Archive for the ‘South America’ Category

Research in Brazil – January 2009

August 21, 2009

In January 2009 I travelled to Brazil to visit 2 communities in very different environments who live in a sustainable way with their surroundings.

I intended to travel to Brazil to live with the sustainable and ecological communities living in the valley of Matutu in the Minhas Gerais Mountains and Ceu Do Mapia in the heart of Amazonia. There I lived with the communities for a period of time and wanted to exchange skills, ideas, organizing principles and processes useful to ecological and sustainable communities in other locations. Particularly the UK.

I have been developing a practice which explores how artists can usefully work in their local communities considering the twin issues of Peak Oil and Climate change. The opportunity to travel and live with well established sustainable communities would inform this research and strengthen an ongoing body of work.


The community of living in the valley of Matutu are situated 30 miles East of Caxambu in the Minhas Gerais mountains. Approx. one days travel North of Sao Paulo. The valley is high in the rolling mountains (not sharp Alpine peaks…think more high sierra rolling grassland interspersed with woods). The community of 150 people are nestled at the end of the valley, surrounded by cliffs and waterfalls on three sides. They own the land all the way up into the mountains to the water sources (and each household process all their sewage and waste water individually) which means the water from all the waterfalls is potable and drinkable! A new experience for me.

The community produce all their own fruit and vegetables which they grow organically.They have their own cattle used to produce milk. A dairy which produces fresh yoghurt and cheese. Horses do a lot of the work in the community carrying heavy objects, ploughing, herding cattle and providing transport in the mountains.The community has two schools for the children, and every child is encouraged to attend University at the appropriate age, either in Brazil or abroad. Each family in the community have their own trade and income, but the basics of shelter, food, water and fire are communal and each member of the community has their own job to do for these. (e.g. basic food is planted, grown and gathered communally, then distributed amongst all the community; but individual families can grow their own extra food which they keep).

There is a spiritual aspect to life in the community, involving the drinking of ayahuasca, which acts as an important cohesive force in resolving disputes and bonding the community as individuals in a group with common purpose, and the land on which they live. Although the spiritual is ever present in all aspects of life this spiritual aspect is not the main focus of the community. This spiritual aspect is strange and alien to a Western secular culture such as ours, but is vitally important to the people living in this community. A gong is struck at 6am and 6pm every day, and everyone spends a few seconds of silence to hear it and be quiet. No matter what they are doing. Speaking to Guilherme (the first person to settle here and facilitator of the spiritual side of life), he expressed how the gong acts like the heartbeat of the community. A reminder to the community of something beyond the day-to-day concerns of living.

Aside from the inherent knowledge base and skill of the people who live here, what impressed me most was how this community organises itself and interacts with the outside world:

  • Community wide decisions are made in “clusters” of individuals who gather on a project by project basis. The more involvement an individual has in a project, the more decision making power they have in that project. Current projects include: Education, Fire Fighting, Hydro power, cafe and gift shop. The Fire fighting team have become so proficient that they are called in by the Brazilian government to fight fires in other communities – a bit like a Fire Fighting Special Forces!!
  • The community has decided to make itself difficult to access by the outside world but not impossible. For example the only road in, or out, of Matutu is a red dirt road. Accessible only when dry and then really only if you have a 4 x 4 (or battered old style Volkswagen beetle, which is the vehicle of choice for many members of the community for its front wheel drive and lightness). Rather than replacing the road with asphalt the members of the community only repair it when it gets really bad. They like it that way. Any visitors must park vehicles at the entrance to the valley near the gift shop and cafe (which sell produce made in the community) and hire a guide if they want to go walking in the valley. I like this approach as it does not close the community off from the outside world, but restricts access to a manageable level which preserves privacy and the fragile ecosystem which exists in this place.

I hope to return to Matutu one day to learn a much as I can of the knowledge and skills the people possess. To bring that knowledge back to the UK and implement the relevant bits in the communities in which I work.

Ceu Do Mapia

Crossing The Bridge To Santa Casa

Crossing The Bridge To Santa Casa

Ceu Do Mapia (Mapia) is a “Santo Daime” spiritual community in the heart of Amazonia. 1 days travel down the Purus river tributary from Boca De Acre and 2 days travel from Rio Branco. Very isolated when the river level drops away to nothing in the dry season, and boats cannot get to the community.

The community has regular visitors from the rest of the world (“visitantes”) who come to drink ayahuasca and take part in religious ceremonies. The centre of the community (both metaphorically and physically) is an amazing star shaped wooden church where the ceremonies take place.

From my own observations, and conversations with permanent residents in the community, the challenges currently facing the community centre around it’s interaction with the outside world and an nflux of wealth to a few individuals. In short the same problems facing communities throughout the developing world.

I spent only a week or so living in Mapia (not enough to establish myself in the community) but the traditions and skills I was looking for there did not seem to surface. However, my time there was magical in ways which are only now becoming apparent. The individuals I met in that week were lovely, and there is a definite magical quality to the place itself. Hopefully the commitees in the community can address the challenges they face and build the harmonious and peaceful place in the heart of the jungle they hope for.

So, next is a plan to establish links with communities in the Peruvian Amazon and travel there in 2010 for further research…

Viva Maia! Viva A Igreja Da Floresta! Viva Jurema!