A Kôkôjagõti Blog

The Power of Self-Representation: A’Ukre Looks to the Future as they Envision the Possibilities of Digital Technology

A Guest Post by Ingrid Carolina Ramón Parra

A blog that features news about the people and stories behind the filmmaking initiatives and filmmakers who are part of Kôkôjagõti, a Kayapó-Mebêngôkre media center and collective in the Brazilian Amazon.

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I first encountered the Kayapó as an undergraduate student when I took a small seminar course on Indigenous media. I was enthralled to learn of the Kayapó’s long-standing engagement with media, which challenged my own preconceived notions of Indigenous peoples. I consequently asked myself the following question: how are Indigenous people in the Amazon able to engage in media-making practices if they live in the jungle? Though this question expressed my own ignorance about the rich textures that make up contemporary life for the Kayapó people, it lead me to a year-long stay with the Kayapó community of A’Ukre (July 2015-2016), where I conducted my doctoral research, which aimed to facilitate the media appropriation of Kayapó men and women.

Like my undergraduate student self, many people hold outdated and erroneous opinions about Indigenous peoples. Oftentimes, opinions about the ways Indigenous peoples live, or should live, are founded on popular but inaccurate and damaging representations that fail to capture the complexity and diversity of Indigenous peoples’s lives. To begin to make sense of the enduring stubbornness of these negative stereotypes, it is helpful to consider who has the power to create and propagate such representations through their circulation via popular outlets such as photography, films, literature, sports mascots, history, textbooks, and the news, Crucially, these ‘mainstream’ types of representations are created by non-Indigenous peoples often unaffiliated with the subjects they’re portraying. Throughout my doctoral research, I came to realize that the best way to combat such imaging and imagining of Indigenous peoples - in addition challenging naïve notions of a people remotely located and separated from “the modern world” - is through aiding in the facilitation of Inidgenous self-representation via multimedia technologies.

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The power of Indigenous media cannot be denied. I remember the incredible moment when I first encountered Indigenous-authored media; it opened my eyes to contemporary Indigenous issues and the untiring activism of Indigenous peoples worldwide. When I traveled to A’Ukre in 2015, I knew I would be supporting this type of effort and, more specifically, the Kayapó initiative to cultivate local media-making efforts. Indigenous peoples are familiar with the power of representation, and through their activism they continue to fight for the right to represent themselves and their communities in light of constant threats to their lands and their ways of life.

At A’Ukre, an initiative toward self-representation in digital media is currently underway with the Self Determination in a Digital Age project, a partnership between Dr. Laura Zanotti, Dr. Diego Soares da Silveria, the Kayapó NGO Protected Forest Association (AFP), and the community of A’Ukre. Thus far, the Self Determination project has trained a cohort of Kayapó men and women in media making and digital production, including technical training in audiovisual production in partnership with the NGO Video in the Villages, and with general technical training that I was able to facilitate during my stay in the village.

Since then, the men and women’s filmmaking cohorts of A’Ukre have accomplished great things. They have filmed traditional Kayapó ceremonies and rites like Bemp, a naming ceremony, and Mekrakarare, a ceremony that marks a woman’s passage to motherhood. Other social events that take place in the village have also been filmed, including the gathering of forest foods, men’s fishing expeditions, social dances of Kayapó youth, sport competitions, traditional body painting, and political meetings. Videos of these events are projected for the community to enjoy in a projector system that was furnished as part of the Self Determination project. In just two years since the media center was erected at A’Ukre, two village filmmakers were accepted to two film festivals: the 2016 Aldeia SP Bienal de Cinema Indígena in São Paulo, Brazil and the Smithsonian 2018 Mother Tongue Film Festival in Washington, D.C. We extend our congratulations to them and look forward to viewing and celebrating their future work.

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With such great successes, there also came great challenges for the filmmaking collective. Environmental factors like heat, humidity, dust, and insects caused technological equipment to malfunction or be rendered completely unusable. The filmmaking team needs financial support to travel outside of the village to showcase their work. Even in the village, the filmmakers struggled with meticulously rationing the gasoline that powered the community projector. Despite these energy-related and environmental challenges, A’Ukre filmmakers continue their untiring efforts to create and share their digital media. And yet, the community understands the need to create long-term sustainability for the media center. The community has partnered with the Purdue Engineering Projects in Community Service (EPICS) program to address technical issues like computer virus prevention, solar power, and energy recommendations. As the community forges forward with their vision for the media center, they envision the media center as a space for filmmakers, students, and community members to engage with media making and other digital activities.

In addition to creating, sharing, and storing Kayapó media, community members also want to learn the basics of modern technologies, including how to touch-type, create documents, make presentations and slideshows on Powerpoint, connect to the internet, speak to other Kayapó and non-Kayapó over social media, connect digitally to other Kayapó communities, and learn more about the types of multimedia possibilities that are available both offline and online. They’ve expressed a keen interest in harnessing the power of technology to not only represent themselves through their own media, but to be able to expertly engage with the world around them through digital forms. As global interactions become increasingly mediated through digital means, the Kayapó understand that the power of digital media includes the ability to share opinions, interact with others, and to use digital spaces as platforms from which to express themselves. To do so, they require the infrastructure and professional tools and equipment to support their ongoing media-making efforts.

We encourage you to show your support of the media-making initiative by contributing towards equipment purchases that will continue to support state of the art and cutting edge indigenous media making in the heart of the Amazon by the peoples who have long fought for and called the region their home.