In Spirit of Gambiarra!

Did you get a chance to watch the Rio Olympic Opening Ceremony? One of the most spectacular moments for us was the light and dance show which narrated Brazil’s ancient and rich history.

The performances were set into motion with homage paid to the spirit of gambiarra, which has been defined by the organisers as ‘the Brazilian talent for making the most out of nothing’.

Yet Brazil does not have to make the most out of ‘nothing’: indeed, with its indigenous and environmental history, Brazil has absolutely everything to draw upon. The acrobatic display narrated Brazil’s ancient forest origins, the formation of indigenous peoples, and the arrival of the Portuguese.

Brazil’s indigenous origins caught the life-long fascination of the Villas Boas brothers, who met the Indians of Alto-Xingu, and spent the rest of their lives researching the lives and culture of the Xingu Indians while defending them against the encroaching and dislocating effects of ‘civilisation’.

The Xingu Indians are perhaps most famous today as the Amazonian Indians that Sting once lived with. However, these Xingu Indians had no previous contact with the outside world, and today the Xingu Indians still live in isolation from the modern world in ecological and social balance, maintaining their traditions and culture.

And Brazil’s indigenous past continues to flourish in parts of the country. The Villas Boas brothers created Brazil’s Xingu National Park, an area of protected Amazonian rainforest where 15 indigenous tribes live in 5.6 million acres free from the advance of the society that has devastated the rainforest around them. For their work in founding the Park the Villas Boas brothers were nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1971 and 1975. They were awarded the Founders Gold Medal of the Royal Geographical Society in 1967.

Xinghu: The Indians, Their Myths is drawn from diaries written over twenty-five years by the Villas Boas brothers. It is an encyclopaedia of observation and research into the ways of the Xingu Indians, their history, oral traditions and their myths (never previously revealed to any other outsiders). It is also a compendium of the myths of the Xingu, which make up the bulk of this book, and it explains the relationships, rituals and culture of the Xingu while retaining the vitality of stories that have passed down generations, unchanged since the creation of the tribes.

For anyone who, like us, was moved by Rio’s Opening Ceremony, be sure to find a copy of Xingu to learn about the wonderful and vast history of the host of this year’s Olympics!

“A remarkable account of the Xingu Indians, their relationships, rituals and oral stories, which have been passed down unchanged since the tribes’ beginnings and are still resisting the advances of the 21st century.” The Ecologist

Xingu jacket

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