In Wawi Indigenous Land (MT), Khĩsêtjê sing and dance until dawn to celebrate 20 years of their traditional territory retaking.
Published originally on their blog by Instituto Socioambiental (ISA). Author: Isabel Harari, journalist. Photos: Christian Braga / ISA; Videos: Kamikia Kisedje y Fred Mauro / ISA. The Instituto Socieambiental is an organization that was established in Brazil in 1994 to support the socio-environmental struggle of the people.
“We will never forget our land. We always said: one day we will return.”
Chief Kuiussi Khĩsêtjê’s statement is repeated several times in the statements of relatives and leaders during the celebrations that mark the 20 years of Wawi Indigenous Land (IL) demarcation, in the east of Mato Grosso state.
More than 200 people gathered themselves at ngo, the men’s house in the center of Khinkatxi village, to remember the elders’ fight for the retrievement and protection of their lands. There, Khĩsêtjê, Kawaiwete and Yudja leaders reaffirmed their alliance in defense of the Xingu and the Amazon.
20 years after returning to their traditional territory, invasions and fundiary insecurity gave place to other problems, such as the advancement of deforestation and the use of pesticides in the surroundings. Although the menaces have changed, the message is the same: “we will keep fighting”.
With cameras and cell phones in their hands, the youngsters listened carefully to their leaders stories. Chief Sadea, from people Yudjá, was firm: “Are you listening to these stories? You have to pay attention to continue our fight for what is the most important: the land. We will sing and dance until dawn remembering our fight”.[penci_video url=”https://youtu.be/NQeIXWdInQw” align=”center” width=”” /]
Ntoni Khĩsêtjê laughs telling when, still a boy, saw a white man for the first time. “He didn’t look like a man, he looked like a guariba (a monkey species)! He had a lot of beard, a lot of hair!”.
That was Orlando Villas Bôas, who in 1959, worried about the advancement of colonization fronts in Mato Grosso state, went together with a Yudja group to make contact with the Khĩsêtjê. A little after, the people moved to the Xingu Indigenous Park (PIX in portuguese) — today known as the Xingu Indigenous Territory.
The Khĩsêtjê have lived for decades in PIX, but Ntoni and many others always returned to Suiá Missu’s region to collect pequi, mangaba and other products. “The Xingu is beautiful, full of beaches but it’s not what I wanted. The place I wanted and that is mine is this one here. It has always been. We’ve never forgotten our land”, tells chief Kuiussi, who led the movement.
Along the years, the Khĩsêtjê’s traditional territory has been taken for cattle farms and fishermen, causing deforestation, river siltation and violence in the region. “People got very worried. The cattle will step on our graves, on our relatives’ cemeteries, our sacred places will be barred, stepped on by the cattle”, tells Yaiku Khĩsêtjê.
The dream of returning and the worries about the territory motivated a series of expeditions by the Suiá Missu’s region during the 90’s. Then, the Khĩsêtjê seized fishermen and invaders in order to pressure the government to recognize their rights. In 1994 they took control of Wawi river, a Suiá Missu’s tributary and claimed the recognition of that region as an Indigenous Land.
“I heard from the government, from congressmen, governors and senators, all saying ‘this land is not the indians’, this land is the whites’. They said that and I just heard it. We have always occupied this territory”, says Kuiussi. The chief went to Brasilia and tells that he refused to shake Júlio Gaiger’s hand, the National Indian Foundation (FUNAI, in Portuguese) president at the time, until he compromised to demarcate the land: “ I told him that I would only shake his hand when he gave me his word that he would make the demarcation”.
Successful in this attempt, Wawi IL was homologated in 1998.
“If we were a weak people we wouldn’t regain our land. It would have been totally deforested long ago”, states Ntoni.
In the last years, the Khĩsêtjê watched a radical change in their surroundings. Cattle farms gave place to soybean plantations. In Querência only, municipality where the IL is located, more than 7 thousand hectares were deforested in 2018.
Between 2007 and 2017, the grain planted area around the Xingu Indigenous Territory, which includes IL Wawi, grew 135%, together with the use of pesticides, which increased 130% at the same period, according to IBGE/Sidra (brazilian geographic data agency).
In 2017, it’s estimated that between 60 and 90 million liters of pesticides were used in the Mato Grosso portion of the Xingu river basin. “The white man plants with poison and sells it to us, to die poisoned. The land is important to plant, our food has no poison, that’s why we need our lands demarcated”, explains Wisio Kawaiwete.
After retaking their traditional lands, the Khĩsêtjê people found their territory degraded, consequence of farmers invasion. A new fight had begun and the solution was found in a fruit: the pequi.
The history of pequi is one of transformation, both of the landscape and the market. Advancements in the oil’s production brought the recognition of the product. With the planting of pequis, indigenous people worked to revive the land, produce more food for the community and generate sustainable income. Today there are 63 restored hectares and a record production of pequi oil.
This year, the Indigenous Association Khĩsêtjê (AIK, in Portuguese) won an UN’s award for the Hwin Mbe, the Khĩsêtjê people’s pequi oil from Xingu. Today, five villages are involved in the production and 315 liters of pequi oil were produced in 2018.
Watch the video made by the indigenous filmmaker Kamikia Khĩsêtjê, who went to New York to cover the award announcement (in Portuguese)[penci_video url=”https://youtu.be/EflUzh07w_I” align=”center” width=”” /]
“We offer something that the whites respect, the pequi oil. And for that we don’t need to cut the forest down. The pequi is a way to defend our territory, with the pequi we have political power to defend our territory”, comments Winti Khĩsêtjê.
“We will have to be alert, we will fight to stay alive. We are living because we have land”, says Werantxi, AIK’s president, in a speech directed to the youngsters.
More than a celebration, the 20th anniversary of Wawi Indigenous Land demarcation was a moment of reflection about the importance of land security and an opportunity to strengthen alliances against threats to territory rights. “Our enemies are coming closer every day. They threat to take it all, end Indigenous Lands. We need to be ready to defend ourselves from this”, said Maiware Kawaiweté, who accompanied the struggle for the Wawi IL demarcation.
Attentive to the speech of the elderly, the young Kuyayutxi, chief Kuiussi’s daughter, states: “We will protect our land for the next generations. For the young ones to live healthy, because the forest protects us”.
Right after the plenary, Kawaiwete and Yudja of all ages joined the Khĩsêtjê in singing, dancing and playing, which raised the dust from the village courtyard. Chief Sadea’s promise that they would dance until dawn was fulfilled.
See some more amazing photographs at ISA’s blog.