Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Totem in Dumfries

Guest blog by Gordon MacLellan

TOTEM LATAMAT laid to rest at The Crichton, Dumfries

As TOTEM LATAMAT ends its journey in Dumfries, after travelling from Mexico to Cop26, we publish one final guest blog about this extraordinary journey.  Gordon MacLellan is an environmental educator, artist and storyteller.  He led schools' workshops at The Crichton with TOTEM LATAMAT, and devised the ceremony at which the Totem was returned to the Earth.

Totem Latamat came the The Crichton to share a story, to offer an invitation and a challenge.

The Totem’s story started in a wood on the eastern coast of Mexico with a prayer and a ceremony to a cedar tree. The story continued through a village carving its words as images, memories, hopes and fears into the wood and sailing the tall carved Totem, across the wide seas to the UK. Over the autumn, the Totem has travelled the UK, reaching Glasgow in time to stand in The Hidden Gardens throughout COP26. Then, Totem Latamat arrived at The Crichton in Dumfries.

This isn’t the place to go into all the details of the Totem – you can explore the wonder of its travels on facebook or through its own page on the Border Crossings' ORIGINS Festival website.

The Totem carries figures: a rattlesnake, a skull, a person with her arms upraised, a cluster of hummingbirds. An eagle supports the whole edifice....Every figure, from plaited rope seedlings to that climbing snake, hold their own stories, their own messages to share. Here, I want to pick up the Totem’s invitation to become Hummingbirds – to become the messengers who speak, who share, who inspire; and the challenge to become Eagles. To be an Eagle is to act with strength and honour and to see the wider picture, to see the world as a whole, not as lots of individual people or towns or countries but as a wider connected world, where everything is connected to everything else, however distant.

Here, we will celebrate one day of the Totem’s journey: marking the responses of the children of Holywood Primary School in Dumfries. They spent the day with us on Friday at The Crichton, enjoying the grounds (best visitor shop ever, we were told. And it’s free! Triumphant pockets stuffed with pine cones, conkers and acorns), meeting the Totem: drawing it, touching it, talking about it…...…..what is the message? If they were telling this story what animals would children choose to best embody – not the action that is needed (reduce, reuse, recycle, etc) but the qualities we need to find and foster in ourselves to make those actions viable, embedded, enduring….

  • Rabbit brings thinking quickly, acting fast, solving problems (well, you try keep in them out of your vegetables!)
  • Wolves remind us that we are strongest when we work together
  • Lions, likewise, need the family, need the support of their friends
  • Godzilla tells us that sometimes we need to be fierce
  • Mice remind us that we can always find a way into a situation
  • Deer help us be strong and know when to watch, when to run
  • Hedgehogs will bring cleverness, bravery and being ready to be loud
  • And the Octopus will help us be intelligent, solve problems, be strong, and as an octopus you can help protect the world

I would like to thank:
  • the artists and storytellers of Holywood Primary School, Dumfries
  • the Open University for being there, supporting, encouraging, joining in
  • The Crichton team for their hospitality, warmth and imagination
  • the Border Crossings ORIGINS team for drawing all this together
  • Jun Tiburcio, the artists, and the people of Cuhumatlan in Vera Cruz, Mexico who gave us the travelling wonder that is the Totem Latamat.

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