Colonialism & Collective Trauma - Europe & Africa

Lab Cycle Oct 2020 - July 2021 Report


Laura Calderón de la Barca, Gabriela Martínez & Flavia Valgiusti


Stephanie Pizarro, Daniel Cohen, Andrea Fernández (scriber)




This Lab built on previous work that the facilitators, who met in the first Pocket Project Training in Israel during 2017-18, had started in 2020 on a region-wide Collective Trauma exploration as part of the U-Lab Journey with the Presencing Institute. Three groups were formed: in Argentina, Colombia and Mexico, and these were invited to apply for the Latin American (LatAm) Lab. The invited trainees were all graduates of the Pocket Project Israel Training, and our scriber had already been working with the Argentina group, so everyone in the group already had a profound level of relatedness when we started the journey of this particular Lab. This made a big difference to our experience, as trust had already been established, and we had developed an ease and flow in our interactions and in how we structured our sessions and wove our voices together.

In this Lab, we explored the topic of colonialism as experienced by a rich and diverse group composed of members from 13 Latin American countries. The onset of the COVID pandemic became the background which made the symptoms of colonialism in the region even more visible.  The presence of past collective traumas resonated clearly through the experiences of the participants vis-a-vis the current situation in their respective territories, and were manifested through the sharing of their experiences across a wide range of issues. These included: election conflicts and constitutional crises, political movements, natural disasters, corruption, institutional violence, power abuse, neo-colonial processes, forced migration of native population, violence against women, the supression of native community culture and practices, large scale mining and extractivism forcing communities out of their traditional habitats through violent means, and the invisibility of the afro-descendant communities in the entire region, amongst others.

We started out with a group of 40 participants and completed with 37 participants. We met for 11 group sessions from November 2020 – July 2021 and triads were formed after our 4th session. We still have an ongoing and active WhatsApp group with 40 members: six people from the facilitation team and 34 participants from the Lab. The countries represented by one or more members in the Lab were: Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, México, Perú, Puerto Rico, Uruguay, and Venezuela. In addition, one of our participants was located in Spain throughout the Lab, and one of the trainees is Israeli and was based in Israel while participating in the Lab.

Our group had little youth participation, and most participants were from a middle to high socioeconomic status. We had representation of individuals mostly from mixed ethnicity and descendants of Europeans, with some participation of afrodescendants, and only indirect participation of Indigenous people. Initially we had two males present, but only one remained through to the end. The professional backgrounds of the participants were mostly mental-health professionals, humanitarian workers, social activists, and we had a large contingent of constellators.

We explored the following questions:

We set out with three primary objectives: 

  1. resourcing the participants
  2. having a felt exploration of our experience of different aspects of the collective trauma of colonialism and its context, and
  3. identifying cultural resources that participants have and which they might not have been aware of.


Using 3 synch tools, we explored contextual aspects such as developing a relationship with our felt sense of our territory, and with tuning into the ancestral presence before the Europeans arrived. We related the historical background to collective and intergenerational trauma in Latinamerica through attuning to the actors that participated (Natives, Spaniards and Africans), and going back in time to the moment when they first met, feeling into the different potential alternatives of relating that were alive in them then, and in us today.

Furthermore, we explored the following key questions to guide our Lab: 

  • How is collective and intergenerational trauma in Latinamerica influencing the construction of its identity and the process of “othering”?
  • How does collective and intergenerational trauma in Latinamerica influence the development of current cultural architecture?
  • How does our use of language 1) reflect and reinforce the consequences of this trauma, or 2) become a resource for the reconnection with essential qualities of our land, people and cultures?
  • What are the resources that our cultures offer us for healing collective trauma?
  • What are the secrets of the resilience of our people?
  • How does collective and trans-generational trauma show itself in times of crisis in Latinamerica? 
  • How do the personal and the collective intersect in our experience?
  • What is needing to be heard in our space?
  • Can coherent ‘we-spaces’ and a process of witnessing collective and inter-generational trauma lead to an integration and eventual healing of collective trauma in Latinamerica, and how can we create them?

Stages of our process as a group:

1. Synchronising & Resourcing
Complexity and diversity were key characteristics of our group as a whole, including the facilitation team. We consisted of black Africans, white ‘Africans’, Africans with mixed ancestry, Africans with Indian roots, white Europeans living in Africa, white ‘Africans’ living in Europe, black Africans living in Europe, white Europeans, Europeans with mixed ancestry (including diasporic African roots) and African Americans. The exploration of what would be needed to build coherence and safety amongst all of us sat at the heart of our journey throughout this process. Especially participants from communities of colour met in affinity groups. We recognized the rawness of the collective trauma of colonialism in terms of ongoing neocolonialism, systemic injustice and the lack of restoration and healing. It was a technological challenge for some of our African participants to be present in our sessions, an expression of the ongoing digital divide. Also, it was pointed out and acknowledged that the Pocket Project itself and the lab process were born from a European field. Our African facilitators needed to step forward into a more central role of holding and did so with grace, wisdom and strength. Word cloud of closing chat statements after the 1st meeting.

2. Meeting the Collective Trauma Landscape
We gathered historic facts to help us relate to the landscape of the collective trauma around colonialism and touched on in comprehensible levels of inhumane behaviour on the side of the European colonial forces, and overwhelm, numbness and fragmentation in our own nervous systems, individually and as a group. Being together as descendants of perpetrators and victims felt unbearable at times and some of our participants decided that it was overwhelming and left. Large chunks of history were missing in our first version of the timeline: the depth of African history going back to the birth of humanity, the resistance and courageous uprisings of Africans against colonialist powers, the powerful circularity and wisdom of African cultures, to name but a few. We practiced connecting to the atmosphere of the collective field ‘through’ the facts nonetheless, and it shook us, individually and as a group. We offered triads according to ‘black’, ‘white’ and ‘mixed’ bodies for a few sessions, in order to support authentic sharing, while at the same time meeting our discomfort around these classifications.

3. Exploring Individual & Collective Conditioning
Reading the timeline led to a strong and necessary expression of some voices (predominantly black bodies), and an increased silence of others (predominantly white bodies). A stream of communication in our WhatsApp group emerged, some critical, some informative, some very naked and vulnerable - leading to a slowly rising sense of more co-ownership and safety in the group as a whole. We began to hear voices from a variety of backgrounds. We started to bring a focus on celebrating African dignity, African values, the beauty of African nature and the power of African music. An amazing poem was collated from all of our contributions in the chat by a participant from Rwanda. We explored what was being touched on in each of us personally, and how this relates to our experiences in our families and our societies. We deepened our capacity to stay present to one another during moments of in.

4. Listening to Ancestral Roots & Voices from the Field
As we explored how our roots reach back through previous generations into the historic wounds, we recognized that the connection to the ancestors is very much alive in African cultures in a way it is not in Europe. Visolela Namises and Mugove Nyika led us to deeper places of relatedness. Some of our African participants intimately experience the flow of qualities, strength and wisdom that are passed on from one generation to the next. We worked through the body, with music, art, dance, ritual, prayer and accessed ancestral layers of trauma, but also of resilience and strength. For some of our European participants this was the first time to energetically and consciously connect to their ancestry. Some Europeans experienced a crippling guilt and we explored what it might mean for us not to be responsible for the deeds of our ancestors, but, instead, for the effects that their deeds still have in us, in our lives, our relationships and in the world today. And to open up to the relatedness and the light that streams through our ancestry. Some received the message that it is time to put down the heaviness of the burden that we are carrying and, in acknowledgement and humility, pick up our creativity and strength for healing and transformation.

5. Integrating & Restoring
During this phase of our lab, the German government agreed to pay Namibia €1.1bn as it officially recognised the Herero-Nama genocide that took place during the first decade of the 20th century. Angela Merkel’s government spoke of a gesture of reconciliation, but was careful not to pave the way for legally binding reparations. The gesture was received with mixed feelings by the various groups in Namibia, and can only constitute a small step in the actual restoration of relationships. This was a poignant event for the lab, as we had a strong representation both from Namibia and from Germany in our group.

6. Transforming & Meta-learning
As we arrive at the end of our first lab cycle, we feel that in many ways, we are just beginning. A third spike of COVID is hitting Southern African countries. Visolela lost both her brother and sister within the week of our last lab session. The ongoing systemic injustice between Africa and Europe becomes apparent again through the global distribution of vaccines and health care access. Within our lab, we have taken meaningful steps towards acknowledgement and relatedness. Many of our participants spoke of a strong shift, a deeper embracing of African and European realities within and without, and of gratitude. For some with mixed heritage, more ownership of the different parts within themselves became possible, and a sense of connectedness and unification where there was fragmentation before. We experienced the depth, all-pervasive and ongoing nature of the trauma of colonialism, but also our willingness to engage in conversations and be with intense feelings. The pain of the past begins to resolve through authentic connection, witnessing and acknowledgement. 
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Moments of Challenge

  • Feeling lost in certain moments
  • Determining whether we would follow the process or follow the dynamic of the group
  • Trying to bring in the timeline, and come to recognize that this structure did not work well for our Lab
  • Articulating a time-spiral with inclusion of all of our countries
  • Including the voices of countries and populations that were not directly represented in the Lab
  • Attempting to adapt to a methodology that did not feel directly connected to our rhythms, resources, or processes, nor acknowledge the richness of our already-existing resources to deal with collective trauma, developed over the last five centuries and more.



  • When we heard from several of our Argentinian participants with European roots that for the first time in their lives they felt Latin American
  • The recognition of our vast resources as a region
  • Discovering oneself and the other when we went back to the moments of the first encounters between people of the three races that formed Latin America, and being able to see humanity in each without the filter or colonialism interfering in the connection
  • Moments of deep connection when, on a number of instances, a member of the group brought in an individual experience which also had a significant collective component, and which the whole group was then able to embrace, allowing a healing ripple to move throughout the entire group
  • Being able to face and handle pain, both in our Lab and beyond
  • Gathering around a virtual fire
  • Rediscovering the live presence of the sacred territory of Abya-Yala, the original name of the whole subcontinent, holding us as we explored how to heal together with her. The reconnection with the felt memory of no borders, being just one territory, emerging to us through visual images of the land, archaeological sites, and ancestral sacred places across Latin America, as well as through the vibrancy of our visual art, dances and handcrafts and the creativity and beauty of our people.


  • The importance of the WhatsApp group, both as a means of creating connection and group coherence, as well as a space to gather resources that deepen the coherence
  • Spiral time-space as the ancestral cosmogonic matrix to understand how to relate to existence in Latin America
  • The need to involve participants in the exploration of excluded or underrepresented voices, particularly of Indigenous peoples, Afro descendants, youth, men, and the countries that were not represented in our Lab
  • Some levels of healing can not be reached individually, only collectively
  • The relation with the Land and the territory as a vertical connection is essential for work in Latin America
  • There is a multiplicity and richness of already existing resources in each territory
  • The importance of symbolic language and cultural resources as a means to support healing
  • Inclusion of ritual as a frame fo the work done
  • The importance of the support of the trainees in the group
  • The fundamental importance of the deep relatedness and love that already existed between us before we started, which allowed for a level of coherence that rippled out into the field of the Lab

Our Lab Team

Gabriela Martinez

Gabriela Martínez

Laura (1)

Laura Calderón de la Barca

Flavia Valgiusti

Flavia Valgiusti

Colonialismo y Trauma Colectivo en Latinoamérica

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