It was the end of the dry season and the first drops of Amazonian rain were falling on the bonnet of the car. K. asks me: is there somewhere you’d like to stop and film? I reply: K, the only thing I really want to film is the (highway) BR 174, could we take a detour there? K. looks at me and laughs, you’re clearly not from around here, steps on the accelerator and says: The BR 174 is our only way there. Overwhelmed, I gulp and say: Then I’d better start filming now.
In the car, the radio broadcast comes and goes, just like the conversation with K. The rain thickens and silences all communication. The windows fog up and we can barely see ahead. The BR-174 extends over exactly 971km from Manaus to Boa Vista. The tarmac slashes, in vertiginous waves, through the Amazon jungle. It’s hard to hold the camera, each shot shudders with the road. The sound of rain overlapping the car engine is deafening. I take the microphone and place it on the bonnet.
Low clouds pass over the road, and open a glimmer of light. I take the cue to thank K. for the journey, the company and, most of all, for having managed to find Sr. Egydio. It took months of searching, trying in vain to reach him via the usual means of long-distance communication (phone calls, emails, online messages). No such luck. K. told me she only managed to find him because she grabbed the car and drove out three hours in the rain to Presidente Figueiredo, without a proper address, upon arrival she saw a red flag standing on a small wooden house and thought: this must the place. K. got out of the car and clapped her hands outside the house. And there he came, softly footed, at his gentle pace.
Indigenous rights militant and educator Egydio Schwade has lived for over 30 years on the margins of the BR-174. He has transformed his house into a house of culture called Urubuí, an homage to the river, that flows mightily parallel to the highway. It is in the House of Culture of Urubuí that over 3000 drawings are kept, made by the Kiña during an early experiment in bilingual literacy led by Egydio and his companion Doroti Alice Müller Schwade, in Kiñayara – their mother tongue – and in Portuguese, a demand by the Kiña to defend their rights in the world-tongue of Kamña.
In the library of the House of Culture of Urubuí, books about beekeeping, permaculture, biology, critical pedagogy and Indigenous writing fill the shelves. On a nearby wall, painted green and faded by time and light, an expressive Indigenous face weeps over the BR-174, on a poster for the Movement to Support the Waimiri-Atroari Resistance.
Before we start the interview, a group of biologists from Minas Gerais arrives quietly, all dressed in white, as if in a research laboratory. Egydio and his son Maiká take them to a homespun cane chair, where extremely rare Amazon bees have made their nests. The scientists delicately open the cane with pincers and extract a miniscule yellow goo, which they deposit in a vial: eggs laid by the queen-bee.
On the balcony of the small wooden house, Egydio’s hands pull images from a small photo album: Here’s Doroti with our sons next to the Yawará school, they attended the school like almost all the residents of the village. Women, men, children and even babies participated. An indigenous child smiles in the foreground, behind her, two extremely fair children also smile next to a group of Indigenous children and women. In the middle of a forest trail, a group of Indigenous men, laughing, point their arrows towards Egydio’s camera. Here are the boys from the village playing with their bows and arrows during a walk. Kiña’s arrows pointed towards Kamña’s camera-eye. Here, a different Kamña, bringing not gunpowder, fire or weaponry, but coloured pencils, open ears, and sheets of paper.