With the Huni Kuin people in the Brazilian Amazon rainforest

Updated: Jun 8, 2020

Located in the extreme northwest of Brazil deep in the the Amazon rainforest, lives the indigenous people Huni Kuin [1]. I embark on an adventurous trip to the jungle to visit them.

It was pitch dark. My flashlight lighted up the wet and slippery path through the thick undergrowth. Shortly afterwards I reached the simple wooden house, which would be my new home for the next three weeks. I entered and looked around in the beam of light from my flashlight. Big fright! Two huge spiders. Other crawling animals and insects were attracted to the light. My first night here alone in the middle of the jungle. Only me, my flashlight and the little roommates. No electricity. I crawled under my mosquito net and tried to fall asleep

The arrival

The boat cruised down the winding river at a rapid speed along the dense rainforest. The intense sounds of the forest mixed with the wind that blew vigorously into my face. It was a long way to get here. From my hometown, the trip initially led to Rio Branco [2] in the state of Acre [3] in Brazil. Then a small propeller-driven airplane brought me to Jordão [4], a tiny community in the middle of the Brazilian rainforest. There are no roads in this region. Now only this two-hour boat ride and the goal finally would be reached.

Welcome gift

Finally there, I was immediately invited to a body painting ritual. A villager painted my face and arms with the black color of the rainforest fruit "jenipapo". "This painting serves as an energetic protection," she explained to me. "It consists of drawings that we receive during our spiritual rituals." For seven days the color would stay on my skin

Everyday life in the village

Life in the village is simple. No Internet. Until recently, no electricity either. But now a newly installed solar system supplies the centre of the village with electricity for a few hours in the evening. Every day I would go down to the river with the villagers. There we washed ourselves and our clothes. There was a lot of work. Large steaming aluminum kettles sizzled on open fireplaces. The women eagerly prepared the daily meals, which consisted of a lot of beef and fresh fish from the nearby river. For me as a vegetarian, there was rice, beans, eggs, cooked or grilled bananas, corn, cassava and pineapple tea. It tasted delicious. Simple but robust wooden houses lined the village. Their roofs were made of thick straw or occasionally of aluminum. The chainsaws screeched loudly, because the construction of new malocas [5] was underway. To do this, some men and boys in the forest cut down the "Urikuri palms", the leaves of which they use to build the roofs that are also needed for the handicrafts of the women. Other men went hunting or fishing. Often I watched the women and girls make their traditional handicrafts. I was fascinated by how they thread the tiny round balls from Missanga [6] and thus create colorful bracelets, necklaces and earrings with sacred drawings. Others weaved baskets and mats from the leaves of the Urikuri palm or weave bags, sweaters and jackets from wool. In addition to their own use, they also sell this handicrafts to tourists.

Music, joy and happy children

Whenever time permitted, the guitars were played, the drums struck intensely and powerful songs of healing were sung, daily rituals through which the Huni Kuin people express their spirituality and zest for life. The kids were playing carefree and wild. When I pulled out my camera to capture this moment, I was surrounded by them in a minute. Eagerly they want to see all of my photos. I was moved by their natural curiosity and affection.

In the rainforest

I was in the rainforest with the shaman. On narrow paths we found our way through the hot and humid thicket. The earth had been softened by the heavy rain. I was looking for a hold on the branches of the shrubs and plants. I took care not to reach into one of the many spider webs that lined the edge of the path. "Be careful!" The shaman suddenly shouted, "be aware of these ants. A stab of them means a lot of pain.” I looked at a branch, startled. A gigantic deep black ant was walking along it. The shaman collected leaves from the plants for their medicines. "The forest is our pharmacy," he said. Here we find plants that help against any suffering, such as burns, hair loss, pregnancy problems or even jealousy. Small insects and mosquitos were buzzing around us. In particular the tiny, almost invisible mosquitoes were very persistent. They quickly left many small red spots on the body. Butterflies in a bright blue color glided through the forest. High up in the treetops the birds were singing. But it was difficult to spot larger animals. "They stay away from us humans," explained the shaman. Suddenly he disappeared into the forest. A short time later he returned with an elongated fruit. He opened it and offered me its fluffy white pulp. It tasted good, very sweet. "The name of the fruit is Ingá," he revealed. "Like my name," I answered. We both had to laugh. At the same time, however, he became serious: “We try to stay close to nature because it represents our God. Everyday we fight to strengthen our culture in order to protect us, the forest and nature."

[1] The Huni Kuin people are one of the most present indigenous peoples in Brazil. They live on the border with Peru in the lower reaches of the Jordão River, in Acre, Brazil. The term "Huni Kuin" (Kaxinawá) means something like "homens verdadeiros" or "gente com costumes conhecidos" which means in translation "real people" or "people with known customs". More detailed information about the Huni Kuin people can be found under the following link (in Portuguese): https://pib.socioambiental.org/pt/Povo:Huni_Kuin_(Kaxinawá)

[2] Capital of the Brazilian state of Acre. The air-line distance to Rio de Janeiro is 2,987 km.

[3] A state in the far northwest of Brazil. The vegetation of Acre is almost exclusively shaped by the Amazon rainforest and its population is made up of indigenous peoples and settlers from the north-east and south of Brazil. See: https://www.estadosecapitaisdobrasil.com/estado/acre/

[4] A small community in the State of Acre in Brazil that is intersected by the Jordão and Tarauacá rivers. More than two thousand indigenous people of the Huni-Kuin ethnic group live here. The municipality has a total of 7000 inhabitants and is about 640 kilometers as the crow flies from the state capital Rio Branco, directly in the Amazon rainforest. Without land access, Jordão can be reached either by a 3-day boat trip or a 2.5-hour flight by air taxi. See: https://www.agencia.ac.gov.br/jordo-uma-pequena-cidade-amaznica/

[5] Malocas are the traditional houses with thatched roofs of the indigenous peoples.

[6] Small pieces of glass, stone or similar material that are rounded and perforated so that they can be threaded with others.

For more photos please visit the photo galleries on my website: https://www.ingabacken.com/photo-gallery

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