Géraud de Ville

The Open University, Department of Engineering and Innovation
London, UK

Latest developments in Missão Tiriyó

Field Report n°6

May 11, 2012

This is a personal account from Géraud de Ville, Communication Officer and researcher on the COBRA project for the Institute for Environmental Security. He traveled to the Tumucumaque Indigenous territory from 11 April to 2 May together with Dr Celine Tschirhart (Royal Holloway) and Evandro Bernardi (ECAM).

Project Cobra – Creative Commons

Macapa, 3 May 2012 – I didn’t know what to expect when I boarded the small plane that was to take us from Macapa, Brazil, to Missão Tiriyó in the Tumucumaque Indigenous territory. Apart from a couple of backpacking experiences and a few professional trips to attend international conferences, I was on my first field mission and the tasks were, admittedly, daunting. I three short weeks we had to establish contact with the community, get an update of the work already achieved by the local staff, deal with the consequences of the loss of hardware and footage in the river by one of our teams and move forward with the methodological framework around the concept of system viability.

Anyone purposely reaching such a remote community in Amazonia would probably have a mixed feeling of excitation and anxiety, as I did when I unloaded the truck with our personal belongings, school material, food reserves and fuel containers in the centre of the Mission under the watchful eye of some community members passing by. We quickly understood that our arrival came as a surprise to the community despite the assurance that the message about our coming had been passed by its ‘caciques’, or representatives in Macapa. The difficulty to communicate with the city, Macapa, was one of the constraints we knew we had to deal with and we now had an opportunity to test our diplomatic skills from the beginning, having to explain our presence and the objectives of our 3 weeks workshop to our hosts and the need to have their full support.

Having endorsed our new role as “professors” and reviewed the footage from the local staff we started the workshop by refreshing their technical skills. Our first days included explanations on how to manipulate computers, cameras and photo cameras and exercises with scenario-making and video editing. The beginning of the wet season slightly complicated some of our exercises and some heavy rains forced our staff to seek imaginative solutions to the impossibility to freely move and film outside.

We then moved on to the bulk of our mission objectives and started working on the methodology with the aim of extracting indicators from our staff as evidence of the community viability. The difficulty to understand each other – the class was given in Portuguese to a largely Tiriyó-speaking audience -, and despite the translation work from Ubirajara, a local professor, encouraged us to put drawings at the centre of our research process. With this means, for instance, we learnt that some of the problems the community faces include health, communication and energy issues, pollution and more recently, the difficulty to hunt game.

Through the three weeks of our presence in Tumucumaque, the local staff collected plenty of footage that was compiled into four short movies punctuated by interviews and focusing on certain aspects of the viability of their community, namely on the existence, resistance, flexibility and adaptability orientors. The movies, largely realised and edited by them will be available on the COBRA website in the coming days together with the work produced by our community partners in Guyana.

Our work was quite challenging in light of the very peculiar situation of Missão Tiriyó, which is the theatre of the coexistence of Tiriyó and Kaxuyana communities, the franciscan missionaries, the army and the air force, and thereby contrasts very much with the more traditional Tiriyó villages that can be encountered down the river. We however left the community confident that the COBRA project will help empower these communities. In the long run, we hope COBRA will have provided tools to promote best practices regionally and to allow the communities to defend their interest in international arenas and to the wider public.



QUICK DOWNLOAD: Check out the English version of the COBRA Handbook for Practitioners.