Daniel Lerner Cabezon – Festival Patrona, San Roque De Cumbaza – 2017

I thought it was important to interview Daniel to find out why we are responsible for the Festival Patrona this year, a celebration of tradition and community that runs for 8 days in San Roque at the end of July.

I hope this interview can help clarify what we are doing in the heart of the Amazon Rainforest, and the reasons why we left the security of our western upbringing.

Maybe we can explain what we are working really hard for beyond basic survival – to gain a sense of purpose and well-being, and to understand the meaning of a sustainable lifestyle and what it means to live in community.

Daniel Lerner and family

Interview with Daniel Lerner

What is it about the jungle and the rainforest that calls to you?

It’s the contact with nature, and a simple way of living sustainably.  It’s a belief system, based on finding your real mission in this life, your real truth.  In the jungle everything is alive, nature teaches you all the time. And as we learn from nature, so we can learn from indigenous people who have maintained traditions true to their culture and to the values of their community.

The jungle instils a passion for life and a sense of satisfaction.

What do you feel is your mission?

To be the bridge between two cultures – from local knowledge, through traditions, agriculture and a relationship with nature, to sharing with visitors from around the world with a desire to learn different realities.  This interest gives local people the incentive to maintain ancient traditions and ecological values.

What was your intention with ‘Sacharuna Adventure’ Alter-Native eco-tours?

To provide an alternative option for travellers to experience local culture and the Amazon Rainforest, and to create a sustainable project that respects the whole.  Everyone is paid fairly; the drivers, cooks, teachers, guides, local hostels, goods etc.

Why do you think eco-tourism is important?

To create a balance between nature and man, and to support the local economy in a sustainable way, instead of cutting down trees and killing nature.

You are organising your second major unfinanced festival, what draws you to take on such responsibility?

The main intention is not to make money but to feel active in the community, in local traditions and bring something back to the present from the past, from the old way of doing things.  To involve ‘Sachaqa Centro De Arte’ more in these kind of events is to enforce the bridge, to show how deep our commitment is to a self-sustainable lifestyle, and to living in community.

Do you think the traditional side of Festival Patrona is becoming lost?

Yes of course, now the people are more interested in dancing and getting drunk. We would like to bring back the old traditions.

What are the old traditions?

Festival Patrona used to celebrate ‘Saint Roch,’ which is where San Roque get its name.  We would like to bring that meaning back and parade with the ‘Saint Roch’ statue from the Chiricyacu indigenous community, through to San Roque.  This will generate more of an interest in the history of our village with local people, define the village’s identity in a more tangible way, and create a sense of togetherness.

We would like to bring back the old farmers’ games also.  The men will compete to see who can chop the most firewood, and the women will race carrying ceramic pots of water on their heads.

What is at the heart of the indigenous community in your view?

Keeping traditions alive – our customs are what makes each indigenous community unique. To engage youth groups in ancient traditions is a sensitive role, one that is very important if we are to continue the chain.

What does it mean to local people that you are the organiser of Festival Patrona 2017?

For some people it will not make sense as I am an outsider, from the capital city of Lima, with an English wife.  It is different for the people who know me though and know my intentions, to bring theses traditions to life. The people in the village always believe outsiders just want to make money. It’s not like that for us, it’s not just about money!  People are jealous of others who show initiative. The people who believe in us know that through our sustainable projects, we provide an income for local families.  We bring a shared income without harming the life of the people or the environment.

How can people from the outside get involved/help with festival Patrona?

Artists can get involved with different activities such as painting murals, sculptures on the street, theatre, and in general get involved in bringing customs to life through different art mediums.

Volunteers can help cook, sell products, and develop activities.

What have you been doing so far to prepare for the festival?

We have 25 local helpers (ayudantes) all together and we have come together to develop a plan for the festival. There will be three different events before July, to help raise money for the main event. One starts tomorrow, a carnival called ‘Huimsha’.

We will plant a symbolic tree in the middle of a field, which we will give various gifts, the people will then dance around the tree to the rhythms of Pandilla.  With an axe the people will compete to cut the symbolic tree and the person who wins, will take responsibility for the ‘Huimsha’ the next year.

What is the significance of feeding the entire community during the festival?

There will only be one day during the 8 day event where we will feed the entire village, which means a lot of commitment but also a privilege to serve everybody.  We will perform a despacho (offerings to mother earth) before eating that day.  The rest of the week we will invite guests and feed the 25 helpers only.

Why is Festival Patrona important? 

It unifies the community to celebrate something together, to show we have something in common, and it generates a belief in community.

Why is community so important to you?

All of my life I belonged to a community, a Jewish community, a big family.  It is important that we celebrate together.

Without community we cannot have a sustainable project.

So you would say the heart of any self-sustainable project is community?

Yes – that’s a good way to put it.

What is your favourite part of the festival?

All of it, the adrenaline day by day, how it increases as the event develops.  I’m enjoying the preparation throughout the year, I love to gather with our 25 helpers to talk about community, sharing experiences, vision, with families bringing their knowledge to the table.

Three words to describe festival Patrona?

#celebration #passion #traditions

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