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Keith Schofield

Machetes and Panties


Posted from: Krinu

4.30 am. Pitch dark. The rats were busy scampering around the floor of the crew's hut. A dog howled at the moon. And then scratched. I wondered what woke me, as it started again. Like a drunk on a moonlit backstreet the wail began. A Kayopo elder was calling the tribe to dance. The huts - arranged in a large square of 20 or so - seemed to sleep on regardless. I really wished I could have. The call was incessant. What could be so important? Even the rats took no notice.

Footsteps and a soft knock on our door brought the reason. Casio, our guide from Brazillia, advised us that the Kayapo celebrations for the sowing of the new harvest were about to begin, and we were invited to attend. At 4.30? The rats took ringside seats for what followed. Epic shambling saw the crew prepare for filming in total darkness. Rob, our Director, hung from his hammock and cajoled us - while trying to figure out how to extricate himself from it. Bruce of course was already on parade and putting us all to shame. Heron lost his trousers and blamed us all for not being French. Christina, our long-suffering Assistant Prodcuer, couldn't remember what was in what bag. I challenged everyone to a fight but there were no takers. I was into my 12th week of filming after all.

Bruce was in his fifth month and still beat us all out into the night. The noise we made must have woken most of Brazil - so not surprisingly, we joined a dozen newly-awakened men around the fire, and filmed Bruce joining in with the chanting. Bleary-eyed we watched as the dawn slowly yawned from the East and Bruce seemed entranced. I love filming sunrises, and as I searched the angles with Rob, Flavio our amazing Fixer searched out the coffee. Heron searched for his trousers.

We had only arrived the day before, and already we were feeling welcome visitors to this majestic, colourful and friendly tribe. As the sun rose, the colour splashed everywhere. The adorned reds and blues of the Macaw feathers blended easily with the long rays stretching over the Brazil-nut trees. The dusty 100-metre square around which the huts were formed soon filled with those early morning activities shared by just about everyone on the planet.

Bruce, as always, was completely accepted by these proud people. Not without their problems, we learnt of their current fight against the building of a huge dam on the Xingu river to power two aluminium smelters. Huge areas of indigenous land would be flooded - the effect on local tribes would be devastating. As would be the effect on the environment. Dams are one of the largest contributors to greenhouse gases.

The ladies of the Kayapo are also warriors. One in particular had become famous for 'blooding' the cheek of a dam engineer during a protest with her machete. A week previously she had bloodied the arm of another engineer at a different protest about the same dam. Two bandages on her machete signified these acts of pure defiance as she gently painted a tattoo onto the arm of a friend. Bruce was anointed with a full body tattoo - a process which took about an hour - and a sunburnt back. The elders called me 'Mikaku', which transpired to be 'armadillo' - and I was duly given a tattoo on my arm - and no sunburn.

Bruce was being prepared for his full naming ceremony and becoming a family member of the Kayapo tribe - all of whom prepared for the ceremony at sunset. The day was full. We were led on a gentle hike up a hill to view the extent of the land the tribe have custody over. Because the land is owned by the government - we were told of the issues the tribe have with farmers intruding - and grazing cattle. We met some of them - and the elders showed an amazing tolerance toward their neighbours - realising of course that the problem lay with the system and the Government. We all hoped that the system understood the depth of knowledge contained within generations of indigenous Indians of their inherited love and guardianship of the forest.

On returning to their village, I got going with my jib-arm. As my camera swung around, all we needed was a few geese to run into the shots on cue and it felt like we were making Doctor Zhivago meets the Emerald Forest. I called this version Lara of the Amazon - mostly because we didn't have much money. We learnt so much of the Kayopo Way that day - but nothing prepared us for the event surrounding Bruce's naming ceremony as the sun began to set. Freshly anointed with a new full-body tattoo, he was crowned with a feather headdress of toucan and macaw by his new Kayapo father and family. Visibly moved, Bruce was led to the square and the dancing began.

Bruce is led to the square

The lines of women and men snaked between each other with moves learnt through the dusts of their history - dust which now rose and hung in the magnificence of the setting Amazonian sun. Feather silhouettes adorned painted faces lost in the trance of the singing, and the rhythm of a movement echoing back through the history of their forefathers. Entranced, I focused on Bruce. The depth of his new responsibility both as a son and envoy to this tribe showed in his eyes as he struggled to find words adequate enough to match the moment. He did of course - and as he passed through the sun, I settled on the lady with the bandaged machete. In a word - formidable. I searched for the glint of the sunset on the blade. It was not to be found, so I settled on her face. The glint of defiance and defence of her tribe at any cost made the cutting of a dam-worker's cheek seem insignificant in terms of the lengths she was willing to go to. As she passed through frame, I matched her step and followed her. Slowly my camera moved down from the bloodied machete to the intricate art of the tattoo on her back and settled on the only garment she wore. A pair of bright yellow panties - which through the dust and defiance read 'love' on the right buttock - and 'sexy' on the left. Defiance meets tolerance. The 21st century meets the ways of forest guardianship learned through history. The Brazillian Way meets the Kayapo Way. So much to learn from each other. I hope it's not too late.

Find out more about the Kayapo

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