Arrival and First Films

Thanks to our many Return of the Captured Spirits (RCS) supporters, we were able to start the trip to the Wauja community on January 10th. Emi Ireland and Phil Tajitsu Nash left from D.C. for Rio, and Jeffrey Ehrenreich and Mori Rothman left from NYC. Marcelo Fortaleza Flores left a little later from Paris, and our colleague Rafaela Vargas, who could not come for this phase of the project, stayed behind to help with online logistics.

After a short time in Rio to buy hammocks (much better than the ones you can get in the U.S.) and complete other logistical tasks, we flew to Cuiaba, the capital of the state of Mato Grosso in central Brasil. There, we were treated to wonderful hospitality by Regina and Giuliano, the mother and brother of Rafaela, before taking a long bus ride to the border town of Canarana.

In Canarana, we met with Chief Atamai, who had had to leave the village for a medical treatment, as well as other Wauja who are working and living in a community so small that you can literally walk across it in a few minutes. We stayed in the house of Aroca, whom we had met in 1996 when he was the schoolteacher in the Wauja village, and were given warm hospitality by Aroca and his wife Lorita, daughter Rafaela, and Rafaela’s friend Renata.

During two nights at the Wauja house in Canarana, we showed some of the 1946 films as well as videos of North American Indians to Chief Atamai and about 20 local members of the Wauja community. One night we used a sheet for the projection screen and the second night we just projected from the laptop directly to the wall. One both nights, the audience was extremely interested in the images they saw, and the comments about ancestors and practices they saw on the screen were fascinating. We will report in more detail later.

At 4am on January 19th, we loaded the five of us, a Wauja guide, and many bags of camera equipment, trade goods, and gear onto two trucks for a three hour ride to the Kuluene River. True to its name as the rainy season, we were treated to three straight hours of torrential rain, and we were very grateful for our two drivers, who knew how to navigate the many puddles and other obstacles on the roads to the river.

Once at the Kuluene, we had to transfer the gear into a long boat, cover it all with a tarp, and position ourselves as close to the back as possible so that the boat would rise up in the water as we moved forward. We started riding in the boat about 8am, and had no idea that what should have been an eight hour ride would end up 16 hours later with a midnight arrival in the Wauja village of Piyulaga. In short, the motor failed several times, and we ended up being helped by members of the Kuikuru tribe and then landing at the village of the Yalawapiti tribe, who loaded us in a truck and drove us to where the Wauja could pick us up and drive us to their village.

We will have more posts describing the initial encounters at Piyulaga in more detail, but the summary is that we arrived safely, the greeting by the Wauja community was enthusiastic, we had a comfortable lodging situation in the Chief’s house, and the films have been well-received. In fact, seeing the Wauja sitting around the center of the village on the hard-packed earth, watching the images being flashed on a taut bedsheet against a star-filled sky, Emi was reminded of seeing movies shown at a drive-in movie theater, but without the cars.

Please stop back again soon, as we now will be updating this site regularly with photos, videos and text. Thanks again to all who have made this project possible.

—Phil Tajitsu Nash