be it a monogamous, polyamorous or celibate lifestyle—is supported by the rest of the community so long as it is based on mutual respect and inner truth.
Sexuality and love are regarded as sacred forces which we cannot own. “Also, we cannot possess our partner", says Vera Kleinhammes, a mother of two children. “Isn´t it strange how many couples find it normal to lie to each other on what they really feel or to whom they are attracted? But without truth, love cannot grow.” In Tamera, partnership and free love don´t exclude each other, they need each other. “However, I would not dare to try this outside of community.”
This approach found resonance among the participants at the gathering. Time and again, activists have faced internal conflicts and collapse in their communities and protest actions around the topics of jealousy, the suppression of women, and other gender topics. Social transparency on love and women’s empowerment are part of the remedy for these conflicts.
As Vassamalli Kurtaz shared—a representative from the indigenous Todas tribe in India —“Before our communities were colonized, married women could choose one or two other sexual lovers if they wished. It was accepted by tradition also by their husbands. Now with having so many men without the chance to have sex we have tensions arising in the community. Colonization and Christianity harmed our lifestyle and the nature that we live from. We need to return to our traditions.”
Pat McCabe from the Diné (Navajo) Nation added this: “According to our traditions, we look for balance and healing between fire and water, light and dark, the feminine and the masculine. I am impressed that this community works so deeply on this balance too. It is a profound experience to find a place in Europe which gives such a strong resonance to positions that have been crucial in indigenous cultures. I leave this place with the feeling that the wounds of colonizations can heal.”
At the gathering, the activists developed a sense of global community, envisioning how the movement for defending the sacred that began at Standing Rock could continue, supported by the emergence of decentralized alternatives to capitalism. As Tiokasin Ghosthorse said, a representative of the Cheyenne River Nation, “We all were indigenous once. We have been waiting for you. Welcome back.”
Meanwhile at the beach, the renowned activist and artist John Quigley had prepared an image that we will form with our bodies in the sand, filmed from the air by drones so that we can send it out to the world as a strong declaration of our will. The image consists of a huge dolphin and the words: “Nao ao furo (‘no to the oil drill’)—Defend the Sacred.”
We line up to enter the image, passing by a place of sacred water kept by Lichtenfels and a place of sacred fire kept by LaDonna Brave Bull. Everyone is led to a place in one of the letters of the declaration or—in my case—as part of the dolphin´s snout.
Soon it becomes clear: the image is too big to fill with the 400 or so people that have come from Tamera and the rest of the region, even with all the other activists. We need at least double. What to do? Do we have to give up like so many times before?
“Be attractive” shouts Quigley, “attract people to join us.” And we do. We shout and sing and call the tourists on the beach to help us fill the image. They watch, but hesitate. After all it is their holiday. But then they come. Parents being pulled in by their kids. Couples and groups of friends, surfers and sunbathers leaving behind their daily business and joining in, happy and proud to be part of something bigger, each one being cheered on by the activists.
And then we make it! In the end we are nearly 1,000 people. The last to join is Takota Iron Eyes, aged 13, a Sioux youth leader from Standing Rock who forms the eye of the dolphin together with other teenagers.
When she starts singing, the crowd becomes silent. Something resonates very deeply in me. It feels like a transformation point in my internal belief system. We really made it. And if we can be successful here then surely we can do anything—stop the oil drilling, change the track of history, and create peace on the earth.