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Ruben Diaz: Transgressing Oblivion in the Amazon

by | Jul 8, 2021 | Changemaker Of The Week

Deep in the Ecuadorian Amazon, an ancient culture is struggling to survive. The Sapara people are one of many groups fighting to preserve their roots, and their heritage is at risk of vanishing completely. Rubén Díaz, a Quito-based artist, is not willing to sit back and watch the deep knowledge of the Sapara people fade out.

For more than two years, Díaz has spent time in the jungle studying the Sapara language and legends, and building relationships with the people. Only four elders can still speak the native language, which is essential in communicating ancient beliefs and traditions. To preserve the culture, Díaz is working to create a “dynamic dictionary” of the Sapara language with black and white images that can be used in schools to educate the next generations about their roots, and encourage them to be proud of where they came from. He is currently in the final stages of creating this valuable resource.

Díaz is not the first researcher to study the Sapara culture and people, but he’s the first to truly make an effort to understand their way of life and follow through on creating change.

“I try to relate to the community by focusing on the problems they really have,” Díaz said on his approach. “People from the outside think ‘they don’t have shoes, I’m going to bring them shoes,’ but their culture doesn’t have shoes. Their culture is to be free, and they are cool being like that. So why would I give something they might not need?”

This project is the first of many that Díaz hopes to carry out. Experts predict that a language dies every two weeks, and Díaz said that right now, six to seven languages are at a strong risk of fading into oblivion. His goal is to stop that process.

“Being an artist is a privilege because I’m able to create while other people have to work a lot,” Díaz said. “So in order to compensate for this privilege, I want to help people through my art or my thinking, or my creative side. In this way, I can give something back to society.”

Díaz prompts a necessary reminder that when land is exploited and cultures are pushed to the side or misunderstood, humankind loses precious information about its roots that can never
be recovered.

“I think as human beings, we should try to be more reflective on the processes we are carrying out,” Díaz said. “Especially if they endanger nature and indigenous people, because they are really deep, wise people that can teach us a lot.”

Written by Ali Scheinfeld