Right from the get-go I have been adapting to the differences in communicating and operating as a diverse New Zealand based group in a Brazilian context. With the very basics of Portuguese that we learnt on the first day, alongside our invaluable mentor and translator, Talita, we have navigated our way through the Mercado Muncipal, Batman Alley and the Museum of Immigration.
I have been surprised by the open invitation for communicating in a lecture context. Despite not having any idea what to expect in terms of both the structure of daily routine and the lecture style in this Indigenous Rights and History program, I am still finding myself adjusting to this. There is such a high level of student lead participation and active engagement that is different from anything I have experienced in lectures back home. Our questions and personal experiences with colonial systems have had the ability to change the direction of the conversation and lead to different knowledges being shared.
This has been eye-opening in drawing parallels between colonisation in Brazil and Aotearoa. In both an alarming and humbling sense, it is becoming clear that the stories of the 305 indigenous populations of Brazil are even more oppressive and silenced than stories we are able to tell.
Our lecturers are history and anthropology academics and so are able to teach us the timeline and general political events as well as a general sense of modern tensions. However, what has truly led to the lecture content coming to life for me is having access to members of indigenous communities who are willing to share their stories.
Near Ubatuba, we visited the Boa Vista community of the Guarani indigenous population. An elder of the community, Alex, explained the traditions that are upheld and some integration of specific modern technologies such as solar panels. They utilise this naturally sourced electricity for lighting, while they maintain separation from most Western ways of being.
I particularly liked that when the missionaries introduced the Guarani populations to Christianity, they were curious and wanted to know about the Bible, listen to the mass and be shown the different ways of worshipping, however at the end of it all, they decided to keep the instruments – the guitar and violin – and use it to bring music to their people while sticking to their own cosmology narratives.
We also had our faces painted by Alex as a token of reciprocity for the waiata and koha that we presented. This paint was sourced from their local vegetation and in reproducing this art on our faces, he was enhancing the male’s ‘strength’ and the women’s’ ‘intelligence’.
Unlike the Boa Vista community, I have experienced a few recent setbacks in sticking to my own values. This can be traced back to my lack of ability to properly communicate in Portuguese. I have so far, tried to order a vegetarian pizza “sem presunto” (without ham) and received a ham pizza, “sem bordo” (without crust), as well as a vegetarian sandwich, which ended up somehow as three bacon cheeseburgers and fries…
I am excited to see how this vegetarianism, Portuguese and Indigenous knowledge will continue to expand.
Tchau for now,