Abuela Grillo (Grandmother Cricket)

14 mins. 24 s.

The Ayoreo are the nomadic indigenous people of Eastern Bolivia. They believe in the legend of Direjná, the grandmother of a cricket whose songs can bring rain to this earth. She owned all the waters, and where she was it rained. But one day, she sang and sang in overjoy until the rain fell so hard and the lands were flooded. So, her grandchildren asked her to leave, and she retired to the second heaven. The hot, dry days of famine took over the earth. From the second heaven, Abuela Grillo (Grandmother Cricket) sends rain every time someone tells her story. 

In the years 1999 to 2000, there were massive protests in Cochabomba, in Bolivia, against the privatization of municipal water supply. In 2009, eight animators from Bolivia worked with French filmmaker Denis Chapon and The Animation Workshop of Denmark, chose to retell her story. Abuela Grillo sings as she walks the lowlands and mountains in the borders of Paraguay and Bolivia. She settles in a village where she is initially welcomed. Overjoyed, she sings and sings until the valleys are flooded. The villagers get angry and chase her away. While traveling, she is lured by the black-suited, white-collared corporate giants who promise her fame and applause. They harness the rains, bottle water and sell it to the people. Now, the villagers whose lands had plenty start to run dry. Abuela Grillo gradually grows tired of the stage shows, but realizes she cannot leave. The corporates have her in captivity. They force her to sing more and more, until they tap her tears. The villagers come to know of Abuela Grillo’s plight and realize their mistake. They march into the city with all utility weapons they can find demanding the corporates let their grandmother go. Unfortunately, the white collars wage war against them with tear gas. Not able to stand it anymore, Abuela screams and her floods wash away the tear gas and destroys everything in the city. Free now, Abuela walks away, and is welcomed back in the village, where she sings and brings harvest all along her way.

A blogger from Bolivia details some of the themes in this film:

  • Exploitation of natural resources by greedy businessmen in the city. Shows the fear and the symbol of the bad guys as unsympathetic, large in stature, sharp edges around the body, physically abusive, cement gray and black in color as if mechanical or lacking life.
  • The move into the city being where trouble ensues.The grandmother is taken for granted in her homeland and is forced to wonder into the big city where she is exploited. This is a moral lesson for indigenous people torespect the wisdom of their elders even if they don’t initially understand the importance of tradition and song. The people of the countryside who kicked out abuelo grillo later find hardship when no water falls from the sky.
  • Indigenous knowledge of natural cycles and the old grandmother’s traditional skill. Abuelo Grillo’s ability to make it rain is a metaphor for her people’s inherited, old wisdom and spiritual power to retain balance and good health to their people and land.
  • Water is the most essential part of life, so the metaphor speaks to all the issues in the world over water and how we are connected. Even water use in British Columbia, a place so blessed with fresh glacial melt, has to be aware of the implications of masses of people who abuse it.
  • Cycles of nature taking over – the flood. This is reminiscent of the earth fighting back against human destruction and wrong-doing.

A blogger from Toronto, Canada adds to this that the grandmother cricket is the representative of old women in the society whose knowledge and contributions usually stand invisible. She also brings to notice this ridiculous advertisement campaign below. She writes, “I’m seriously not impressed with this new Evian campaign with people wearing pictures of babies on their shirts – “live young” and die young?–, although, admittedly, you’d have to have the brain of a 3 year-old to continue to purchase toxic-seeping water bottles…”

On a radio advertisement, a man complains in anxiety that there’s no safe place to drink water from, when his friend suggests him to get himself a safe and pure bottle of TATA Water Plus. But, how did our tap water get unhygienic or salty? How did our rivers become sewers? How did our wetlands become homes for high-rise SEZs and gated communities? How did water in a plastic container or anything packaged come to mean ‘clean’? How did water become something we pay for?

While Annie Leanord’s The Story of Bottled Water gave ideas how an urban middle class and rich audience can ask these questions and react to the privatization and commodification of natural resources like water, this simple beautiful film tells the story of how the indigenous population will react. Examples of this are in plenty. The protests against bauxite mining in the Niyamgiri hills, the anti-nuclear protests in Idinthakarai, the jal satyagrahas against the massive dams, the Jaitapur villagers protesting against the uranium mines, the villagers who want to save their forests in Thervoy Kandigai from SIPCOT, farmers who are trying to preserve indigenous knowledge and systems against genetic modification and industrial farming, the fishermen who are fighting against privatized ports and elevated expressways, and the list goes on to tell the same story.

There is more reading below, which equips a citizen to assess both her luxuries and her part in this dialogue. Today, most of us buy water cans that cost up to Rs. 30, some families need two a day. Even if we remember to carry water with us, sometimes in the city its hard to not to buy a bottle of water (most restaurants or theaters don’t allow water brought from outside). The first step is to genuinely acknowledge and recognize the indigenous communities and their rights to hold on to their last pockets of ecological and cultural heritage.

Reading:

The Cochabamba Water Revolt and its Aftermath. Jim Shultz. University of California Press.

The political economy of public sector water utilities reform. Karen Coehlo. Info Change News & Features. 2005

Blue Gold. The Global Water Crisis and the Commodification of the World’s Water Supply. Maude Barlow. National Chairperson, Council of Canadians Chair, IFG Committee on the Globalization of Water. Revised edition. 2001.

Water as a Human Right? John Scanlon, Angela Cassar and Noémi Nemes. IUCN Environmental Law Programme. 2004

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