- In Xingu Indigenous Park in the Brazilian Amazon, rivers and lakes are natural arteries that provide life for animals and Indigenous communities, serving as a base for eating, bathing, social interaction and refuge in times of drought.
- The waters of the Xingu, however, are threatened by monocrop plantations around the park, which dry up the springs and pollute the rivers with pesticides.
- At the same time, climate change is exacerbating the periods of drought, with some rivers drying up entirely during these times.
- In this photo essay, photographer Ricardo Teles shows the relationship that the Indigenous peoples of the Xingu have with the waters that bathe their territory.
Even before sunrise, along the beaches of the rivers and lakes of Xingu Indigenous Park in the Brazilian Amazon, a series of bonfires appear on the horizon to warm the naked bodies that have just emerged from the water. As the light brightens the day, a haze rises, diluting the movement of figures in a back-and-forth rhythm that will last all day.
In Xingu Indigenous Park, rivers and lakes are the children’s kindergarten. Groups of women carry the youngest children to various bathing sessions, initiating them into the art of being a fish from an early age. Soccer training takes place on the beach. Young and old bathe throughout the day, and it’s always a good time to meet up and exchange ideas. At dusk, fishing boats go out in search of food.
The rivers that cut through the park, such as the Xingu itself and its tributaries, are true natural arteries that sustain the lives of countless animal species, including humans. The lakes also play a crucial role: they serve as meeting points and offer opportunities for feeding, resting and social interaction. The lakes are also essential for providing water in times of drought, acting as refuges for wildlife and Indigenous people during the driest periods of the year.
This natural wealth, however, is at risk. According to Tapi Yawalapiti, one of the chiefs of the Xingu territory, there is rampant criminal deforestation taking place around the park, right where the river sources are. The last three years have been particularly serious: the smoke from the fires have often turned the days into night in the villages and brought illness to the Indigenous population.
The deforestation is carried out largely for monocrop cultivation, and these same crops — almost invariably soy — also call for indiscriminate use of pesticides, which end up poisoning rivers and animals. At the same time, a changing climate has led to water levels dropping in several rivers, according to Tapi; some dry up to the point that they no longer exist as rivers during the dry season between May and September. The lack of water has even threatened the most important ritual of the Xingu, the Quarup.
Preserving the waters of this territory is essential not only for the well-being of local species, but also for balancing the climate and maintaining the hydrological cycle. Xingu Indigenous Park plays a critical role in water retention, acting as a natural sponge that stores and slowly releases the natural resource to the surrounding regions, preventing extreme floods and droughts.
During a visit to the park, veteran photographer Ricardo Teles documents aspects of this intimate relationship that the peoples of the Xingu have developed with the waters that bathe their territory.