An indigenous cultural renaissance is taking place in parts of Brazil, and ayahuasca is at the center of this sovereignty movement.
Translating to “True People,” the Huni Kuin make up the largest indigenous nation in the state of Acre in Brazil. At least 35% of their population is distributed throughout 12 lands in Acre, spread along the Tarauacá, Jordão, Breu, Muru, Envira, Humaitá, and Purus rivers. Numbering about 15,000 people, these communities are distinct in cultural, social, and political aspects, while still sharing common ancestral roots.
A Culture Lost
At the end of the 19th century, the Huni Kuin, most of whom had been living deep in the rainforest and away from civilization, were met with colonial extractivism. Western need for rubber had brought many foreigners to their lands, resulting in the persecution and enslavement of their people, as well as in the spread of a variety of diseases for which they had no remedies.
As many other indigenous communities throughout the Amazon, the Huni Kuin population rapidly dispersed and dwindled, their once vibrant culture falling into decay, their very survival at stake.
By the 1950s, the swell of the Rubber Boom in the Amazon gradually decreased, but many elements of the Huni Kuin ritual, language, and material culture had already been forgotten. Their songs, fertility and initiation rituals, weaving designs, and much other ancestral knowledge nurtured for centuries had perished over a matter of just a few decades.
Reclaiming the Roots
Since then, the Huni Kuin in Acre have been on a quest to strengthen their culture, which led them to founding new villages and engaging in intertribal exchange with neighboring communities, as well as with their kin from Peru, from whom they had been largely separated since the start of the invasion.
Eventually, these efforts yielded a growth in interest of the youth in ancestral customs, and the gradual reclaiming of their intangible heritage.
A big part of the traditions of the Huni Kuin people, crucial to their cultural revival, are their sacred plant medicines, including the visionary brew nixi pãe (ayahuasca). As the last few decades have seen a rise in Western interest in ayahuasca and indigenous Amazonian cultures, some Huni Kuin communities decided to engage in contact with foreigners who are seeking healing, spiritual growth, and understanding of ancestral cultural traditions, and who could, in turn, aid them in strengthening their culture.
A New Future
Filmed in the Huni Kuin community of Novo Futuro (New Future), a village located in the Humaitá region of Acre, a 4-day boat journey from the nearest city, this mini documentary shares the community’s decision to open their village to outsiders and seek alliances with people from the Global North.
Ninawa Pai da Mata, a young Spiritual Leader and Master Huni Kuin pajé (shaman) has, for the past 8 years, been organizing the Eskawatã Kayawai cultural festival in his village. He also runs projects for improving the community’s way of living through his indigenous charity Instituto Socio-Cultural Huni Kuin, and has, for the past decade, been spreading the message of the spirituality of the forest and the Huni Kuin people around the globe.
Directed by Brazilian filmmakers Lara Jacoski and Patrick Belem from Bem-Te-Vi Produções, this short film showcases the Huni Kuin people’s long process of recovering their roots, remembering their culture, and emergence into better times (or a New Future), the era of indigenous rights.
Watch the mini documentary here:
About the Directors
Lara Jacoski is a filmmaker who has been working with the Huni Kuin for the past 5 years. Drawing inspiration from ancestral knowledge she has absorbed from Mother Earth and indigenous cultures, she directed the feature film “Eskawata Kayawai,” in which she shares about her experience of going deep into the heart of the Amazon, and connecting with her own heart in the journey.
Her films and projects focus on the new era of emerging awareness. She has traveled and lived in England, France, United States, Morocco, India, Thailand, Cambodia, Bolivia, Peru, and came back to Brazil. Spending time in these diverse universes has expanded her horizons, allowing her to create multicultural projects sharing learning and knowledge, showcasing the beauty and simplicity of traditional/ancestral cultures and people living their truth, which have always opened the most beautiful doors to know and learn from remarkable beings, materializing projects of relevance to themselves and beyond.
Patrick Belem is a free spirit devoted to creating sacred forest medicine music, photography, filmmaking, illustration, and journalism. At a very early age, Patrick focused on his spiritual path, contemplating many different ways of practicing self-knowledge, participating in the studies of Gurdjieff and the work of Trigueirinho and Santo Daime. Eventually, he met the Huni Kuin and drank the sacred medicine ayahuasca with them. This experience has shaped his personal and professional development, reverberating in his heart and fueling his movements, both physical and spiritual.
Alongside with Lara, he co-directed the feature film “Eskawata Kayawai” and many indigenous/social projects by their production company Bem-te-vi Produções, headquartered in South Brazil.
About Bem-te-vi Produções
Always seeking to connect people as one, the goal of Bem-te-vi Produções (named after the Great Kiskadee bird) is to reduce the cultural distance between different people and their diverging points of view.
Bem-te-vi projects have always melded the professional and the spiritual path, bridging the gap between different worlds, conducting experiences and multi-cultural projects, raising awareness, approaching and awakening the other.
Their documentaries are independently funded through personal funds, crowdfunding, and direct donations.