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Brazilian vice-presidential candidate Sônia Guajajara’s river rally with indigenous leaders

Brazil's democratic future is at stake in the upcoming October elections. During a stop over in the Amazonia, the indigenous vice-presidential candidate met on the water with her fellow fighters. Images: Pablo Albarenga / Midia NINJA. Español

One of Guilherme Boulos and Sonia Guajajara followers greets the candidate after a campaign rally in Macapá, Amapá, Brazil. Image: Pablo Albarenga / Mídia NINJA. All rights reserved.

Although promotional tours and concerts are exhausting for musicians, they are a fundamental element of show-business and they must be undertaken with enthusiasm and professionalism. The same goes for electoral campaigns, and for any presidential or vice-presidential candidate that follows this path, it is usually a case of the more campaign visits the better, the more selfies the better, the more exhausting the better.

But amidst this promotional tour, there can emerge a moment of quiet where one can find peace, a space of recovery, of serenity, and in which one can connect with their inner-most emotions. And this is what occurred last September the 6th for the first ever indigenous candidate for the vice-presidency in Brazil, Sônia Bone Guajajara, during a stopover in the city of Santarém, en route to São Paulo via Belén, at the mouth of the Amazon.

Making the most of her stop over, Sônia got in touch with female indigenous leaders active in the neighbouring river Tapajós, one of the largest aquifers in the world and a place of significance within the Amazon region, most of whom are active under the group name “Suraras do Tapajós” (warriors of the Tapajós). She also contacted Raquel Rosenberg, leader of the Engajamundo youth movement that has been directing a project “Engage in the Amazon” since August that works with engaging young people from indigenous communities from the river Tapajós with the hope of mobilising them.

The threats to the survival of the river are huge: agro-business, the illegal logging industry, the construction of ports and dams, and even property pressure from a growing tourism industry. There are more than sufficient reasons to be alert and to support indigenous communities in the defence of their rights and in the fight for a development that is both healthy and sustainable. Groups such as Saúde e Alegria, an emblematic project with their base in Santarém, see this as their principal objective.

The proposal that arose from the conversation between Sônia and the other female leaders was that of convoking a meeting with the Suraras but whilst submerged in the river, a hydro-meeting as they referred to it. Submerging themselves in the river and share discussions with other indigenous female leaders turned out to be a great idea, something unprecedented, that fostered an intense and powerful conversation.

The meeting began at the last light of the day, and lasted until the celestial vault became filled with stars. The indigenous leader and candidate, together with Guilherme Boulos, the leader of the Homeless Workers Movement and presidential candidate for the PSOL (Socialism and Liberty Party) for the up and coming October elections, wanted to surround herself with a dozen women who, like herself, have undertaken a deeply asymmetric fight against the mighty forces of extractivism.

However, the waters of the river, sacred for indigenous communities, exercised their revitalising powers and the conversation flowed with intimacy until twilight. Sônia, or Sonihna as her fellow warriors like to call her, told of the enormous challenge being the only indigenous candidate in the presidential race and of the difficulties at the core of her mission to defend indigenous communities in a political sphere that has traditionally made them invisible.

Submerged in the calm of the river and inspired by ancestral energy, Sônia spoke of how the collective fight favours the community, of how they must not only stand up in defence of indigenous communities in Brazil but they must also fight for a stable ecosystem, for the conservation of the river, and of the rainforest. As all indigenous people know too well she said, resisting is existing.

Forming a circle of bodies floating in the water as the last light of the day rested on the horizon, the women spoke of this special moment they are experiencing and how, despite the difficulties they face in a country with tremendous machismo, they are the protagonists of this story, they are the ones capable of fighting, of resisting, of telling new narratives.

In this revitalising exercise, in contact with a river that affirms the power of the ancestral spirit, the certainty of being, every individual in the meeting turned their heads towards a shooting star, whose golden trail glowed off retinas for an instant that almost appeared eternal.

It was a cosmic moment, that preceded a brief but solemn purification ceremony in luke-warm waters, perfumed with herbs prepared according to ancestral ritual practice. A moment of silence was shared, whilst conscious of the transcendence of the moment in which the water spilled from a ritual bowl onto the heads of those present, one after the other, accompanied by words of purification, different words for each blessing.

The ceremony drew to a close, while complicity, anecdotes, and jokes returned to the circle, as if someone longed to break the ice after witnessing such a moment. The hydro-meeting was disbanded harmoniously, with each individual taking their time to return to the shore, to the normality of every day life, to the road-show of the electoral campaign.

Indigenous communities know the meanings of oppression, of violence and they know the collective fight can contribute to the growth of true democracy in Brazil that is currently threatened by brutal digressions towards an authoritarian regime. Fortunately, many women have raised their voices against the arbitrary nature of a cruel economic model that oppresses, that excludes and that kills. And they are fighting.

Sônia Guajajara repeats in her campaign when she has the chance, that there have been 518 years of oppression, but now it will be the women, indigenous, black, warriors, any woman with the audacity and courage, that will have the capacity to defend a democracy that is so threatened today in Brazil. They know of the importance of winning, so that a new story can be told.

About the author

Francesc Badia i Dalmases is Founder, Director and Lead Editor of democraciaAbierta. Francesc is an international affairs expert, author and political analyst. His most recent book, "Order and disorder in the 21st century. Gobal governance in a world of anxieties", was published in 2016. He Tweets @fbadiad 

Francesc Badia i Dalmases es Fundador, Director y Editor de democraciaAbierta. Ensayista y analista político, es experto en asuntos internacionales.  Su libro más reciente, "Orden y desorden en el siglo XXI. Gobernanza global en un mundo de ansiedades", fue publicado en 2016. Twitter @fbadiad


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