The Taquara Celebration

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Taquara celebration in Afukuri VillageWe arrived at the time of the festival of Taquara. We were lucky to experience this in two more villages after Afukuri. We also saw the festival of Beija Flor (Hummingbird).

Taquara marks the end of the rainy season, and wakes up the village to happiness. Five or six young men dance through the village playing traditional flutes, moving at a rhythmic pace, stamping their right feet in unison as they go. Because they wear a string of resonant shells or bells on their ankles, the foot-stamping adds a percussion beat.

In one village, a group of boys, learning the tradition of Taquara, start up in opposition, complete with flutes. In the biggest village, Kuikuro, there are two troupes.

Taquara celebration in Matipu VillageIn the afternoon the men are joined by teenage girls. First one or two join, each with a hand on the shoulder of one of the men, following the rhythm. Then another appears, until each man has a girl’s hand on his shoulder.Beja Flor is a larger celebration, involving most of the village. Everyone is painted and wearing feathers, beads and brightly-dyed cotton adornments. One man, Arifira, knowing that we are English, shows us his belt; it has the British Union Jack and the Brazilian flag woven into it in beads. It also has a moon, a heart and stars.

The celebration continues into the night. At one point, a group of women approaches and takes Sue away; later she reappears in the midst of the dancers. In the gloom she adopts the rhythm of the dance until she merges with the other dancers. I can no longer make out which is her. It feels very natural, but very emotional; it is a privilege to have been invited to share this.

Each village has its own character, but the festivals are recognisable from village to village. Teachers, health workers, pupils, young, old; all join in.

Taquara celebrations in KuikuroIn Kuikuro we meet the team which made a video which has won four international awards. “The Day the Moon Menstruated”, despite its title, is a very entertaining and often amusing video. The video makers are painted and several are adorned with feather cokaa headdresses, as are the other men. Afterwards, when we visit the cultural technology centre to see their cameras and video equipment, with shelves lined with video tapes, DVDs, video scripts and log books, it is difficult to recognise them, unpainted and wearing shorts and t-shirts.
Later a large group gathers in the Cacique’s house to view videos. The subject is the Kuarup, the largest and most important festival of the Xingu Indians, when most of the ethnic groups come together. The majority of the viewers are children and young people.

A real Kuarup happens only when an important person has died, but recent years have seen some ‘extra’ Kuarups put on for the benefit of visiting television cameras. Despite their reason, the festival is real enough, and the visiting cameras offer an additional opportunity to reinforce the indigenous culture, rather than diluting it.

Purist views that the very presence of non-Indians in some way debases the integrity of the celebration are shrugged off by Indians. They are keen to invite people they feel will appreciate the spectacle and value the culture.

To the majority of non-Indians the culture of these people is a mystery. The reverse is not true. We have met many Indians who are computer literate, and few who do not have some understanding of Brazilian mainstream culture. Despite Portuguese being their second language – as it is mine – they put me to shame in their grasp of the language. The younger people all go to school, where they study a special indigenous curriculum, starting with their own language but also learning Portuguese, maths and geography.

Indigenous schools are different from schools elsewhere. Because village life is not separated into work, school and leisure, in the way it is in most Western cultures, the school is more integrated into village life. Both children and adults are free to listen in to classes, and all the students seem keen to learn and to share their knowledge.

Warrior painted for Taquara with his daughterMost Indians have visited Brazilian cities, and a surprising number have travelled overseas. Cacique Afukaka of Aldeia Kuikuro has been to Washington, New York and Canada. He has addressed members of the World Bank, and talked to North American Indian Chiefs. Lanoá Kamaiurá has been to France and Belgium. He spent several years travelling throughout Brazil with Orlando Vilas Boas, who gave him the nickname, Barriga, and he has seen more of the country than most Brazilians. And of course Supreme Cacique Aritana Yawalapití, overall chief of the Xingu Indigenous Park, has travelled extensively. Aritana and Lanoá have both appeared in television series.

So far we have visited only the villages of the Alto Xingu, where we have found the culture to be strong and the people well-informed, articulate, highly intelligent and very adaptable. We have been welcomed into their homes and they have entered our hearts; in the few brief days we spend in each village, we gain friends and our respect for our hosts and their way of life grows.

© Patrick Cunningham

⇒Next: House Construction

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