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.

Alofa: The toilet paper goes where!?

Brazil:- The land of the futebol, graffiti and Caipirinhas; where the weather rises to a high of 32°C, the subway surpasses that of Auckland Transport and toilet paper is thrown into rubbish bins, not flushed down the toilet.

The first week here in Brazil was hectic – 8am lectures that run for 2 hours, horrible traffic, strong coffee… it felt like I never left home! But hey, different country, different me – or that’s the goal at least. My intention for this trip was clear – learn more about myself by learning about others and the struggle that they face.

If you know me personally, you know that I’ve never been a hearty advocate for LGBTQ+, feminism, climate change, or cultural rights. Although I wasn’t entirely against these concepts, being a female Christian growing up in a Samoan house meant I was instinctively ‘programmed’ to remain passive on topics that I had no direct input in because I was meant to be seen and not heard. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve never had a problem with this, but my first week in Brasil has already forced me to reconsider my position on some of these topics.

By the end of our first week we had visited an indigenous community, Boa Vista; we conversed with a representative of the tribe, watched the kids of the community perform a song and dance for us, and we managed to indulge the indigenous tradition of body paint. They told us of the struggles that they had faced since the arrival of the Portuguese and the battle that they continue to fight for their land to remain just as that – theirs. It’s actually a bit heartbreaking to see people having to fight for something that they never had to previously just because the ‘white’ person standards say so. Getting to experience a culture that is so closely connected to the land reminds me of my own cultural homeland of Samoa. The stories of the struggles my grandparents had to endure are forever engraved in my heart and experiencing a portion of that whenever I visit Samoa allows me to empathise with the indigenous peoples of Brasil despite the geographical distance of our homelands. A fellow student said it better: No matter where we go or who we are, the battle remains the same.

No matter where we go or who we are, the battle remains the same.

The way that the Brazilians and the Indigenous identify themselves is something that is commonly debated in today’s society and it’s a highlight from the first week in Brasil. As an Ancient Historian I’ve always been interested in conquest and the assimilation of peoples into the Roman or Greek identity but it begs the question – what makes one Roman or Greek? And the question echoes through the forests of South America – what defines one as Indigenous, Portuguese or Brazilian? As one of my favourite lecturers from the University of Sao Paulo had stated in her first lecture, ‘it’s not the colour of their skin, but it’s how they live and their beliefs’.

It’s not the colour of their skin, but it’s how they live and their beliefs.

Beatriz Perrone

I am grateful to have this opportunity to experience Brasil in all its natural beauty but the fact remains that I love living in New Zealand and I wouldn’t trade it for the world! (And no this isn’t just because I get to flush toilet paper in the toilet!). There is just no place like home!

Até logo,

Alofa So’olefai