This weekend, the March Against Monsanto global day of action took place, providing a chance for people around the world to express concern about the biotech giant’s influence on the agricultural sector.
In the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca, a maize carnival was held in the plaza of the 17th century Santo Domingo church, in the centre of Oaxaca City. The festivities included a display of photographs by American David Lauer, demonstrating the importance of corn in different facets of traditional life in Mexico. An explanatory note on the stand read:
This exhibition is dedicated to the native corn of these lands, to the people who invented it, shared it and who have cared for it for many centuries and to the people who plant seeds and fight to keep diversity in all its forms. It is an expression of respect and gratitude to those who have demonstrated with strength and beauty their determination to continue being People of Corn.
‘People of Corn’ captures a small part of a living and ancient legacy, to which we owe our lives. It speaks to the threat that transgenic contamination represents to native corn and the cost of the imposition of biotechnology in our country. It recalls a great heritage, documents a vital present and asks where we are heading.
The event also included a ceremonial march by a small group of people, who then went on to stage a challenging piece of street theatre to the gathered audience of around 60 people. In the play, the performers took the roles of people from an indigenous campesino (agricultural) community and through wit and humour highlighted the importance of corn to indigenous ways of life.
The main premise of the performance centred around a campesino (farmer) who came to help a family with the planting of crops. He ceremoniously asked permission from the Earth Mother and the Sun Father before sowing the seeds and poured an offering of mescal onto the sacred soil.
The women in the play spoke of making tejate (a drink made from corn and cacoa beans), a tradition that dates back to pre-hispanic times. One woman spoke to her younger sibling of the need to care for the corn and the cacao and to respect the process that has been developed over many generations.
Following the play, the actors staged a mock general assembly, which is often the highest decision-making body in indigenous communities in Mexico, and included the audience in the process. An actor playing a foreign ‘expert’ talked to the assembly about a project that would allow the planting of transgenic corn within the community. The foreigner’s role aptly highlighted the indignation that many indigenous communities feel when an outsider tries to impose their ideas, without knowing anything about the people or their way of life.
The issue of transgenic corn has generated widespread protest in recent months in Mexico, the place of origin for corn, as the Mexican government is considering proposals to allow the first widespread planting of GMO corn. Many indigenous farmers and activists in Mexico feel that both the biodiversity of corn and livelihoods of campesino communities are at stake and they continue the fight to ensure that companies like Monsanto cannot sow more of their genetically-modified varieties of corn.