Metuktire 7th June 2007

UPDATED. Triumph! On our return to São Félix do Xingu we find they’ve improved the Internet connection, so I’ve managed to upload some pictures. Click here: www.ipcst.org/Metuktire to go to a slideshow of images relevant to this post. To return, simply close the slideshow window. The slideshow may take some time to load, especially if you have a slow internet connection.

Me being painted ready for our anniversary party in Metuktire village.

Today is our wedding anniversary. We are spending it in the Kayapó village of Metuktire, close to the Von Martius waterfalls. We can hear the sound of water rushing over the rapids towards the Amazon, our final destination; it still seems very, very distant.

This part of the journey is over completely different terrain, full of rocks and rapids. For the first time, the river will form the boundary of the indigenous reserve, instead of passing through it. We will at times have deforested farm land on the right bank and forest only on the left. In this area, the Indians have sometimes come under fire from aggressive fazendeiros, fishermen and gold prospectors (garimpeiros).

Metuktire village suffers from far too many insects which bite, mostly pium, tiny black flies which leave a very itchy and inflamed bite with an alarming, almost black dot of a scab in the centre. Mercifully, these do not carry diseases like malaria, but they bite morning, noon and into the evening.

Repellents are partially effective, but the best protection is a thick application of oil, which the Kayapó use. The flies die immediately they settle on the oil. The problem with this is that it makes doing practically anything impossible, because my hands are permanently slippery. Yesterday, I helped our host, Cacique Waiwai, to repair his boat. I had great difficulty handling the tools, and today my feet look like an angry pepper pot of red with black dots.

A House in Metuktire village.The village follows the traditional circular pattern with a nobe, or men’s house, at the centre. Last night we stood in the middle of the circle, admiring the stars. The cacique joined us to explain some of the Kayapó cosmology; the love affair between Venus and a  Kayapó warrior; and the line of stars climbing skywards which guides the growth of young  Kayapó children.

Metuktire is the closest village to the site of an aeroplane accident last year involving a Gol Boeing and an executive jet which cost the lives over a hundred people. The wreckage of the Boeing came to earth in a remote region of forest, and the people of Metuktire were the first on the scene, arriving the day following the accident after an arduous trek through the forest.

Waiwai Txucarramae, our host in Metuktire village.The scene was terrible. We very quickly realised there were no survivors,” said cacique Waiwai, one of the first to reach the wreckage. “There was very little we could do. There was nobody alive; there were bodies everywhere. It was very sad, and we were very badly affected, because we wanted to help. All we could do was to make a clearing in the forest so that the army could land their helicopters. Once they were there, they sent us away.”

For the Kayapó, to bury their dead properly is very important because they believe that the spirits of their forefathers continue to inhabit the forest. Burial rites continue for may months after a person dies, so the main concern of the rescue party was that the bodies of the victims of the accident would be returned to their relatives for burial.

The village neighbours Kremoro, where recently an uncontacted group made contact (see last week’s report). Kremoro is more than a day’s journey on foot from here, but our hosts are keeping in touch with developments by VHF radio.

A few days ago, two aircraft arrived in Kremoro carrying FUNAI sertanistas and officials. Unfortunately, the arrival of the aircraft panicked the uncontacted group, who fled back into the forest. They have reappeared sporadically, but have not returned to the village. They had told stories of being shot at by white people, so their reaction is entirely understandable.

Sue sharing a joke with Bebkwa TxucarramaeBack in Metuktire, the village has decided to put on a party for our anniversary. I am at this moment sitting in the radio room with Cacique Waiwai, who is now painted in full with strong black lines running from neck to waist, his legs black to the ankles ready for the party. Sue and I feel very honoured that they are doing this for us; the Kayapó are a very proud and confident people, and it takes time to gain their respect and acceptance.

The young men playing football in Metuktire village.Metuktire is the home of Raoni, who travelled the world with rock star Sting to raise support for the demarcation of the Mekgranoti reserve in the early 1990s. Raoni is in Japan this week; he continues to fight for the rights of his people. He will return here, to his recently-completed traditional house of wood and palm thatch, in a few days. If we can, we will delay our departure until he arrives, because we promised to visit him in his house the last time we met, but it is not clear exactly when he will reach the village.

© Patrick Cunningham


⇒Next: The Story Continues

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