Ricardo Marín, a charismatic indigenous leader from the Pirá Paraná River in the Colombian Amazon, has played a key role in taking the experience of indigenous communities in Colombia’s Amazon across to Africa. A well-respected Barasana shaman, he passed on just a few weeks ago. One of Gaia’s Advisors, Silvia Gómez, who worked for many years with Ricardo and local communities living on the Pirá Paraná, writes a moving homage.

I am eternally thankful to one of the most wise, humble and witty shamans of the Colombian Amazon.

It was during  2001, that I changed the way I perceive, respond to  and embody the world. It was the year when I first arrived to the Pira Paraná – a magical river basin where, since ancestral times, life and all its forms have been conceived as a WHOLE, and so people live in WHOLENESS. Here, in the heart of the Colombian Amazon, what really matters is the weaving of relations between beings; where there is respect, care, responsibility and reciprocity for mountains, fish, rocks, seeds and rivers, in every daily and sacred act.

[photo: Ricardo standing on a rock in his ancestral river, the Pira Parana]

This was the year when I first met Ricardo Marín, a lively and powerful Barasana shaman, who inherited the art of healing and protecting from his grandparents and ancestors.

He opened many paths: the path of dialogue between the western world and indigenous thinking; the path of learning between the elders and the youngsters; the path of connecting the Colombian Amazon with Africa; the path of living and practicing traditional knowledge, instead of keeping it locked away and ‘safe’.

Ricardo was an open and generous man, deeply connected with all his ancestors. He had a profound understanding of his story of origin. He had a very clear comprehension of the present. And, what I admire the most, he had a truly inspiring and inclusive vision of the future.

Some ten years after our first encounter, we were travelling together to South Africa, to meet the African savannah, to speak to the ancestors of the trees and animals, and to share his lived experience with the longing of the Venda people and others from Africa to reconnect with their ancestral memory. 

[photo: Preparing for the eco-cultural mapping process with the Venda community, the team from the Amazon, participants from the African Biodiversity Network from across the region, two shamans from the Altai and the Gaia team]

Also present were shamans from the Altai Republic In Russia and from South Africa and Botswana. The exchange visit was documented in a wonderful film, Reviving Our Culture, Mapping Our Future.

[photo: Shamans Ricardo from Pira Parana River, and Maria and Danil from the Altai]

Without speaking any Venda nor any English he immediately connected with the spirits of the place, the millet, the elephants and the dry soil as well as the people from across continents. We danced, talked, laughed, cooked, remembered and shared a unique experience. Even the rains came, after years of drought, and we all understood what we were there for in this exchange.

Ricardo would always have simple answers to complicated questions, with a good joke, a strong hug and a spoon of ‘mambe’ (powdered coca leaves). He would always teach without teaching.

In 2018 he left this material world and reunited with his ancestors. He is now up in the firmament, sending his light and helping us remember that, even though the path is full of new challenges and he is no longer here physically, we all need to keep on walking and he is still with us in a different dimension.

[photo: Liz Hosken from Gaia and Ricardo reflecting together]

Thank you Liz, Ed, Fiona, Jess, Will, Rowan, Mphathe, Martín, Nelson, Nata, Alvarito, Robertico, Don Jose, Doña Rosita…. all the Gaia family, for envisioning this path and creating the bridges between here and there.