A Marked People
Photograph by Cristina Mittermeier
The Kayapo are known for the elaborate designs they paint on their faces and bodies. The designs, which range from geometric patterns to simple stripes, generally in black or red, express life stages and natural powers including muscular strength, sexuality, and sensory abilities. The red dye this mother is painting on her daughter’s face in the village of Kuben Konkre is made from the seeds of urucu fruit, which is gathered in the forest. The Kayapo also pluck out their eyebrows and eyelashes. Women often shave the hair from their foreheads.
(Related: “Innu Nation Trades Reparation for River Power“)
A relatively isolated people, the Kayapo have long faced threats to their land from encroaching ranchers, loggers, and gold miners. In addition to diverting the flow of waters on the Xingu, dam construction will bring roads and a large influx of workers to the area, which could dilute the unique culture of the Kayapo, Belo Monte critics say.
The Kayapo fight against the dam has found international support from celebrities including Sting and filmmaker James Cameron, who is a National Geographic explorer-in-residence. The avid environmentalist and director of the film Avatar has traveled throughout the region that would be affected by the Belo Monte project. He has said the struggles of the indigenous people here have inspired his work on anAvatar sequel.