About the Wauja

Wauja ceremonial dancers

Wauja ceremonial dancers in the village plaza in the late afternoon, 1981-83. The music and dance of this ceremony are essentially the same today, but the young men's ornaments, body paint, and hairstyles are a high-spirited mashup of traditional Wauja aesthetics and influences of global youth culture, absorbed through the internet and other mass media

The Wauja are an Arawak-speaking people living in several communities in the Upper Xingu region of the Amazonian rainforest in Brazil.

The Wauja take pride in performing time-honored stories from their own large body of oral literature, and they also have a keen interest in their cultural history. Learned men and women of chiefly descent can trace their ancestors back as many as six generations, listing not only the name of each chiefly ancestor, but also his principal accomplishments and exploits, and the names of villages he founded and led during his lifetime. Therefore this project is of utmost interest to Wauja elders and youth alike.

In January-March of 2012, the Wauja were shown several of these historic films, with the younger generation recording the commentary and recollections of their elders. This reunion of past and present was directed and shot by the rising generation of Wauja filmmakers, with training and equipment provided by the project team, which includes veteran filmmakers. The footage will be available to the various participants of the project to edit independently or jointly as they see fit. Digital copies of all footage shot (whether by Wauja or non-Wauja) will be deposited with the Wauja community, to be used in their documentary, as well as a teaching resource for their village school.

While the first phase of the project in early 2012 successfully documented reactions to the images of Wauja ancestors in both the 1924 Rondon films and the 1941-48 Roncador-Xingu films, more work needs to be done. Due to delays in acquiring permissions from various institutions, the Wauja still have not been given access to the Schultz films of 1964, which are likely to contain rare, perhaps unique, images of close family members of living Wauja. It is essential that the remaining historic films be made available to the Wauja without delay. There are only a few very elderly Wauja who can identify people and events in the old films. If their knowledge is not recorded for posterity, the ancestors in the old films will remain forever nameless spirits, and strangers to their own descendants.

More about How the project went in Brazil.