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Film still, 2011, photography by Takumã Kuikuro Source: www.vitrinefilmes.com.br

Itão KuêgüAs Hiper Mulheres – The Hyperwomen by Takumã Kuikuro, Carlos Fausto, and Leonardo Sette.

Alessandra Santos | University of British Columbia

Itão KuêgüAs Hiper Mulheres – The Hyperwomen. Directed by Takumã Kuikuro, Carlos Fausto, and Leonardo Sette. Kuikuro and Portuguese with Portuguese and English subtitles. 80 minutes. Brazil, 2011.

The Hyperwomen film poster, 2011 Source: WWW.VIMEO.COM

The Hyperwomen is an extraordinary film that documents an all-woman festival held by the Kuikuro tribe from Brazil. The film tells the story of a man who, fearing the death of his elderly wife, asks his nephew to organize a Jamurikumalu—the largest all-woman festival of the Alto Xingu Park.1 The documentary presents the Kuikuro2 women during preparations that culminate in the actual festival and how they cope with the fact that the only woman who knew all the festival songs was ill. The film does not clarify the ancient history of the festival, how it originated, or what is the temporal cycle of the festival’s occurrence, but it registers the organization of a festival that is part of an oral tradition culture. 

The film appeared as a result of the project Vídeo nas Aldeias (Video in the Villages),3 which provides indigenous peoples with equipment and training to make their own movies. The project initially served as a way to communicate with neighboring tribes that had no previous contact and as a means to preserve and share traditions, but with time the project also helped empower indigenous peoples by providing means of self-representation. Similarly, this media has served as a political instrument to document interactions with anthropologists and politicians, as well as to advocate for indigenous rights. In the many productions undertaken by the project, media served as a tool of resistance and as a political move.4 Moreover, the film formally and conceptually alludes to a reality of insertion of new media technology in the indigenous midst. Brazilian poet Oswald de Andrade discussed the image of “technicized indigeneity” in the 1950s, proposing an artistic future where indigenous people would combine their native worldview with full access to media technology. Robert Stam (Stam 1997, 324) evoked Andrade’s notion in relation to contemporary indigenous media, where native peoples negotiate media institutions and are the producers and receivers of their media exploits.5 To Stam, indigenous media is a manifestation of what Andrade envisioned, in the sense that technology serves not as a tool of oppression, but as an instrument to affirm indigeneity. 

The Hyperwomen is a great example of filmmaking that accomplishes the rare feat of non-objectification of indigenous peoples. Even though one of the directors is an anthropologist, the film doesn’t read as ethnography but as a “subjective documentary.” With the exception of two of the three co-directors, the entire crew is Kuikuro. The immersive camera and pace, and the digressive narrative provide both a portrayal of quotidian Kuikuro experience and of the ritual force of the women’s festival. 

The film is an excellent exercise in the contrasts that the Kuikuro—and many other indigenous communities—face. The documentary begins with an old colonial quandary: the threat of infectious diseases to indigenous communities. The only woman who knew all the songs of the upcoming festival, Kanu Kuikuro, was ill. We watch her recover as a result of both pharmaceuticals and the village shaman’s incantations. 

One of the most striking qualities of the film is the use of time. The director of photography, Takumã Kuikuro (who is also one of the directors), employs a combination of static and steadicam, which enthralls and destabilizes the narrative. The camera work provides both an objective approach in a formal documentary style during interviews as well as an immersive effect through camera movement, particularly in the festival scenes. The final outcome transports the viewer to the Kuikuro’s reality and point of view while undermining the objective, removed camera. The narrative is somewhat linear to show the rehearsals for the festival, yet the many digressive scenes create ruptures in narrative that are elusive and engaging. 

According to a decolonizing stance, the “Indigenous critique incarnates a temporal paradox: it is very traditional and ancient and, at the same time, very radical and new” (Stam and Shohat, 2012, 12). The objects surrounding village life serve as evidence of the contrast between the world of ancient tradition and that of technology. For example, a man being interviewed sports a large digital watch, evoking issues of temporality and the palpable presence of technicized indigeneity that moves the documentary. Another man interviewed is wearing a Darth Vader t-shirt, a visual cue that provokes laughter in the audience and functions as a testament to the conflicting references that emerge in the film—particularly because the Kuikuro culture does not enforce full-body covering, even though several people wear clothing in the film. 

An elemental idea throughout the film is cultural preservation. An older woman feared an impending death, and wanted to pass on the traditional festival songs. She commented on the lack of interest of younger people to learn the songs when a young girl approached her asking for lessons. Another woman played back cassette tapes with the recorded festival songs. The elderly man who organized the festival taught his daughter the songs he knew and showed her an extraordinary mnemonic device with ropes and knots for the purpose of remembering the songs. He also taught her the value of pacing and learning in incremental lessons. Ancient methods literally meet modern ones and, amazingly, do not seem contradictory. 

The main focus of the film is the women. Not only is the emphasis of the documentary the all-woman festival, the women’s activities and perspectives continuously receive special attention. Moreover, the title of the movie comes from the verses of a ritual song that proclaims: “I am a hyper woman” or “I am an extraordinary being.” The festival songs narrate mythical and quotidian stories, which portray the value of the Kuikuro women to their communities as well as the women’s sense of independence. The title of the film, therefore, could not be more appropriate. The singing, dancing, and wrestling tournaments shown in the film are testament to the strength and power of these women who are portrayed as dancing and fighting warriors. The astounding camera work—particularly during the festival scenes— takes the viewer to the middle of the dances, symbiotically showing the women’s own perspectives and close-up gazes. It is through the women’s bodies and voices that the decolonial gesture takes place, demonstrating the agency of an indigenous community and the women’s intervention in particular. Their singing, moreover, is undeniably beautiful. 

Resisting a colonized and ethnographic lens, the film shows life, performance, and ritual in full presence. The Kuikuro’s reality is never represented as an inferior, “underdeveloped,” or “uncivilized” way of life. In addition, there is no “imagined community,” there is just an experiential community with all the complexities the term entails without reducing the Kuikuro to noble savages. As one of the directors, Takumã Kuikuro, claimed, this genre of indigenous filmmaking helps prevent a complete eradication of their culture through colonization.6 Considering the film is an indigenous media project, it operates as a collective means of production and, most importantly, functions as a confrontation with mainstream media. Brazil is a country that has historically infantilized indigenous peoples in the social and legal domains.7 The film’s audience is exposed to a raw and legitimizing reality as well as to an invaluable cultural experience. The documentary is a strong, non-hierarchical initiative to preserve the Kuikuro culture. The creation of a film like The Hyperwomen contradicts the “denial of indigenous cultural agency” (Stam and Shohat 2012, 6), and offers future possibilities for indigenous media in Brazil.


Alessandra Santos is Assistant Professor of Ibero-American Literatures and Cultures at the University of British Columbia. Her interdisciplinary research examines cultural production in modern and contemporary Latin America with special focus on Brazil. She is interested in dialogues between literature and the other arts, new media, global issues, utopias, social justice, indigeneity, gender, race, and issues of public and private spaces. She is also an artist and a translator. Her publications include the books The Utopian Impulse in Latin America (edited with Kim Beauchesne, New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011), and Arnaldo Canibal Antunes (São Paulo: Editora nVersos, 2013).


Works Cited

Stam, Robert. 1997. Tropical Multiculturalism: A Comparative History of Race in Brazilian Cinema & Culture. Durham: Duke University Press. 

Stam, Robert and Ella Shohat. 2012. Race in Translation: Culture Wars Around the Postcolonial Atlantic. New York: New York University Press. 

---. 1994. Unthinking Eurocentrism: Multiculturalism and the Media. New York: Routledge.


Notes

1President Jânio Quadros founded the Parque Indígena do Xingu (Xingu National Park) in 1961. Three explorer brothers, Villas Bôas, conceptualized the park, which anthropologist Darcy Ribeiro implemented. It is not a regular indigenous reservation by any means; the Xingu Park was part of an idealistic and complex platform to preserve and protect nature and the traditions of indigenous peoples. The park houses five thousand natives from 14 different ethnicities (representing the four main ethno-linguistic indigenous families in Brazil: Carib, Arawak, Tupi and Gê) who inhabit an area of 17 thousand square miles. The park is a monumental initiative that generated much controversy regarding infectious diseases, land expropriation, logging industry, and government indigenous policies. 

2The Kuikuro (of Carib origin) are the largest group in Xingu Park, with around 500 inhabitants in three different villages. They have been able to preserve their traditions, with some innovations, and the film The Hyperwomen accomplishes an intriguing job in revealing their strategies to cope with a rapid process of interactions with other cultures. 

3The Hyperwomen is a co-production between the Associação Indígena Kuikuro do Alto Xingu (Kuikuro Indigenous Association), DKK—Museu Nacional (Kuikuro National Museum), and the project Vídeo nas Aldeias (Video in the Villages). Film website: http://www.ashipermulheres.org. Vídeo nas Aldeias is a non-profit organization that started in 1987 “to promote the encounter of the indigenous peoples with their own image.” The main goal of the project is to offer the technical conditions for indigenous communities to produce their own media, and to train native filmmakers and crew members to be authors of their own representation and discourse. They also claim the goal to promote spaces for intercultural dialogue. For more information, please refer to the project’s sites: http://www.videonasaldeias.org.br; http://www.youtube.com/user/VideoNasAldeiashttp://www.der.org/films/vitv-collection.html. Also, since as early as 1979 the Centro de Trabalho Indigenista (Center for Work with Indigenous Peoples) has been providing the technical training, tools and facilities “in order to protect indigenous land and consolidate resistance” (Stam 1997, 324-5). See site: http://www.trabalhoindigenista.org.br/

4For a thorough explanation of “The Emergence of ‘Indigenous Media” see Stam 1997, pp. 321-8. 

5Oswald de Andrade first used the term technicized indigeneity (coined by German philosopher Hermann Keyserling) in A Crise da Filosofia Messiânica (1950).Indigenous media “comprise an empowering vehicle for communities struggling against geographical displacement, ecological and economic deterioration, and cultural annihilation” (Stam and Shohat 1994, 35). Other examples of world indigenous media with full indigenous production may be found in Brazil, other countries in Latin America, Australia, New Zealand, United States, and Canada, notably with the Inuit film Atarnajuat: The Fast Runner (2001) directed by Zacharias Kunuk. 

6See the short film Kuhi Ikugü, Os Kuikuro se apresentam, 2007, produced and directed by Takumã Kuikuro and the Coletivo Kuikuro de Cinema. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RsymYzBdck8.

7Since colonization Brazil has had both eradicating and conciliatory (or coercive) policies towards its indigenous peoples, who were legally treated as children without a free will. The Fundação Nacional do Índio-FUNAI (National Foundation for Indigenous Peoples) was founded in 1967 to supposedly protect indigenous rights, but it has been the site of many controversies. In 1973 the Brazilian government instituted policies to further integrate indigenous communities to “civilized” society, dividing indigenous peoples in three groups: isolated, in the process of integration, and integrated (source: http://www.brasil.gov.br/, see “Estatuto do Índio”). It was not until 1988 that the government instituted laws to protect indigenous traditional land, nevertheless, up until today, indigenous peoples are murdered in land disputes.