Listen to the audio of Esdrianne Cohen and Rich Nichols sharing the story or read the story below as told by Ben Miller.
Several years ago Lilia Marianno gave the WMF Brazil community simple black rings made from the fruit of a palm tree. With her gift, she shared a story.
She told of a bishop, who in a meeting with the leaders of the Tapirapé people, an indigenous tribe, was awed by their faith and resilience. He asked for their forgiveness for the treatment of their people by his, and more importantly, for forgiveness for the church’s complicity in the oppression of their people over the centuries.
The bishop took off his gold ring, the symbol of his office, and presented it to the chief, saying “We cannot return all the gold we took, or restore all the lives we destroyed. But we long to try and make things right. Take this ring as a symbol of my desire for what the church will be – no longer taking, but giving.” The Tapirapé chief accepted the ring, and reciprocated by removing his black tucum ring and giving it to the bishop as a symbol of their forgiveness and solidarity.
The ring, made from the fruit of the tucum palm tree is a difficult plant to cultivate due to its long, thin, sharp thorns. The rings, made from the fruit’s hard shell that surrounds the seed, are made by hand – typically taking over an hour per ring. The sawing, cleaning, and polishing are done by family members, creating opportunities for work for those who would not normally have it.
The symbolism of the black ring has changed over the years – in the 1800s the ring was a symbol of marriage for the slaves and natives, who could not afford to buy gold. The ring was also a symbol of friendship, and of resistance to the established order – the freedom fighters.
In the words of the bishop, Dom Pedro Casaldáliga: “… This ring is made from a palm tree in the Amazon. It is a sign of alliance, of solidarity with the indigenous peoples and with the lives of the people (the least of these). Anyone who wears this ring, normally, is saying they will accept the weight of this struggle, and also its consequences. Will you accept the challenge of the ring? Many, because of this commitment, were faithful until death …”
Today, the black ring of tucum has come to symbolize solidarity with the poor – a pledge to defend the Gospel on the path with the poverty-stricken – engagement with the poor and excluded of society – defending the poorest – aligning oneself against the rich and powerful and with the poor, marginalized, and forgotten – those who cast their lot with the poor of the earth – those who long for the freedom of Christ to reach into the lowest depths and most broken places, and are willing to sacrifice their lives for Him and the least of these.
Now, many of us in WMF wear these rings as a symbol of our solidarity with the poor. We hope to wear it well and this is the charge and prayer we offer when passing it on to others.