ESKAWATA KAYAWAI - The spirit of transformation
Interview with Patrick Belem
Patrick Belem was born in Brazil, journalist, photographer, musician and documentarist, he is dedicated to diverse areas of art and its various manifestations within spirituality. Patrick is the director of Bem-te-vi Produçoes and for the last 12 years, together with Lara Jacoski has been producing content in many countries around Latin America and Asia. The last feature film made is Eskawata Kayawai: The Spirit of Transformation, a documetary about the cultural and spiritual rising of the Huni Kuin people from the Humaitá river, In the heart of the Amazon forest. At the moment Patrick is working on another film project at the Lake Atitlan, Guatemala.
Filmmaker: Patrick Belem
Culturally Arts Collective features:
"On Our Lands", August 30th - October 11th, 2022,
Milostka Center for Exhibitions
Who has influenced your work, or continues to influence your work?
Mostly the traditional sacred arts. For traditional cultures art is deeply connected to spirituality, as an extension of it. It comes from a necessity of manifestation of the divine in all it’s different forms and shapes in this material world. In Brazil we are all exposed to that, there’s a big mixture of different sources in every aspect of our culture. It’s where the Indigenous mix with the African, that mix with the catholic and etcetera. In this big multicultural soup.
Within this context art becomes atemporal, carrying these different forces.
In your opinion, what is the best way to establish a contemporary dialogue with Western culture?
In the context of our documentary the idea was to serve as a bridge to the Huni Kuin people of the Amazon forest. Being there to register their story and their culture in a way that they are the protagonists of the film, as the ones that really know their story and out of that produce something in a format that would fit this dialogue with Western culture. These people live 5 hours by car plus a 4 days by boat inside the Brazilian Amazon forest, they live inside the deep jungle but many of them have been traveling the world for more than 10 years sharing their culture and their spirituality so there’s a lot of space to explore this fusion between the Huni Kuin culture and the Western.
Eskwata Kayawai Teaser (2022).
A documentary feature film about the resistance, revival and expansion of Huni Kuin culture and spirituality trough reconnecting with the forest medicine ayahuasca.
What do you mean by "Spirit of transformation”?
Eskawatã Kayawai is a word from the Hatxa Kuin, which is the Huni Kuin original language. The Spirit of Transformation is a way of expressing its meaning, that perfectly fits the moment that these people are living. They come from a context of being hunted, enslaved and forbidden to practice their culture and spirituality for many decades to a time where they are living at a cultural apex now. Sharing their way of connecting and healing with the medicinal plants from the forest, producing lots of music, recording albums, Huni Kuin artists exposing their paintings in museums in Europe and so on.
In the ‘Declaration of Indigenous People on Climate Change’ (2002), the following is stated “Earth is our Mother. Our special relationship with Earth as stewards, as holders of indigenous knowledge, cannot be set aside. (...) Therefore, in our philosophies, the Earth is not a commodity, but a sacred space that the Creator has entrusted to us to care for her, this home where all beings live.” In your opinion how can indigenous communities contribute to fight climate change?
Indigenous peoples are the true guardians of the forests. There’s a concept from the Andean cultures that are called the “buen vivir”, the life of the human being in harmony with themselves, others and nature. The concept is based on reciprocity and complementarity between all life on the planet. Most of the Indigenous cultures share, in one way or another, this same concept in its essence. Within this concept, the Indigenous live in a way that increases the diversity of plants and animals because of how they occupy and relate to the place. The Brazilian Amazon forest already lost more than 20% of its forest due to deforestation in the last 40 years. In this same period, the Indigenous lands lost only 2,4% of their primary forests.
A shot from Eskwata Kayawai Film. Photograph: Patrick Belem and Lara Jacoski
Living in remote places, indigenous communities have frequently been perceived by western societies as uncivilized and disconnected from the world. Nowadays, this perception had changed and we know the ancestral knowledge of indigenous culture is an incredible advantage in fighting climate change and reestablishing the connection with nature. Do you consider that the perspective of western societies it’s changing?
Western societies are living a deep lack of connection with nature, with real purpose and with its ancestral roots. It seems that we got trapped within our own creation of a society based on values that don’t really fulfill life in a meaningful way. So people are searching more and more for ways to reconnect, rescuing ancient ways of building community, rebuilding our relationship with nature itself, moving from big cities to live closer to nature and etc...
In the video you mention the indigenous school - can you give us some anticipation of this? What are the values, the fundamental things that are taught and handed down?
As a non-Indigenous we can say only for my short experience in the jungle and with the Indigenous, but we see that it’s a way of learning from each other and from the environment itself. In one aspect it’s related to how a community works in the sense that the kids grow up all together, one getting inspired and taken care of by each other. As it is mostly an oral tradition, there’s a lot of respect for the elders and when one wants to learn something, one goes to them. Another aspect is that they refer to the forest as a school that is alive. As the forest provides everything needed for them to live, medicines to heal, food to eat, material for their houses and etc… The environment itself is the school as you need to learn how to walk inside the forest, how to be able to hunt, which plants you can eat, which plants are medicines and what are their purpose and so on.
For the making of this documentary you used video, a contemporary media different from your traditional expressive methods - was it a purely functional choice or is it a new media that you embrace for ideological reasons?
The documentary has been our main media since we [Lara Jacoski and Patrick Belem] founded Bem-te-vi Productions. For the past 10 years we have been making documentaries as a tool to register knowledge, be it ancestral, environmental, spiritual or related to social causes. There is a need to register inspiring people and traditional culture which does not come to main stream but is a necessity be it for ourselves as humanity to know and feel the beauty and diversity of our world, be it for the community we are filming as a way to say they are alive and they matter. Traditional cultures which have been passed orally were lost with colonization and with "progress", these communities are now asking to also register their knowledge in our ways so they can lose it again.
Living, experiencing and registering different cultures in BR, AF, UK, IN, THAI, USA and throughout Latin America made it possible for our language in films to be multicultural language. Besides that, the approach we have to our work and the people we relate to gives a sense of intimacy that is captured beyond words. The audience can feel the film beyond comprehension and technique, touching reality beautifully and sensitively, but powerfully, connecting beyond in feelings and memories we might not even remember. We believe that films are probably one of the most effective ways to share information in a broad sense and with the magic it deserves, portraying life.
Lara Jacoski's answer
A shot from Eskwata Kayawai Film. Photograph: Patrick Belem and Lara Jacoski
"A 5 years study and life experience of the directors Lara Jacoski and Patrick Belem, resulting in a feature which portrays the cultural rescue of a native land and culture trough a narrative by their own people. We interviewed about 30 indigenous, portraying the reality of cultural revival of their people. In between the narrative, we explore the rich imagery from the forest and the culture. We are taken by the villagers to the cacophony of the forest, the beauty and the simplicity of everyday life, the enchantments of the natural medicines and the work to rediscover ourselves in communion with nature."
Lara Jacoski and Patrick Belem