Mariano

Some time in his early adulthood, after training in the traditional religion and healing of his people, the Wichi-Mataco, Mariano was converted to Christianity by Anglican missionaries. These missionaries ironically are part of the same community which also happens to posess much of the rich farmland once owned by the Wichi-Mataco and other peoples native to Northern Argentina. The Wichi-Mataco now live in barren impoverished villages, crouched in the foothills of the Andes Mountains with little or nothing to survive on. “I was a witch,” he says, “and my ancestors before me were all witches, but now I am a Christian.” It is impossible not to feel cynical about his situation. He is an Anglican priest, and when I meet him he is dying of cancer, in unfamiliar surroundings in a provincial hospital in the northern capital city of Salta. He is 56 years-old and his 20 year-old son has been sleeping in the floor of the hospital for weeks to be with his father. I have been told that Mariano is extremely ill and in horrible pain at all times. When I meet him I am struck by the sight of him fully dressed in street clothes, lying on his hospital bed, his shirt neatly tucked in, his hair carefully slicked back. He seems young and trim and very strong, and it is only when we step into the sunlit corridor that I see that his skin is a frightening gray. We sit in the corridor and make the picture — he is like stone, his gaze so firm and absolute, I feel like a fool taking readings with my modern light meter. There is very little to do, I simply open the shutter and let the power of this man etch itself onto the film. Afterwards, he writes his benediction which seems to me almost a challenge to the foreign religion and the foreign medicine in which he has placed his faith. It is April 24, 1994. Seven weeks later, after a hideous and pointless operation, he is dead.

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