An Indigenous Communication Network
Dominique Gallois & Vincent Carelli (CTI-Centro de Trabalho Indigenista, São Paulo, Brazil)

(…)Brazilian Indians form a tiny fraction of the country’s population (0.02%). But in compensation, they have an enormous symbolic importance, perpetuated through their image as »good savages« and »jungle Indians.« With no congressional representation of their own and unassisted by a bankrupt and corrupt federal organ, Indians must resort to media events to make their voices heard and their basic rights met, especially those pertaining to territory. Some of these media events include the taking of hostages, the occupation of ranches and public buildings, and declarations of wars that never take place or hurt anyone. Over the past decades, these were the tools used by the Indians to conquer (or regain) their territory.

The interest Brazilian Indians have in exchanging experiences among themselves becomes more relevant when we take into consideration the fact that the different Indian nations live isolated from each other. There are close to 210 ethnic groups that speak 180 different languages – a cultural diversity that is multiplied by the wide variety of experiences created when there is contact. Indians gain a clear notion of the status society has reserved for them when they learn of the existence of other tribes and when they realize that all of them face the same difficulties in coexisting with the white man. They learn from each other new ways to interact with society. They create their own alternatives, which they first try out among themselves and then share with other tribes experiencing the same situation. These are new forms of representation that involve the rebuilding of their self-image and a process of selecting cultural traits that each tribe conducts in accordance to its own experience and interest in contacting other groups.

Large pan-Indian meetings and the media may be the Indians’ last resource to make society aware of their plight and force the government to assume its responsibility. But they also reproduce and perpetuate society’s cliches and biases. Journalists like politicians, bureaucrats and most citizens remain deaf to the voice of the Indians. They not only feel they know all there is to know about Indians, but also what is best for them.

(…)Studies conducted in several continents show that the use of technology to guarantee communication between cultures strengthens the persistence of cultural differences. Australia and Canada, two countries that culturally and economically massacred their minorities, recently included in their constitutions the right of these minorities to have their own communications networks. Everything indicates that these countries finally realized that their ethnic minorities would not disappear and that their survival was not a threat to national sovereignty.
These are concerns that still persist in Brazil. Some local experiences illustrate how interchange, comparison and confrontation have allowed indigenous communities to view their cultural traits in a different light and to value them in a new context.

The Video in the Villages Project
Over the past 10 years, the Indian Work Center’s video project has been helping Indians become aware of their image. It has placed information and technology at the disposal of some indigenous communities to encourage them to reconstruct self-representations and create a self-image. It also encourages them to exchange audio-visual material made available though a network of video libraries, which the project installed in several villages. At the same time, the project trained indigenous documentarists and opened space in the media to disseminate an image of Indians that was more suited to their own interests. These successful experiments have confirmed that the use of audio-visual instruments strengthens cultural identities. A project of this nature creates production dynamics in several levels.

The impact of Videos in Villages
By installing a video monitor in a village, the Project is trying to bring about a technological revolution. It is a short cut that directly connects traditional forms of oral culture and history to audio-visual systems, bypassing the written word. By circumventing this individualized form of recording and transmitting knowledge, traditional forms of obtaining new information, such as collective debates, are strengthened. By recording and seeing their performances – be they rituals or political negotiations in the village compound – indigenous communities select, build and strengthen the cultural manifestations they wish to preserve for future generations and which best set them apart from the non-Indians.
Leaders of many communities agreed to use video because they saw it as a way to see their stance of cultural resistance materialize in images and sound. The audio-visual, a universally understood language, is the only way these leaders can accomplish this, since most of them do not dominate the written word, a technique normally controlled by the younger generations. The most important function of video in these cases has been to record rituals, dances, songs, paintings and tribal adornments.

By using video to come face-to-face with their own experiences in a wide variety of situations, these communities acquire new parameters to understand their status. Video also helps them discover new ways of relating to Brazilian society and government. This dual mechanism used to manipulate their own image and compare themselves to others involves a creative process that leads to a reflection of their reality and to an expansion of their horizons. It culminates in a revision of their self-image.

The use of Documentaries to Disseminate Experience
The Project’s team that over the past 10 years accompanied the Indians’ image -recording and manipulation processes, produced a series of documentaries in three different categories:
•video process: case-by-case accounts of the encounters that several tribes have had with their own image and of their reflection on their self-representation;
•video denunciation: documentaries that deal with the conflicts that are emblematic of the Brazilian Indian’s current situation;
•institutional videos: these depict alternative development projects proposed by some communities, illustrating the control they have over their current contact situation and the transformations they are experiencing.

Eighteen documentaries in five languages compose the series (41). They mirror the impact the Project has had in indigenous communities and, at the same time, serve as an instrument to obtain the funds needed to keep it alive. The Project is funded by international donations and through the sale of the videos.
Unlike many conventional »Indian theme« productions that resort to a record/ edit/distribute filming schedule, we avoid focusing on the final product. Instead, we first establish a dialogue with the communities to be documented. Between the film’s making and distribution, we invest in several intermediary stages that guarantee that these communities will become direct participants in the project. And it is because of this participation that we obtain that something extra – the proximity and presence of these individuals that react to the camera’s provocation and reflect, with us, on their future.

The 1996 production of »Segredos da mata« (Secrets of the Forest) gave us the chance to conduct a new experience with the Waiãpi Indians. It is a narration and theatrical representation of encounters with the cannibalistic monsters that inhabit the tribe’s cosmology and day-to-day life. It was a new experience in dealing with Indian myths, where the Indian’s participation is limited to narration and where the content is depicted from the researcher’s perspective. For the Waiãpi as well as for other communities, video productions of fictional events represent a new approach to traditional themes.
Each new work becomes part of a group, which when seen as a whole gains greater significance. The series has an innovative element that sets the productions apart from other documentaries on Brazilian Indians: only the Indian speaks – there is no external commentary – and he is always present, always creating something new in his relationship with the camera. In this road toward self-representation, unique ethnographic films are being created by the Indians themselves.

A Window to the Outside World
The documentary makers being trained by the Project and who have already been working for some time are now editing their first works – documentaries to be made accessible to a larger public. Ethnographic films produced by the Indians themselves are unique products unknown to the Brazilian media despite the fact that they have received international recognition in film festivals.
The village-to-village training of indigenous video makers, which the Project began several years ago, has borne positive results for those who managed to finish their documentaries. These were initially conceived as descriptive narratives for internal consumption. This is the case of Kasiripinã Waiãpi (»Jane Moraita: Our Feasts«) and of Caimi Waiasse from the Xavante village of Pimentel Barbosa (»One Must be Curious«). Their works demonstrate their dedication to registering themes of importance to their communities.

The Project, together with the University of Mato Grosso TV – an educational TV station in the city of Cuiabá – created the Indian Program in 1995/96. It was a unique experience that showed those Indians, taking part in the program, a path to be followed and a right to be demanded. The idea was to have the program serve as a school of journalism and production for Indians of several ethnic groups in Mato Grosso state. Besides portraying characters, the Indians created, produced and presented a TV program about themselves.

This team was involved in the entire process – from production to exhibition. The four programs were shown in Mato Grosso and on national network by TVE – the Rio de Janeiro educational TV station. But the Indians themselves, who feel enormous pride when they recognize their leaders, form the Indian Program’s most enthusiastic public. As a result of the discussions with this group, we realized that it felt it was too small and technically unprepared for the project. It also felt that more and better training would give them more confidence when dealing with the station’s personnel. Discussions like these helped us trace our work plans for the coming years.

To a large degree, the Project’s main challenge at the moment is to train a larger number of documentarists who will form a nationwide network of collaborators for a future Indian Program. Individuals must first be trained before occupying positions.

We decided to professionalize the oldest group of students in regional improvement and production workshops where they could learn how to explain their culture to people from the same village and from far away cities. The coverage of a ceremonial ritual served as the workshop, and from a methodological point of view this approach has proved to be extremely productive and useful.

Challenge and motivation surround this endeavor, for the community has a lot of expectations in terms of results. It also presents a wide variety of situations to be filmed. It is an ideal situation because it allows us to work together to improve techniques and develop content so that image and content are closely related, and objectivize each other.

So-called »videoletters« are produced and circulated in these regional workshops to keep collaborators in contact with each other and encourage them to use audio-visual language. The network will meet periodically to collectively develop production projects in order to achieve its objective: the resumption of the Indian program on educational TV.