Workshop allows Brazilian Xakriabá people to publish their own books
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- In the KMÃNÃÑ HÊSUKA (“Making Books”) workshop, the Xakriabá of central Brazil learned the steps of the publishing process in order to create their own publications; infusing books with an indigenous voice was the goal of the project.
- The Xakriabá, numbering some 9,000 people, are the largest indigenous population in the state of Minas Gerais, living on two indigenous lands to the north.
- Five books will be published this year as a result of the project. Topics include ceremonial chants, oral history, woodworking techniques, and a biography of Chief Rodrigão, one of Xakriabá’s main rulers.
By Matheus Lopes Quirino
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Chef Rodrigão will soon have a book written about his life. The story, which has been told, illustrated and printed, is in the final stages of production at the publishing house of the Xakriabá people, the largest indigenous population in the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais. It comes as they near the end of a project called KMÃNÃÑ HÊSUKA (“Making Books” in the native language Xakriabá), which is expected to release five titles by the end of this year on topics ranging from manual labor to ancestral traditions.
Chief Manoel Gomes de Oliveira, also known as Rodrigão, was one of the main activists of the Xakriabá people before his death in 2003. He created a council that brings together the leaders of each of the 32 villages in the territory of Xakriabá, which includes two indigenous reserves in the Municipality of São João das Missões in northern Minas Gerais. The oldest indigenous reserve, called Xakriabá Indigenous Land, was not ratified until 1987, the same year their leader Rosalino was assassinated by land grabbers.
The creation of the indigenous land of Xakriabá was followed by a series of initiatives, such as the pioneering program for the establishment of indigenous schools of Minas Gerais, which was launched in 1997 and now has 34 schools within the reserve, and other cultural projects that led to the creation of an indigenous radio station and a print newspaper.
Now it’s time for books.
“We have always wanted to work with books. It was great to learn more about the publishing process, especially when we interact with people of different ages, ”says Indigenous teacher Joel Xakriabá, one of the creators of the Publishing Workshop. “We managed the funding to build our publishing house through a federal law that promotes cultural projects. We’ll print the books right here, ”adds Joel.
The workshop was organized by the Ponto de Cultura Loas Xakriabá, a local indigenous-led organization, and brought together participants from villages in the indigenous Xakriabá land. Discussions focused on the importance of giving books an Aboriginal character.
“At first, the Xakriabá were looking for us to find out more about the layout. Our counter-offer was to teach a unit on editorial production, ”explains Felipe Carnevalli, deputy editor-in-chief of the Brazilian publishing house and the editorial platform Piseagrama, which offers editorial support to the project. “The idea germinated and turned into Make books series of workshops, which became a project that could be repeated in other villages and localities. In the end, what was supposed to be a book turned into five titles.
In a group interview with Mongabay, some of the 12 workshop participants admitted to being eager to complete them. The books are in Portuguese, on subjects including a collection of the Loas, or traditional Xakriabá wedding songs; “Stories and Memories”, which brings together fables from oral tradition; a book on a culturally significant woodworking technique; a book of songs; and the biography of chef Rodrigão.
“I was responsible for the layout of the books, which I had never done before and learned here,” says Kelvis Xakriabá, 13, enthusiastically. During the process of creating “Stories and Memories”, he learned to use Adobe InDesign software and gleaned new knowledge about his culture. Capturing stories transmitted through the word, the book mixes text with illustrations drawn by two high school students from one of the local Indigenous schools. “We came to recognize and remember a lot of things we heard when we were little.”
The Ponto de Cultura organization, headed by Joel Xakriabá, started on reserves in 2010. Since then, it has produced cultural programs bringing together teachers, students and other indigenous people to help preserve the language, culture and the indigenous traditions of the Xakriabá people.
According to indigenous teacher and linguistics specialist Diana Pereira, transferring oral history to the printed page is an important task for cultural preservation. “I was responsible for analyzing the texts throughout the process to make sure that the traditional ways of speaking and telling stories in our territory were respected,” she says, noting that the cultural exchange that took place is produced during fieldwork to collect stories and create the texts also served as a bridge between the old and the new generation.
Once completed, the books will live in the village school libraries. Joel is also planning to create a website so that people outside of Xakriabá territory can learn the stories of his people.