It’s a timeless scene that convinces and thrills the birdwatching tourists boating along the river – a Guaraní group with bows and arrows, in body and face paint, picturesquely grouped on the bank and in shallow water. Sadly, it’s faked. The boat passes and the group files off to a waiting pick-up.
We probably crudely imagine indigenous people in the Amazon, naked or nearly so, using primitive technology, living in the forest. For Nádio, Lia, Osvaldo and the others, it’s not so. They live in poverty on a small reserve, working as cane cutters on plantations, and, when they’re lucky, as forest ornament. That is, until two of their young women hang themselves from trees. The group leaves the reserve for the land where their ancestors are buried, now part of a cattle ranch.
They hunt, rather poorly, and still cut cane, but they stay on their land, defying the powerful cattle ranchers, who aren’t prepared to compromise. Someone has to lose out.
This is a gripping story, rich in character and incident, never didactic, idealistic or one-sided, resisting easy resolution, and beautifully acted by non-professional Guaraní in the key roles.
The title is an ironical comment on how we see indigenous people as exotic natural colour. Yet most birdwatchers are strongly committed to protecting birds and their environments, and Bechis, who made the film with Survival International, ends it with an appeal for support. Check it out at: www.guarani-survival.org
This article is from
the October 2009 issue
of New Internationalist.
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