So-called peripheral Brazilian cultures shape opinions and influence economic centers

by Mayra Fonseca cover Suann Medeiros translated by Pronoia Tradutória

A teenage girl plays on a cell phone with her younger sister and finds the website of the woman standing before her, interviewing her teacher. The teenager adds the woman on a social network and the two begin to talk. Ten days later, the former becomes the latter’s teacher in the digital environment: she gives Guarani classes to the woman, who needs to review her project. The girl, who lives in a village on the outskirts of São Paulo, suggests that they meet in a subway station in the West Zone for face-to-face classes.

Who influences who?

A girl teaches a woman. The indigenous person is fluent in the language. The village with a low socio-economic status influences some of the most expensive square meters of the country’s largest city.

This situation is one of many examples, and is not an isolated case. In recent decades, it has become increasingly clear that Brazilian cultural centers can shape opinions and influence economic centers that seek to answer difficult questions about the modern world:

How do we know where our food comes from? How can we live in harmony alongside people who are different to us? How can we practice sustainability in everyday life? What models of creativity will help us to realize our truths?

Indigenous villages, riparian, quilombola, and backcountry communities, rural plantations, hybrid countryside, urban outskirts, the ignored populational centers: the answers to these questions arise in the everyday practices of those who understand that it is necessary to invent and express themselves in new ways, in the so-called peripheries of Brazil that we do not see.

Bicicletas transportam moradores de Afuá, Ilha de Marjó, no Pará: o lugar é considerado exemplo de mobilidade no mundo. Foto: Anderson Coelho
Residents of Afuá, a town on the island of Marajó in Pará, use bicycles to get around: the town is considered a global example of mobility. Photo: Anderson Coelho

So-called peripheries, firstly because it is necessary to question the purpose of this category: will we always want to separate ourselves from these histories and people from whom we have so much to learn? Is it not time that we understood the creative and transformative value of diversity? It is clear that rather than talk about each other, we need to talk with each other.

It is also important to question the “periphery” category for a group of people who do not fit into any of the socio-economic classifications we have defined. For example, some households on the riverbanks challenge the criteria: they lack sanitation, using natural cesspits; they have several televisions, but spend little money on food shopping because their subsistence is based on farming and on the river; it is possible that some residents have no formal education, but some of them are outstanding craftspeople, experts in making musical instruments. To which class do these people belong? Probably one that has much to teach us, which I like to call Everyday Masters.

Nothing is more modern than tradition

With the aim of looking for creative potential in new ways, enriching our personal repertoires, and exercising our imagination for justice, we need to understand that tradition is not the opposite of progress. Rather, it is synonymous with originality (to borrow a term from the Mundukuru People, from Tapajós, used to explain their lifestyle and their rights).

Brazilian traditions – even those that are ordinary and everyday – involve subtle features of the human condition that persist and are continuously reinvented: eating, clothing, forming relationships, imagining, and creating.

Rendeira de Renascença no Cariri paraibano: coleção Histórias Rendadas da estilista Fernanda Yamamoto. Foto: André Seiti e Richner Allan
Renaissance lacemaker in Cariri (state of Paraíba): Laced Stories Collection by stylist Fernanda Yamamoto. Photo: André Seiti and Richner Allan

It was in one of these traditions that designer Fernanda Yamamoto immersed herself when creating her latest collection: Paraíban Cariri, near the town of Congo, an area of roughly 7,000 square kilometers and 128,000 inhabitants, is where the Cariri people lived before migrating to the region of the same name in Ceará. Yamamoto’s experience living alongside women who make Renaissance lace gave rise to the Laced Stories.

The vast majority of these lacemakers live in rural areas, in small houses with palm plantations in the backyards (a plant that is used for feeding animals in these communities, rather than being purely aesthetic), and despite their Renaissance clothing being well-known at the markets of the major cities in the Northeast, they cannot afford to buy any for themselves (or keep any that they make). Since the Brazilian habit of analyzing scarcity has little bearing on those interested in positive impacts, creativity, and results, I invite people to consider:

What if we look at the raw materials and teachings in our everyday practices?

It was with this line of questioning that Fernanda and her team were able to understand that the lacemakers had such a beautiful and effective technique for weaving new threads of clothing, as well as new threads between women. Her collection was recognized for its quality in high fashion, but also for creating a platform that was able to unite different parts of Brazil previously unknown to each other, a socio-economic equality project, a manifesto on women.

Tucum Brasil
Tucum Brasil

An example of a product and service that has come from the countryside to the city centers is Tucum Brasil, an activist service for sharing and marketing indigenous art (for the body, the home, and design) that is offered through digital and physical stores by a collective of anthropologists, photographers, beauty professionals and indigenous people. In addition to researching and sharing the way of life and products of indigenous cultures, Tucum tries to come up with ways to implement financial education and fair trade practices that consider both indigenous and non-indigenous schools of thought. At first glance, Tucum could be seen simply as a chain of stores in Rio de Janeiro (one in Santa Teresa and another in Ipanema), but in fact, this initiative is a thread, bringing worlds together through appreciation of the aesthetics of our indigenous peoples.

A cantora maranhense Zahy Guajajara está na programação da Rádio Yandê
Singer Zahy Guajajara, born in Maranhão, is featured on Radio Yandê programming

As a new way of thinking and communicating, Radio Yandê is Brazil’s first indigenous web radio station. Yandê is a platform for connecting and amplifying indigenous ways of life, run by young people from various ethnic groups, some of whom live in rural villages and others who are from urban centers. Immersed in what we are accustomed to seeing as modern, its objective is “the diffusion of indigenous culture through the traditional optical means, but adding the speed and reach of technology and the internet”.

From the Renaissance lacemakers to the indigenous thinkers, we are being increasingly influenced by people who blur the boundaries of class, and this influence also impacts supermarket shelves. Variables related to everyday creativity and cultural energy are presented as currencies for trade, and must be considered when we think about who is influencing behavior in society.

Recent transformations in Brazilian consumer behavior have opened up space for us to learn so much from people who we have not long known. The interesting thing to note about the myopia behind the generalist classifications, which keep us apart more than they bring us together, is that with this new ability to look at other parts of Brazil that we haven’t been able to see before, it is possible to learn about other histories and techniques that are also our own.

And this could be a great step toward us all finally being connected, albeit in digital form. We have more access and a greater possibility of exchanging products and information that may previously have been seen as exotic or niche, and we begin to feel that, in fact, perhaps this is evidence that we can find a lot of inspiration within (looking inward both geographically and culturally).

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