Afukuri; 6th April 2007

Launching the ‘Coração do Brasil’I am writing this while sitting in our boat, ‘Coração do Brasil’ moored at the side of the majestic Culuene River. Our location is S 12 deg 25.65 min W 53 deg 06.52 min. The sun is shining, the birds are calling, and our boatman is shaving. A barge laden with the materials to construct three wells in indigenous villages is passing by. It is likely that this will be the only boat we see today.

Spider monkey in the trees beside the riverWe finally departed Canarana on the 3rd April, a full week later than planned. Outside of the Park, we found little deforestation close to the river. Suddenly, the boatman cut the engine, pointing. The trees were shaking; we made out the form of something black, hanging in the trees. It was a spider monkey, idly watching our progress.

Heading downriver, we arrived at the vigilance post where a Kalapalo family group watch over the entrance to the park. The Chefe do Posto is Vanité, and his major preoccupation is the number of fishermen, some of whom try to go into the park. The viw from the edge of the Xingu Park; deforestation reachis right up to the boundarySometimes they are aggressive. He tells us that the fishermen use nets to span the entire river, catching huge quantities of fish indiscriminately, killing the young fish and reducing the stock downriver. He also talks about his concern over the proposed Paranatinga II dam, of which we will hear more everywhere we go.

Caramujo snai shells used to make necklacesThe Kalapalo traditionally make shell necklaces and bracelets, which they trade with other tribes for whatever else they need. They also sell them as artesanato to earn the money they need for the purchases they have to make. The prices they ask seem tiny compared with the hours of work involved.

In the small settlement, we are made warmly welcome once we have shown our FUNAI (Government Indian Agency) permission and explain the purpose of our journey. We leave with two extras; an additional boatman, and the pilot of a barge which arrived late and which left of its own accord at some point during the night, having slipped its moorings.

The escaped bargeWe catch up with the errant barge several kilometres downriver. We pass two small settlements, stopping briefly at one, before pulling the boat onto a beautiful beach to fish. This is important; we should not arrive at our destination empty handed, and the most welcome gift is fish. Our boatmen are successful, and we leave with three good-sized fish.Cacique Luis of Tanguro Village

Soon we arrive at Tanguro, the first large village. The people here are concerned about the pressures from ranchers trying to claim Indian land. They are worried that FUNAI is not putting enough resources into policing the boundaries of the reserve. Vice-Cacique Luis is also concerned that the young men from the village are losing their culture. The village looks a little sad and uncared-for.

Afukuri villageWe spend the night in Afukuri. A more perfect village would be hard to imagine! Sited atop a low bank, the circle of traditional thatch houses is well kept and clean. We explain again why we have come, and Cacique Arifutua makes us welcome. He invites to hang our hammocks in his house.

The village awakes slowly, with the dawn. The low crying of children is quickly quieted; they are never left to cry for long. We bathe in the cool water of the river, avoiding the biting insects as far as we are able. We seem to be much more vulnerable than the people from the village; is it ‘new blood’, or do they have an immunity? Sue is suffering much more than me, but my feet are a mass of red blotches, one or two of which bleed slightly.

Village school, AfukuriWe visit the village school, and see the rudimentary but well-maintained health post. We meet the health worker, who is proud of the certificate he gained at the end of his course; he is from the village, as are the two teachers.

The school operates slightly differently from what we are accustomed to. There are no regular hours, and some students bring their babies and feed their children while sitting at their desks, but the students are keen to learn and the school fits into the life of the village naturally.Preparing for the dance

We are called to the house of the chief flute player, where five of the young men are being prepared for the festival of Taquara. They circle the village, entering each house with their flutes to wake up the village after the rainy season. They are impressive in their body paint, with intricate designs on their faces and bright feather headdresses. They look very exotic as they sway and stamp their dance, playing a rhythmic melody as they go from house to house.

We meet them as they enter the Cacique’s house. They circle inside the house, then stop for a break. One starts to talk to me: “Eh Patrick, do you like the ceremony?” With a jolt I realise it is the health worker. Despite his education away from the village, he still maintains all of the tradition and culture of his people.

Flute players dancing through the village

Before we leave, the teacher asks me for our email address: “I will be doing another course in the city next January and I will be able to email you from there.”

© Patrick Cunningham

⇒Next: Taquara

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