Photographers' Blog

Struggles to survive in the Amazon

Me Txanava, Brazil

By Lunae Parracho

A day of navigating along the muddy Envira River brought us to a village of the Huni Kui tribe known as Me Txanava, or village of the Singing Birds.

The moon shone bright in the starry sky over the silent village that lies in the municipality of Feijó – part of Brazil’s Acre state, which borders Peru.

The night before, a Huni Kui woman had lost her newborn daughter while giving birth in a boat on the Envira River. The mother and daughter did reach a hospital, but the baby died an hour later.

In mourning, the community gathered inside a house where a small, closed coffin illuminated by yellow candlelight held the child’s remains. Village shaman Ninawa, the father of the dead child, accepted the presence of strangers openly.

“Be happy,” he said. “You’ve come home.”

Later, while strolling in the village, I stopped in front of the largest hut and stood there for a while. The starry sky was enchanting. This was a house of prayer called a shubuã, which the Huni Kui consider a type of university, a place where they learn and share their traditional knowledge. That night it was closed in mourning for the child who never had a name.

Manhunt for wildcat gold miners

Jacareacanga, Para (Brazil)

By Lunaé Parracho

“We’re asking you not to go,” one of the Munduruku Indians said to me while standing in a circle of ten other warriors.

They feared that I would slow them down if I accompanied them on another six-hour hike through the forest to a wildcat gold mine operated by intruders in their territory. This was to be the fifth mine dismantled by the Mundurukus, who live in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest in the western state of Para. This region is rich in natural resources and has been called the country’s new frontier of economic expansion.

Another warrior, sensing my reaction at being considered a drag on the group, approached me and tried to allay my disappointment. “We will photograph for you,” he said, pointing to two young Indians holding compact cameras. “If you want you can give them your camera.”

The end of a dream

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

By Sergio Moraes

The historic building known as the Brazilian Indian Museum, located next to Rio’s even more famous Maracana soccer stadium, was donated to the Brazilian government by the Duke of Saxe in 1865. The Duke’s intention was to create a center for research into the Indian cultures, but by 1910 it had become a center for the protection of Indians, the predecessor of what is today known as the National Indian Foundation, or FUNAI.

In 1953 it became the Indian Museum, and remained that way until 1978, when the museum was moved to another location and the building became abandoned and derelict. In 2006 a group of Indians squatted in the building and ambitiously named it Aldeia Maracana, or Maracana Village.

Those Indians, who survived by making and selling crafts, dreamed of making it a cultural center for their tribes. They lived in the building for nearly 7 years, until last Friday when they were forcibly evicted.

Village of joy

By Ueslei Marcelino

Deep in the Brazilian heartland, where the upper reaches of the Amazon Basin dissolve into the central plateau,  I had the opportunity last week to spend a few days in the village of joy.

What I dubbed the village of joy is the home of the Yawalapiti tribe. One day last week, a group of us were escorted into the Xingu National Park by members of the Darcy Ribeiro Foundation and the Cavaleiro de Jorge cultural center, and arrived at the circular Yawalapiti village under an enormous full moon.

The mood was one of celebration. The Yawalapiti, one of the 14 tribes living inside the Xingu National Park, were preparing a new “quarup,” a ritual held over several days to honor in death a person of great importance to them. In its original form, the quarup was a funeral ritual intended to bring the dead back to life. Today, it is a celebration of life, death and rebirth. From the very oldest to the very youngest, all the members of the Yawalapiti tribe participate in the preparations.

Guardians of biodiversity

By Diego Cortijo

The jungle is a place too inhospitable to allow large human settlements, or that’s what we have always believed until now. New archaeological discoveries tell of highly developed cultures that have lived in the heart of the jungle. The myths of ancient cultures and places lost deep in the jungle may no longer be myths in light of these new discoveries.

With this proposal I began my second expedition to the Amazon rainforest as a member of the Spanish Geographic Society, to try to learn about and document unknown places in the jungle. Members of native communities I visited in the past had spoken to me about ancient settlements, and now I wanted to locate them.

This was a grueling expedition that began in Brazil and ended up in the Peruvian Amazon. We came across undiscovered archaeological sites that were mystical to the native communities who were their unofficial caretakers, and isolated tribes that received me as a total stranger, but always with a smile. I tried to document their traditions and legends so that they wouldn’t be lost forever with the passing of time.

Capturing souls

From the very first photograph I took of the Kayapo tribe in the Brazilian Amazon, I knew it would be a difficult nine days. They were nine days during which doctors and nurses from the humanitarian Health Expeditions carried out more than one thousand medical exams and dozens of operations on a people known for their qualities as warriors, strong and suspicious of outsiders. Few of the Kayapos understood that they were receiving aid in their benefit, for which nobody would charge them.

The field hospital was in a school annexed to the village, and on my first stroll toward their houses a mother asked for a gift in exchange for the photo I had just taken of her son. As she spoke to me in her language, translated by a man who happened to be walking past. Later I learned that even the native women who do speak Portuguese will not use that foreign tongue if their husbands are not with them.

Absolutely decided not to negotiate or “buy” their permission to photograph, I just shrugged off her demand saying that I understood. I continued on my way, only to run into her again in a short time. During the first hours there I found it impossible to recognize anyone who I had already met earlier, and suddenly I found the same woman confronting me with a “bill” for each picture I took of her, her son or any of her other children. She was aggressive and I had no resource other than to show her my ignorance of the language, even though she repeated in Portuguese, “Money, must pay.”