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Workshop empowers Brazil’s Xakriabá people to publish their own books

Xakriabá people learn new skills and aim to publish books showcasing their culture

15 September 2021
15 September 2021

This post is also available in: Portuguese (Brazil)

  • In the KMÃNÃÑ HÊSUKA (“Making Books”) workshop, Central Brazil’s Xakriabá people learned the stages of the publishing process in order to make their own publications; imbuing the books with Indigenous voice was the project’s goal. 
  • The Xakriabá, who number some 9,000 people, are the largest Indigenous population in the state of Minas Gerais, living on two Indigenous lands in the north. 
  • Five books will be released this year as a result of the project. Topics include ceremonial songs, oral history, woodworking techniques and a biography of Chief Rodrigão, one of the Xakriabá’s foremost leaders.

By Matheus Lopes Quirino

This story was produced in collaboration with Mongabay to raise awareness of topics relevant to the upcoming Global Landscapes Forum’s Amazonia Digital Conference: The Tipping Point (September 21-23, 2021). Join here.

Chief Rodrigão will soon have a book written about his life. The story, which has been told, illustrated and printed, is in the final phase of production at the publishing house of the Xakriabá people, the largest Indigenous population in the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais. This comes as they near the end of a project called KMÃNÃÑ HÊSUKA (“Making Books” in the native Xakriabá tongue), which has five titles slated for release by the end of this year on topics ranging from manual work to ancestral traditions.

Chief Manoel Gomes de Oliveira, also known as Rodrigão, was one of the Xakriabá people’s leading activists before his death in 2003. He created a council which unites leaders from each of the 32 villages in the Xakriabá territory, which comprises two Indigenous reserves in the São João das Missões municipality in northern Minas Gerais. The oldest Indigenous reserve, called Xakriabá Indigenous Land was only ratified in 1987, the same year in which their chief Rosalino was murdered by land grabbers.

The establishment of the Xakriabá Indigenous Land was followed by a slew of initiatives, such as the pioneering Minas Gerais Indigenous School Creation Program, which was launched in 1997 and now has 34 schools inside the reserve, and other culturally-based projects that have led to the creation of an Indigenous radio station and a printed newspaper.

Now, it’s time for books.

“We have always wanted to work with books. It has been very good to learn 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 funding to build our publishing house through a federal law that fosters cultural projects. We will print the books right here,” adds Joel.

Workshops were held remotely due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Workshops were held remotely due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The workshop was organized by the Ponto de Cultura Loas Xakriabá, a local Indigenous-led organization, and brought together participants from villages across the Xakriabá Indigenous Land. Discussions centered on the importance of making the books Indigenous in character.

“In the beginning, the Xakriabá sought us out to learn about page layout. Our counteroffer was to teach a unit on editorial production,” says Felipe Carnevalli, assistant editor at Brazilian publishing house and editorial platform Piseagrama, which offer editorial support the project. “The idea grew and turned into the Making Books workshop series, which became a project that could be repeated in other villages and locales.” In the end, what was to be one book grew into five titles.

In a group interview with Mongabay, some of the workshop’s 12 participants confessed to being eager about finishing them. The books are in Portuguese, on topics including a collection of the Loas, or the traditional Xakriabá wedding songs; “Stories and Memories,” which brings together fables from the oral tradition; a book on a culturally significant woodworking technique; a book of songs; and the biography of Chief Rodrigão.

“I was responsible for doing the layout of the books, which is something I’d never done before and learned here,” says 13-year-old Kelvis Xakriabá enthusiastically. In the process of making “Stories and Memories,” he learned to use Adobe InDesign software – and gleaned new insights into his culture. Capturing tales passed down through spoken word, the book mixes text with illustrations drawn by two high school students from one of the local Indigenous schools. “We ended up recognizing and remembering many things we heard when we were little.”

Workshop participants learned to use diagramming software. Photo by Making Books pressroom
Workshop participants learned to use diagramming software. Photo by Making Books pressroom

The Ponto de Cultura organization, led by Joel Xakriabá, began on the reserves in 2010. Since then, it has produced cultural programs uniting Indigenous teachers, students and others to help preserve the native tongue, culture and traditions of the Xakriabá people.

According to Indigenous teacher and linguistics specialist Diana Pereira, transferring oral history onto the printed page is an important task for cultural preservation. “I was responsible for analyzing the texts throughout the process to make sure the traditional ways of speaking and telling stories in our territory were respected,” she says, noting that the cultural exchange that happened during the fieldwork to collect stories and create the texts also served as a bridge between the old and new generations.

When finished, the books will live in village school libraries. Joel also plans to create a website so that people outside the Xakriabá territory can learn the stories of his people.


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