The fight for survival of an indigenous Amerindian society

The history of the Pataxo people indicates that over time their cultural identity has been more or less lost, mainly because of the exodus of young people to the big cities, but also because of the creation of artificial villages on their territory, the learning of Portuguese to the detriment of the traditional language, and the poor conservation of the memory of the elders.

« We don’t want to die »

Word of a Pataxo from the Jacqueira Reserve community

The objective of this photographic report is to look at how ecotourism offers these people essential means of subsistence that favour the preservation of their culture. Since August 1, 1998, the Pataxos celebrate every August 1 “The Day” of the birth of the Jacqueira reserve. They take advantage of this day to showcase their handicrafts such as body ornaments (cocares, headdresses and feather skirts), but also their music, their dances, their songs and their architecture. At the end of the commemorations, which last two days, a wedding is usually celebrated. Without this reserve and all these celebrations, the Pataxo culture would probably have disappeared. It should also be noted that their practice of traditional medicine in connection with wild plants, as well as their gifts as mediums, are all ecological qualities passed down from generation to generation, favouring their connection with the forest. The ‘Pajé’, in particular, plays a very important role in the Pataxo community as a traditional healer.

With the arrival of the covid-19 virus in the Northeast region, the fragile economic balance that allowed the Pataxos to survive was disrupted. Some have found themselves confined to the Jacqueria reserve without health, financial or educational support, while others have been isolated in villages close to the big cities. In addition to this pandemic, the policies of forced land grabbing have forced the Pataxo community to constantly rearrange their territorial space in order to both live there and welcome tourists.

I would like to show in this reportage how the integration of the Pataxo indigenous culture and today’s world is articulated. A symbol of the preservation of our planet, this integration of the Pataxos remains a real challenge for a generation of endangered Indians who must cohabit the preservation of tradition and project themselves into modernity in order to defend their rights and their identity in the Brazil of the 21st century. After several weeks spent in the reserve with them, sharing their daily life, I propose a series of photos that aim to reinforce the historical memory of this endangered people, and help them to survive.

Christian Barbé
juillet 2022