Venezuela’s Pemon People Reclaim Sacred Kueka Stone Stolen by German Artist

11 May 2018

The stone was illegally granted to a German artist in 1998 against the will of the Pemon people.

Members of Venezuela‘s Indigenous Pemon community performed a healing ritual Friday to cleanse the sacred Kueka Stone, also known as Abuela Kueka (or Grandmother Kueka), which is set to be returned to the South American country from Germany after lengthy legal and diplomatic efforts.

According to Indigenous myths the stone, which was illegally removed from Pemon land in 1998 to be part of a park installation in Berlin’s Tiergarten Park, in Germany, was formed when the Pemon god Makunaima was angered by a young Pemon man’s decision to go against tradition and marry a girl of the Macuxi community; as punishment they were condemned to an “eternal embrace”. The god the myth said cast a spell and turned the Pemon man and Macuxi woman into two large stones.

The cleansing ritual performed before the stone’s return seeks to re-establish the stone’s power and avoid any supernatural event due to its arrival. The Pemon people believe the theft provoked the massive landslide that killed tens of thousands of people in Venezuela in 1999.

In 1998 it was taken from the Canaima National Park, which was declared a World Heritage site by United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in 1994. During Rafael Caldera’s government, the sacred stone was given as a “donation” by then environment minister, Hector Hernandez, to German sculptor Wolfgang von Schwarzenfeld, who took it to Berlin and used it as a part of an installation titled “Global Stone.”

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After taking the stone, the sculptor polished and cut the stone. The intervention is a painful act for the Pemon people, who denounced Grandmother Kueka was stolen, skinned and showcased.

The stones return was secured as a result of the efforts of the government of the Bolivarian Revolution, which undertook several diplomatic efforts to recover this cultural artifact. In 2000 Venezuela’s Institute for cultural patrimony started working with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to return the Kueka stone to its rightful owners.

In April 2018 a delegation traveled to a Unesco meeting where Venezuela’s Ministry of Culture, Ernesto Villegas requested the support of Unesco’s General Director Audrey Azoula in Venezuela’s quest to recover the Kueka Stone.

After years of negotiations the Venezuelan government has finally recovered the stone to give it back to the Pemon people. Logistical details on how the stone will be taken to Venezuela remain unknown. The Pemon people have demanded the immediate return of the sacred symbol.

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