Tuesday, April 8, 2014

The Eternal Night of the Twelve Moons (orig. La Eterna Noche de las Doce Lunas) [2013]

MPAA (UR would be PG-13)   Fr. Dennis (3 1/2 Stars)

IMDb listing
Indiewire listing

Official website

Gozamos.com (D. Delgado Pineda) review

The Eternal Night of the Twelve Moons (orig. La Eterna Noche de las Doce Lunas) [2013] (concept and directed by Priscilla Padilla) is a documentary that played recently at the 30th Chicago Latino Film Festival.

It follows Pili, a 12 year old adolescent girl from the Wayuu people of Northern Colombia, who as per ancient tradition upon having her first period is largely separated from her community (from the men and children anyway) for a period of twelve moons (twelve months, a year) so that she could be instructed by the women of the village (led by her grandmother) in spinning yarn, weaving, and other traditional tasks that would be useful to her in her adult life. 

It is clear throughout the film that the purpose of her separation is both to underline to the community the girl's transition into womanhoon and to give her time to master the skills that would be necessary for her to emerge after her period of seclusion into the community as a marriageable woman capable of fulfilling the tasks that would be expected of her as an adult member of the community.

Of course there is a certain sadness that accompanies this transition: After all, this is a twelve year-old who has to say good bye to her childhood friends, many of whom don't necessarily understand she's being taken away from them, and she herself may have trouble understanding this.  Further, she's instructed by her grandmother and the elder women in the village that a grown woman "does not laugh" especially with men/boys.

Yet it's also clear that a primary purpose of this custom of seclusion of young girls entering into adulthood is to underline their value and dignity, both to themselves and to the rest of the community (and especially to the men).

It seemed clear that the reason why the GRANDMOTHERS were leading the instruction here was that it had been felt by the community that the MOTHERS' GENERATION had been considered somewhat "lost."  Indeed, Pili's mother wasn't even in the village (but living/working somewhere outside of it ...) when Pili had her first period and began this rite, something that the grandmothers of the village reprimanded Pili's mother about when she did come to the village at some point during the year.  And when she comes to visit Pili in her hut, Pili does seem somewhat disappointed in her mother's previous distance/absence from the process and her life. 

Does this traditional maturation process work?  Do the men of the Wayuu community respect Pili more for going through this process?  The jury seems out here.  Yes, somewhere in the middle of the process an older Wayuu from another village comes inquiring to Pili's grandmother regarding Pili's marriageability after she emerged from the process.  He tells Pili's grandmother that he's there for his nephews, but one gets the sense that he might have been there in good part for himself...  He does however offer an apparently rather impressive "bride's price" which Pili's grandmother out-of-hand rejects but recounts to Pili afterwards with some pride that Pili is definitely going to come out of this process respected (and how better to quantify that "respect" than in terms of what she'll be able to "earn" in terms of a "bride's price"...).

Finally what does Pili think of it all?  Well, she goes through the process because her grandmother, her primary caregiver, wanted her to do so.  And it does seem that she's found it to have been of some value.  It does seem to give her some pride that she seems to be offered higher "bride's prices" than other girls (who didn't go through the process).  HOWEVER, she tells the documentarian at the end of the film that what she's learned above all in the process is that she doesn't want to get married yet but instead would like to "finish high school" and "become a career woman" ;-).

The grandmother and her other matriarchical friends always explained this ritual period of seclusion for the young girl as a means of increasing the girl's/emerging woman's respect in the community.  It would be fascinating if the documentarian were to follow the next several years of Pili's life to see how it all plays out: How will she be able to integrate the modern (finishing high school prior to getting married) with the traditional (now that she's marriagable)?  How will she continue to be respected in the years to come?

In any case, it's a fascinating film which offers viewers much to think about and discuss afterwards with regards to both appreciating the value of traditional customs and then applying them positively to current circumstances.

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