In my recent travels to Colombia, my home country, I met Ramiro Romero, a traditional Muisqua midwife. I met him at Institute Mujeres Bachue. He and his team are the only people offering home births in Bogota and surrounding areas. I was so impressed by the depth of his knowledge, the humility of his ways, and the work they do in Colombia. The work they do is vital to the health of women, children, families and the restructuring of society.
RAMIRO ROMERO ROMERO
Muisqua Traditional Midwife and Doctor
I was born into an indigenous family of working farmers. We are Muisqua people, aboriginal to the high plateaus of the Colombian Andes, migrants within our own territory. [The Departments of Cundinamarca and Boyaca. Bogota (the capital city) is in this region]
We still preserve the native ancestral knowledge and traditions of our people. I was the youngest of four brothers. My mother was a midwife through family tradition. My father was a farmer and the son of a midwife mother and a traditional medicine man, both following family tradition in those arts. Because of my family’s knowledge and practice of traditional medicine and midwifery, I was immersed in these two occupations on a daily basis since the age of 8.
Due to the harsh conditions of the territory, and the unstable political situation, the communities in which I grew up had little or no access to local medical centres. My family therefore performed their medical and midwifery practices within these communities. In this context, at the age of 15, I started to accompany labouring women who requested my presence, in the absence of my mother or grandmothers. They recognised in me a talent that had to be realised. It is here that I begun my work as a midwife.
Left-wing politics has always been a part of my upbringing – it informed my choices and oriented my working life. My occupation became a means to travel, discover and learn about my country. I witnessed the reality of the conflict, recognising an unjust social fabric fostered by the Colombian ruling classes. In an act of political defiance, and in defence of our rights, I put my arts at the service of various subversive and insurgent groups of the country, who had no access to state health services. It is in this context, in the mountains of Colombia, as the midwife and doctor of the women belonging to these groups and the farmers of the regions, that I learned certain western medical and midwifery practices – it’s manoeuvres, techniques and emergency procedures.
At the age of 22 I joined with Luz Adriana, and we formed a family with two sons, a niece and when I was 24, my youngest daughter was born. This period brought about a change within me. It was a time of profound love and faith in life, and brought the responsibility to raise the new generations in freedom. At the same time I started to work in the reservation of the Muisqua Indigenous communities of Cota-Cundinamarca. Here I found my ancestral community ending my estrangement from them. I further deepened my traditional knowledge as well as expanded my knowledge of western midwifery practices based on modern physiology. As a family, we journeyed through the highs and lows for 6 years, after which we decided to cut the conyugal tie but not the family one, which prevails to this day.
In 1998, at the age of 28, there was a decisive moment in my life. It was a birth I accompanied in Potosi, a suburb in the ‘poverty belt’ of Bogota. Adiela, 8 months pregnant, walked for 5 hours through Bogota to find me. She had heard of my work in the city slums and wanted to birth at home with me. I accepted.
When she called, I took a taxi to Potosi (and he charged me double the tariff). The area is rife with conflict, divided between guerrilla groups, paramilitaries and the displaced. Each group has its territory and if one crosses the roads that marks those territories, they kill each other. Adiela was one of the displaced. [People that have had to leave their lands due to the armed conflict of the guerillas, paramilitaries and government forces]
She lived on a hill at the edge of the neighbourhood, in a 4 metre squared makeshift hut with a dirt floor that she shared with four other people. The bed was a thin piece of foam with no bedding. There was nothing to eat or drink. I went to the first neighbour I found and told her Adiela was about to give birth and that we needed food and clean water. The woman said she couldn’t buy anything since the shops were owned by the guerrillas, and paramilitaries and they didn’t do business with the displaced. I gave her my mobile phone and told her to sell it or do whatever she needed, because we needed those things. I went back to Adiela. After some hours I could hear noise outside, but I gave it little thought. When the time came for Adiela to push and Fidel emerged, with his first sound a wave of applause could be heard in the street.
Later on, when I went outside, the street was full of people. At the bottom of the slope, there was an open fire around which guerrilla, paramilitary and displaced people had gathered. They were cooking a meal for Adiela, and were collecting clothes and gifts for the new family. These groups had come together and put aside the conflict, for life emerging.
After this birth, I withdrew from the political revolution, I re-oriented my life devoting myself solely to protecting the power of a woman to birth. I had exchanged my rifle for the “Blade of Chusque” [the traditional instrument used to cut the umbilical chord]. In this way I found my own revolution, the one that makes me alive and justified – “The power of a woman and a community to birth naturally – free to be themselves, and in full exercise of their rights.” It was here that I recognised the profound capacity of the feminine to transform and heal, and it’s importance in the social structure: “The power to believe and to create.”
It was then that an elder of the Sierra Nevada of Santa Marta, who was a custodian by tradition of a great part of the Muisqua knowledge, initiated me – securing me in my physical and spiritual body as a Yatuka [‘midwife’]. He re-nurtured my knowledge, and gave me the task: “To accompany a new people to be born and to grow within the ways of Nature,” making evident that “the west has forgotten nature’s way – it’s ways of conceiving, sowing, birthing and nurturing all human, animal and plant life.”
Under this premise, in 2008, we founded the Institute of Bachue Women. [The goddess Bachué: “the one with the naked breast”. Is a mother goddess that according to Muisqua thought is the mother of humanity] Mujeres Bachue is a womb for traditional thought, translating the language of the territory we inhabit into our body and our reality. Since then more than 1000 families have been accompanied.
Currently I am a member of: the Directors Board of the Institute of Bachue Women; The National Network of Traditional Midwives; Una Parteria Network; The Council of Muisqua Elders; the Colombian Observatory Against Obstetric Violence; and I support as a hummingbird various settlements and Eco Villages.
Mujeres Bachue Background and Vision
We are the Muisqua. We are Aboriginal, that is to say we are the original inhabitants of these territories, the Cundi-Boyacence high plateaus of Colombia, and the surrounding mountains. For thousands of years, we have been evolving a culture that allowed a high development of human beings in harmony with the way of nature, this evolution maintained the healthy continuation of our native ecosystem through various rituals and spiritual practices.
Since approximately 1540, we have been resisting foreign domination and negation of our culture. Today, we have decided to ‘re-exist’: that is to resume the paths that our ancestors travelled; to recover our native seed, plant and human; to propose Sewa – which is a state of co-existance with the colonisers as a diverse group of human beings evolved from nature or the same source of origin. [Sewa was originally proposed by the Muisqua and neighbouring tribes upon the arrival of the Spanish colonisers]
With this intention, in 2006, we built a Tchunzua, which is the traditional Muisqua house of knowledge. Since then, various Muisqua people who had been dispersed throughout the country, begun to gather, seemingly spontaneously. At the same time several Mamos [Shamans] from other aboriginal tribes came to visit the Tchunzua, they brought with them “baskets of knowledge” that had been entrusted to their ancestors by Muisqua elders who had forseen the dispersal of our people.
We have made the decision to continue to be what we have been, but also to link it to what we are now. We have decided to be Muisqua in a new way, so that our children continue the path, to be the old-new. We have decided to be people who sweeten modernity.
Our cultural and social vision can be understood as a weaving of worlds. What we were and what we are; the visible and the invisible; the world above and the world below; tradition and technology; the urban and the rural; the modern and the ancestral.
We will contribute to the majority culture by deposing all that makes us breath badly. We will contribute from our ‘seat of thought’, revealing a vision from the dawn of the world which is closely akin to the land and its natural rhythms, the physical and the spiritual bodies. In this manner, we will build in various spheres – economic, political and social for all those who feel affinity with the body, the land the heart, the community, and with themselves, to removing the barriers that stop us walking in unity. We can find another dance and another song, in harmony with Natural ways: the voice of the mother and the father in search of advised and consulted paths; this is our main contribution to building a unified society for the survival of mother earth.
Yakuta means “keeper of divine breath”. We accompany births and deaths – we protect the safe passage into the first breath and the release of the last breath. Midwifery is not natural – it did not exist from the dawn of time. It is a yielding of power. Today, the way we see midwifery is as a bridge towards the inherent knowledge of women – returning to source – to that first woman empowered in her body and soul. A bridge towards the re-empowerment of women’s innate capacity to birth life.