Meeting the Piripkura

Amos Lassen

In Brazil, there are about 900,000 indigenous peoples from a total of 305 peoples that speak 297 different languages. One of these peoples are the Piripkura, who live deep in the Amazon, far from any civilization. The last time Jair Candor, Coordinator of the Brazilian Indigenous Protection Authority (FUNAI) saw the last two survivors was six years ago and now he has to go back to the jungle to prove that both are still alive and that the protection of their territory can be maintained.

Candor took a film crew with him that consisted of Bruno Jorge (Bairro), Mariana Oliva (Miradas) and Renata Terra (Teresa), who capture the difficult journey and try to document the circumstances of the dense jungle, where paths are barely visible and the high humidity seems to cause problems. They are trying to find signs that Pakyî and Tamandua may have been here in recent weeks.

The journey is arduous and footprints are rarely found, so the question inevitably arises as to whether both are still alive. Illnesses could cause problems for both. Candor quietly reports on the value of indigenous peoples. “Piripkura” is 80 minutes long and the participants stroll seemingly aimlessly through the jungle, commenting on whatever. They make contact with Pakyî and Tamandua who  move naked through the jungle.

The search for the last survivors of Piripkura and their protection is undoubtedly important but I would have liked a bit more background on the tribe. Every few years, Jair Candor drives his car across Brazil to Mato Grosso on the Bolivian border. From there, he and several companions, heavily laden, go on foot to a piece of rainforest that has so far defied the surrounding plantations and pastures. The reason for this is two people who live in there. These are the last two traditional men of the Piripkura people. The presence of Pakyî and Tamandua is also a livelihood for the forest in which they live and that can only be secured from deforestation by legitimizing their homeland.

The biggest threats to the Piripkura are not hunger, disease or wild animals, but prospectors and woodcutters. In such an attack, the Piripkura lost a large part of their people a few years ago. Apart from the two men, a sister and niece Rita, who now lives in one of the shanty towns that FUNAI provides elsewhere, also survived and that is what is left.  

In the film, hovering, atmospheric camera shots through the bushes contrast with shaky camera stretches during foot marches. And when the two wanted then on a second expedition about the film center really emerge from the woods and the camera is zooming in on them,

Payki and Tamandua sometimes get fed up with by their supporters but the help they receive is welcome. Their future is uncertain.

This Brazilian documentary by Renata Terra, Bruno Jorge and Mariana Oliva, with rare openness, refers to the genocide that has been associated with the jungle in the Amazon. Jair Candor knows that the last two Piripkura, who live in the forests away from civilization, are in constant danger. If they encounter a lumberjack or prospector they will most likely be shot, he fears. Pakyî and Tamanduo, whose tribesmen were murdered or expelled by the whites in the 1980s, are readily and politely photographed and filmed by Jair and his companions for a while before disappearing into the rainforest. The film givess the audience the only opportunity to get to know these.

We feel sad  when Pakyî and Tamanduo say “Ciao” after their visit to Funai Station. They go into the green wilderness and both protection and freedom, with their torch, two bags of gifts and wearing new T-shirts. Jair himself does not know when he will see her again. With him, we in the audience experienced the two indigenous people as polite and friendly, even though they did not understand the language of the officials who medically examined them.

Jair tells us that he has witnessed the murder attacks on indigenous tribes in the 1960s. Rainforest inhabitants were the settlers, farmers and lumberjacks  and others formed squads that went into the forest at night, attacked an indigenous community, set fire to longhouses, killed all people. The conviction that the forest dwellers must be extinguished because they stand in the way of progress is still widespread today, says Jair. He looks to the future with concern. Too many contemporaries, not just in Brazil, believe that progress is in the exploitation of nature.

This moving documentary from Brazil draws the public’s attention to the extinction of the Piripkura, an indigenous people in the Amazon, who had to give way to the clearing of the jungle. Two men of this tribe managed to survive under the protection of the jungle. The camera follows a representative of the state indigenous protection authority in search of the men in the wilderness. It depends on their existence, if the land use prohibition, which gives this jungle area perhaps the last reprieve, is again extended by two years.

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