Traditional Textiles of Cusco: Weaving Heritage

Photo from a group dye day in Accha Alta, in which the weavers are rinsing out a batch of freshly dyed yarn. During one of these events, the CTTC goes to the community with all the materials needed for dyeing and the weavers bring all the yarn they have prepared, to be sorted and dyed depending on the colors they want to weave with.

The Center of Traditional Textiles of the Cusco (CTTC) was founded in 1996, when the textile traditions in the Cusco Region of the Andes, based in the ancient Pre-Columbian cultures of Peru, were in danger of disappearing forever. Younger generations had ceased to learn how to weave as well as the traditions behind it, leaving the fate of Peruvian textiles in the hands of aging generations. The principal objectives of the Center are to recapture the history of, spread information about, and stimulate the production of traditional textiles, as well as provide support and assistance to the communities of weavers with which the Center works. By researching and documenting techniques, styles and designs, the Center works to preserve weaving traditions for future generations. Presently, the Center works with nine communities in the Cusco Region: Chinchero, Chahuaytire, Accha Alta, Patabamba, Mahuaypampa, Sallac, Chumbivilcas, Pitumarca and Acopia; All of which preserve unique ancestral techniques in their textiles. These communities are working to improve their quality of life while reinstituting millennia old practices integral to their cultural history and identity. By promoting the sale of textiles, providing each community with an appropriate place to weave, and, above all else, encouraging younger generations to weave, the Center for Traditional Textiles of Cusco is accomplishing one of its more desired goals: enabling Cuzqueñan weavers to feel proud of their heritage, traditions, and, most importantly, themselves. continue reading–>

Re-establishing the inextricable link: Mbyá culture and biological diversity in the Atlantic Rainforest in Southeast Brazil

Project Contributors: Márcia Gomes de Oliveira and Norbert Suchanek

The Mbyá are one of the last surviving indigenous peoples of the Atlantic Rainforest in the Southeast of Brazil, known as Mata Atlântica, which once covered part of Paraguay, Uruguay, the North of Argentina and the whole coastal areas all the way to the Brazilian Northeast. Missionaries and scientists generally label the Mbyá as Guaraní-Mbyá, a label that the Mbyá politely shrug off, as they do not identify themselves as Guaraní.

During the past 500 years, the Mbyá were able to keep their language and their culture alive, because  traditionally  they are nomads. As pressures on the Atlantic Rainforest region increased, the Mbyá could always retreat farther into the forest. By the second half of the 20th century, although most of their ecologically rich rainforest ecosystem was destroyed, a significant portion of it survived, especially in the Southeastern  Brazilian States of São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, and Espirito Santo.  The Mbyá were still able to carry on their nomadic lifestyle, traveling on foot for hundreds of miles from one Mbyá village to another, hunting animals and collecting honey, fruits and herbs in the forest. That all changed in the 1970s, when funding from international agencies allowed the construction of the Transamazonian Highway of the Southeast, which opened the heart of that surviving remnant of the Mata Atlântica.

At that time, the international agencies that had funded the road construction also provided funding for the creation of nature reserves and national parks as compensation for the rainforest destruction caused by the road. Instead of being demarcated as indigenous territory, the rest of the Atlantic Rainforest was declared “uninhabited” and designated as a strict conservation area—being considered as one of the world’s “hotspots” of biodiversity, and Brazil’s most endangered ecosystem. As a consequence, since the 1980s the Mbyá have nearly totally lost access to their highly diverse environment, and their long-distance movements are no longer possible. For that reason, today most of the about 3000 Mbyá have become “conservation refugees”: they must live in small villages at the edge of cities or close to roads, without enough land to plant their traditional staple crops and without access to the rainforest. They depend on governmental food packages and the production and selling of handcraft to tourists. In this way, the situation in the Southeast of Brazil is completely different from that of indigenous peoples in continue reading–>

Training Indigenous Agro-Forestry Agents in Acre, Brazil: Indigenous and Modern Technologies for Sustainability

Credit: CPI/Ac archives

The Amazon region has largely been perceived as a boundless territory with unlimited resources to exploit. Due to its low population density, it has been viewed as an “empty space” to be colonized and to be integrated into the national economic landscape, and thus as a key to Brazil’s progress as a “modern” nation. During the 1960s and the 70s, the military government promoted a media campaign to encourage private owners to invest in the Amazon region – the national slogan was “a land without men, for men without land”. This resulted in marginalized farmers from the poorest regions of Brazil moving into the Amazon rainforest in quest of a better life. Over the past 35 years, the forests of the state of Acre in the western Brazilian Amazon have also been adversely affected by large-scale Brazilian economic interests, backed by financial resources obtained from credit institutions and by Brazilian government incentives for the establishment of large cattle ranches, the exploitation of hardwood, and agricultural activity. These incentives have led to considerable concentrations of private property, and serious conflicts have resulted from land takeovers, which have provoked confrontations between the “new owners of Acre” and the local indigenous populations and rubber extractors. This has led to a progressive loss of biodiversity and a scarcity of traditional sources of protein, which is evident in the increasingly deficient diet of the indigenous peoples in these areas. continue reading–>

Protection of an Indigenous Reserve: the Ka’apor People of Amazonian Brazil

The Ka’apor emerged as a people with a distinctive identity about three hundred years ago, probably between the Tocantins and Xingu Rivers in the Amazon Basin. They later engaged in a long and slow migration that took them into Maranhão State, in eastern Amazonian Brazil, by the 1870s. One hundred years later, in 1978, the Alto Turiaçu Indigenous Reserve (called Terra Indigena Alto Turiaçu today) was demarcated by Brazil’s National Indian Foundation (FUNAI). The reserve covers about 5300 km sq of high Amazonian forest and is inhabited by all remaining Ka’apor as well as by some Guajá, Tembé, and Timbira people. The Ka’apor, like many other settled Amazonian groups, are a horticultural people whose staple is bitter manioc. They grow about fifty domesticated plants, which are used for food, seasoning, medicine, fibre, tools, and weapons. In addition, they hunt game and gather fruit in the dense forests and fish in the tiny creeks of the reserve. Since the late 1980s, as much as a third of the reserve has been illegally deforested and converted to towns, rice fields, and cattle pastures by landless peasants, cattle ranchers, loggers, and local politicians. The present situation is marked by tension and escalating violence. Raids on indigenous villages by squatters and loggers and counter-raids by native people on squatters’ and loggers’ camps inside the reservation have occurred since 1993 with at least two fatal casualties. continue reading–>

A “Life Plan” for the Park: Culturally Appropriate Management in Brazil’s Xingu Indigenous Park

Credit: Amazon Conservation Team

Since 1996, the Xingu peoples have been working together with the Amazon Conservation Team (ACT) toward the goals of abating illegal incursions into the Park and establishing a culturally appropriate management scheme, called a “life plan”, for the Park and its inhabitants. The project, “Territorial Management in Brazil’s Xingu Indigenous Park”, developed maps of traditional territories, sacred sites, fishing and hunting locales, and other salient features of the landscape to drive the conservation of biodiversity in the Park. Initial activities involved biocultural mapping for Kamayurá indigenous ancestral lands, upon the direct invitation of the tribe. ACT equipped the indigenous researchers with handheld GPS units and provided training in ethnographic map composition, while western-trained cartographers assisted with the technical map assembly. In 2002, ACT and its indigenous partners completed maps of the Kamayurá and Yawalapiti areas of the Xingu Indigenous Park, covering 1,250,000 acres. In the process, ACT worked in collaboration with FUNAI and with the Pilot Program to Preserve the Brazilian Rainforest. The maps were released in a three-day ceremony in the Xingu. Since then, ACT and its indigenous partners completed the collaborative mapping process for the entire Xingu Indigenous Park, an area of over seven million acres of savannah and lowland tropical rainforest. continue reading–>