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Ecuador unrest: Amazonian women denounce ‘state violence’

Indigenous protesters accuse security forces of using excessive force as demonstrations continue for tenth day.


By Kimberley Brown


Al Jazeera (13.10.2019) – https://bit.ly/2oHUBE3 – Lineth Calapucha distributed blankets and clothes to other protesters in a cultural centre in the Ecuadorian capital Quito on Friday as the sounds of bombs from tear gas and pepper spray echoed outside.


It was the ninth day of anti-government protests that began as calls for President Lenin Moreno to abandon fuel subsidy cuts and labour and tax reforms. But for indigenous protesters, it has since grown into a wider movement against the government’s treatment of indigenous people and their land.


“What we’re asking for is peace, tranquillity, and that the government understand that we, the people and [indigenous] nationalities act peacefully,” Calapucha told Al Jazeera, as women and children streamed into the cultural centre to take shelter.


“Look, even now, we weren’t even doing anything and they started launching tear gas,” she said.


Calapucha is one of dozens of women from the Amazonian Women’s collective who travelled to Quito to join the national protests and denounce the “inhumane repression” of protesters by police.


“We are women of peace, defenders of our territories and our families,” the collective said in a statement on Saturday.


“We have come in peace but the state, as always, received us again with violence,” the women added. “We want to build a society and a country where our rights are respected.”


Moreno declared a state of emergency and moved the government out of Quito earlier this week as tens of thousands of protesters converged on the capital, vowing to stay put until the government reverses its decision to cut the decades-old fuel subsidies and roll back the reforms.


The government, however, has also remained defiant, saying the reforms are necessary to comply with a $4.2bn loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).


Calapucha said indigenous people reject the austerity measures, but their complaints go much further: They are demanding that the government stop all oil and mining in indigenous territory.


“We felt from the Amazon what was happening here in Quito and Guayaquil. That hurt us,” Calapucha said.


On Friday night, clashes began after police fired tear gas and pepper spray on a crowd of about 20,000 protesters in front of the National Assembly. The protesters had been rallying for hours, chanting anti-government slogans, with indigenous women singing and burning palo santo, a tree native to Ecuador, in front of the heavily guarded building.


By Saturday, the government and indigenous leaders announced they would begin talks to negotiate the details of the austerity measures. But protests continued, prompting Moreno to impose a curfew in the capital.


Excessive force


Protesters have accused security forces of using excessive force. At least five people have been killed, 800 severely wounded and more than 1,000 people arrested since the protests began, the state ombudsman said late on Friday.


Inocencio Tucumbi, an indigenous leader, was killed earlier this week when a tear gas canister fired by police hit his head, according to witnesses. The indigenous community honoured him by holding a mass procession and mass on Wednesday. They also detained eight police officers for several hours during the day, forcing them to witness the mass, before releasing them to the United Nations officials in the evening.


The vast majority of those wounded have been in Quito, where police have been accused of firing tear gas and pepper spray near hospital entrances, as well the cultural centre and universities, where the more than 10,000 indigenous people have been sleeping. This includes pregnant women and small children.


“There has been an excessive use of tear gas, of which weighs a lot on the protesters, but also on the girls and women who are around,” says Monica Vega Puebla, legal accessor with the human rights organisation INREDH.


Government officials were not available for comment, but according to local media, Interior Minister Maria Paula Romo apologised for tear gas being fired at the universities, saying: “These are places where indigenous people are staying and have to remain safe places and they will be. These acts have no justification and will not be repeated.”


Romo, however, denied that there has been an overuse of force, and instead continuously pointing out the violent acts by protesters.


Calapucha said there were clashes with police in the Amazon city of Puyo, where she has been protesting since the uprising began last week, but it never reached the same level of violence as Quito.


For the Amazonian women and many indigenous people in Ecuador, this month’s protests only highlight what they call years of repression by the government.


“We want a country where we don’t have to live in fear that our lands will be destroyed, our rivers will be polluted, our forests will be cut down. Where we are never afraid of our children being discriminated against and excluded in their own lands,” the Amazonian women said in their statement.


“Yes, we are angry,” Calapucha added, but “this is how we chant: ‘not one more bomb, not one more rock.'”

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Vivid portraits shine light on Tahiti’s ‘third gender’

Namsa Leuba

By Matthew Ponsford


CNN (09.10.2019) – https://cnn.it/2VryVIl – On the Polynesian island of Tahiti, there is said to be something akin to a sixth sense — one that belongs to neither men nor women. Instead, it is the sole domain of the “mahu,” a community recognized as being outside the traditional male-female divide.


“Mahu have this other sense that men or women don’t have,” said Swiss-Guinean photographer Namsa Leuba, whose images from the island are showing at a new exhibition in London. “It is well known in (French Polynesia) that they have something special.”


In Tahiti, mahu are considered a third or “liminal” gender, born biologically male but recognized by peers as distinct, often from early in their lives. Their gender identity has been accepted on the island since time immemorial, and mahu traditionally play key social and spiritual roles, as guardians of cultural rituals and dances, or providers of care for children and elders.


Leuba’s new photo series, “Illusions: The Myth of the ‘Vahine’ through Gender Dysphoria,” shows the diversity of gender identities in French Polynesia, where the photographer spends half her year.


In a telephone interview from Tahiti, Leuba said the additional power that the Mahu apparently possess is difficult to describe. It is, she explained, a mixture of empathy, intuition, generosity and creativity – all words that might be applied to Leuba’s wide-ranging photography.


Unseen identities

Since graduating from the Lausanne University of Art and Design (ECAL) in 2010, Leuba has developed an approach that mixes elements of documentary photography with the rich staging of fashion shoots. The result is something she calls “docu-fiction.”


Describing herself as African-European (her mother is Guinean and her father is Swiss), Leuba said she aims to reflect, through fiction, realities made invisible when viewed through a Western colonial lens.


In 2011, she traveled to the Guinean capital, Conakry, for a project that would set the tone for her later work. Exploring animist beliefs in the city, she brought portraits of regular people — mostly strangers she met on the street — to life with elaborate poses and backdrops.


The project, along with later work across Africa, confronted the legacy of colonialism and considered how Western perceptions have impacted present-day societies. And Leuba developed these ideas further in Tahiti.


Images from the series are on show at a new all-female London gallery, Boogie Wall. They aim to show the complex gender and sexual identities that exist in Tahiti, directly attacking stereotypes that rely on exoticism and the sexualization of Polynesian women.


Mahu’s traditional artistic roles have made them a subject of fascination for visiting artists including Paul Gauguin, whose 19th-century portraits of young Tahitians strongly influenced Western impressions of Polynesian culture while painting a controversial picture of an exotic and sexually permissive paradise.


Central to these stereotypes was the ideal of the “vahine.” The term, which translates simply as “woman,” came to be used in the West to mean submissive girls or young women, embodied in the sexualized poses in Gauguin’s paintings (indeed, he would marry a girl in her early teens during a visit to the island in 1891).


Invisible genders


In “Illusions,” Leuba tackles both the “vahine” myth and the influence of 19th-century Christian missionaries, who preached the Bible’s binary view on gender and instituted laws that criminalized relationships with mahu.


The portraits are often shot in everyday surroundings, but by using bright body paint and stylized costume, Leuba aims to reassert the individuality of her subjects. Her images also include people who identify as “rae-rae,” trans women who, unlike many mahu, often pursue gender reassignment surgery.


“I already knew what I wanted to have,” said Leuba. “For me, it was very important to see (the subject’s) beauty and the power — in my pictures, it’s very strong look, a strong posture — and to (allow them to) make themselves beautiful”


Leuba interviews her subjects for hours before photographing them. While a few were cautious at first, having previously had uncomfortable experiences with voyeuristic photographers, she said, more began coming forward after the first images appeared in magazines in New York.


Through use of elaborate staging, Leuba avoids the rawness typical of documentary photography. Instead, she said her positive, glamorous approach allows eclectic stories to shine, including histories of homelessness and conflict, along with journeys of acceptance from families and culture.


“Sometimes I would hear some really (tough) stuff that has happened to them, and it was totally not sexy or glamorous. It was difficult. And others were well-accepted by their family and their community,” Leuba said.


“All of the ‘lifecycles’ were totally different.”

Click here to see more of Namsa Leuba’s photography in “Illusions.”

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