José María Korta, SJ
Ecojesuit shares this brief biographical sketch of Brother José María Korta Lasarte, SJ who tragically passed away in a traffic accident on 11 July 2013, a few days after sending the following article to be published in this issue of Ecojesuit. This biographical sketch is a resume of the article written by Father Jesús María Aguirre, SJ and can be accessed at Últimas Noticias.
Brother José Maria Korta Lasarte, SJ-Ajishäma (White Ibis)
San Sebastián, 13 February 1929 – Bolívar State, 11 July 2013
El Hermano Korta, or Ajishäma as he is known among indigenous populations, entered the Society of Jesus in Loyola on 26 January 1950. He practised as a teacher in several technical schools in Spain and at the same time obtained a degree in Technical Engineering in Barcelona in 1961, and also worked in a factory in Sarriá in Barcelona. Assigned to Venezuela in 1962, his first contact with indigenous populations was in 1972. He dedicated and spent the rest of his life to defend the identity of the Venezuelan indigenous cultures and their ancestral rights. In the last years, he organized and launched the Indigenous University of Venezuela with the support of the Jesuit Province of Venezuela. In 2012, Ajishäma wrote in a public letter: “I want to die with dignity, knowing and believing that death is a necessary step for the encounter with the Father of life.” So be it. Rest in peace.
In 1992, the Kiwxi-Amerindian Cause Foundation was created and promoted with the support of the Society of Jesus Venezuela. The foundation was formed by allies of the causes of Indigenous Peoples who clearly visualized the urgent need for Indigenous Peoples to be the key movers in their cultural reaffirmation.
For eight years, awareness training courses were conducted among different indigenous ethnic minorities in Venezuela. In 2000, young people from these ethnic groups attended the First Indigenous Youth Meeting in Tauca (in Bolívar State, south of Venezuela) to create indigenous texts according to the Bilingual Intercultural Education System (REIB) that was approved in 1979.
It was the beginning of what delegates would later call the Universidad Indígena de Venezuela (UIV) or Indigenous University of Venezuela. Thus was born the first indigenous university of Venezuela, without official recognition yet.
In the Official Gazette N° 389.758, dated 29 November 2011, Decree No. 8631 was promulgated whereby the President of the Republic, Hugo Rafael Chávez approved the creation of the Universidad Indígena de Venezuela (Indigenous University of Venezuela). For the first time, the cultures of the Indigenous Peoples of Venezuela are recognized and valued, and given the challenge to recreate and enhance their cultures. It’s not just a university for Indigenous People, but a University belonging to Indigenous People, as their own communities promote it.
During these years, several hundred of Indigenous People were trained and qualified in different subjects. The delegates are selected by their own communities, not through academic criteria but by their capacity for political organization for the defense of collective rights. Many of them come from the depths of the jungle or the Orinoco river delta, and after long trips of up to 14 days, sometimes with extreme scarcity of financial resources for the journey.
In UIV, they live in an environment similar to their communities, in groups according to their ethnicity. They get out of their hammocks at sunrise and bathe in the Tauca River. After breakfast, they have one hour of personal study before the lessons.
The curriculum development is developed in consideration of the following three axes:
Cultural Axis: History of the Ethnic Minority Populations, Pedagogy and Cultural Genesis, Social Organization and Community Rules, Worldview and Indigenous Spirituality, Languages and Literature, Artist Expression, Ethnobotany, Ethnomedicine, Production Systems, Indigenous Technology
Raising Awareness Axis: American History, Venezuela and Amerindian Populations, Universal History and Geography, State and Politics Notions, National and International Positive Law, Ecology and Environmental Degradation, Economy and Natural Resources, Intercultural Diversity, Affairs and Relations, Spanish Reading and Writing
Productive Axis: Agriculture, Beekeeping, Aquaculture, Livestock Production and Animal Husbandry, Buffalo Husbandry (as draft animal force), Nursery Production, Vermiculture, Savannah Production, Self-Management Models, Administration Concepts.
Moreover, the students have additional courses and workshops useful for a comprehensive capacity building, such as photography, video, broadcast, Internet, and other tools. Writing, electronic technology, and law are exogenous subjects and concepts, coming out of cultures of Western thought. UIV recognizes the risks in including these topics for learning, but recognizes the need to enhance indigenous knowledge because these concepts from outside the indigenous cultures are considered tools necessary to break the culture asymmetry.
The academic course is a semester and for four months, the students stay in Tauca studying theoretical subjects and practical lessons. For the remaining two months, they go to their communities where they conduct fieldwork on their chosen topic for their thesis, based on the wisdom of the elder people as essential bibliography.
Graduates are awarded as indigenous educators, allowing them to strengthen the education in their communities, foster pride in being ethnic minority, and have the knowledge and tools to defend their lands and cultures, and establish an equitable relationship with the Western world.
We can only expect that with the support from the Presidential Decree, the government and all Venezuelan citizens, UIV can face all the immense challenges and reach its objectives for the consolidation of the indigenous cultures of the Venezuelan people.