The Queen of the Forest Canopy: The Harpy Eagle
José de Jesús Vargas González— 28 September 2011 — in Harpy Eagle Conservation and Research Share
The following story was narrated by Calixto Conampia during a field trip with Jose Vargas. Calixto is a technician in our conservation and research project in Darien. He has the firm conviction that "learning is never late when you have hopes and dreams."
"The Harpy Eagle, the queen of the forest canopy of Darien, was perched just under the canopy and looked sad seeing her empire attacked by the cancer of deforestation. Helpless and with pain from this disease that affects her home, she decided to fly away to lands that promise better resources for her and her offspring. " This was a very sad statement expressed by Conampia Calixto (one of our local technicians) some weeks ago when we watched KZ (the radio-marked wild Harpy Eagle).
Calixto Conampia is one of the most experienced technicians in our project. He knows the mountains, rivers, and the hidden paths that are located in the dense forest. With a slow walk, but sure of his movements, on this field expedition Calixto guided us into the forest using his ancestral knowledge of the area and the signal emitted by the radio transmitter attached to the adult female Harpy Eagle KZ. It's hard to keep pace with Calixto, because he moves with great agility and treads very quietly ... “as if the spirit of the forest was asleep and he didn’t want to wake up it up.”
One day when we camped, Calixto described to us how the forests were in the past, how the Embera families lived, and how the indigenous society coexisted in harmony with the environment. The following narration describes Calixto’s story:
He began his story pointing out that before the arrival of the "Campuria" (white man) to their lands, Embera families lived apart from each other, maintained closed communications, exchanged products and cultivated their land to produce what they needed to live. People had great respect for the life of plants and animals because these natural resources provided them with materials to build their homes, medicines, and meat for food. The Embera society had a real innate spirit for conservation and preservation of the environment. However, all this changed with the arrival of the ideas of expansion and development that brought the "white man, Campuria." Two different cultures with discrepancies on how to use the natural resources.
At this time, the queen of the canopy "the Harpy Eagle" was easily observed, as well as the king of the undergrowth, the Jaguar. Both dominated the forest and coexisted with mutual respect. There was no need for aggression between Embera men and the kings of the forest, but rather a caring and altruistic relationship because they (eagles and jaguars) were the rulers and guardians that "Ancore" (God in the Embera language) in the forest with the responsibility of maintaining the balance in the ecosystem.
When the “Campuria” arrived, the queen of the canopy began to fall victim to the shots inflicted by ignorant hands, which without knowing her importance, considered her dangerous, likewise the jaguar, was killed because of the attacks on domestic animals (cattle and pigs) than unlearned "Campurias" had left in the natural areas.
Furthermore, little by little our Embera culture was transformed. Now we lived in communities because of the need to be close to schools and medical care centers. These changes caused a deterioration of our culture and what matters most in our lives is that our culture is being diluted. The Embera copied many aspects of the culture of the "Campuria." Now, the Emberas wants to sell their land, want to use chemicals to facilitate crop production, want to hunt animals to sell their meat, and want to destroy the forest to sell timber, among others.
However, despite the negative actions, we can’t judge, since it is a normal behavior of any human to have aspirations for a good quality education, better health service, better standards of living, and other benefits that come with life in society. By the way, after more than 45 year observing this uncontrolled development, I think that we dream a lot, and killed the earth without thinking about consequences of destruction of many ancestral places. However, we could judge how the Embera have not been able to find a synergy between development and culture. We have taken slowly our real wealth (the nature) to extinction. All this has been lost as a result of our uncontrolled development, and unsustainable actions. In many Embera communities, the nice dreams and quiet walking have become nightmares and stress because we lost our heritage and natural wealth.
Today many locations of our lands are empty forests, there are no animals to hunt, and our economic resources are not enough to buy the food that we previously produced. In several places, the Embera communities don’t have forests anymore, and the land became infertile, bringing hunger and deterioration of health. However, there are still Embera communities that have good quality natural resources, but the idea of bad development is still in there, and unfortunately, it threaten our existence, and even more pitiful and deplorable, these threats threaten the existence of animal species such the Harpy Eagle, the Jaguar, the Tapir, among others, as well as the trees like Cuipo, Cedro, Espavé, Bongas, and others, which have never asked or requested to be part of this development. We have and continue killing our inheritance!
The devastation of the forest has caused the migration of our Canopy Queen “The Harpy Eagle” to better habitat. Similarly, many Embera people have abandoned their lands in search of new dreams. It's sad, but today I think the only solution is that our people become aware, learn the importance of our traditions and cultures, and limit the unsustainable development that is taking place within our territory.
The idea of local development is ill-founded and even worse, implemented, and now the negative impacts in the local communities and people's lives are evident. These unsustainable developments destroy many amazing things of the traditional local cultures, and bring bad influence from the Campuria. At this time, we need to think of what we have, and how we want to preserve it. If we don’t stop, all the beauty of nature disappears, and will only end up having an infertile soil, a river without water and life, and an empty forest to pass on to our children and grandchildren.
What Calixto described in his short story is a reality in Darien, and I agree with him on the problems that he has identified and on the idea that there is urgency to act wisely now and take sustainable decisions in order to preserve the cultural heritage of the Embera communities with their plants and animals, including our queen of the forest canopy: the Harpy Eagle.
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