Conversation with Cristine Takuá
By Claudio Bueno and Ligia Nobre
Transcription and Editing Ruy Cézar Campos
São Paulo, August 2, 2018
Ligia Nobre — Could you tell us a bit about your story and your political stance and acting here in São Paulo and in Brazil? What are the main issues in which you have been interested, those that have moved you or confronted you?
Cristine Takua — My name is Cristine Takua, I am from the village of Rio Silveira and I am currently a representative of the Guarani Yvyrupa commission. Besides that, I have studied philosophy, and I’m currently an educator. There are numerous issues and struggles, but lately
I have been focusing my attention on territorial and educational issues, since I believe it is through the territorial aspect we may rethink everything. It is not possible to live, to think about culture or spirituality if we do not own our territory, because it is from the forest we get our medicine, it is within the forest all living things are created. So this struggle for territory is an extremely arduous struggle for all leaderships, for all the people of our community.
For ten years now, I have, as an educator, been cultivating this message among young people and children: this awakening concerning the care and the attention towards the other beings that also live here. Because, sometimes, when we talk about territory, most people think we are talking about a territory for an specific group of people, but this is not the case: we are thinking about fighting for a territory for all beings — the rivers, the animals, the trees, and so on. And this is a very painful fight, as many leaderships have already disappeared in its name, but it continues. For centuries and centuries, indigenous peoples have been trying to show the Brazilian people, especially our State Governors, the need for respect towards the Earth, towards the forest, but this respect is still not practiced. In that sense, I have focused my efforts towards these aspects, as I feel those are fundamental questions.
Another struggle, which I have prioritized for about two years, came about because of the death of my mother—in—law, who was a great woman (a midwife, a great Guarani female leadership figure), and her husband (who was my father—in—law, who was a great Pajé1). They have awakened my attention concerning the respect for the medicines of the forest, and also towards these spiritual leaders, because in the old days we had no cacique2: the great leaders who showed us the path, with good and beautiful words, were the spiritual leaders. These people that many today call pajés have not been respected to this day. When we think of the strengthening of the territories, we think directly of the spiritual leaders, because they are the ones who show us the path. The journey of the Guarani people, in the past, was given to and revealed by these people through dreams — a vision that there would exist a place where one would live well and find a certain tranquility. I was very touched by these questions within all these stories I’ve heard and, through them, I’ve been fighting to make them visible, to show society the relevance of the spiritual leaders and the forest medicines, because those too have been criminalized, as the tobacco itself. Tobacco is very sacred to the Guarani people: it is through the pipe that the healing, cleaning, and the communication with the spiritual world is achieved. And in non—indigenous society today, tobacco is a mixture of chemicals that causes cancer — on the label of these products you see the warnings that they cause cancer. But that is not the case for us, we have much respect to the tobacco, to all the plants that are healing remedies. It turns out that the non—indigenous use the medicines to make money, transforming the coca leaf into cocaine — there are several chemical processes in those lines, but all of them have the same aim, the same purpose: profit. This spreads diseases.
Cláudio Bueno — You talk a lot about the relationships with the Earth and, when you deal with the territory, you use a very strong expression: “the rape of the Earth”. Could you elaborate on that?
CT — I’ve been reflecting about what is rape and the rape of the Earth for a while, in the sense that, for me, to see a dead river is an extremely heavy reality. Whenever we arrive here in São Paulo, sometimes passing through the Pinheiros river, some places, we feel that strong smell of rotten, dead, lifeless rivers. I always remember a great spiritual leader who said something that I never forgot: our body has veins and blood, and one who suffers from blood circulation problems will likely suffer a heart attack and die; so the blood that runs through our veins is
what gives us life. The Earth has its veins of water, which are the rivers. But men, out of interest, transpose, change, build dams, these various things that change the course of water, and that is a rape. To seize a river and change its direction, without asking if this can be done, this is a great aggression. When I talk about the rape of the Earth it is in this sense, what we are doing to nature, the genetic modification of seeds that become dead seeds, because they do not proliferate or grow, how they use substances to contaminate the land, and so on. I have friends who live in the state of Mato Grosso and they tell me there are days everyone has to run and hide, because airplanes drift through the sky spreading pesticides on the land. This contamination of pesticides, insecticides, the many things they scatter over the soil, it is also a rape, since they wound the Earth, wounds that are sometimes invisible to the eyes, but that we feel.
People who have a spiritual connection, who seek this spiritual connection, listen to the beating of the Earth’s heart, especially at night. It is as if the Earth pulsates in a sigh of lamentation, as it is saying: “I cannot cope with this anymore”. This too I have talked about a lot, and it is during spiritual ceremonies, chanting and dancing rituals that last all night, that suddenly, we all become silent at ourplace of worship: then we can only hear the sounds of the forest, of the animals, and the general feeling is that the spirits of the forest are angry — angry and saddened.
And even though you, or anyone, may say “Oh, but I’m not guilty of any of that”, we as humans, we are all responsible, and I tell this to my students, because before we did not use disposable diapers, for example, and today many of us do. This rape is a collective rape, in which we all participate, we are part of it. It’s no use for me to say something like “Oh, because I’m a Guarani, I’m out of it.” No! Once I go somewhere and buy something with plastic packaging and throw it somewhere, this bag will end up in a landfill — and landfills are wounds that never heal. Where does our garbage goes? We cause wounds, it clogs the Earth with things that are not useful. So, in my perspective, that would be rape, you know? There are days that I wake up thinking very bitterly: how can we hurt less this powerful mother that is the Earth? And that is a very strong question for me.
Sem Título, Imagem da adulta com as crianças [Untitled, Image from the adult with children]. Crédito [Credits]: Danilo Christidis e Vhera Poty
CB — The other question that you also usually deal with is about Guarani communication. There is much talk about digital communications, communications by technological means, but there are other ways of thinking communication. Could you talk a little bit about this?
CT — The Guarani people are one of the biggest indigenous population here in America, they are present in several states in Brazil and also in Paraguay, Argentina, Bolivia. Communication is a very interesting thing. This was deeper before, today it’s diminishing, because there is a lot of noise, a lot of information, but it still exists. The dream, for example, is a very strong form of communication, and sometimes it brings the message of someone who has died or something that will happen or good things as well, a spiritual concentration— as I was saying when I talked about tobacco. There is even a shaman who says that his old cell phone was the petenguá, the pipe you use to smoke tobacco. We do not swallow, just puff. When you release the smoke, it goes, it is an ephemeral smoke, right? In this scatter, you send the information to where you want it to go. Communication was then given spiritually, through thought, concentration, at the time of singing.
There were these two modes of communication: through dream and spirituality. This communication was somewhat fragmented with the arrival, for example, of electric light in the villages. This I see very clearly, as a milestone of change. With electricity, many ended up stopping frequenting the house of worship because they had television, a mobile phone. Music, at times, gets in the way.
There is, thus, this interference in more scientific, but we must preserve our traditional technology, which is this knowledge... I realize that in the forest, the forest peoples, no matter what people, hold the mysteries of science, of the science of the forest. It is beyond science. The science and technology of the world here is limited, it does not solve our problems. You create a lot of devices to detect a tumor somewhere, when, in fact, it is not even a tumor, it is an accumulation of anguish — and the anguishes is healed with care, with affection, with attention, and this is what you have you are in a community, in a prayer house, with everyone singing and caring for each other.
I believe these technologies and social networks are causing a lot of non-care, a lack of attention for taking proper care of relationships. Relationships are fragmented, distanced, “each in its own square,” and that is a problem. But we have this relationship, this other communication, which is a very beautiful thing, and the older ones have this more present with them, because they are not as close to that scientific technology as we young people are.
LN — While discussing the territory and this relationship it has with spirituality, you talk about how the Guaranis have been for centuries in this confrontation with the white people and other ways of life. How does this take place in a territory like São Paulo?
CT — Before talking about São Paulo, I’d like to comment on the Yvyrupá concept. Yvyrupá, translating, it is as if the Earth were one. Yvyrupá, as a concept, is like the bedsheet of the Earth, which sustains the Earth, and the Guarani people believe that the Yvyrupá is the heart of that center of the Earth. In Paraguay, Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Santa Catarina, Paraná, São Paulo, Espírito Santo, Rio de Janeiro, and even in southern Pará we see the Guarani people. All this area constitutes a large communication circuit, as well as a place where different journeys intersect. The Guarani people are people who walk, who do not stop, and even today, having their land granted, it is very common for people to walk from one village to another. Here, in the very state of São Paulo, there is a very large concentration of indigenous Guarani lands (in the Ribeira Valley, on the south coast, on the north coast, in the capital, in the west of São Paulo as well). The Guarani Yvyrupá Commission has published a digital virtual map of the Guarani villages, and this great concentration of indigenous lands is very striking to me when we see it on the aerial map. When you have a view from above, you see that the Atlantic Rainforest is within the areas of indigenous land. On other regions, you hardly see trees, and this calls our attention to something.
These people are, even here at the region of Parelheiros, inside the area of forest. In the state of São Paulo we see this question, this rape of the Earth that has occurred — and the Atlantic Forest is a great example of this rape: of the 100% of the Atlantic Forest that existed, today there are less than 7% — and these 7% are in the indigenous areas, preservation parks and quilombola4areas. We see the struggle of the Guarani indigenous lands in the state of São Paulo as a great scream for care and attention for this remaining forest, because if this forest is destroyed completely, it’ll become impossible to live here.
The struggle of these people here in São Paulo has further reasons: there is a lot of prejudice too. Today many people arrive at Guarani villages here in the capital, these people see everyone with ‘normal’ clothes, indigenous people using phones, and so on. Many non-indigenous people will look at this and say: “These are not indigenous people.” These people have that romantic view that indigenous groups should be always naked, feather-adorned individuals of the Amazon basin. Even though things are not like that at the Amazon, you just need to go there and see it yourself. The fight against this prejudice is a struggle, and we try to show to the Brazilian people that in São Paulo there is the Guarani, there is indigenous land and it is because of the existence of this indigenous land that we still have the forest. And the relationship of the forest with the people, for me, is a very deep thing. Hence Alckmin5, who spent many years in the government of São Paulo, now comes up with the idea of privatizing the state parks, aiming at economic interest, of course. Can he not see that it is where there are parks that life exists? We saw this, this privatization of the parks, as an aggression, an arrow in the heart, because we are affected by it directly. If they are really privatized one day, most indigenous lands areas will overlap with the private parks’ areas, posing a serious threat to our territories.
CB — And, by the way, could you comment a little on what was the occupation of the Jaraguá Peak6?
CT — The occupation of the Jaraguá Peak was something truly incredible. I’d like to briefly recall the Acampamento Terra Livre of 2017, which was very strong too, as, at the time, we were dealing with several massacres, especially the Guarani Kaiowá, who are also close relatives. There was a demonstration with black coffins, which were thrown at the entrance of the Brazilian Congress. This generated a very violent reaction — tear gas bombs, police; we were coerced so violently that we wondered, “How could they do that?”. We were performing an act, and public acts are allowed — we no longer have state enforced censorship in Brazil, and if there is democracy, there should be freedom of speech and respect for people’s pain.
But that does not exist.
When I came back from the Acampamento in 2017, I was even more touched by this situation, of how there is no respect. And then it began, at the end of 2017, several demonstrations at the Paulista Avenue, and then this stronger occupation there at the land of the Jaragua Peak. When there are occupations, communication between the
I was not in the tower itself, but I followed everything through messages, the people that were up there said that the feeling was of power even, “now you dominate this state,” because you dominate what moves those people. Everyone wakes up and picks up their cell phone to check messages; and suddenly everything goes off —television, internet, all this media? People
enter into a collective outbreak of technological abstinence, which is a very powerful thing. For a few moments, then, we experienced this feeling of thinking how fragile and dependent people are. This dependence is what generates depression, to get too attached to a communication that leads nowhere, such as television’s, for example. People watch Faustão8 and these ridiculous programs that only speak nonsense, and that only induces consumption and stops them from seeing the rape of the Earth. This feeling during the occupation was very strong, to show this to the people and even to Brazil. I will not say that this is restricted to São Paulo, because these news ran several states, had an impact and showed that there are indigenous people in São Paulo, that there is indigenous land in the capital that generates the entire financial circuit of the country.
For us, for a short time, this empowerment occurred, we could say that we were there, resisting, re-existing — because you have to reinvent the way of being when you are coerced in a territory that is not allowed to breathe. Incidentally, the people of the village live on the edge of the highway — a murderous highway, by the way. Earlier this year, a young girl died, my husband’s niece, who was hitby a vehicle on the highway close to the Jaraguá. Many people died on that road; and there are several complicated situations involving that indigenous land, because it is so close to the city. In that sense, these movements of occupation are screams of resistance.
CB — What have you been thinking about this idea of development? If we think that development during the dictatorship killed more than 8,000 indigenous people...
CT — So, thinking about this development issue, I shall start at the Brazilian flag, because its sayings Order and Progress are aimed at the development of our country. And many people see this word, development, as a positive thing, “sustainable development”. During Rio + 20 much has been said about green economy and sustainable development, but this is a contradictory term — it does not exist. Because being sustainable is not developing, it is getting involved with space so that space is sustained and expanded. It’s very interesting, this reflection of involving and developing.
The military dictatorship is a crucial moment in the country’s history, and the history books emphasize the exiles of Caetano, Chico9, all these famous people, but do not speak of the exile of the indigenous peoples. There were concentration camps; during the military dictatorship, in Minas Gerais, in the villages of the Krenak and the Maxacali, there were prisons in which these people were trained to torture their own relatives who were willing to confront the government in other regions. In the State of São Paulo, some indigenous lands were created during the dictatorship, a mixture of Krenak with Kaingangs. Kaingangs are southerners, the Krenak are from Minas Gerais, and the Terena from Mato Grosso do Sul; and they were all thrown there in a totally disorderly manner, which generated conflict. I saw the military dictatorship as a moment when the government had development in its head in a frantic, violent, overwhelming way; but this story is not well told, not even at the universities. I have conversations with teachers and university history students who are unaware of the real History of Brazil, and they should do this reflection on the development and involvement during the historical process of our country.
CB and LN — It’s wonderful to be able to count on all that you’re telling us about. We’ll dare ask if it would be possible to record a song of yours to the Earth that can echo during the three months of the exhibition?
CT — There is a song that I find very powerful, it says: “Give it back, give back our land, so we can continue to live in tranquility” That’s it: give it back, give us back our land, so that we can continue to live in peace and happiness. Truthfully, we all need the land to live in peace and happiness. So this is the our reflection, this is our struggle.
CB and LN — Thank you.
CT — I thank you too. I find this dialogue so important, to expand these dialogues, specially by means of the art. Artists are those who give more attention to the cause, in a way. The scientists, poor things, they are a little bit lost within their own reasoning, which takes them nowhere, but I can see that the art field is very large, that it must be appreciated more. Because art can touch the heart of people, unlike science.
1 Pajé is the title given to the shamanic figures within certain indigenous
groups in the americas.
2 Cacique is a title given to the leadership figures within these groups.
3 WhatsApp is a instant messaging app extremely popular in South
4 Quilombola is the word used to name the inhabitants of quilombos,
settlements that developed from populations of enslaved African—
diasporic black people, who escaped slave plantations throughout the
16—19th century in Brazil
5 Geraldo Alckmin is a Brazilian politician who has served as the State
Governor of São Paulo from 2001—2006 and then from 2011—2018
6 The Jaraguá Peak (Pico do Jaraguá) is the highest mountain in the
city of São Paulo, located at the northern area of the city.
7 The Paulista Avenue (Avenida Paulista) is one of the most relevant
Avenues in the city of São Paulo. It serves as a cultural, social and
financial epicenter that stretches 2.8km (1.7mi)
8 Domingão do Faustão is a popular TV show aired on Sundays at the
biggest public TV Channel network Rede Globo
9 Caetano Veloso and Chico Buarque are both famous Brazilian
musicians who, among others, went into exile during the Brazilian
Os textos aqui presentes expressam as opiniões e experiências pessoais dos artistas e entrevistados.