Indigenous people literature / Translations of cultural experiences in writing

SOURCE: Astrolábio Magazine nº 21 year II set. 2017, English translation: Awasqa

Grafismo indígena. Foto:
Grafismo indígena. Foto:

Indigenous literature is marked by a narrative tradition with strong traces of orality, amplified by representation systems through graphics, which constitute another narrative, which differs from the strict concept of the printed word. Indigenous graphics are stories and information narratives with their language and reading, so they must be valued in their specificity.

Indigenous writer Vangri Kaingáng comments that:

“Indigenous literature is a way of perpetuating oral knowledge. When an indigenous person writes about her people, she is translating to write experiences that she has learned through her cultural background, her family, her roots, she talks about the origin of its essence, it is what you have already learned, what you owe respect to and who you really are, because you speak with ownership of what you know. “

Vangri Kaingáng. Foto:
Vangri Kaingáng. Foto:

Vangri says that each indigenous people has their way of interpreting their paintings and graphics and that the Kaingang use these paintings in ceremonies and rituals, in commemoration of weddings and also in the ritual of the dead.

“We, Kaingang people, use graphics that divide people into two large families or halves. We call these signs Ra, and there are only two types, which are Ra Téj that belongs to the night and the moon; and Ra Ra that belongs to the sun or day; our graphic design defines the tribal half to which indigenous people, animals, plants and objects belong. ”

Australian aborigines, for example, use their art as a form of writing known as “the Dreamtime” which can be considered an iconographic encyclopedia that tells stories in a way for children and at another level of interpretation, the initiated elderly readers (descriptions in English in the graph)

Australian. Foto:
Australian. Foto:

To learn more about the subject, Astrolabio spoke with Daniel Munduruku, an indigenous writer who has a degree in philosophy, history and psychology, a master’s degree in social anthropology from the University of São Paulo, USP, and a doctorate in education from the same university. Daniel has written several books, mainly in the area of children’s literature.

Schools are an excellent example of the narrative use of these stories. Teachers now have access to them and are using them as a teaching tool. This makes me very happy because I see that we are reaching our goal of bringing the indigenous universe closer to non-indigenous people.

1) An essential point about indigenous peoples literature is their publications. Indigenous relatives are publishing their stories; how is this happening in Brazil?

There was a market opening for  indigenous literature since the 1990s. Indigenous peoples realized when this demand began and started to propose texts for commercial publishers. Before this, and even today, many books are published by institutions that support the indigenous cause.

Daniel Munduruku. Foto:
Daniel Munduruku. Foto:

Generally, however, they are books that have no commercial purpose and are often invisible. The novelty we brought was writing texts that had an educational nature. That is, they were written documents for non-indigenous children with a clear expectation of changing the minds of students regarding the distorted vision of indigenous people that was always spread in Brazilian schools. Our initiative has won the forefront of an organized movement, structured to continue with this initial proposal. Today there are more than 30 authors and illustrators, with around 150 titles already launched commercially, not to mention those that are written and published by the institutions that support the communities.

2) Indigenous literature is different because they are diverse indigenous peoples in Brazil, each town has its way of telling stories; how is this transmitted in the books?

It is essential to differentiate the literary production that is published. There is a set of works that has a commercial character and is published by professional publishers. They are books with a certain literary quality and graphic projects prepared to please consumers. Of course, among these books that are published there are those of questionable quality because the publishing criteria are those of the editor and many of them follow the old paradigm taught in Brazilian schools since the 1960s. Many indigenous peoples also reproduce this paradigm because that is how they learned and, therefore, they are texts that do not contribute to clarifying the real situation of the Brazilian indigenous peoples, because they are trapped in ancient and obsolete knowledge. Therefore, I affirm that many such books are in the publishing market, and that is not good for the cause or the citizens’ conscience of Brazilians.

Another aspect is books published by nonprofit partner institutions. In general, this type of production follows a theoretical line whose objective is to show reality as it is. That is to say, the text bears the mark of the orality of the narrators, drawings of the children or youth of the community, an amateur graphic project that ends by removing the beauty of the committed effort. Although the material is good or beautiful, it often runs into the distribution of the content and ends up restricted to a specific audience. University publishers are a typical example of this statement.

The third is the problem of text quality. Our relatives can tell stories orally. However, writing is another art that needs to be mastered. In that case, if the narrator wants to be the writer, he will have to go to school to learn this art. Otherwise, you must present your role to the institutions that assist you. Then I can only feel sorry because we are wasting outstanding literary talents.

3) Why illustrations often accompany the indigenous literature?

Grafismo indígena. Foto:

Our choice was to write for children and young people. In a literate society, there is always compartmentalization of knowledge, and children and young people are victims of that. The market requires children’s books to be illustrated. That is a great reason. The good news is that there are indigenous artists who have begun to understand this logic of the market and are already preparing to meet this demand. The bad news is that very few want to work professionally.

4) The literature of indigenous peoples is widely used in storytelling; do you think this is because it comes from an oral tradition? How is this literature used in indigenous schools, for example? And how can it be used to complement Law 11.645 that establishes the teaching of African and indigenous writing in schools?

I believe that those who read should tell the vocation of indigenous stories. Our stories bring a network of possibilities to generate images, gestures, colors, magic, sounds. They are vibrant stories in details and imagination. A good storyteller enjoys these stories. They are magical.

Schools are an excellent example of the narrative use of these stories. Teachers now have access to them and are using them as a teaching tool. This makes me very happy because I see that we are reaching our goal of bringing the indigenous universe closer to non-indigenous people. I feel that new airs are beginning to unveil on the horizon because I see that indigenous and non-indigenous schools use our literature as pedagogical support so that we gradually eliminate prejudices and social exclusion.

Grafismo indígena. Foto:
Grafismo indígena. Foto:

Links relacionados:

Blog do Daniel Munduruku

Literatura indígena e o tênue fio entre escrita e oralidade – Por Daniel Munduruku

Narrativas dos Aborígenes Australianos – ‘the Dreamtime’

Vangri Kaingáng has some publications such as Indigenous Anthology, a work of poetry, along with great names in literature, Ailton Krenak, Manoel Moura Tukano, Eliane Potiguara, Edson Kaiapó, and many others. She has published a book about Kaingang’s legends called JOTY from Editora Global, which received an honorable mention among the works chosen at the First International Biennial of Indigenous Peoples as one of the most beautiful literature works of 2011 in Mexico. She made the documentary in the work EG RÁ Nossas Marcas, which talks about the ten years of performance of the Indigenous Culture Point and the Kaingáng Institute, in the works developed with the Kaingáng indigenous communities of Rio Grande do Sul. Biruta Editorial, the book Estrela Kaingáng.

Sallisa Rosa

Sallisa Rosa

Master’s in Journalism and Audiovisual Production from Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ).

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