The Goajiro Indians Respond Favorably
SITTING in the shade of a huge tree and dressed in a floor-length black robe, the elderly lady seemed to be from another world. She also spoke in a language strange to our ears. “Come back again,” she said enthusiastically. Pointing to another 50 people of her race sitting around her, she added: “All of us want you to come back again. Come every week!”
Who were these people? Why were they so anxious to have us return, although they had never met us before? Allow us to tell you about a day we spent among the Goajiro Indians inhabiting La Guajira Peninsula in northeastern Colombia and adjacent northwestern Venezuela.
Starting off from Venezuela’s capital city, Caracas, our first stop was Maracaibo. As we drove into town, we noticed three young women walking along the road in long, colorful robes. Their features were different from the average Venezuelan—high cheekbones, brown skin, straight black hair. Noting their easy, graceful walk, we were intrigued by our first glimpse of Goajiro Indians.
The day of our trip to La Guajira Peninsula dawned clear and still. Before the morning sun got too hot, 50 of us boarded a bus, excited at having a share in the special nationwide campaign to take the Bible’s message to remote areas here in Venezuela. We were headed for the town of Paraguachón, on the border with Colombia.
Leaving the city of Maracaibo behind, we passed through many small towns and villages, each with a market and some stalls selling woven sandals and the long, colorful robes called mantas. Every village had a neat, central plaza and a church in pastel colors, giving the whole scene a pleasant look. All the people had Indian features. Although they looked so different to us, we had to remind ourselves that these were some of the original Venezuelans.
In Search of Houses
Finally we arrived at our destination. Our bus pulled over to the side of the road and parked by a low wall in the shade of a tree with an enormous spread. On the other side of the wall was the local village school—closed because it was Sunday.
Splitting into two groups, we went in opposite directions looking for houses. We were to invite everyone to a Bible talk to be given in the Goajiro language at three o’clock that afternoon in the school yard. Evelinda, a native Goajiro Indian, was our companion. Hopefully, this would make us more acceptable, for although we could speak Spanish, we knew nothing of the Goajiro language.
Once out of the village, we had a lot of walking to do between houses. As we walked down a long, straight road with heavy undergrowth on both sides, a small boy of about ten fell in step beside us and stared at us with open curiosity. Evelinda smiled at him and explained in Goajiro the purpose of our visit to the area. His name was Omar, and he scampered off after we invited him to the talk.
Branching off the road, we followed a dirt track still damp from the recent rains. We learned that these were smuggler tracks between Colombia and Venezuela. The air was heavy with the aroma of lush vegetation. Though the humid heat was a little oppressive, it did not dampen our enthusiasm. In any case, all discomfort was forgotten as the path through dense, tropical greenery suddenly opened onto a large clearing—a typical Goajiro homestead.
Face-to-Face With the Goajiro
About a dozen goats, with beautiful white, black, and tan markings, lay in the shade, chewing contentedly. Lying in a hammock stretched between two trees, a woman was feeding her baby. A couple of tots played nearby. She was just outside a stick-and-wire fence surrounding a mud-and-cane house with a thatched roof. There were a few open sheds in the area. One was obviously the kitchen, where a wood fire was burning on the ground among some large cauldronlike pots. Goatskins were hanging nearby to dry.
When he saw us approach, a man standing by the gate ran forward and placed two stools for us near the woman in the hammock. Evelinda greeted the man and the woman in their language and explained the Scriptural hope for the future using the illustrated brochure Enjoy Life on Earth Forever! The peaceful conditions in the area told us that international crises or the increase in inner-city muggings would not be appropriate themes here. One Witness in the group had explained that since the Goajiro Indians are somewhat reserved by nature, it is important to show warmth and genuine personal interest at the outset. “We often ask about the health of the family, about the harvest, if there has been rain recently, and so on,” she said. “This opens up the way for us to tell them about God’s Kingdom and to show them that Jehovah will soon remove all suffering and Satan the Devil, of whom they are especially afraid.”
As Evelinda spoke, her listeners expressed agreement, and soon we were joined by another woman and several children. We had learned earlier that Goajiro law permits a man to have more than one wife. Could that be the case here? This made us think of Yenny, an attractive 21-year-old Goajiro living in Maracaibo. A wealthy Goajiro man offered a good bride-price for her. But her parents, who are not Jehovah’s Witnesses, were divided. Though her mother agreed to the match, Yenny’s father said no. The suitor was already married to Yenny’s sister!
When Evelinda finished her presentation, the man obtained a brochure. The woman standing behind him also asked for one, and we were happy to oblige. By then the rest of our friends had passed us by. So we invited the family to the afternoon talk and left, not wanting to get lost in this unfamiliar countryside.
One Witness in the group related what had happened to him. A man in a hammock listened attentively as his wife fetched some refreshments—two glasses of chicha, made of ground corn. Politely, our brother accepted and drank it. Later, his Goajiro companion, Magaly, explained how the drink was made. Usually, the corn was ground with the teeth! She could not help bursting out in laughter as she watched him turn pale.
Another Indian gentleman, visibly impressed by our brother’s effort to reach his home with the Bible’s message, swung down out of his hammock. Donning a shirt, he personally led them to a hidden settlement that had been overlooked.
Passing through another clearing where some of our friends were conversing with the adults of the family, we saw a group of small, naked children with distended bellies standing quietly under a tree. We learned that this condition was due to a combination of malnutrition and parasites. Many of these people have no running water and no electricity. This, of course, means no refrigerators, fans, or lights.
An Unexpected Turnout
The morning had gone by very quickly. As we made our way back to the bus to eat our lunch, we wondered how many of those invited would come to the afternoon Bible talk.
At 2:45 p.m., we wondered if our busload would be the only audience for our Goajiro brother, who had prepared a 45-minute talk in the local language. But no! The first little family came shyly into the school yard. They must have been astonished as everyone made them feel welcome. In the next few minutes, many more arrived, some obviously having walked a long way. The family that lived in the clearing with the dozen goats was there too! How different the lady in the hammock looked in her smart, black manta! Even little Omar, to whom we spoke on the road, had come, apparently all by himself. As others arrived, the one long, concrete step in the school yard that served as a bench filled up. At that our friendly bus driver started to pull seats out of the bus for people to sit on during the talk.
A total of 55 Goajiro Indians sat and listened as Eduardo gave the Bible talk. They did not sit in complete silence, though. If they agreed with a point the speaker made, they hummed or grunted their approval. When he spoke about the coming end of wickedness, the elderly lady mentioned at the outset joined in. “Yes, there is a lot of wickedness,” she said, loud enough for all to hear. “In fact, there are some wicked people sitting here right now. So I hope they are listening!” Brother Eduardo tactfully acknowledged the comment and continued with his talk.
After the talk was over, one of our group took a photograph. The Goajiro liked that and asked if they should hold up their Enjoy Life brochures for the next picture. Some then gradually departed, but about half stayed and watched us climb aboard the bus. They made us promise to return, then stood and waved until the bus was out of sight.
As we drove away, we could not help but feel that it had been a privilege to take the good news of God’s Kingdom to these people. In many cases they had heard it for the very first time. Witnesses in Maracaibo were already talking about their next visit. Would there be a sequel to this story?
A Successful Sequel
The brothers returned two weeks later. Quantities of Bible literature were placed, return visits were made on interested ones, and home Bible studies were started. Moreover, 79 Indians attended the second open-air public meeting. On that occasion the brothers explained that they would be returning in three weeks instead of two because of a circuit assembly. The Indians were alarmed. “We might die before then!” said one of them. They asked what a circuit assembly was. It sounded so good that they decided they wanted to be there too! Arrangements were made, and 34 of them were able to attend the assembly in Maracaibo, where Goajiro-speaking brothers helped them to understand the Spanish program.
The will of Jehovah is that “all sorts of men should . . . come to an accurate knowledge of truth.” (1 Timothy 2:3, 4) What a joy to see such a favorable response among these truth-seeking Indians on La Guajira Peninsula!
[Box on page 26]
Lives Enriched by Bible Truth
Iris and Margarita, two Goajiro teenagers, were delighted to see the brochure Enjoy Life on Earth Forever! But they had a problem. They did not know how to read. The Witness who called offered to help them by means of the booklet Learn to Read and Write. Soon, the girls were thrilled to be able to write and correctly pronounce the name Jehovah.
As they progressed, they marveled at the wonderful hope held out in the Bible. They were particularly touched by the promise that all mankind will enjoy freedom. “Life here is very sad for us teenagers,” they explained. “We are usually married off at a very early age, and rape is a constant danger.”
A highlight for Iris and Margarita was their attending a circuit assembly in Maracaibo. Their faces reflected the joy they felt in their hearts, especially during the singing of the songs. They were always eagerly waiting at the door when the Witness came for their Bible study, and they never missed a public talk held in their village. These young girls feel that their lives truly have been enriched by a knowledge of Jehovah God and his purpose.