My desktop icons are floating in this deep green sea, while my reminders and sticky notes are swimming in bright umbrellas. I have set this image as the desktop background on my oversized photo-editing monitor and it makes me feel like I’m at the beach and not home in my office. I get a little spark of joy each time I close a window and think about plunging into that cool water.
I’ll let you in on a secret. This isn’t a summer scene. This is a beach in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in the middle of the winter. But any day is a beach day in Rio.
I used to think that Australians invented the beach lifestyle. Growing up on the Sunshine Coast all my friends would compare tanlines, salt hairstyles and surfing injuries each Monday after spending as much time as possible at the beach on the weekend.
But even Sunny Coast locals are no comparison to the residents of Rio. They treat the beach like a backyard. Its a playground full of volleyball nets, soccer games, street food vendors and flying frisbees. The beach is a free for all. Soaking up sun in a skimpy bikini, drinking, relaxing, playing sport, swimming, eating – Brazilians take beach life to a whole new level.
Wandering among the ping pong tables, sweaty skin, flying soccer balls and frolicking teenagers is a memory I’ll never forget. But I enjoyed Ipanema in a laid back Australian way. After a busy day of sightseeing, I bought a fresh hot churros pumped full of chocolate sauce, sat on the sand and watched the sunset over the mountains. Rio won me over.
Travelling to remote parts of the world is just one of the things I love about my work as a photojournalist for an international NGO. I crave new sights, new images. But what I treasure most is the people I meet when I get there. Let me introduce you to Dorival and his wife Estela. They welcomed my impromptu visit to their home outside Dourados in western Brazil. Indigenous to this part of the world, they are Kaiwá, the second largest indigenous nation in Brazil. Dorival works as a pastor, travelling all over, his days concerned with the welfare of his people. In spite of the difficulties of this life Dorival’s face is bright and joyous. I was moved by his passionate interview in Portuguese and found it hard to tear myself away from their beautiful rustic ranch. Here is just a handful of images to serve as a portrait of Dorival, Estela and their humble home.
Meet Salvador. He is from the Kaiwa people indigenous to western Brazil. The Kaiwa are the second largest indigenous group in Brazil and yet one of the most marginalised. Unlike other indigenous groups (they call themselves ‘Indians’) the Kaiwa don’t live in a round village with a central house, but everyone has their own house and yard – just like Salvador. Salvador’s house is especially nice and his neighbours consider him to be rich. He works full time as a night watchman at the local school – that’s how he can afford a nice brick house.
Like Salvador, the Kaiwa are a peaceful people and will avoid conflict at all costs, even if it means that they kill themselves instead. All too often, this is the case. Because they don’t take a stand for themselves, other indigenous groups just walk all over them, don’t invite them to important political meetings and mis-represent them to the government. They are truly a people without a voice.
Brazil is the only nation in the world that treats their indigenous groups as ‘wards of the state’. This can have advantages but means that they do not have rights as citizens but are like children who must be told what is good for them. The government wants indigenous groups to learn Portuguese but otherwise to maintain a traditional way of life. They don’t want them to change their religion or other practices.
Not too long ago an anthropologist came to Salvador’s community to study their practice of suicides. After the anthropologist left more than half of the 50 people she interviewed committed suicide. Some people believe that this anthropologist, in bringing up information about past practices, was almost suggesting suicide as an appropriate social norm.
I always find religious statues a bit creepy and this one is certainly no exception. A colossal 40 metre high concrete depiction of a man who lived during the Roman Empire, died, came back to life and now many people worship as God should be creepy, I guess. What should be human emotional eyes are giant concrete balls several metres away from a ridiculously pointy chin. He isn’t human or God… he’s completely inert. I’m in awe of the architectural feat, but also unsettled by the crowds of people mimicking it in trashy summer outfits and taking endless photos on their smart phones. Why are people swarming to this statue each day? Do they like the idea of him, despise him or just want to say ‘I’ve been there’ when watching sweeping helicopter footage of it on Race Around the World or An Idiot Abroad? When I occasionally visit religious sites in Asia, do I flick my hair and cheekily mimic the statue for a photo to post on facebook? Ahem.. yes.. actually.. I do. Shame. I guess that just shows how much I don’t understand the statue’s meaning, and that is the impression I get from this crowd. Surely religious landmarks of any kind should be solemn and contemplative. You should have to remove your shoes and read a sign in various languages about the significance the local people attribute to it.