Miguel Pinheiro's profile


[ The Last Kuruaya? ]

by ©MiguelPinheiro - Brasil 2020
(all images are copyrighted and cannot be used without written permission)​​​​​​​

There are about seven thousand idioms ​​in the world, most of which are spoken by indigenous populations, most of the dying ones as well. They are oral, without grammar, nor dictionaries. Knowledge is passed from person to person. According to a 2014 report (Loh, Harmon), 25% of languages ​​are now in danger of extinction, a higher percentage than mammals (21%), reptiles (15%) or birds (13%). The decline in linguistic diversity is linked with social, political and economic behaviours, such as forced migrations or urbanization. The journey of the Kuruaya indigenous group, at the heart of the Amazon Rainforest, is a sum of those factors. For native communities, language and land are intertwined. Here in the Xingu region, it’s been long since the lands have been invaded, cultures have been decimated, and Odete Kuruaya (Iawá), the last Kuruaya fluent speaker, is now on the verge of becoming a closing statistic... 
Iawá, The Last Kuruaya?
Iawá is in her eighties, maybe nineties, no one really knows as the Kuruaya did not register or celebrate the birth of individuals, rather they performed rituals that involved the entire group. A few years ago, the local Brazilian authorities created an ID document for Iawá. She was assigned a date of birth. Still to this day she’s never celebrated her birthday. 
[ Volta Grande do Xingu, Brazil ]
Iawá and her granddaughter Lorena Kuruaya, a medical student and indigenous activist. Lorena volunteered during the quarantine to distribute food in the communities around, only to witness a dangerous isolation, “due to the low volume of water we can’t travel by boat, the roads here are perilous, and few families own a car. It’s problematic to move to buy food, or even in the case of a medical emergency. People here were abandoned”.
[ Volta Grande do Xingu, Brazil ]
The Xingu river is sacred to the Kuruaya. It used to provide them with clean water, abundance of fish and hunt, a robust forest, and a freeway to navigate and trade their goods. Since the arrival of the dam, the scarcity of water has made matters worse for them. In the image, Lorena Kuruaya.
[ Volta Grande do Xingu, Brazil ] 
Environmental destruction goes hand in hand with the annihilation of cultural biodiversity, which is the final blow to silence traditional peoples. What we all defend as Human Rights is ridiculed by the Brazilian indigenous leadership Ailton Krenak, as he blatantly confesses “I came to the conclusion that humanity is just a club that advertises a lot about itself and convinces everyone that they are all about equality. While they are a successful club, the rest of us may as well die." The Kuruaya and Xipaya families of the Mid-Xingu region.
[ Volta Grande do Xingu, Brazil ] ​​​​​​​
Lorena and Odete Kuruaya
Nomination for the award "Landscape Hero 2020", by the Global Landscapes Forum.
The Global Landscapes Forum (GLF) is the world’s largest knowledge-led platform on integrated land use, dedicated to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals and Paris Climate Agreement. The Forum takes a holistic approach to create sustainable landscapes that are productive, prosperous, equitable and resilient and considers five cohesive themes of food and livelihoods, landscape restoration, rights, finance and measuring progress. It is led by the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), in collaboration with its co-founders UNEP and the World Bank and Charter Members.​​​​​​​
Multimedia Article for Mongabay