Venezuelan Indios demand return of sacred stone from Berlin
Stone of contention: The "Kueka Stone"
THE TIERGARTEN, A VAST public park in the center of the Berlin, which is otherwise known as the city’s “green lung” and an oasis of peace, has become a point of contention between the German government and the native Pemón tribe of Venezuela. It seems that the historic park, which is already bristling with monuments, also contains the sacred Kueka ("Grandmother") Stone, which the Indios claim was illegally moved to Germany in 1999. Now they're demanding it back.
The red, whale-shaped, thirty-ton stone forms part of an art project by the Austrian artist Wolfgang Kraker von Schwarzenfeld. “Global Stone Project” unites one stone each from five continents. On his website, Kraker explains:
All the stones are sculptured, polished and inscribed. The stones remaining on the five continents are positioned so that once a year, on the 21st of June, their surfaces reflect the light of the sun back to it. The light reflected from these stones travels in a frequency of 16 minutes around the world to meet their sister stones, at high noon in Berlin. There, between the five continental stones, the reflected sunlight draws five invisible straight lines. I expect the viewer to participate in the peace process by making a free decision to join these invisible lines using his active imagination, to create a circle as a symbol of united mankind. The pairs of stones from the continents represent the five steps towards Peace: (Europe) Awakening, (Africa) Hope, (Asia) Forgiveness, (America) Love, and Australia (Peace).
The "Global Stone Project" in Berlin's Tiergarten park. The polished red Kueka Stone ("love") is visible in the left foreground
According to the Pemón Indians, 100 of whom gathered in front of the German embassy in Caracas yesterday in full native dress, the stone was removed from Canaima National Park illegally. They have been protesting the action ever since. Krakas himself claims that he requested the stone in good faith and was given it as a present by then-President Rafael Caldera.
Of all the millions of stones in Venezuela, what’s so special about this one? The Pemóns claim that the divine rock represents one of a pair of petrified ancestors from ancient mythology. "Grandmother" is so holy, their spokespeople say, that it must not be touched or even looked at, let alone removed and shaped by a European artist. It plays a dynamic role in the natural order of things and influences the weather. Now that it is gone, they say, their culture has been compromised and their region has suffered from extreme flooding.
This sounds impressive enough – rather like a sort of South American Stonehenge, or Stone of Scone – but not everyone is buying it. German ethnologist Bruno Illius from the Free University’s Latin American Institute has investigated the matter, coming to the conclusion that the story is scarcely the jungle wildfire its supporters claim and is more like a few yards of smouldering astroturf. In fact, according to the interviews he has conducted in the villages immediately surrounding its point of origin, the story is known only to about a dozen Pemón activists, most of them from outside the area, whereas 99% of the tribe have never heard of it. The stone may not have been "special" at all before Krakas laid his eyes on it. Illius suspects political and financial interests behind the campaign. One possibility the locals suggested to him on a recent visit is that the Chavez regime is using the Indians to make political hay against European imperialists and also score a few points against the pliant former Caldera government. Illius also learned that local tour guides earn handsome tips by taking tourists to the rock’s former site and relating its sad story.
Whatever the truth of the matter, in a statement to the demonstrators German ambassador Georg Clemens Dick apologized for the incident and assured the demonstrators that as far as he is concerned, the stone can come home tomorrow.
And how about the Berliners? I suspect we’ll welcome the stone’s departure, assuming we notice it at all. It gives us that much more space to picnic and play soccer. The Kueka Stone incident could set a precedent, however: The Egyptians have been itching to get their famous Bust of Nefertiti back ever since a rogue German archeologist nabbed it from the Amarna excavation site back in 1912. Regardless of the merits of the case - and the Egyptians have both the law and basic common sense on their side - it will take more than a hundred Indios dressed in feathers and waving bows and arrows to spirit her out of the city.
The Bust of Nefertiti, the showpiece Berlin's Eyptian Museum, c. 1350 BC