BEKA, THE YOUNG MUNDURUKU WARRIOR
Beka Saw Munduruku, 19, is a warrior who fights for the Amazon Forest. She belongs to the Munduruku ethnic group, which means red ants. This is what her people were called by their enemies, a reference to the Munduruku warriors’ mass attack on rival territories.
Beka took us to see the Amazon, where she and a large population of 28 million Brazilians currently live.
To reach the Sawré Muybu village, where Beka was born and raised, you have to face the unpaved, full-of-holes Trans-Amazonian Highway for more than two hours. We arrived at the Buburé Port, where people and cargo are transported by speedboats, or “voadeiras”, as it is called over here, on the Tapajós River. It’s 18 km along the river between the port and the Sawré Muybu village.
Cacalos Garrastazu/Eder Content | Sawré Muybu Village, seen from above. Located in Middle Tapajós, in Pará, it is home to about 120 indigenous people of the Munduruku ethnic group
Sawré Muybu, Beka's home
The way of life of indigenous peoples often arouses curiosity among non-indigenous people. It is common to think that the native populations of Brazil live as they did more than 500 years ago, when the Portuguese landed in the country.
But it is important to keep in mind that, nowadays, the only difference resides in the fact that they inhabit the forest and live in the midst of nature. Like us non-indigenous people, they live in masonry houses, eat fruits, vegetables, hunt and fish, and have their own language, culture, beliefs, and mores.
To visit an indigenous village, you have to be invited – just like in any of our homes. The Sawré Muybu village is Beka’s home. Our team was invited by her and her grandfather, chief Juarez Saw Munduruku, to get a closer look at the challenges and threats to the way of life of the native peoples in the Amazon Forest.
The Indigenous Body Paintings
“[…] both males and females usually dye themselves with the juice of a fruit called jenipapo, which is green when you step on it and, after you use it on your body and you dry yourself, it becomes really black, and no matter how much you wash it, it is only removed after nine days: this is all done for gallantry”.
Cacalos Garrastazu/Eder Content | Beka grates the jenipapo to produce the ink for the body paintings (left); the painting on her face, traditional among Munduruku women, refers to the scale of the Pacuzinho fish
In Tratado da Terra do Brasil (Treaty of the Land of Brazil), considered to be the first book of Brazil’s History, written in the fifteen seventies, the Portuguese writer Pero de Magalhães Gândavo already referred to the body paintings of indigenous Brazilians. But what the Portuguese understood as a way of indigenous people adorning themselves can have different meanings, according to the ethnic group.
In general, they represent creatures of nature, and the meanings associated with them differ for men and women. They also have unique graphics and names for festivals, rituals, and wars.
In the Munduruku tradition, the most common male paintings represent the ant and the tortoise. They are used to attract the forces of nature and ensure that the indigenous people have a good hunting and fishing. For war and confrontation, the Munduruku warriors paint their entire bodies in red, a color used only for extreme situations.
Beka says that the most common body paintings of the women refer to fish scales, in a direct reference to the Munduruku women’s mythology.
“This painting came from the women of ancient times, who made their passage to become fish. At that time, there was a disunity in the village, man against woman, so the women fell into the water.”
In Munduruku mythology, this event involves a conflict between a deserter son of the god Karosakaybu who, after being transformed into a tapir by his father, hypnotizes the women of the village to molest them. Discovered by the husbands, revenge results in the creature’s death. Bewitched, the women went to the place of their encounters with the animal and dived into the river, turning into fish. For this reason, the main design of the Munduruku women paintings represents the jacundá (or leléu) fish.
Ancestral Territory, the song
The soundtrack for the narrative podcast Invisible Amazon was composed by the indigenous artist Kaê Guajajara. She was born in the state of Maranhão, in the northeast of Brazil, and was expelled from her territory due to the invasion of loggers.
In the lyrics of the song, she tells her own story and that of many indigenous Brazilians of various ethnic groups. Come sing along with @kaekaekae!