Jose Melo Chingai is a leader of the Magui community, the home of Awa people in Colombia. The village is located in the Andes Mountains, and it takes a few days to get there from Bogota the capital, traveling on several buses and then on foot.
Over 20 years, his community has been affected by a civil war among guerilla, paramilitary, and government troops. Some people were killed, some were injured, and some became refugees. Jose wanted to tell the story to the world.
Between 2008 and 2012, I visited Colombia for a couple of times. I was working at Cineminga, a non-profit organization I founded to help indigenous people in Colombia make videos. I was teaching people how to use second-hand video equipment that I had collected, mostly from Japan, and which I gave them to keep.
A photographer friend, Daisuke Shibata, told me about Jose, and I gave him a digital camera to bring to Jose. Cineminga helped Jose create a blog page about his community by using that camera. My colleague translated it from Spanish into English, and I translated it into Japanese.
In May of 2015, Daisuke invited Jose to Japan by raising travel costs through a crowd funding campaign. Their goal is to let Japanese people know about Jose’s community and his spirit, and to ask support to create a museum in his community so in the future people can see what happened there.
Daisuke and Jose travelled all over Japan. One of the places they visited was Biratori-cho village in Hokkaido, the northern part of Japan, where the Ainu people live. I helped them by filming their visit.
Jose and the Ainu people found a lot in common: they way of living with nature, the way they cook, the crops they grown, and even the way they make handcrafted bags of very similar design. Jose was interested in seeing and learning about a local non-profit organization that has been preserving traditional plants that are important for the Ainu people. This organization asks people to buy a small piece of land and plant seeds to grow, so that in the distant future, they will have a big forest. It was nice to see people interacting and exchanging ideas.
The biggest surprise to me was that even thought this was Jose’s first trip abroad, a very long trip, and he was traveling all over Japan, he never appeared tired. Rather, he was always enthusiastic about learning new things and meeting people.
Now I am going to start editing his footage. Daisuke will brining the DVD to Jose’s village, Magui.