Indigenous Venezuelans demand return of rock from Germany

| Jun. 22, 2012 | Caracas, Venezuela

Published by Christian Science Monitor

As climate activists protest against inaction at the United Nations Rio+20 summit in Brazil and members of the 99 percent call for change at financial centers around the world, the Pemón people of Venezuela made their own demonstration outside the German embassy in Caracas yesterday.

More than 100 indigenous Venezuelans – the women clad in traditional colorful dress and men in loincloths, some wielding decorative spears – marched in the wealthy La Castellana district of the city to demand the return of a sacred, 35-ton rock that currently sits in a Berlin park. The demonstrators blocked the sidewalk and entrance to the building, which also houses the British and Portuguese embassies, chanting, "Return the stone!" Many police were present, though the protests were not violent.

The Kueka stone is claimed by some of the Pemón as a spiritual "grandmother" that belongs in the country's deep interior: the setting, some say, of Arthur Conan Doyle's book, The Lost World, a secret and magical region where dinosaurs roam free. The protestors said they traveled overnight from la Gran Sabana to Caracas.

Juxtaposing the ancient aura of the indigenous protest in Caracas were a string of government buses lining the road nearby and officials from the government's press wing collecting the names of journalists and photographers covering the event.

This has led to speculation that the protest was incited by the government in its long quest to antagonize the West. "The whole protest has been manipulated," Bruno Illius, an ethnologist from Berlin's Free University who is an expert on the Pemón, told the Guardian newspaper. "Most of the Pemón even find it quite embarrassing."

German artist Wolfgang Kraker von Schwarzenfeld said that the boulder was given as a "gift to the German people" in 1997 and that Pemón people helped him choose it for an installation at Berlin's central Tiergarten park, reports AP. The stone forms part of a project containing five stones from five continents.

German ambassador Georg-Clemens Dick met with protestors yesterday in front of the embassy. "We consider the Kueka stone a gift from Venezuela given in order to create a global work of art for peace," Mr. Dick said.

Also outside the German embassy, Irma Caldera stood, dressed in a bright red headband and a bright, colorful dress. “The rock is special for us; it’s spiritual,” Ms. Caldera says, clutching photos of it. “They took our rock without consulting us, nothing.” She said she didn't know what prompted the protests to start up so suddenly.

A fellow protestor wore a red baseball cap with the acronym PSUV emblazoned upon it, the name of Chávez's political party.