The Leadership and Legacy of Indigenous Women

April was Indigenous Month in Brazil. This article reports on the Leadership of Indigenous Women conference in Salvador, and explores the personal and communal journey of indigenous women through generations.

From Mirna Wabi-Sabi

Texto em Português (BR) aqui.

You can hear this article read by the author here. (For those with dyslexia, visual impairments, or multitasking needs.)

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Photo By Julia Lea de Toledo. Photo of the Krahô, in Tocantins.

The Leadership of Indigenous Women

Indigenous peoples are often seen as “protectors of the forest” when they lift up a mirror to Western Civilization, revealing how capitalism and industrialization lead to climate change. But if we look beyond ourselves, we can see that their livelihoods have been at stake much before it became clear to us that ours is as well. Rapacious hunting and fishing is making the land scarce, which is unsustainable for us, and devastating for them. This devastation has lead Indigenous women to fight to reclaim land, not just the right to use whatever is left of the land’s resources after governments privatize and industries extract. And they fight at any cost.

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Nádia Akauá Tupinanbá, Flávia Guarani Kaiowá, Rosimere Arapasso. (Federal University of Bahia)

It’s clear now as much as ever, after the coup, Lula’s imprisonment, attempts to privatize Latin America’s largest electricity company (and consequently Brazil’s largest river), that the Government is not an ally. “Politicians don’t represent us” (Nádia). They (and the military) are not to be believed, because it’s clear that “what they say they will do to help doesn’t happen, they’re only after votes”. Many politicians only show up to collect information, and even family members sometimes turn people in (intentionally or unintentionally).
The fight for territory doesn’t need the government. The auto-demarcation of land shows the political strength of the movement, and most importantly the spiritual strength of the people.

“If you don’t feel capable of speaking about yourself, how can you speak for the other? If we don’t speak, we won’t be heard. The abuse of the woman needs to be spoken by the woman! Otherwise there won’t be any change. That’s why we assume the responsibility of militancy, without weekends or holidays.” (Rosimere)

Husbands also can’t represent their wives, they must represent themselves because if they don’t speak up, they are not heard. There is power in denunciation; without it, there are no rights. On the other hand, with denunciation comes persecution. Coming out of invisibility means a whole new set of threats. “Whites want to keep getting richer, so they kill us.” (anonymous) Which is why massacres happen with impunity. If the cops or the military don’t remove tribes from privatized land, landlords will “by the bullet”. And if they don’t kill, they burn their homes and all their things.

“To lead requires courage because we are hunted down like animals.” (Flávia)

The Guarani-Kaiowá territory in Mato Grosso do Sul is home to a tribes that have recently endured egregious acts of violence. Flávia, a 21 year old Indigenous leader, has witnessed a type of police brutality unimaginable to most people. The militarized police force invaded her community, where she lives with her 6 year old son, shooting, leaving many injured and one dead (2016 Caarapó). She says with tears in her eyes that her son is no longer afraid of guns, and that for generations natives grow up in fear without knowing that what they endure is oppression.

“I had to overcome the fear of death, and now I’m prepared to die because I know I’ll die doing something worthwhile.” (Rosimere)

The trans-generational trauma, together with the violence that is still happening today, leads to complex existential obstacles. Among Native youth in particular, demoralization leads to high suicide rates. Some Government programs arrange for psychologists to go to the communities, but according to Nádia Akauá they are not the solution. They will not help people because they have no spirituality, and to Natives prayer is the strongest weapon against demoralization. Many of them go because it’s easy money and they have a curiosity for the “exotic”. These psychologists come from academia, not speaking their language literally, culturally or spiritually.

“The community should decide who comes in and who doesn’t, not some government issued program.” (Nádia)

Hope comes through prayer, which is why spirituality is a driving force of the Indigenous resistance movement. To be able to call yourself Indigenous and practice rituals is in itself a victory. It’s important to preserve and vocalize Indigenous identity, especially after being harshly prevented from doing so in the past. “If we said we were Native, we died” (The Female Cacique/Chief of the Abaeté tribe). During the dictatorship in the 60’s, there were concentration camps for natives. Today, calling oneself Indigenous can still be death sentence. So, in many ways this fight is simply for the right to exist.

The Legacy of Indigenous Women

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Photo By Julia Lea de Toledo. Photo of the Krahô, in Tocantins.

When Brazil was invaded (not “discovered”), there were virtually no European women, so the vast majority of the Brazilian population has come to be from the violent miscegenation between white men and women of color. The fact that our ancestors were violated is something that affects us today, and is a trauma that is passed down to us. There is no recorded history of these Indigenous women; for hundreds of years they have had no voice. All we hear and reproduce is the memory of the white European men who violated them. So we had no chance to heal.

Not allowing indigenous people to speak for themselves has been a successful and despicable way to instill in society the white supremacist ideology we are still struggling with today. For instance, only last year the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam hosted and exhibition of works by a Dutch colonial artist called Frans Post. He continued to paint Brazilian landscapes well after his visit to Brazil (in the mid 1600’s) because they “sold very well“- while “not a single animal or plant study from his hand [is] known”. In other words, he was painting fantasy, and he isn’t the only Dutch artist in museums today who did that.

“[Albert] Eckhout’s depictions were presented, at the time, as “curiosities”, but would end up influencing not to a small degree, the ethnological gaze and anthropological perspectives toward Brazil’s indigenous peoples up to the present day.” (Adone Agnolin)

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To the left is an indigenous woman with chopped body parts and dangerous wild animals, intending to represent the savagery of indigenous peoples in Dutch occupied Brazil. This is not how Natives practiced anthropophagy. To the right we have a “domesticated” mestizo man with European-style clothes and firearm. The twisted white European gaze, while still widely considered objective, has for hundreds of years misrepresented the culture and traditions of native peoples, while violently silencing the people they supposedly represent.

These are examples of capitalism sprouting from patriarchal colonialism, and forming the symbiosis of white supremacy, sexism, and the “free” market that we live in today.

The way to keep the legacy of Native ancestors alive is to rescue the memory of the mothers, grandmothers, great-grandmothers, and great-great-grandmothers. Listening, learning, practicing, and sharing keep the identity alive. Indigenous identity is preserved through practice and tradition, not through DNA. Government authorities, however, often use DNA as a tactic to discredit Indigenous leaders, undermine their movements, turn Native people against each other, and bend the law in their favor.

Flávia Guarani Kaiowá, for instance, has had her mixed black ancestry used as a threat against her by several authority figures. That doesn’t even come close to interfering with her commitment to the movement of Indigenous resistance, and to her upbringing, ancestors and traditions. If anything were to happen to her, the whole world will speak her name and her voice will not be silenced like those of the women who came before her.

“My grandmother used to tell me: ‘This land is not ours, we were forced to choose between coming here and dying.’” (Flávia)

Indigenous women were taken by force from their land and moved into camps. Or they were put to work as maids in the homes of military officers and Christian leaders until they were 30 or so. When they aged and were no longer considered valuable as cheap labor, they were left without homes or jobs, and faced discrimination even in their own tribes when they went back. When Brazilians marginalize these Indigenous women, it also means marginalizing a significant part of themselves.

Brazilian families tend to not value their Indigenous ancestry, there is so much colorism that it makes it hard to look for our roots and to preserve our identity. I, personally, decided to rescue the memory of my ancestor by ritualizing my life. This doesn’t mean I’m going to move in with a tribe and start painting myself. It means I practice daily rituals that connect me with my ancestor, by listening, learning and healing in ways that are just not possible through Western medicine and therapies. We can all benefit from destroying a little bit of the white supremacy in the world by decolonizing ourselves.


Mirna Wabi-Sabi

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is co-editor of Gods&Radicals, and writes about decoloniality and anti-capitalism.


Support our work here.


TRADUÇÃO PORTUGUÊS

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Krahô, Tocantins (Foto de Julia Lea de Toledo)

Abril foi o Mês Indígena. Este artigo relata a conferência Liderança de Mulheres Indígenas em Salvador, e explora a jornada pessoal e comunitária das mulheres indígenas pelas gerações.

Por Mirna Wabi-Sabi

A Liderança de Mulheres Indígenas

Os povos indígenas são frequentemente vistos como “protetores da floresta” quando levantam um espelho para a civilização ocidental, revelando como o capitalismo e a industrialização resultou em aquecimento global. Mas se olharmos além de nós mesmos, veremos que a sobrevivência e bem estar deste povo já estava seriamente ameaçada muito antes de ficar claro para nós que a nossa existência também está. A caça e a pesca predatória tornam a terra escassa, o que é insustentável para nós e devastador para eles e elas. Essa devastação ambiental e cultural levou as mulheres indígenas a lutar para recuperar a terra, não apenas o direito de usar o que resta dos recursos da terra depois que o governo privatiza e indústrias extraem. E elas lutam a qualquer custo.

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Citações de Nádia Akauá Tupinanbá, Flávia Guarani Kaiowá, Rosimere Arapasso. (UFBA)

Está claro, como sempre esteve, após o golpe, a prisão de Lula, tentativas de privatizar a maior companhia de eletricidade da América Latina (e consequentemente o Rio Sāo Francisco), que o governo não é um aliado. “Políticos não nos representam” (Nádia). Não podemos acreditar no governo e no exército, porque é claro que “o que eles dizem que vão fazer para ajudar não acontece, estão apenas atraz de votos”. Muitos políticos só aparecem para coletar informações, e até mesmo membros da família às vezes entregam nativos (intencionalmente ou não).

A luta pelo território não precisa do governo. A auto-demarcação da terra mostra a força política do movimento e a força espiritual do povo.

“Se você não se sente capaz de falar sobre si mesmo, como pode falar pelo outro? Se não falarmos, não seremos ouvidas. O abuso da mulher precisa ser falado pela mulher! Caso contrário, não haverá nenhuma mudança. É por isso que assumimos a responsabilidade da militância, sem fins de semana ou feriados.” (Rosimere)

Maridos também não podem representar suas esposas, elas devem representar a si mesmas, porque se não falam, não são ouvidas. Existe poder na denúncia; sem isso, não há direitos. Por outro lado, com a denúncia vem a perseguição. Sair da invisibilidade significa todo um novo conjunto de ameaças. “Os brancos querem continuar enriquecendo, então nos matam.” (anônimo) É por isso que massacres acontecem com impunidade. Se os policiais ou militares não “removem” aldeias de terras, os proprietários se sentem no direito de “remover a bala”. E se não matam, queimam as casas e as coisas.

“Liderar requer coragem porque somos caçadas como animais.” (Flávia)

O território Guarani-Kaiowá, no Mato Grosso do Sul, abriga aldeias que recentemente sofreram horríveis atos de violência. Flávia, uma líder indígena de 21 anos, testemunhou extrema brutalidade policial. A polícia invadiu sua comunidade, onde mora com seu filho de 6 anos, atirando, deixando muitos feridos e um morto (Caarapó 2016). Ela diz com lágrimas nos olhos que seu filho não tem mais medo de armas, e que por gerações Nativos crescem com medo sem saber que o sofrem é opressão.

“Eu tive que superar o medo da morte, e agora estou preparada para morrer, porque sei que vou morrer fazendo algo que vale a pena.” (Rosimere)

O trauma transgeracional, junto com a violência contemporânea, resulta em complexos obstáculos existenciais. Entre os jovens nativos, em particular, a desmoralização leva a altas taxas de suicídio. Alguns programas do governo mandam psicólogos às comunidades, mas, segundo Nádia Akauá, isso não é a solução. Eles não ajudam os Nativos e as Nativas porque não têm espiritualidade, e para eles e elas a oração é a arma mais forte contra a desmoralização. Muitos participam do programa porque é dinheiro fácil e brancos têm uma curiosidade pelo “exótico”. Esses psicólogos vêm da academia, não falando a língua da comunidade literalmente, culturalmente ou espiritualmente.

“A comunidade tem que decidir quem entra e quem não entra, não um programa qualquer do governo.” (Nádia)

A esperança vem através da oração, e é por isso que a espiritualidade é uma força motriz do movimento de resistência indígena. Ser capaz de se chamar indígena e praticar rituais é em si uma vitória. É importante preservar e vocalizar a identidade indígena, especialmente depois de ser duramente impedidos de fazê-lo no passado. “Se a gente falasse que era indígena, morria” (A Cacique Abaeté). Durante a ditadura nos anos 60, havia campos de concentração para nativos. Hoje, se afirmar como indígena ainda pode ser uma sentença de morte. Então, em muitos aspectos, essa luta é simplesmente pelo direito de existir.

O Legado das Mulheres Indígenas

Quando o Brasil foi invadido (não “descoberto”), praticamente não havia mulheres européias, então a grande maioria da população brasileira veio a ser da miscigenação violenta entre homens brancos e mulheres de cor. O fato de nossas ancestrais terem sido violentadas é algo que nos afeta hoje em dia, e é um trauma transmitido a nós. Há pouquíssima históra registrada dessas mulheres indígenas; por centenas de anos elas não tiveram voz. Tudo o que ouvimos e reproduzimos é a memória dos homens europeus brancos que as violaram. Então não tivemos chance de sarar.

Não permitir os povos indígenas de falar por si mesmos tem sido uma maneira bem-sucedida e desprezível de incutir na sociedade a ideologia da supremacia branca, contra qual ainda estamos lutando hoje. Por exemplo, apenas no ano passado, o Rijksmuseum de Amsterdã exibiu obras de um artista colonial holandês chamado Frans Post. Ele continuou a pintar paisagens brasileiras bem depois de sua visita ao Brasil (em meados do século 17), porque “vendiam muito bem” – enquanto “nem um único estudo de animal ou planta de sua mão é conhecido”. Em outras palavras, ele estava pintando fantasias, e ele não é o único artista holandês em museus de hoje que fez isso.

“As pinturas de [Albert] Eckhout foram apresentadas, na época, como “curiosidades”, mas acabariam influenciando, não a um pequeno grau, o olhar etnológico e as perspectivas antropológicas em relação aos povos indígenas do Brasil até os dias atuais.” (Adone Agnolin)

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À esquerda está uma indígena com partes de um corpo picado e animais selvagens perigosos, que pretende representar a selvageria dos povos indígenas na região Braseila ocupada pelos holandeses. Não é assim que os nativos praticavam a antropofagia. À direita, temos um homem mestiço “domesticado” com roupas de estilo europeu e arma de fogo. O olhar branco Europeu distorcido, apesar de ainda ser amplamente considerado objetivo, por centenas de anos deturpou a cultura e as tradições dos povos Indígenas, violentamente silenciando as pessoas que supostamente representava.

Estes são exemplos do capitalismo brotando do colonialismo patriarcal, e formando a simbiose entre a supremacia branca, o sexismo, e o mercado “livre” em que vivemos hoje.

Uma maneira de manter vivo o legado de ancestrais Nativos é resgatar a memória das mães, avós, bisavós e trisavós. Ouvir, aprender, praticar e compartilhar mantém a identidade viva. A identidade indígena é preservada através da prática e da tradição, não só através do DNA. As autoridades governamentais, no entanto, muitas vezes usam o DNA como uma tática para desacreditar líderes indígenas, minar seus movimentos, transformar os povos indígenas uns contra os outros, e reverter a lei a seu favor.

Flávia Guarani Kaiowá, por exemplo, teve sua descendência negra usada como uma ameaça contra ela por várias figuras de autoridade. Isso nem chega perto de interferir em seu compromisso com o movimento da resistência indígena, e com sua relação com sua criação, ancestrais e tradições. Se alguma coisa lhe acontecer, o mundo inteiro falará seu nome e sua voz não será silenciada como as das mulheres que vieram antes dela.

“Minha avó me disse: ‘Essa terra não é nossa, fomos forçadas a escolher entre vir aqui e morrer.'” (Flávia)

Mulheres indígenas foram retiradas à força de suas terras e transferidas para os campos. Ou foram colocadas para trabalhar como empregadas domésticas nas casas de oficiais militares e líderes cristãos até por volta dos 30 anos de idade. Quando envelheciam, e não eram mais consideradas valiosas como mão-de-obra barata, ficavam sem moradia ou emprego e enfrentavam discriminação até mesmo quando voltavam pra suas próprias aldeias. Quando brasileiros marginalizam mulheres indígenas, isso também significa marginalizar uma parte significante de nós mesmos.

As famílias brasileiras tendem a não valorizar sua ancestralidade indígena, há tanto colorismo que dificulta a busca à nossas raízes e a preservação de nossa identidade. Eu, pessoalmente, decidi resgatar a memória da minha ancestral pela investigação histórica e pela ritualização minha vida. Isso não significa que eu vou me mudar pra uma aldeia e começar a me pintar. Significa que pratico rituais diários que me conectam com minha ancestral, ouvindo, aprendendo e me curando de maneiras que não são possíveis através da medicina e das terapias ocidentais. Todos e todas nós nos beneficiaremos da descolinização e da destruição da supremacia branca no mundo.


Mirna Wabi-Sabi

23844610_10155972276622372_5754996345436383112_n

é editora de Gods&Radicals, e escreve sobre anti-colonialismo e anti-capitalismo.


Apoie nosso trabalho aqui.

The Identity Politics Glitch

“When neoliberals ask for “diversity”, or more opportunities for the disenfranchised to franchise themselves, what they want is to hand out “white masks” to people of colour as if it’s charity.”

From Mirna Wabi-Sabi

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“The colonial world is a world divided into compartments. It is probably unnecessary to recall the existence of native quarters and European quarters, of schools for natives and schools for Europeans; in the same way we need not recall apartheid in South Africa. Yet, if we examine closely this system of compartments, we will at least be able to reveal the lines of force it implies. This approach to the colonial world, its ordering and its geographical layout will allow us to mark out the lines on which a decolonized society will be reorganized.”

Frantz Fanon [1]

Identity Politics is the concept that puts “Black” in Black Panther, “Gay” in Gay Pride, “Gender” in Gender Performativity, “Jewish” in Jewish Diaspora, “Women” in Women’s Rights, and, dare I say it for the Marxists out there, “Working” in Working-Class. If there is hierarchy, there is hegemony; and those who are not identified as members of the leading social group are subject to harsh authoritarian treatment. For the oppressed, an identity is a constant imposition, not something someone puts on when they feel like it, or perform occasionally. Black people can’t detach from their skin, being inside or outside of the closet is a struggle, the gender dichotomy is omnipresent, we live the Christian calendar and traditions everyday, toxic masculinity creeps at every corner, and back-breaking work barely makes ends meet (if there is work).

Organising under a shared identity can be liberating. Not feeling alone in the struggle, knowing that the problem is not you being a freak, and that together we can really make a difference for everyone. Not to mention the self-esteem boost of shared cultural practices, physical and emotional self-expression.

Recognising a shared identity means also recognising differences with others. Recognising differences isn’t necessarily separatist, it’s a unifying practice because we bond based on shared experience (as opposed to being-the-same), and we support each other in the intersections between different struggles. According to Frantz Fanon, these different categories have been put in place by colonial forces. Carefully observing them, analysing why they were put in place, by whom, and in what ways these categories manifest themselves now is quite essential for building a decolonized world.

Sounds beautiful, but of course nothing is that perfect. Some interpret this organisational style as “tribalism”, which is something that can be used to weaken a wider movement of resistance against capitalism by inciting conflict between so-called “tribes”. Colonisers exploited already existing tribal disputes, and today’s hegemony has inherited this practice towards social justice movements. However, to argue that tribalism is the problem in this case is a perpetuation of the colonial attitude that imposes Western values on non-Western people. The problem is not how indigenous people were organising themselves, but instead how they were exploited.

Today, being “officially” recognised as Native American requires a DNA test that proves the opposite of the “one-drop-rule”. Meaning, instead of the claim that one drop of “black blood” makes you black, one drop of “non-indigenous blood” makes Native Americans not Native. This is a type of racial violence that distorts and restricts indigenous heritage and existence. Furthermore, it reduces the acknowledgment of identity to the extent to which it’s convenient to the Government to acknowledge it, rather than actually respecting what indigenous identity means to indigenous people. DNA is not all that matters, and it doesn’t even distinguish between different tribes. Much of Native identity is about participation in a particular tribe and practices. It should be up to that tribe to grant nationhood to a member [2].

Governmental restrictions of people’s affirmation and expression of identity is what leads to the extinction of tribes, and a complete erasure of heritage. This contemporary practice is very much related to the colonial practice of forced Christian conversions and marriages in Brazil. Fanon would call that white masks, but I’ll bring that up again later in the article. For now we can call it a bloodless genocide, where numerous peoples were forced into extinction through Western assimilation.

When it comes to bloody genocide there is no stronger voice than that of Africans in the diaspora. Black identity isn’t alienating in the way white identity is, so let’s be careful to not tell people of colour that they “misunderstand the nature of race”. The Identitarian movement [3], which is lead by an Austrian man who wants to preserve white identity and fortress Europe, is in no way comparable with the Pan-Africanist movement [4], which aims to restore nationhood to Africans in the continent and in the diaspora. There is nothing racist about Pan-Africanists saying they don’t want white people directly involved in their organisations, it’s a fair strategy to combat white supremacy that should be respected and supported.

None of these identity based political movements have to interfere with the wider movement of resistance against capitalism. Saying that organising under a shared identity distracts from organising against the capitalist ruling class is like saying beehives and honey-making distract from pollination. It doesn’t, they complement each other, especially if we have an intersectional approach. What interferes is white people feeling entitled to show up at other people’s “hives” and start telling them what they are doing wrong and what they should be doing instead.

Another thing that interferes is awesome movements getting cooped by capitalist forces (like politicians and corporations). That’s why nowadays it’s apparently hard for people to separate Identity politics from Hilary Clinton, since she took this side of the debate against Bernie, who claimed the let’s-all-unite-against-capitalism argument [5]. But Hilary is no more representative of Identity Politics than Ivanka Trump is representative of Toni Morrison’s descriptions of female slave labor [6]. Just because one (mis)quotes the other doesn’t mean they are representative of each other, just as Urban Dictionary isn’t all there is to a term’s definition.

Identity politics doesn’t only mean practicing reverse social exclusion [7] and creating safe(er) spaces based on race, culture and gender [8], or a hypocritical reproduction of the discrimination we claim to be fighting against.

In a previous article [9] I discussed how colourblindness is not anti-racist, it’s in fact a careless exercise of (white) privilege, and how categorising others while remaining neutral is an essential strategy for the persistence of White Patriarchy. White people do what they want, when they want [10], and I object when white men tell people of colour and queers that their identity based communities makes them feel discriminated against. Masculinity and whiteness are also socially performed identities, but they are imposed on most of the world as an objective, neutral, and superior state of being. Listening to so-called-others helps one understand why these identity based communities are so important in facing such an incredibly hostile world.

Even Anzaldua [15], who rejected oppositional identity politics and idealized a post-racial world, acknowledged that she would “stop using labels. That’s what [she] want[s] to work towards. But until we come to that time, if you lay your body down and don’t declare certain facets of yourself, they get stepped on.”

That is not to say identity politics can’t be problematic. Some approach it superficially and end up throwing empty statements around that focus more on personal image than on genuine social change: when causes become trends. An example of this is how in the last 10 years, Zwarte Piet [11] has been more widely condemned in the Netherlands. While that in itself is positive, it can be a problem when Dutch people think that taking a stance against this tradition is an opportunity to earn a not-racist badge. It’s important to avoid interpreting certain things as the problem, but instead as symptoms of a much bigger problem. This way we ensure that Dutch Racism doesn’t manifest itself in other ways.

Another issue that rises from Identity Politics is the expectation of homogeneity. Kimberle Crenshaw thought us over 20 years ago [12] that when feminist circles attempt to homogenise womanhood and the experience of sexism, they erase the different forms of oppression women of colour experience, and consequently erasing black womanhood itself. Today we can say the same for TERF’s [13] and the erasure of the trans experience. This is why identity politics must be perceived as intrinsically connected to intersectionality.

Identity politics is not what brings those compartments Fanon speaks of into existence. We choose to look at them, take them, dismantle them, and from there we can build a new world. Non-Westerners mustn’t be the same as Westerners. In a white supremacist world, assimilation means whitification. The colonised has oppressor and oppressed within, a neurotic inferiority complex, and a survival instinct that leads to a horrible desire to adjust. This is fed and exploited. When neo-liberals ask for “diversity”, or more opportunities for the disenfranchised to franchise themselves, what they want is to hand out “white masks” [14] to people of colour as if it’s charity. What we should have is a world where we can exist without them.

So, what does this debate mean for the woke generation? A complete inability to get over ourselves and just get shit done.


  1. Wretched of the Earth, by Frantz Fanon (1965, p.36)
  2. Genetic “Markers”- Not a Valid Test of Native Identity. Blood quantum laws. And a video on the subject can be found here.
  3. The new-right hipsters.
  4. A Britannica definition of Pan-Africanism. Check also the Brazilian political organisation Reaja.
  5. Bernie Sanders still says class is more important than race. He is still wrong.
  6. Ivanka Criticised for quoting Toni Morrison.
  7. For instance calling people out, and banning public displays of cultural appropriation in specific spaces.
  8. For example organizing events, meetings and parties for Queers and PoC only.
  9. White Privilege in Dutch Anarchism.
  10. Joyce Galvão’s private commentary on Mallu Magalhães and cultural appropriation in Brazilian music.
  11. Zwarte Piet
  12. Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence Against Women of Color, by Kimberle Crenshaw (Stanford Law Review, 1991).
  13. Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminist.
  14. Black Skins White masks by Frantz Fanon.
  15. Gloria E. Anzaldúa was a scholar of Latina feminist phenomenology.

Mirna Wabi-Sabi

23844610_10155972276622372_5754996345436383112_n

is co-editor of Gods&Radicals, and writes about decoloniality and anti-capitalism.


Support our work here.

What does calling Brazilian women “sexy” actually mean?

An article on the impact colonialism has in the lives of Brazilian women today.

By Mirna Wabi-Sabi

 

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Photo by Douglas Barros, set in the Museum of Contemporary Art (MAC), iconic architecture by Oscar Niemeyer, in Niterói, Brazil.

Niterói is the city across the bay from Rio de Janeiro, and its name means “hidden water” in Tupi. The leader of the now extinct Temiminó tribe, Araribóia, founded Niterói in the late 1500’s. It’s the only city in Brazil to have been founded by an Indigenous person. In the 16th century, Portuguese settlers married Indigenous women and rewarded Indigenous leaders, such as Araribóia, with expensive gifts and prestigious positions. In return, the Indigenous tribe would join the fight against other Indigenous tribes, and European settlers from France and the Netherlands.

These other European countries that fought Portugal for control over the colony were not as successful in collaborating with the locals. This was because they preferred to preserve the racial, religious and cultural segregation for racist reasons. Despite the Pope’s claim that Indigenous people had a ‘blood defect’, Araribóia eventually converted to Christianity and changed his name to Martim Afonso. Portugal’s ability to convert the Indigenous to Christianity, and to have mixed marriages and offspring, lead to ‘successful’ alliances in war and land development. Of course, these alliances were not motivated by sentiments of equality, but instead by patriarchal capitalist interests.

Today, the few people in Niterói who remember Araribóia consider him a traitor for converting to Christianity and for allowing the Western domination of his tribe. It’s becoming widely known, though, that Indigenous collaboration with Europeans was done ‘at knife point’, and was also a survival strategy that allowed for the preservation of a small portion of the Indigenous population. My great-great-grandmother was an Indigenous woman who was ‘hunted down by lasso’ by the much older white man who was my great-great-grandfather, and I can safely say this is a common tale among Brazilian families. Whether this story can be taken literally or not, Christianity, marriage, sexual assault, and slavery were a brutal reality for Indigenous women nevertheless.[1]

Statue of Araribóia in Niterói. Photo by Mirna Wabi

Mixed marriages, or miscegenation, became an unavoidable part of Brazil’s sense of identity. It’s been considered a weakness to be fixed through racial cleansing, or a source of power, beauty and pride if well managed. Unlike the United States’ ‘one-drop rule’, white Brazilian men tried to claim that they could genetically ‘fix’ the ‘lower’ races. This concept came from white European men who wanted to justify their sexual relationships with women of color, and their emotional attachment to the families they were creating. “The sexual fantasy of the erotic encounter with the Other is simultaneously the fantasy of whitening/browning the nation by eliminating “Africanoid exaggerations”” (Alvaro Jarrin, 2010). This was the beginning of Brazil’s mingling of medical research, race, and beauty.

“Cosmetic citizenship” is a term used by Alvaro Jarrín in 2010 to describe Southeastern Brazil’s relationship with beauty in connection to race, class and gender hierarchy. We still struggle with the white supremacist ideology imposed on us during hundreds of years of colonization, and we hold the Brazilian working class (economically) hostage to white bourgeois beauty (and behavior) standards. We associate beauty with health, wealth, white(er)ness.

Too many people talk about the plastic surgery phenomenon in Brazil and the sexualized exoticism of Brazilian women as something we brought upon ourselves, claiming Brazilian women have nice asses and are wild in bed because that’s what they are ‘by nature’, as if that statement was an objective fact (the neutral gaze). This idea is reinforced by the media and by popular culture, which is dominated by white capitalist patriarchy in Brazil and abroad.

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The view of Rio from Niterói, over the Guanabara Bay. “Guanabara” comes from the term ocean-breast in Tupi. Photo by Nicolas Prieto

Whoever makes claims that Brazil is past colonialism because we’ve become some kind of superpower needs to stop listening only to the Brazilian elite, and start listening to the Brazilian masses. We have an incredible amount of resources, and we struggle every day to seize control of them. We are not an American style imperialist power, even though the Brazilian elite might want that. They are mesmerized by the American dream of financial success and by the European dream of white supremacist racial cleansing, while the majority of the population is held financially hostage and struggles to survive.

Even though the Brazilian elite participates in this oppression, it doesn’t mean Western powers aren’t responsible. In fact, they are responsible for the destabilization of all of Latin America for hundreds of years, and still are today. Brazilian women should not and will not be reduced to the stereotypes of being sexy and spicy, nor subjected to exoticism and harassment. As a Brazilian woman, I’m tired of white Western Europeans trying to educate me about my own country, and even on how I should perceive myself.

Niterói is my hometown. Much of our Indigenous heritage has been devalued, destroyed and forgotten. The legacy of this destruction defines us today. The white supremacist sexual assault of Indigenous and African women, the slaughter of Indigenous peoples, languages, spirituality, and culture; these are all still part of our lives whenever we see a Christian church, whenever we forget what the names of our neighborhoods mean, whenever a woman feels pressure to conform to an elitist and racist beauty standard, whenever we reject our Indigenous blood and heritage, and whenever we worship foreign currency over nature.

So, next time you see the “Brazilian Issue” of something with a picture of a big ass on the cover, see it for what it really is: the colonized female body being dissected, analyzed, criticized, sexualized, and sold.

(Additional references: bell hooks, Angela Davis, Gloria Wekker)

Footnotes:

[1] TW: rape. This is not only true in Brazil. “Indigenous women in the US experience some of the highest rates of sexual assault in the country” (Aljazeera). See Stuff Mom Never Told You podcast on Pocahontas and Rape Culture.


Mirna Wabi-Sabi

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is an intersectional feminist and decolonial activist from Brazil currently investigating Indigenous heritage. She publishes zines (Something Printed for Reading), and organizes educational events (DIY Workshop).


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Restoring Sovereignty and the Path Forward

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Lia Fail – Hill of Tara photo by Ken Williams http://www.shadowandstone.com

(also posted at Strixian Woods)

The world we have inherited is one where the Sovereignty of the Land has been broken.  It’s not a single person’s fault.  It’s not a specific generation’s fault.  Throughout history, humanity has made a series of choices that have separated us from the spirit of the land, from the Otherworld, from nature itself.  Our broken Sovereignty reveals itself in our poisoned rivers and oceans that are becoming barren, in the extinction of species and our dwindling biodiversity, in our melting icecaps and rising seas.  Our unhealthy relationship to the Sovereignty of the Land is perpetuated when we vilify the poor instead of aiding them,  when we  foolishly act as if we have dominion over the Earth rather than acting as stewards of it,  and when we turn our backs on justice in this land and do not stand in opposition to these false judgements of old men.  As we withdraw ourselves from and choose to ignore the power of the land and the gifts of the Otherworld, the land sickens around us, our place on our planet becomes tenuous, and our societal priorities become selfish and obscene.  As a species, we stand today at a crossroads, at a place in our collective Wyrd where the threads of our fates diverge, some leading to our continued survival, and some cut prematurely leading to our extinction among the multitudes of other species extinctions.  Our path forward will not be an easy one no matter what choices we make, but there is a path ahead for us that will allow us a future, a path on which we encourage the return of the Sovereignty of the Land.

Before we can discuss restoring Sovereignty to the Land, we better take some time to define what I mean by the term.  I will be referring to the primary three types of sovereignty that are used in most discussions on the topic and attempt to define them and untangle their meanings. The types of sovereignty that I’ll be referencing I’ll refer to as either political sovereignty, or the authority of a state to govern themselves or others, personal sovereignty also known as personal autonomy, and Sovereignty of the Land, the numinous power of the Otherworld channeled through the Sovereignty Goddess to the ruler of the land.  These concepts are related, and each one has some influence with the others, but at their heart they all have different and nuanced meanings.

In a modern context, when the term sovereignty is used it is usually referring to political sovereignty.   This is often the type of sovereignty that causes much of the confusion.  It’s easy for us to look at the concept of Sovereignty of the Land in regards to Celtic lore and history and superimpose our modern concepts of political sovereignty over it.  This can muddy the meaning of both types of sovereignty.  The concept of political sovereignty, while crucially important to people’s lives, has become a corrupted by those with power.  A militarily or economically powerful nation’s sovereignty is determined by their ability through war or trade to prevent others from imposing their will on them.  In most cases, this type of political power is held through violence or the threat of violence.

A good case study of how this dynamic works is the state of Native or First Nations Peoples on this continent.  Technically, Native Peoples have been granted “sovereignty” for their tribal governments to rule themselves.  Although they had no real right to do so, the US and Canadian governments granted Native Tribes limited rights to self-rule and government.  In reality, they took this step not out of the goodness of their hearts or some sort of concern for the dignity of the people, but to appease the Tribes after destroying their livelihood, culture, and lives.  This continent was founded by people who, through murder, rape, disease, lies, and genocide, systematically wiped out vast populations of people.  The European people who colonized this continent have absolutely no legitimate claim to it.  They arrived and through a fluke of technological achievement, specific biological resilience, and an arrogant spiritual philosophy of dominion over all of creation, they took it.  Their claim of sovereign rights to the land they occupy rests on the childish and dangerous tenant of “I took it so it’s mine”.  With this in mind, the idea of these illegitimate foreign governments bestowing the right of political sovereignty to the peoples that had been living here for thousands of years is tragic and delusional and we must always look at this connection to violence when we consider political sovereignty.

Personal sovereignty on the other hand is rooted in the cultural values of personal autonomy and self determination.  It is based on the concept of a fundamental human right to self-determination.  Retaining our personal sovereignty has been one of the great struggles of our time and this struggle takes countless forms today.  The right for women to make decisions about their own bodies, right to express your free will, and our freedom of speech, all fall under the category of personal sovereignty.  Personal sovereignty does not come without responsibility and cost though.  To be able to have the type of autonomy and freedom that we desire and still live in a world populated with other sovereign individuals, we must be operating from a place of high moral accountability.  Accessing your personal sovereignty is reliant on an understanding and acknowledgment of other people’s sovereignty and rights.  We must understand and accept that we are part of a greater whole, that our actions affect others and affect the heath of the planet around them.  Our own honor, integrity, and sense of justice must guide our decisions, coupled by connections to our community and understanding of the ecological world around us.  In this way, personal sovereignty is much more closely tied to the Sovereignty of the Land.

When we speak of the Sovereignty of the Land, we are speaking of a concept that has been obscured by the mists of time.  We see this classical and historical concept of sovereignty throughout the lore of ancient peoples.  At the heart of this type of sovereignty is a contract and partnership with the Otherworld, the unseen spiritual world.  In the traditional sovereignty tale, a King is granted his right to rule though the Otherworld.  This power flows from the land through the form of the Sovereignty Goddess.  This power is usually transferred in the form of a mead cup or the act of sexual union with the Goddess.  The Sovereignty granted to the King is not unlimited power over his subjects, but a fluid force, the magical power of the land itself.  A power that must used for the benefit of both the land and the people lest it be withdrawn.  The Sovereignty of the Land flows from the Otherworld, is mediated by the King and from him flows back to the people to sustain them.  This contract, like most agreements with the Otherworld, is conditional and strictly regulated through a combination of ritualized behaviors (Geasa) and mutual obligations between the ruler and his people.  The failure of a King to meet their obligations either by breaking their agreements with the Otherworld or their people, resulted in withdrawal of Sovereignty which had disastrous effects such as crop failures and famine, the death of livestock, disease and hardship.  In a situation like this, the failed King would step down, die in battle, or be sacrificed to allow a more suitable King to take their place.

Sovereignty of the Land was never truly about power over the tribe or the land.  It was responsibility to both.  A good King was not selfish but selfless, willing to cede power and sometimes his life for the benefit of his people.  The health of the people and land reflected directly on the ruler.  A single person starving from lack of food was abhorrent to Celtic society and to have someone starve on your doorstep brought great dishonor to you.  In this system of Sovereignty, there was a strict social contract between the leader and the people.  Bound in layers of obligation, hospitality, and geasa, the King had a sacred responsibility to care for and provide for his people.  Our ancestors knew that community is essential to our survival, and also knew that connection and relationship with the Otherworld was necessary for our continued survival.  Those in positions of power in our world today have forgotten both of these things.

Our culture has cut all relevant ties to the Otherworld, and we have fetishized selfishness and self interest.  We stumble forward, stepping on the backs of others with little care for their well being as we strive for personal gain.  We are not appalled by our hungry neighbors, and we chose to create a land that is as dead as we perceive it to be.  The Sovereignty of the Land has withdrawn from us and we have been left with a poisoned land and a broken society.  Our leaders have failed us and we all suffer from their failings.  We no longer live in culture where the leaders work for the benefit of the people and the land.  Our leaders will not step down when they fail us and regrettably we can’t sacrifice them.  We no longer have Kings ruling us and that is a good thing, because we live in an age where we can be more and more responsible for ourselves.  Sovereignty has never left the land, we, as a society have chosen to ignore it and not to access it.   In an age defined by self determination, it is up to us to restore the Sovereignty of the Land, to maintain relations and contracts with the Otherworld, to establish a mode of existing with the world and with each other that is sustainable and life affirming.

But how do we return Sovereignty to the Land and how will that change our course?  How will our connection with the Otherworld help create a better world for everyone?  How will this provide for us a viable path ahead?

At the heart of this type of Sovereignty of the Land is interconnectedness.  It is the acknowledgement that as a society our future survival is dependent on working with each other, not fighting against each other.  It is understanding that on a greater level, our society’s survival and our ecosystem’s survival are intertwined.  When the health of our planet fails, our health fails with it.  When we cut ourselves off from our environment, from our communities, and from the Otherworld, we wither like a plant cut from its roots.  And we are withering.  Our bellies are full and we are starving to death.

We can take these basic steps and reestablish the flow of Sovereignty in our lives and in our land.

– Establish and maintain relationships with the Otherworld.  Honor your Gods, honor the spirits of the land, honor your ancestors and make your choices for those that will come after us, not for ourselves.

– Establish and maintain relationships with your communities.  Get to know your community and take part in it, both locally and globally.  Don’t ask what you are getting from your community, ask how you are helping it.

– Give more than you take, in all things.  Wealth and power are a flow, not something to hoard and hold onto.

– Stand for Sovereignty.  Speak out where you see sovereignty being compromised.  Defend others’ rights and their sovereignty, not just your own.

Taking steps to restore Sovereignty will not save us, but it’s the start of the mindset that we need to thrive again.  Like a spring that has been buried, the flow of Sovereignty awaits us.  As we dig into the soil with our bare hands we can restart the flow again: many trickles make a stream, many streams a river and many rivers fill an ocean.  We no longer need Kings to mediate the Otherworld for us, we can take our fate into our own hands and restore Sovereignty to our Land.