Les Kayapos, gardiens de la forêt

The Kayapos, guardians of the forest

The Mebêngôkre

With more than 12,000 people, the Kayapó people, also known as Mebêngôkre, meaning people from the water, have inhabited and protected a vast region of the Amazon rainforest stretching from northern Mato Grosso to the south for decades. of Pará, particularly in the Rio Xingu valley, of more than 13 million hectares, the equivalent of the surface area of ​​Greece.

Kayapó is a word from the Tupi language meaning "monkey-like", eventually adopted by the natives when they began to be called that way due to traditional body painting.

The Panará

About a century ago, they were not the only Kayapó in Brazil. About a thousand kilometers away, in the region stretching from the north of São Paulo to the south of Goiás, lived the people of the Southern Kayapó, ancestors of the Panará people.

Although the name is the same, there has never been a great relationship between the ancestors of these people. At the beginning of the 20th century, this group almost disappeared and the few survivors of the Panará migrated to the north of Mato Grosso, where they became neighbors of the Mebêngôkre.

Today, it is estimated that there are around 500 Panará living in the indigenous territory of the same name.

Way of life

In the Kayapo community, there is a chief per village whose main function is to coordinate all activities and transmit knowledge to young people to ensure succession.

Despite the community lifestyle that characterizes them, women and children are separated from men. They have their way of life, their rituals, their way of experiencing things.

They practice itinerant agriculture, hunting, fishing and collecting wild fruits. They travel by dugout canoe along the forest's rivers, using hand-carved canoes to access resources.

They have a social organization based on solidarity and collective decision-making.

The dwellings are built mainly of wood and palm leaves, organized to facilitate community life in a sort of circular camp. with the Ngab in the center, a place where women meet to organize daily activities and men to talk about politics or make crafts.

Cultural wealth

Traditionally, the Kayapo do not use clothing, but adorn themselves with body paint or jewelry with marked symbology. Kayapo culture is rich in traditions, songs and dances. Their colorful costumes and body paintings are unique artistic expressions reflecting their deep connection with nature.

Kayapo jewelry is a work of art in itself. They are often made from natural materials such as bird feathers, seeds, shells and animal teeth. These colorful and elaborate jewelry are worn with pride, reflecting the importance of culture and nature in the lives of the Kayapo.

Media coverage

The Kayapo people are mainly known to the general public since the media coverage of the cacique Raoni at the end of the 1970s, the local media making them a natural standard bearer of the fight for the preservation of the Amazon forest. He achieved international notoriety following his meeting with the singer Sting, thus encouraging the creation of numerous foundations to preserve their territories.

Raoni and Sting

The cacique Raoni is immediately recognizable by the traditional labret which stretches his lower lip and which he displays with great pride. Subsequent generations not having preserved this custom, the chief is one of the very last known tray men in the world. Although over 90 years old, he continues the fight against deforestation and the recognition of indigenous rights in Brazil by participating in certain international meetings (UN, COP, etc.), regularly meeting the great people of this world while managing to maintain his stoicism. , distance and dignity and his way of life, living in a simple hut.

Raoni in Paris

Harmonious coexistence

The Kayapo embody a harmonious coexistence between humanity and nature. Their commitment to preserving the Amazon and their inspiring culture remind everyone of the importance of protecting our environment for future generations.

You can find additional information on the website of the Museum of Chinese and Ethnographic Art

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