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A Bridge Made of Grass

The patron saint of bridges is St. Bénézet. Bénézet had a dream that an angel commanded him to build a bridge across the Rhone river in his town of Avignon. Nobody believed it was possible but he allegedly lifted a stone that thirty men could not lift and dropped it in the river as the first stone in the foundation.

They built the bridge. And I’m sure you know the song. Sur Le Pont d’Avignon. And the people dancing on it. This famed bridge is actually quite narrow even when it was in full working order and people used to cross the bridge holding hands, many at a time, and allegedly this is the origin of the song.

Crossing a bridge, something we now do alone in our cars or casually stroll across in some bucolic corner of the world was once a village affair. Perhaps nowhere is this village-minded bridge making and crossing more clear than with the unbroken bloodline of chakacamayocs who live in Q’eswachaka, Peru. These villagers keep the tradition of annually weaving a bridge made of grass to keep two communities connected to each other but also to the land and to their ancestors.

These spans across gorges and gullies are very impressive. The invading Spanish were similarly amazed. The Andean spans were far longer than anything that they’d seen in 16th-century Spain, where the longest bridge stretched just shy of 100 feet. The Incas building materials must have seemed almost miraculous. Grass? European bridge-building techniques derived from stone-based Roman technology, a far cry from these floating webs of grass. No wonder some of the bravest conquistadors were said to have inched across on hands and knees.

The main builder in the village is Viktor Arisapana who says of the bridge

“For us, the bridge is the soul and spirit of our Inca (ancestors), that touches and caresses us like the wind. If we stop preserving it, it would be like if we die. We wouldn’t be anything. Therefore, we cannot allow our bridge to disappear.”

The annual weaving is an opportunity to sing and dance and play and tell stories and do the actual not metaphorical work of weaving the community together. It is its’ fragility that keeps them together because it needs maintenance. How often are villages as a community remaking their modern bridges?

Arisapana even speaks of the bridge as if it were alive

“Our bridge can call the wind whenever he wants to. Traditionally those who cross the spans first make an offering, of coca, corn, or “sullu,” a llama fetus. When we don’t comply…or maybe we forget to demonstrate our reverence, the bridge punishes us. We could suffer an accident. That’s why, to do something on the bridge or to cross on it, first one must pay respects and offer it a plate.”

Feeding that which allows you to be alive. Not a bad way to pray. You might wonder ‘how does a bridge eat?’ – it might be that the insects that eat the food pollinate the grasses that make the bridge. And in feeding them the bridge for next year gets fed. Maybe. Or maybe there is another architecture. I don’t know.

But I love that such a wonder is still alive in the world and is a tradition that is sustained. We here at Primal Derma love old traditions like this that bind people to a place and show a gentle thumbprint of themselves on the world. We’d like to think that our skincare product is a kind of kin to things like this.

I’d urge you  to watch the three minute and fifteen second video below to see a true miracle rooted in skill appear. And if you need some more Primal Derma for your skin to remind you of the same more locally…just click on the ‘shop’ link below the video.

 

Until soon enough,

Matt

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