A race against time
By Madalena Boto: Researcher
I’ll never forget the look on our translator Nhakta’s face in the hotel in Tucumã, Brazil, on the morning of March 17th, 2017. Her worry, the crazy trip that follows and the turmoil of emotions we experience are all still very strong memories.
Filming birth rituals for ‘Circle of Life’ comes with huge challenges.
To understand her concern and my incredulity, you need to rewind...
Filming birth rituals for ‘Circle of Life’ comes with huge challenges. The first is to find a community that still performs meaningful and visually striking rituals when a new baby arrives. Around the world many traditions are disappearing altogether, so we are thrilled to find that the Kayapo people of the Amazon follow very interesting rituals after childbirth.
But these rituals are only for their first-born. So with the help of our Brazilian fixers and the Special Secretariat of Indigenous Health we've been looking for first-time mums.
Filming deep in the amazon is a big investment and births don’t stick to a schedule.
We also have to gamble on timing. Filming deep in the amazon is a big investment and births don’t stick to a schedule. After months of planning, we give ourselves a 4 week window around Irenekwa’s due date and Andrew Thompson and I set off from Heathrow with high hopes.
We only just arrive in Tucumã, the closest town to Kayapo territory, two weeks before the baby is due. Then Nhakta, our Kayapo translator tells us the news: Irenekwa is in labour.
We are a good five hours from the village so set off immediately... We don’t have communication with the village, so have no idea if we are making a fruitless journey.
The unstoppable rain means the rugged dirt roads are particularly bad. Even minor delays reduce the chances of filming what we have flown thousands of miles to record.
On arrival we find we haven’t missed the main event but it is imminent. Irenekwa is exhausted from hours of labour and surrounded by women helping or shouting encouragement.
Our frustration and worries melt away and Andrew swings into action using our small camera and the light of my mobile phone to film the birth beautifully.
Half an hour later, when the baby is born, he looks pale and limp under the dim lights of our torches. What follows probably takes just seconds, but it feels like an eternity as I watch the baby being passed between the outstretched arms of the women in the hut who are determined to see him gasp his first breath. Then he does.
I look round at everyone present – Andrew, Nhakta, our fixer Dulce and all of Irenekwa’s helpers. Their expressions mirror the emotions I am feeling.
Their faces are full of pure relief and overwhelming joy, something I will hold onto forever.