Geo, December 2007
Sheep skins were lying on the floor of the Indian tipi and a fire was burning in the middle. Smoke was rising some seven to eight meters and escaping out a hole through which entered rays of light from the sun at its zenith. Little by little, barefooted and longhaired people started entering through the tipi doors. When the room filled up, a tall man took a stick in his hands and silenced the murmur with a calm and deep voice, “I called this council so it is up to me to start the story!” The tent was filled with a festive silence. Only a soothing song from somewhere far away, outside the tent, could be heard. I was sitting near the door of the tipi, and could see the whole valley surrounded by hills and forests. A big stream flowed through the valley’s center and numerous tents were set up near it with camp fires burning in front of them. Hundreds of barefooted and longhaired people were sitting or strolling near the tents and campfires. No, I was not an extra in a movie about the Wild West, I was at the gathering of the Rainbow Tribe in Šator Mountain in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
“This is the talking stick,” the tall man in the tipi said while raising it in the air, “so we don’t interrupt each other and shout. Let only the one holding the stick speak!” Many of the people in the tent already knew those rules for a long time, but a handful of new participants were there, carefully listening and nodding their heads.
“Brothers and sisters,” the tall man began, “I want to hear your opinion about the internet. I think it is a growing threat. Ten years ago you couldn’t find anything about the Rainbow on the internet, yet today there is a lot of information on it, and the worst part is, there are instructions on how to reach every single gathering.”
A redheaded Irish man asked for the talking stick and then said, “I don’t see what is wrong with that. This is my first Rainbow and I learned about it over the internet and I am thrilled by it. If it weren’t for the internet who knows if I would even know that Rainbow exists!”
“The thing is that the Rainbow was functioning great well before the internet emerged,” words came from an old American man with long white hair and a beard. “Information about the gatherings was sent by word and everyone that needed to learn about us, did! It’s not as if there were less people back then, quite the opposite! But lately it seems like gatherings are attracting “tourists” more and more – people who find it all very interesting but do not live that way, people who see this as a gateway from their everyday life instead of as a very way of life.”
“But internet is a free network, you can’t prevent it or take it back, it is only a question of how we will bear the consequences...” the Irish guy said.
The nice smell of food had been coming through the entrance to the tipi for quite some time. Then at one moment the loud sound of happy calling came from several people at once: “Muuuusic fooor the kiiiitcheeen!” I grabbed a drum and headed towards the place we called the kitchen – a large marquee with several campfires inside that were used twice a day for cooking enough food to feed the crowd of almost a thousand people. Some more people came and the one with a guitar started playing a song. We were all smiling. People that were cutting fruit, peeling carrots, and cooking barley, started dancing in place and continued doing their chores, now even more light and happy. The cheerful atmosphere immediately drew more new volunteers near and the breakfast preparations speeded up.
A bit later, an Israeli man that was overlooking the cooking and taking care of the overall amount of food said to us: “It will soon be ready, let’s call the crowd on three! One... Two...!”.
“Foooood ciiiiiircleeeee!” We all shouted in unison. A couple hundred meters away, other people heard our message, gathered in groups, and started shouting the same thing. So the breakfast call spread through the valley like an echo.
It would take at least one hour for all of the people to gather around the main fire. I returned to the tipi that was near it. “Did I miss anything?” I quietly asked the young man I was sitting next to. “We were talking about the internet up until a minute ago, when we found out that this old American man had attended the Rainbow’s first gathering...”
The old man held the stick and talked. “Actually, The Rainbow takes its roots all the way back to the Hopi Indians. They were a peaceful little tribe that had lived surrounded by the land of the much bigger tribe of the hostile Navaho Indians. The Hopi had been the only Indians that had not been at war with the white men, yet they stood by as great changes took their people by surprise. Then they told a great prophecy that reads: “When the earth is ravaged and the animals are dying, a new tribe of people shall come unto the earth from many colors, classes, creeds, and who by their actions and deeds shall make the earth green again. They will be known as the warriors of the Rainbow,” he told the long story of the Hopi Indian’s prophecies and then recalled the first Rainbow gatherings. “A group of white people had lived with the Hopi in the middle of the 20th century and started the lifestyle and the philosophy known today as the Rainbow. The group grew in size and the hippie movement appeared in the 60s. In 1972 two hundred of us gathered in Colorado and decided to meet annually. From then on, the gatherings got bigger and bigger, so today’s national gatherings in America reach numbers of 30,000 people!”
It is often said that The Rainbow Family is the biggest informal organization of people in the world. Hundreds of thousands of good willed people, who want to create Utopia, save the world, go back to living in harmony with Mother Nature, spread love, achieve world peace, and peace at heart, gather in different places around the world. There are big world and continental gatherings once a year, and smaller regional and local ones happening all the time, all over the world.
Gatherings always last for one lunar cycle, culminate during the full moon, and they occur in the wilderness where natural resources for survival are available. Many people spend their whole lives at gatherings, traveling like nomads from one to the other. Others, like me, visit gatherings occasionally and in the meantime lead a normal, civil life. The first time I witnessed a Rainbow gathering was at the European gathering in Lika, Croatia 2001. After that I participated in the gatherings in France, India, and Guatemala. In such a fluid and undefined social phenomena, there is no strict definition of what The Rainbow Family is and what makes you a Rainbow. Each person has his own idea. When I go to a Rainbow gathering, I feel like I am returning home, like I belong there: living in harmony with nature, from Her and for Her, among people who feel the same way, who, with their joint forces and ease of laughter and dance, fight for noble causes, for a personal and for a global (r)evolution.
In the meantime, people were gathering for the meal outside the tipi. They sat on the grass in the great meadow around the main fire. Everyone was familiar with the ritual and there was no leader. Just as I reached the group, one girl suddenly stood up, took two guys that were next to her by their hands and told them merrily and quietly “This is my favorite part, watch!” Like a wave or some domino effect, indirectly affected by their example, people started standing up and holding hands, slowly forming a giant circle. As a swarm of bees or a big family of ants that function as a mass collective, acting like one great intelligent organism without an instance of ruling or governing, this huge hive of people spontaneously held hands and formed a great circle. They all quietly started humming a meditative song that is always performed before a joint meal: “We are circling, circling together, we are singing, singing of a heart song. This is family, this is unity, this is celebration, this is sacred!”
Given the quiet and modest nature of their singing and the great size of the circle through which the song spread, it all sounded more as a canonical recital than a harmony. Nevertheless, the singing from all around the circle was slowly being synchronized and tuned in by probably the same principles as those for restoring order in a flock of migrating birds. Once, when all the singing reached harmony, the song quieted and “Om” took over. And again, as if all the people with their own frequencies reached one whole harmony of the group, people started clapping their hands and howling with gratitude like Native Americans, wolves, or children playing. Then they all raised their hands and thanked the heavens, kneeled on the ground and thanked the earth. The meal could begin!
Dozens of volunteers that spent the whole morning preparing the meal disappeared into the crowd, while some other people spontaneously came to the great pots and started serving the hungry and slim people. To some point, the meal looked like a biblical miracle when Jesus fed a great mass of people with a little food. “Today, we are serving a little bit of barley with a little bit of fruit and plenty of love!” Shouted one of the persons that served the food and the smiling crowd playfully responded with “Thank you for the foooood!"
At the Rainbow everything functions on a voluntary basis. If there are no people who take over jobs with responsibility and initiative, Rainbow would not exist, since there is no structure of governing or institution of obligation. All are aware of certain jobs and are here and there reminded of them by signs that jokingly say stuff like: “If you see a job – it’s yours!” The more serious signs say: Carry the water, dig for the toilet, cut the vegetables, gather the garbage, make tea, share knowledge, paint, dance, smile, love, join in… To soften the atmosphere of rules and reminders, one can occasionally find a sign that says “Ignore this sign!”
As soon as the meal ended, a new group of people spontaneously gathered and started circling about the premises with a ‘magic hat’ into which everyone threw donations for food, each according to his abilities. As always at Rainbow, that group was accompanied by music, dance, and a merry song: “Deep inside my heart I got this everlasting light that’s shining like the sun and radiates on everyone… And the more that I give, the more I’ve got to give, it’s the way that I live, it’s why I’m living for!”
When the magic hat finished circling, most of the people remained sitting in their places and those that had something to announce walked along the circle and talked.
“Who wants to learn something about the nutritional and medicinal herbs of this forest can meet me by that pine in half an hour!”
Another woman repeated, “Yoga and meditation, every day at dawn in the Health Center.” Workshops for dance, foreign languages, body painting, juggling, acrobatics, cooking, and theatre were also announced.
“Worker workshops, all day today!” a tall Scandinavian laughed. “We are looking for hands to help us repair the sauna!”
Another merry guy followed him, waving his shovel and singing, “The toilets are almost full, let’s dig new ones!”
Some young man was just looking for a lost sweater, one little kid was looking for his mom, the team with the magic hat was looking for volunteers to go and fetch some food from nearby villages, some woman was seeking people to play soothing songs in a tent used as a hospital, and some other young men were looking for help in gathering wood for the big fire for the celebration of the full moon the following day.
Then, the same tall man that started the Council discussion in the tipi earlier in the morning came through the circle and said: “I am Otman from Germany and you could say I’m a librarian for the Rainbow. From one gathering to the other I carry 2000 books in 12 languages. You are all welcome to my tent library. I also gather all stories regarding the Rainbow so every day between breakfast and dinner you can come and share your knowledge with me!”
There was one thing that bothered me since my arrival to this Rainbow so I dared to step into the circle for first time… “I am Davor from Croatia. I’m a photographer and a writer. I want to write a piece on Rainbow for Geo. I know lots of you here don’t want to be photographed and don’t want Rainbow being written about in the media. Therefore I invite you to a discussion on this topic in the Council’s tipi.”
About fifteen people came to the tipi. I took the talking stick in my hand and said, “Since I was the one to invite you, I suggest I express my opinion first and then let the stick circle so everyone can say what’s on their mind!” Everybody agreed so I started: “This is the first gathering I came to with the intention of photographing it. Many people don’t like being photographed and I respect that decision even though I don’t understand why that is so. I find photography a form of art, the same as some find dance, music, and painting as art forms, so I don’t see any harm in it. Ever since I started to photograph and write, I try to show the whole beauty and intrigue of the world, and since Rainbow is something that is most valuable, most interesting, and most beautiful in this world to me, it would sadden me not be able to express that beauty with my art!” I handed the stick to the first person next to me.
“I have nothing against you doing as you please!” said the young man and handed the cane to the other one beside him.
“The problem is that whenever an article on the Rainbow appears on the internet or media, it is always treated with sensationalism! We are always portrayed as a drug abusing bunch of crazy hippies howling naked at the moon, and you yourself know how stupid that is!”
“I have nothing against my picture being taken by you!” said the next girl. “But I don’t like someone flashing their camera and pushing themselves in my face while I dance and enjoy myself. Personally, it spoils all the beauty of it for me… Please, at least don’t use flash!”
A woman next to her disagreed. “I don’t want my picture taken. I just don’t. If someone agrees on it okay, but just don’t photograph me, full stop!”
“The problem with a camera is that it comes from Babylon!” The next person to disapprove became passionate. “Rainbow is opposite to Babylon, the outer world, western civilization, so here we don’t want any means coming from Babylon, any kind of electronics, cell phones, walkmans, cameras…”
“That’s all true,” one older man with glasses continued upon this, “but the problem is not the media or Babylon. You all know the problem is within us… How can anyone have a problem with such a trivial thing as his photograph being taken? How do we intend to make the world a better place if we are going to be so exclusive to all kinds of differences among ourselves? Let everyone act according to his own heart and everything will be fine! Just listen closely to your hearts!”
When the stick reached me again I said, “I understand your points of view but something is still not clear to me. If changing the world to be a better place is the meaning of Rainbow, why are we so desperately trying to stay closed and outside of that world? I definitely won’t make my story in a sensationalistic manner, but on the other hand, neither will I idealize it. I am only interested in pure realism. And to me, Rainbow is realistic. Those smiles, that dancing, that atmosphere full of peace and love… That picture alone is the best story about Rainbow and the best recipe for the world.”
One young man asked for the stick. “To me personally and to many others as well, it doesn’t matter how possible our utopia is and how much we can actually change the world. Some of the people here want to change it actively and the others like me just want to live as far from Babylon as possible!”
“All of that is the beauty of Rainbow!” a man with glasses continued. Later, I found out he had been traveling from one gathering to the other for the past 15 years. “The diversity of the Rainbow’s colors! As long as all of us know how to listen to one’s heart and act on it, that’s it. But as soon as we start complaining and only listen to our ego, rebel whenever something is not as we would want it to be…”
The discussion lasted for quite a while. At the most critical moments it was the talking stick and that moment of sacred silence while it traveled from one pair of hands to the other, that prevented the atmosphere of tolerance from being ruined. As always, there were no definite conclusions. The goal of discussions in Rainbow is to practice one’s listening to the others and respecting others’ opinions. After discussions, everyone is still left to act according to their own consciousness.
In the evening, as the people started gathering in a circle around the main fire, they noticed that not far away from them, a group of local Rainbow attendants were drinking brandy. Even though alcohol as well as weapons and heavy drugs are a taboo at Rainbow gatherings, nobody resented them because they were not causing any trouble. But after dinner they were already drunk and loudly singing aggressive songs, tottering around, and acting stupid. So, a spontaneous resistance formed around them. Other people started to shout louder than them, surrounded them, laughed at them loudly and sang “You don’t need the alcohol, alcohol is stupid!” They weren’t at all violent while doing that. They attacked the sin and not the sinner. They condemned the wrongdoing and not the ones committing it. The drunks had nothing left to do but to feel ashamed and leave their alcohol. The community didn’t marginalize them but spontaneously helped them to rehabilitate and fit in with the whole.
I noticed that one of the people that surrounded the drunks was the same man with the glasses from before, so I chatted with him. “People lack respect. Why do they come here if they have no respect! People from all over the world are here. Most of them are lovely, positive, and altruistic, but there are also quite a number of frustrated egos here.”
This experienced Rainbow attendant’s name was Phoenix and he came from Great Britain. He told me that the number of obtrusive people is rising since Rainbow is mentioned on the internet. “Many of them melded with the Tribe of the Rainbow because they just couldn’t fit in other social groups. Many outlaws from Babylon are here. But you can’t run from Babylon! You have to outgrow it! Luckily most of the people here have outgrown that Babylon. As long as incidents are spontaneously sanctioned like this one just was, it’s good!”
The people that surrounded the drunks continued their song with them and joined the main group around the fire. “The collective energy is still positive, so little negative things are swallowed!” Phoenix studiously explained to me. “It’s like the song of drums that is constantly playing at Rainbow and calling people to join in. Even if you can’t play, the steady rhythm of the crowd will be louder than your mistakes and slowly suck you in, until your rhythm is in tune with the whole harmony!”
The next day drums were tirelessly beating from the early afternoon – they were announcing the night of the full moon! In the evening everyone, down to the last person, came down to the main fire. Drums even echoed all the way to the nearest villages and local people came, amazed. The first among them was Trivun Barišić, whose house was the one nearest to the Rainbow gathering. He bragged to the other fellow villagers how he lent his land to the Rainbow people for free, how he gave them wood, tools, work horses, jam, honey, fruits and vegetables, and how young mothers came to him to buy fresh milk and cream every day.
“Who are those people, Trivun?” Confused fellow villagers asked him as they arrived.
“What do you mean, who are they... They are fine people! They are returning to nature! They see the treasure we have here, only we don’t see it!”
The policemen came that night as well. They were there every day, but just watching from afar. This time they came in civilian clothes with their women and children and joined the circle.
“This really is a miracle” their commander said to me, but didn’t want to disclose his name, “Such a big gathering without permission and frankly I can’t think of anything I would hold a grudge on you for... Although, Bosnia and Croatia are swallowed in flames and so many great fires are burning here! But somehow, I know nothing will catch on fire here!”
The dinner ended and the sun came down. People stayed in the circle. In its center, a huge wooden construction was set for the main fire. A voluntary protagonist of the spectacle started to get ready for the show that took days to arrange. The rest of the people, whose numbers now reached almost two thousand, held hands together in one great circle. That circle spread far away around the main valley, rose up the nearby hills and hid away in the forest. In peace and silence, in total darkness, everyone waited for the light to appear around the hill. Then, a happy unrest settled among the people, an excitement as we were just moments away from the full moon rising. The ones farthest away on the hill saw it first. They started to howl like wolves and scream like Native Americans. And everyone else joined the screaming crowd as soon as they would see the first piece of the moon.
A happy wave slowly spilled through the huge circle. The wood in the middle was set on fire. Around the fire, about a hundred musicians started to pound on their drums, blow into didgeridoos, trumpets and flutes, play their guitars, tambours, harps... A few dozens of jugglers lit up their torches, chains and sticks, and started dancing around the musicians. The music grew louder and the atmosphere rose until the last man in the circle, at the opposite hill, saw the moon and started howling.
After that, they all started to run, screaming towards the valley’s bottom, joining the musicians and jugglers, and starting to dance. The dance lasted so long it seemed it would never end. It didn’t even stop when the moon came down and the sun rose.
A few days after the full moon, people began leaving the Rainbow and a few days before the young moon, even the most hardcore ones were getting ready for the road. Many of them spend their whole lives at Rainbow gatherings and travel in caravans from one to the other. The next gathering was to start with the young moon in the Italian Alps, so after the meal people began looking for company to form caravans and travel to the Alps by car, hitchhike, bicycle, anything...
But there were also a lot of more interesting announcements. A few tall and blonde Norwegian guys merrily went around the circle saying: “You won’t believe it but we found a big Viking sailboat! We were repairing it for a couple of years and took it out sailing this spring! We are stationed in Galicia and went out to look for a crew! You are welcome to join us if you want! As soon as we gather we are off to South America! For the beginning...!”
One French anthropologist explained how the French government is trying to civilize the last Guiana Indians with whom he lived for the last 10 years. Indians sent him to Europe to find strangers that would come and live with them and with their example help them fight to stay on their land. A group of Israeli people announced a “stroll of peace” during which they would spend months walking all around Israel and Palestine to try and gather as many people as possible to join them in their non-violent fight for peace to finally rule the Holy Land.
One happy woman, a mother of two, that was sitting near me just kept smiling and in the end shed a tear of joy. “Really anything is possible!”
It doesn’t matter if it is or isn’t, I thought and just smiled. It doesn’t matter if Rainbow is utopia that will die out just like all the others have until today, or that it is the one that will finally save the world. All that matters is that it’s here. It is real and it exists!