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 government’s National Indian Foundation, 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.
They wrestled, danced, fished and prepared food for the main event which will happen in August. Yawalapiti warriors held wrestling matches in a sort of qualifying round to select the best team to confront warriors from other tribes. From the inter-tribal event during the quarup will emerge the great champion.
They danced to native flutes producing sounds that were magical to me. The flutes, made of bamboo and called urua, produced strong, rhythmic music, that carried the celebration past the huts of the village and into the jungle.
Some adults initiated a ritual using seeds and natural oils to paint their bodies with vibrant, natural colors. In the center of the village a couple of tribal leaders chanted uninterrupted prayers to remember the dead.
We witnessed the preparation of food to feed the guests to the quarup in August. Men caught fish to dry and store, while others prepared a large quantity of cassava flour.
The Xingu River is the children’s main playground and source of happiness, and an excellent place for anyone to observe the natural beauty of the reservation.
This year the Quarup will pay tribute to two people – a Yawalapiti Indian who they consider a great leader, and Darcy Ribeiro, a well-known author, anthropologist and politician known for focusing on the relationship between native peoples and education in Brazil.
The Yawalapiti are living in new times. During the meetings of tribal leaders that I observed, they demonstrated a preoccupation with preserving their culture and with the devastation of the Xingu’s forests. They discussed policies that could be implemented in a new project called Xingu+50, in reference to last year’s 50th anniversary of the creation of Xingu National Park.
Aritana, the Yawalapiti cacique, who immediately struck me as witty, serene and wise, told me that a man should be like a good, old tree; he should give fruit throughout his lifetime, and towards the end produce a huge shadow to shelter others.
Without a doubt, it was a great experience to live with the Yawalapiti for a few days. They made me ponder my own coexistence with mankind in my corner of the world in urban Brasilia, and our relationship with nature.