Exploring life of Xingu community

Deep in Brazil's interiors, live indigenous ethnic groups keeping their cultural traditions alive.

Exploring the life and the rituals of 15 separate tribes and four major language groups living along the Xingu River, a tributary of the 2000 kilometres long Amazon, European photographer and documentary filmmaker Maureen Bisilliat has come up with her photography exhibition ‘Xingu’, currently displaying at Instituto Cervantes.

“My introduction to the Xingu was the result of a friendship with Orlando and Claudio Villas Boas – two brothers who worked to preserve the culture of the Xingu community. They worked extensively on the indigenous population apprising them about their rights to live within their culture,” says Maureen.

“They knew that the Xingu must participate in economic activities without losing their tribal unity, the wisdom of their culture and their traditional ceremonies. Therefore they fought for their survival,” she says. Through her photographs, Maureen too attempts to bring to light the changing lifestyle and survival of the Xingu River’s inhabitants.

She has captured the rituals like harvesting and preparation of the lava-red urucum berries that are distilled into a concoction to make full body paint; the washing and cooking of manioc tubers that are made into flour to cook beiju pancakes (a diet staple); the weaving of the woman’s belt that denotes marital status. In short, her pictures document the closely observed daily and ceremonial rituals of the Xingu.

Xingus, says Maureen, are a hospitable and harmonious people. They are humorous yet conscious of the subtle balance of human relationships within a society.  They impose no orders on each other which arise from the mutual respect springing from their wisdom.
“This is how I found them during my many visits to the Xingu Indigenous Park in the 70s. This is how they still may be. However, today they are endangered by the sand
shifting from their river, by the pollution in their water and by fires resulting from the new agricultural methods practiced by people,” says the photographer.

“No one ignores what is happening to the indigenous population of Brazil but in
order to indicate the drama of this situation it is not necessary to show only degradation and decadence. It is equally important to share the beauty, dignity and force of a culture that is being destroyed.”

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