The Ka'apor : Production in the Brazilian Rainforest
I hopped out of our rental car. The sounds of the Amazon rainforest filled my ears, and as I looked down, next to my sandals huge red ants were streaming by. My Brazilian cameraman said, “I wouldn’t let those ants get too close. They’ll leave a mark.” I was back in the car, scrambling for something to cover my feet. We were on a dusty dirt road on the way to visit the Ka’apor tribe in the state of Maranhão in Brazil. Our team had been stuck in Belem for three days, trying to secure two trucks to take us on the pothole-filled roads that we would have to follow to reach their village. We had finally made the best of it with a couple of VW Gol economy cars. Now we were in the rainforest, and the road ahead was submerged under a few feet of water. Luckily we were a short hike away from our destination.
It was an incredible privilege to visit the Ka’apor’s village and to interview many of the tribal members and include part of their story in the museum’s inaugural exhibition Our Peoples. Although there was no English spoken outside of our team, I was warmly welcomed by the community. I slept in a hammock outside under the trees, and it lightly rained every morning around 4am. During the day, we trekked with the Ka’apor into the heart of largest rainforest in the world to see where poachers had illegally removed valuable trees from the Ka’apor’s land. Loggers have been invading the land occupied by Amazon Natives since the 1990s, looking for highly valued wood such as mahogany, which is illegal to harvest in Brazil. Although the tribe did not wish to speak about it on camera for fear of retaliation, tribal members protesting increased mandates to log their forests have been shot and killed.
This video was produced in 2004, but the Ka’apor still have to struggle to protect the forest within their designated reserve. The English voice in this video is that of anthropologist Dr. William Balée, who traveled with the team and provided a wealth of knowledge about ethnobotany, the tribe’s lifeways, and the historical ecology of the area. Vincent Carelli, a documentary film director and editor and the founder and co-director of Vídeo nas Aldeias/Video in the Villages, was the cameraman for this project and I remain indebted to his skill in bringing this story to life.