Alofa: Fight the good fight

E mame le tava’e i ona fulu. This is a Samoan proverb which talks of a bird, the Tava’e, that is proud of her feathers. It’s commonly used in context when describing one who speaks or displays their culture in a prideful manner. After spending a couple of weeks in Brasil, I can confidently say that this is the perfect phrase to use.

This trip to Brasil continues to leave me in awe. There is an underlying passion that can melt even the coldest of hearts – and I’m not just talking about the couples making out in the middle of the streets. Activism for the rights of indigenous people to be recognised and the fight for freedom is prevalent in every street corner. Yes Brasil may be the best country to be in for parties – especially during carnaval – but beyond that limelight, there’s a heartfelt plea that has been begging to be heard since the colonisation of the 1500’s.

In our lectures the idea of slavery was explored as well as the complexity of the Brazilian Constitution of 1988. Let’s face it – no governmental system is perfect, just look at Herodotus’ debate on the three government types! And slavery? I learnt a long time ago in Ancient History that slavery was key to the rise of many empires and even up until the 1900’s it still was.

I love architecture and the Monumento o Bandeirantes definitely rates near the top, but the meaning behind it breaks my heart.

The artist Katu Mirim informed us of the fight that the indigenous continue to fight. Indigenous is not a costume that you wear for a Carnaval party but unfortunately this is something that the indigenous people have to tolerate. Katu showed us worksheets that are often handed out in class to students where indigenous are stereotyped as a naked person who wears headdresses and because of this, the indigenous continued to be discriminated against when they are seen adapting to the Western way of life.

A video produced by ISA to highlight the fight against stereotypes

The problem that we noticed about Brazil is that they have memory issues and many do not remember the past when the dictatorship proved to be one of the hardest period for the indigenous nor do they have a vast knowledge about the indigenous pre-colonisation besides the fact that they were ‘savages’. Indigenous people are talked about as if they were only in the past and that they no longer exist. In short, I am so glad that I live in NZ because we aren’t as bad as Brasil is cut out to be.

Growing up I’ve constantly had my grandparents pass on tala mai le vavau (stories of the past) and stories of them growing up in the islands. Even though I don’t live in Samoa, I know the customs and traditions well enough to keep my culture alive and functional in a Western society, and fortunately it informs people outside my culture about who we are. Quite frankly, this is currently not the case in Brasil – and it’s not because the indigenous haven’t tried. Their voices aren’t being heard as they are being spoken over but they continue to fight. Many of the indigenous tribes that we visited told us that they will continue to fight as they have since the beginning.

A video produced by a NGO ISA to signal the continual fight for the land

One of my favourite visits would have to be to the Quilombaque community who, amongst the discrimination and disparity, have managed to draft an urban plan to educate the population about the history of Brazil from the underdog’s POV. Although the plan has yet to be submitted for approval, the activism behind the movement and their fellowship with the indigenous community is astounding.

You would assume with how the world is going that it is everyone for themselves but in Brasil, those who aren’t against you are actually for you. There are a lot of things that we can learn between the relationship of the Quilombaque and the Indigenous tribe of Jaragua and the world would be a better place with this knowledge. The only problem is, the lesson to be learnt can only be felt with the heart by spending time with these people and listening to their stories rather than me telling you.

So if you ever get the chance to come to Brasil and talk to these amazing people, I high advise that you listen closely because you might learn a thing or two. The fight is continuous – it doesn’t stop. If only we had the determination that these indigenous do, then maybe democracy could actually work.

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