Corazon de La Tierra: an artistic voice for minorities in Central America

By Gaëlle Sévenier,
Mars 03

Three indigenous communities from Guatemala, Honduras and Panama, along with a French theater group called the Babel Tower, are creating a network in Central America to spread out their culture through dance, music and theater in the intercultural project Corazon de la Tierra, the Heart of the World.


Mathieu Goudin-Ebbesen and Rodolphe Goupil, volunteers if the Corazon de la Tierra's project, along with the Garifuna women of the theater group Lanigui Müa

Triunfo de la Cruz is a small Garifuna village on Tela Bay, located on the Caribbean coast of Honduras. Long white sand beaches bordered with palm trees contributes to the festivities of the black community that sometimes organizes local dances, where the youths and the adults dance the Punta to the rhythms of drums and turtle shells and drink Gifiti or Tamarin's juice until dawn. The Garifunas, who are the descendents of Africans slaves mixed with the Arawak native indigenous to the island of San Vicente, have spread all over the Caribbean coast of Central America and gained a distinct culture apart from the Latinos. In today's context of globalization, this Honduran minority fears the loss of their cultural heritage. "There are menaces that our culture can disappear" explains Kalin, a father of six children in the black community. "Modernism attracts a lot our youth. We do not want to forbid our children to get involved with modernism. However, we want our culture to integrate modernism: it is through education and culture that we will manage to develop and elevate our community." In this perspective, a group of Garifunas in Triunfo de la Cruz created the artistic organization Lanigui Müa, integrating an intercultural project called Corazon de la Tierra, both meaning the Heart of the World.

The project Corazon de la Tierra began in 1995, as an initiative of the French theatre group Babel Tower. The name Babel Tower comes from the Bible, with the idea that before the flood, mankind was strong, united and spoke the same language. In Genesis the peoples of the world attempted to build the Tower of Babel in order to reach God. As they were nearing completion, God destroyed the tower and separated mankind by making them speak different languages. "Our project is to build a tower," explains Frédéric Servant, one of the funders of the organization. "The idea is that we are all different, however, languages are not a barrier. We can work together in an imaginative environment which is theatre."

The Babel Tower first started to work with the Mayas K'iches in Guatemala, creating a play on the Popol Vuh, the only Mayan book explaining the creation of the world. The show played in Guatemala and in France. "The organization then realised that they wanted to expand the project," explains Mathieu Goudin-Ebbesen, one of the volunteers of the project Corazon de la Tierra, "to create a project that lasts longer than just theatre. So they created Corazon de la Tierra, extending the idea to other communities in Central America". The project now includes three communities: the Mayas K'iches in different sites of Guatemala, the Garifunas of Triunfo de la Cruz in Honduras, and the Kunas of Ustupu, in the autonomous territory of Panama. The idea of Corazon de la Tierra is to create a Euro-Central American cultural network, focusing on the cultures and identities of those villages.

In Antigua in 2002, there was the first fusion of all three communities, under the umbrella of an indigenous festival. Each community displayed important cultural exhibits through dances, music and theater representations, and at the end of the festival, the three cultural groups united themselves, in a common presentation. Rodolphe Goupil was among the first volunteers to arrive in the project. He explains that the common link of the festivals is "to defend the values of the communities, to bring them forward, and to find ways to defend their communities and their culture." The group helps the participants create a network, to use as a bridge between the communities and local or international institutions, such as UNESCO, the Rigoberta Menchu's Foundation or the Cultura de Paz project. The action is financed 50% by the French government, and the rest by the tourism institutes of the three Central American countries, the Spanish embassy as well as foundations and private enterprises in Central America.

The long term goal of Corazon de la Tierra is to create five theater festivals: three in each community, one fusion of the three minorities in Central America, and one presentation including European actors. The project also offers a public relations assistance to the communities by teaching them how to organize festivals, to find funding and to help them develop a more ecological tourism. The plan also includes the construction of cultural centers in each community. Juan Martinez, General Director and coordinator of Lanigui Müa, the Garifuna artistic group, explains that the cultural center "will be a place where we will show artistic representations, but also a place to present handicrafts, braid hair and teach the Garifuna language and dances, as well as being a place to relax. People will have more reasons to come visit us."

"Central America is a mosaic of cultures, peoples and tribes, who do not always get along and especially do not know each other." Says Mathieu Goudin-Ebbesen, "it is very interesting to make them do something all together while maintaining the cultural integrity of each group." The three communities are very different from one another. However, they are all minorities suffering from exclusion and they are very complementary. According to Roldophe Goupil, the Mayas are quite introverted, very religious in their art and into meditation. In contrast, the Garifunas are not afraid to use their voice and body to express themselves, and their art is based on improvisation and spontaneity. The Kunas can be seen as warriors. They are one of the only indigenous people who have fought against the army of Panama to protect their traditions and culture, and who managed to find external help to remain an autonomous territory. In their art, they are very structured to not show easily their weaknesses. The artistic director Frédéric Servant explains that in the fusion, the three cultures mix very well: "They have mixed their myths and their vision of history. Each has accepted to sacrifice a little bit of their vision to integrate the other's."

Corazon de la Tierra is now in the process of organizing an international festival, which will focus on the myths, tales and stories of the Mayan, Garifuna's and Kuna's villages. This festival, planned for 2006, will be a show and an exposition of the communities' creation myths, the pre historic times, the Spanish conquest, the slavery and the world today. Masks will be used in order to have no linguistic barriers in understanding the communities' artistic creations. "Our project is not easy" acknowledges Rodolphe Goupil, "it can seem a little utopian, however we are really into action. We try to be as effective as we can with the means we have. This world is made out of a multitude of populations completely different from oneanother, and we have to preserve this balance because it is the treasure of our planet."

For more information about Corazon de la Tierra, or in order to help them in any way, contact @


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