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On my way to the Pataxó indigenous people in
Porto Seguro, Caraíva, Taperauan, Coroa Vermelha
It has been almost three years since I left Germany and headed for Brazil. During this time, I have discovered my interest in the culture of the indigenous peoples of this huge country. I have a great desire to learn more about these people and to get to know them personally. In my opinion, just as we are facing the threat of climate change and biodiversity loss, these peoples are more important to the planet than ever before.
Pataxó - "Rainwater that beats on the earth and on the rocks and flows on to the river"
I'm sitting at the airport in Belo Horizonte in Brazil, finally on my way to fulfill my desire. I'm waiting for the boarding of my flight to Porto Seguro, a city on the Antlantic coast in the south of the state in Bahia in Brazil from where it should continue to Caraíva, a small coastal town about 70 km from Porto Seguro away. In Bahia lives the indigenous people of Pataxó. Pataxó is the self-denomination of this people and stands for "rainwater that beats on the earth and on the rocks and flows on to the river." I hope to meet them. Also, I'm really looking forward to the beach and the sea, the Atlantic Ocean.
On my way from Porto Seguro to Caraíva - Along the Atlantic Forest (or what is left of it)
Arrived in Porto Seguro it rains a lot, but I can already see and smell the sea. In the late afternoon I set off to take the bus to Caraíva. For this it is necessary to cross the river Buranhém to the other side of the shore to Arraial d'Ajuda, from where the buses leave for Caraíva. When I see the mighty river Buranhém and look to the other side of the shore, the anticipation of the journey that lies ahead of me grows.
The bus ride to Caraíva takes almost three hours and most of the time it leads along an earthy road that is not asphalted. Due to the heavy rain of the past days, the road has been partially softened and large puddles have formed. Several times during the journey, the bus, which already has a few years under its belt, needs to make an effort to get ahead. I secretly hope that we will not get stuck.
Right and left during the ride I can see the Atlantic Forest. But the further we approach our destination, the more I realize that there is not much left of this beautiful forest with its tall and majestic trees. We pass large farms, cattle graze on steppe-like tracts of land. I see many monoculture plantations. Some of the former forest areas seem to have recently burned down. You can still see the charred remains and stumps of the burned trees. Occasionally, a tree has survived and protrudes lonely from the large empty area. I notice how birds fly over the fields and look for trees on which they can settle. Seeing this destruction of one of the planet's most biodiverse and threatened forests makes me very sad. At times, I have to fight back tears and my anticipation of Caraíva is clouding a bit. I talk to my neighbor about the destruction of the forest and he tells me that over many years more and more forest land has been lost to the big farmers and their lands. Although it is sad, this is everyday life in Brazil. My mood is down. Maybe I was naive, but I was so looking forward to nature and was not prepared for this sight.
After a short stopover and a snack, we reach the river Caraíva. Small fishing boats are already waiting to bring us travellers and our luggage to the other side of the shore. After this last stage we have reached our destination. We are in the coastal town of Caraíva. I am relieved and a little tired. A donkey carriage taxi takes me to my guesthouse. Although it is already dark, I would like to greet the sea. I can not see much, but I hear the intense rustle of the wind-blown sea that accompanies me to sleep that first night.
The next morning, I notice that the entire place is affected by a power outage. This is normal, the people assure me, because after all, the power came to Caraíva only in 2007 and the lines are still somewhat unstable. A good opportunity to unwind, I think. At around 10 pm the electricity finally comes back just on time to start the colorful nightlife of Caraíva.
Caraíva is a beautiful, lively place with a brisk nightlife. People sit in bars on the banks of the river and the chic and expensive restaurants and small boutiques line the sandy paths. Even the indigenous people of the village have built up their stalls with their handicrafts. The nights are alive. The music of the Forró and the boisterous audience of this typical Brazilian dance, which has its roots in the northeast of the country, can be heard until the wee hours of the morning. The nature is very beautiful. The beaches are wide and it is picturesque to see when the river Caraíva meets the Atlantic Ocean and both flow together.
During my time in Caraíva, I spend a lot of time on the beach and with the ocean. It rains a lot. The near, wide and long beach is almost deserted and there I can be alone with the ocean. This I enjoy especially at night, when I leave my room of the guesthouse to escape a little bit the bustle and music of the Forró. While lying at the nightly beach, I watch the ocean. I watch as the waves churned by the wind hit the shore and the water is then sucked back from the moon. A magical spectacle that repeats itself endlessly. When the clouds retreat a little, the moon shines brightly on the sea and lets a white soft light fall on the water. I drill my fingers and hands into the damp sand, feel the wind and the wet breeze of the sea. I absorb the energy of the sea in me. In this moment I am happy.
Nevertheless, I decide to leave Caraíva after a short time. I realize that the place is not what I was looking for. Its vacation time in Brazil and the atmosphere of Caraíva reminds me a bit of the expensive and hip places that are found all over the world and where the chic, affluent and art-loving people of the metropolises meet for their holidays. I hear from locals that this change and increasing gentrification has taken place within the last two years and Caraíva has thus lost some of its former simplicity and relative virginity.
I decide to go back to Porto Seguro. There I have found a room in Taperauan, a beach about ten kilometers from the center of the city. According to the landlord the room is in an ecological resort and I hope to finally find the peace I'm looking for. Although I deeply regret that I did not really come into close contact with the local indigenous people in Caraíva, I hope that the opportunity is still to come.
In Taperauan it turns out that the room is really nice and quiet. It is a calm that I seldom experience. I can hear the crunching and groaning of the bamboo trees near my window as they move back and forth in the wind. The beach, which I can reach on foot from my accommodation, is a typical city beach with many people and events. But my two roommates, tell me about Coroa Vermelha, a nearby beach and indigenous village. My interest is aroused.
Meeting the Pataxó people in Coroa Vermelha
The next day I take the bus to Coroa Vermelha a bay that owes its name to the fact of having a large reef of orange coral. The twenty-minute drive on the main road leads along the sea. The Atlantic Ocean shimmers greenish in the sun. Some people are in the water playing with the small waves. The strong desire comes over me to also jump into this inviting sea.
After about 20 minutes the bus stops in Coroa Vermelha. I get off the bus and immediately fall in love with this place. From the main street, where small kiosks and bakeries sell local delicacies of Bahian cuisine, a wide path leads down to the main square and to the sea. This path is lined with small shops of the locals of the indigenous village of the Pataxó people who offer and sell their handicrafts. The craft is of high quality and consists of all that nature has to offer, such as wood, seeds, straw, vines, clay, feathers, bamboo and coconut shell. Some of the craft products are intended for everyday use such as pots, bags, baskets and the like. In addition, there are arrows and other utensils for hunting, headdress made with real feathers, bracelets, earrings and necklaces. Some crafts also offer spiritual protection, such as certain necklaces. I learn that craftsmanship is a way for the Pataxó to earn a living and keep its culture alive.
A small trail off this main path leads to the central square of the indigenous village. This central square, where residents come together to perform dances, is surrounded by murals that depict sacred native animals such as the jaguar and the tucan bird. Here I lose myself in the small shops and stalls of the villagers, admire their crafts and buy a few souvenirs and gifts. After a while, I reach the main square of Coroa Vermelha, in the middle of which stands a large cross. This cross marks this historic place and beach and reminds that here on April 22, 1500, Brazil was officially discovered by the fleet of Europeans and that on April 26, 1500 the first religious mass was held. I cross the wide square. Behind the cross just before the beach, I am told, I find the Pajé, the spiritual leader of the community that sells herbs and medicine. I enter a shop that connects the square with the beach, where I meet the son of the pajé of the community. We start a conversation in Portuguese and I learn that his name is Ubiranan. I buy a rapé snuff from him and then go out to the beach.
It is already late in the afternoon and the sun starts to set. The small beach cafés are starting to close. It is empty and I like the beach. The water is clear and calm and resembles a sea swimming pool. I go to the sea and let the shallow waves wash around my feet. I collect a few stones and shells and then sit down in the sand. A little further away, you can see little fisherboats floating on the sea. I see the sea divided by a sand dune and watch people walking along the dune in the sunset. I enjoy sitting by the sea and feeling the wind. It's too late to go swimming. This I plan for tomorrow.
Returning to Coroa Vermelha - Interview with Ubiranan Pataxó
One day later, I am on my way again to Coroa Vermelha this time with the intention to ask Ubiranan for an interview. I arrive in the village and while I pass the shops of the locals some recognize me from yesterday and we greet each other. I meet Ubiranan in his shop and ask him if I can interview him. He agrees. I'm very glad about this. We sit down and talk for about half an hour. Ubiranam tells me about the importance of the forest to his people and that they find all ingredients for their medicines there. He also emphasizes how important the forest is to humanity as a whole. He tells me about their god, a supernatural force that has created everything and is there for everyone alike and how significant the connection to this God and this power is for him and his people. He tells me of the mission of the indigenous peoples to protect nature and the forest from destruction and their belief in a world without violence, death and suffering. He further explaines to me the meaning of the Pajé, the spiritual leader of their tribes. The Pajé can be female or male, but the main gift that he or she has to possess is the ability of connecting to the spiritual world thus they can accomplish healing.
After our conversation, I thank Ubiranan. The moment we are saying goodbye he also takes the opportunity to express his gratitude for the support his people and the rainforest in Brazil receive from the Europeans. I go out to the sea. Today I take the opportunity to go into the water to swim. I can see the sun beginning to set on the horizon. The water is calm and pleasantly fresh. It is a great pleasure to feel the seawater on my skin. I realize again how much I love the sea. As it gets dark and the small restaurants on the beach begin to close, I make my way back to my accommodation in Taperauan. I'm a little sad, because tomorrow is already the day of my return to Belo Horizonte. I hope to be able to come back one day.
My last day of travel has come. When it's time to leave, I go out to the bamboo trees and say goodbye to them too. I am amazed at how tough, sturdy and firm their trunks are, and their bright powerful green color fascinates me. I enjoyed the silence and the closeness to nature so much.
Traveling back home
For my return to Belo Horizonte I have a ride. As in Europe, here in Brazil there is also the possibility to organize carpooling via the internet. The ride will take about 15 hours and I hope everything will work out. The roads in Brazil are relatively unsafe and dangerous. There are many accidents every day.
But already about 20 kilometers after our start in Porto Seguro we have a breakdown. Something is wrong with the tire. I prefer to go back to Porto Seguro. We manage to stop a car in the street and a nice person takes me back to town. So I return to my accommodation in Taperauan for one more night. There I am looking for another ride, but it is not offered. Also the buses to Belo Horizonte are already full for the next few days. I have no choice but to book a flight.
Back in Belo Horizonte, I am overall happy about my turbulent journey. I feel changed. The contact with the sea has left a strong energy in me. Also, I am very glad that I had the chance to meet Ubiranan and the locals of the Pataxó village in Coroa Vermelha.
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