Kisedje – 23rd March 2007

Deforested Land with Forest BeyondWe decided that we needed to see the extent of the deforestation east of the Xingu Indigenous Park (PIX) first hand. The indigenous organisation ATIX needed help to pay for repairs to their elderly Toyota Bandeirante, affectionately known as the Old Tin Can (Lata Velha). We paid for part of the repair in exchange for the use of the Lata Velha for an overland visit to the Kisedje (or Suya) tribe. We also paid the petrol, and we gave a lift to three Kisedje each way, so everyone gained!

It was an early start; well, not as early as originally proposed; Sue and I were ready  to go at 5:30 AM as agreed, but the car finally arrived shortly after 6. Three and a half hours of dirt roads took us (and our dust train) to the new and fast-growing soya town of Querência, where we took a short break for water and coffee, before setting off for the second half of the journey.

Not far from Querência we entered the property of Fazenda Tanguro, one of several ranches owned by the governor of Mato Grosso State, Blairo Maggi. Fazenda Tanguro on its own covers an area of 820 square kilometres – more than half of the area of Greater London! It produces rubber, maize and huge quantities of soya, most of which is exported to the makets of Europe and China, destined to be made into animal feed rations.

Cattle Grazing Pasture with the Skeletons of Dead TreesThe journey though Maggi’s ranch was depressing. Our Kisedje travelling companions told us that had we travelled the same route only twenty years ago, we would never have left the forest cover, which in this area was closed transition forest rather than the open cerrados, during the entire seven hours it took us to get from Canarana to Ngoiwere, the Kisedje village.

The destruction in this area has accelerated in the last five years, making Mato Grosso by far the biggest destroyer of forest in Brazil.

Soya; the last remaining forest in the distanceNow, we passed only a few remaining vestiges of forest, forlorn amongst the vast featureless prairies of soya. Even as we approached the border of the PIX there was little forest to be seen. This was partly because the Kisedje had been driven from their land for forty years, only recovering it less than ten years ago; it takes time to undo the ravages of forty years of occupation by ranchers.

You can read the full story of the Kisedje’s battle to recover their land here: – there are links on the page to additonal information about these remarkable and resilient people.

Ngoiwere VillageOur arrival in the village was very emotional. As we entered the circle of traditional houses, men came to assemble in the central meeting house, the nobe. They wore their traditional feather cokaa headdresses and their bodies were painted with intricate black and red designs, and they carried with them their fierce bordunas, fighting clubs capable of killing with a single blow.

We went first to leave our things in the chief’s house where we were to sleep. After a few choked tears from Sue, relieved and emotional at finding the village so much in tune with the traditions of the Kisedje, we found ourselves in the nobe being questioned in depth about our motives.

Cacique Kuiussi KisedjeDespite the traditional look of the village, our questioners were worldly and well-informed. Chief Kuiussi visited England and Germany in 2005 to raise money to finance equipment and supplies for recuperating their degraded land, but they have so far seen little cash from the visit. We explained our objectives, told them a little about ourselves, and quickly found ourselves welcomed.

Wassyrtxi Kisedje, the village beekeeperWe visited the village’s organic honey processing centre in the forest, the village school and the degraded ranch land where they are planting pequi, aNgoiwere Village School traditional crop with commercial potential.

We heard about plans for a PIX-wide radio station, and left with a very professional demo cd. One warrior told us about the video course he had done, and gave us a full list of the equipment he needs to record his tribe’s culture – Apple G5, Final Cut, Sony PD170 (with a Panasonic alternative)….. the list was comprehensive, well-selected and obviously based on a good understanding of the processes involved in recording and editing video. If there is anyone out there who can help to provide this equipment, it will be used to good effect.

Kisedje girl in her hammockThe Kisedje culture is very strong. They refuse to be dependent, preferring to find the means to give the village an income, from the honey, from the cattle they still have, from the pequi they are planting. They use outside technology selectively, and they send individuals out of the village to learn the skills they need.

There is no sense of alienation between the well-educated and able individuals who have experienced the outside world and their less worldly friends and family – though the majority of the under-thirties speak fluent Portuguese, even those who have no education outside of the village school – whose teachers are all Kisedje.

Signpost to Soya FarmsNgolwere village faces huge challenges in the coming years. The soya ranches crowd ever closer, destroying the delicate ecology which provides much of the Kisedje diet, polluting the river, killing the fish, and threatening the stability of the village. Their culture, though strong, is changing as the younger generations become more educated in the ways of the outside world. The Kisedje continue to grow and catch their own food rather than buy supermarket produce.

But the people are joyful, and the families are close-knit. Our stay in the village was far, far too short, in direct contrast to the way we have planned this expedition, but we left with a strong sense of an enduring culture and a resilient society.

© Patrick Cunningham

⇒Next: Afukuri

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