San Francisco July 17th, 2014 (venezuelanalysis.com)- Earlier this month Venezuela’s attorney general, Luisa Ortega Diaz, announced that proceedings were underway to secure the return of the sacred Kueka Stone, removed from Pemon indigenous land in 1998 to be part of a park installation in Berlin’s Tiergarten Park, in Germany.
The 30 ton piece of red jasper stone was taken from the vast savannah lands of the Southeast, Canaima National Park and home of the Pemon. It had previously lain beside a similarly large stone, and together the two giants hold an important place in the people’s lore.
According to legend, the stones were once two star-crossed lovers from different tribes who were discovered by jealous god Makunaima and turned to stone. The Pemon referred to the two stones as Grandmother and Grandfather Kueka, and considered themselves their descendants.
Then, as Ortega Diaz described it on her national radio program, “There was a German man who came, he liked the stone, and lamentably a person who at that time was a member of the cultural system, gave him the stone.”
The German man in question was Wolfgang Schwarzenfeld, the sculptor who mounted the “Global Stone” Project exposition in Berlin’s prominent Tiergarten Park. The installation featured stones from the 5 continents, with a special significance attached to each; hope (Africa), peace (Australia), awakening (Europe), forgiveness (Asia) and love (America). On his website, Schwarzenfeld explains how he would travel widely to find pairs of “sister” rocks, then bring one of each pair back to Berlin to sculpt and include in his exhibition.
Despite the stone’s place of honor, over the 15 years that it has lain in Tiergarten Park, its absence has sown only deep-rooted sorrow in its place of origin.
Over the years, the Pemons have escalated their protest of what they consider to be a robbery of a sacred piece of their history. In 2006 the Kueka stone was declared national cultural property by the Cultural Heritage Institute (IPC) after numerous petitions. In 2013, a petition with 13,000 signatures was delivered to the Venezuelan interior ministry, while others appealed to the district attorney’s office to recognize the stone’s removal as a criminal act of robbery.
At a 2012 march in front of the Germany embassy in Caracas, Pemons held signs saying “We are the grandchildren of Kueka” and “Give us back our grandmother.”
They were received by the German ambassador, Georg Clemens Dick, who allegedly pronounced his respect for their petition and promised to bring news of it to Berlin while insisting, “There was never any intention to steal a spiritual stone from your people.”
Notwithstanding, the stone is still considered the legal property of the German government, who maintain that it was legally “donated” by former Venezuelan president Rafael Caldera in 1998, meaning the process of its return can only be considered a “reverse donation.”
While some German officials have requested that a similar stone be sent to replace the Kueka stone, neither Schwarzenfeld nor the Pemon people have warmed to this idea.
“Fifteen years of work have gone into this project,” the German artist told reporters. “If I return the rock, (the project) is destroyed. Nevertheless, I am prepared to do it, but under certain conditions.”
“Why should we provide recompense?” asked Pemon woman Clarivel Farfan to Venezuelanalysis.com. “The people of Mapuari [the community where the stone resided], say the rains and winds have been imbalanced since it was taken. The German people should be offering an apology, not asking for ours. Besides, there is no similar stone to grandmother Kueka.”
The Venezuelan ex minister of culture, Pedro Calzadilla, was quoted in a German newspaper amerika21.de last week as having said, “The return of the stone represents an achievement for the cultural rights of indigenous minorities around the world, not only in Venezuela.”
Ortega Diaz also indicated that the famed painting by Henri Matisse, Odalisque in Red Pants, stolen from the Museum of Contemporary Art in Caracas in 2002, will finally be returned to Venezuela after being caught in US legal proceedings since the apprehension of the thieves in South Beach, Florida, last year. The painting arrived in Caracas on Monday, July 7th.