by Juliana Porsani, Bartira Fortes, Márcia Camargo, and Tamikuã Pataxó.
Reviewed by Matheus Lucas Hebling
It is impossible to capture, in written form, the sonours experience of the maracá, a sacred Indigenous percussion instrument, resonating throughout the Jaqueira Reserve in Brazil. Among other important moments, it is played during the AWÊ ritual (Campos Neves, 2010), accompanied by a chorus of alternating male and female voices in Patxohã – the Pataxó recovered language (Bomfim, 2017). Bare feet step strong on the ground, as the circle of bodies moves. The maracá is played frenetically and we, outsiders (tourists, researchers, “others”), are invited to join. We don’t know the lyrics, but we follow the maracá rhythm forming a single organic whole. For a moment, the AWÊ seems to have suspended pervasive social rifts that Brazilians are well familiar with. But after brief minutes, the sound of the maracá ceases, and the AWÊ ends.
I, the lead author of this text, am an early career, female, researcher with great interest in collaborating with Pataxó people involved in Indigenous tourism. The Pataxó Jaqueira Reserve is one of the pioneers Indigenous tourism initiatives in Brazil (Neves, 2021). My first trip to the Jaqueira Reserve was postponed one year due to the Covid-19 pandemic, which allowed me enough time to read and reflect upon my own positionality as a member of the settler community seeking to research with Indigenous peoples (Absolon & Willett, 2005; Becker, 1967; Kovach, 2010; Kwaymullina, 2016; Wilson, 2008). I was determined to centre their voices throughout the research process – co-creating the research with them instead of conducting research on them (Battiste, 2000; Held, 2019; Smith, 2021; Thambinathan & Kinsella, 2021; Walsh, 2023; Zavala, 2013). Prior to my arrival in January 2022, I established virtual communication with Pataxó individuals, including leaders in the Jaqueira Reserve, introduced myself and shared preliminary ideas.
Despite our previously exchanged messages, and our coming together in the AWÊ, my presence was met with scepticism and in various occasions I heard sentences such as “many like you came and left, and we don’t know a line of what they wrote”. Clearly, I occupied the place of the oppressor, white, settler, and inadvertently also of the privileged. But that was not all, I also occupied the place of the academic accomplice of colonial oppression. Science is not simply a means of world-discovery, but a practice of world-making, and mainstream Western science has a robust historical record of demeriting alternative ontologies, objectifying racialized bodies, and consequently asphyxiating “otherwise” ways of seeing, knowing, and acting (Césaire, 1972; Held, 2019). Consequently, and understandably, as explained by Smith in her seminal book (2021: 1), “research” has become “one of the dirtiest words in the Indigenous world’s vocabulary. When mentioned in many Indigenous contexts, it stirs up silence, it conjures up bad memories, it raises a smile that is knowing and distrustful”.
Given my combined settler and scholarly background, in several moments, the rift between the groups we embodied seemed uncrossable, and my collaborative intention, naïve. However, I would experience, the diametrically opposed positions historically inherited by us did not preclude our personal agencies. Furthermore, although indigeneity is fundamental in the strive against colonial oppression, positionalities are underpinned by additional, multiple, and intersectional experiences and identities (Hancock, 2007). As reminded by Harding (1992), agents of knowledge are not unitary or homogenous. Hence, although I descend from settlers and I make a livelihood from academic work, I am also a woman that was born and raised in relatively simple economic conditions; I have been a migrant under the care of a single mother in Brazil; and I am now also the mother of three small children. Oppression from combined economic and patriarchal structures is something I have regularly confronted and condemned. These experiences are imbricated in my combined personal/academic orientation, leading it in directions that fundamentally challenge Western patriarchy, capitalism’s insatiable appetite for profit and accumulation, along with its social and environmental injustices (Fraser, 2022; Moje, 2000; Walsh, 2023).
If I were to accept the obvious position of the “other” non-Indigenous academic, the rift between us would remain profound. As such, it would be difficult not to replicate the type of science that decolonial scholars and Indigenous peoples themselves denounce – i.e., science that detaches and distances subjects from objects, assigning primacy to the former’s presumed neutral perspective (Harding, 1992). In fact, the strive towards neutral and objective knowledge has been denounced as constituent of the Western, white, masculine desire to subjugate nature, women, and racialized bodies (Litfin, 1997). If I were to stand a chance of not replicating coloniality in my work, I knew that I had to set myself apart from academics that objectified, and consequently dehumanized Indigenous groups – I had to come closer to them and strive to “deotherize” myself.
“Deotherizing”, I came to understand, involves a dialogical process of coming together, and both listening and speaking. The AWÊ brought us together momentarily though daily. During it, I practiced following their Indigenous lead and rhythm, reverberated by the maracá. Outside the AWÊ, I listened attentively to all they were willing to share, not only about their tourism-related endeavors, but even more importantly, their views and everyday experiences. And, in every opportunity, I shared of myself, of my own everyday experiences and views (Absolon & Willett, 2005; Cahill, 2007).
Juliana Porsani. The AWÊ ritual in the Jaqueira Reserve (photo taken Jan. 17, 2021).
The AWÊ, orchestrated by the maracá was a daily reminder of the rightful owner of the space that I sought to enter. Little by little, intersections and communalities among us became apparent. The words “decolonial”, “justice”, and “environmental care” crosscut our vocabularies as we shared indignation as Brazilian citizens frustrated with the political scenario, as parents worried about the future and well-being of our children, as mothers struggling to conciliate “productive” and “reproductive” work, as humans concerned with escalating environmental and climate change.
Interestingly, this “deotherizing” process that is so important for proximity between “subjects” and “objects” – or for the deconstruction of these categories in the making of decolonial research – gets very little attention in the formal “methods” section of scientific papers. But “deotherizing” is a critical and complex process that may only begin when the recorder is turned off, when the sides are brought together under relaxed conditions, when conversations are informal, spontaneous, and taking unplanned directions. Through reciprocal dialogue, we can exchange experiences and views – and “may” start crossing the rift that originally set us apart, between subject and object, between opposites in each other’s eyes.
May is emphasized above because the process has no guarantees. First, “deotherizing” requires acknowledging that researchers (the presumably subjects of knowledge) are visible, embodied, socially located, and thus not “fundamentally different from objects of knowledge” (Harding, 1992: 452). Accordingly, it requires profound self-reflection about who we are as individuals, and what we stand for (Absolon & Willett, 2005). Second, following self-reflection and self-awareness, “deotherizing” relies upon the existence of communalities and intersections in experiences and views between the presumably different sides. In the current Brazilian context, it follows for example that supporters of extractivist industries that drive Indigenous territorial dispossession, supporters of proposed policies such as the “temporal milestone” (Libois & Silva, 2012), or adherents of meritocracy discourses that disregard structural inequalities, do not stand a chance of being “deotherized” through reciprocal dialogue with Indigenous groups. Such a realization has implications for the possibility of ethical cooperation between scholars that do not personally sympathize with the core causes defended by Indigenous groups, and the latter. Last, and relatedly, “deotherizing” requires that academics re-centre their transdisciplinary collaborative endeavours on previously marginalized Indigenous voices, respecting and following their tempo and agendas. Coming together in the AWÊ and following the maracá rhythm are valuable reminders of this latter condition.
I don’t seek to claim that this “deotherization” process is complete or fully realized in our research. Rather, my intention has been to reassert the possibility and potential of collaborative efforsts between individuals of diverse Indigenous backgrounds and academics of, not only, settler backrounds. The process, I have argued, relies on self-reflection, dialogue, the existence of intersections in experiences and views, an approach to science that deconstructs subjects and objects, and the prominence of Indigenous voices. When a researcher of any background is called “guerreiro/a” (“warrior” in Portuguese) by an Indigenous person, this may be an indication that in the latter’s eyes, there is a shared common battle. “Deotherization” is essential for the decolonization of knowledge within and beyond academia (Battiste 2001; Held 2019; Thambinathan & Kinsella, 2021; Walsh, 2023), and for the creation of alliances against persistent colonial oppression that imperils marginalized groups and cultures while posing an escalating threat to human and non-human life on a planetary scale.
I would like to express my deepest gratitude to the Pataxó people in the Jaqueira Reserve for welcoming me into their everyday lives, sharing their histories and perspectives, and contributing to expounding to the world their noteworthy endeavor within Indigenous tourism. My warmest thanks specially to Cacique Syratã Pataxó, Aspectur’s president Juari Braz Bomfim, the talented artist Oiti Pataxó, and the founders of the Jaqueira Reserve: sisters Nitynawã, Nayara, and Jandaya, and their families.
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* Juliana Porsani is an assistant professor at Tema M (Environmental Change), Linköping University, Sweden. She has a doctoral degree in Environmental Science from Södertörn University (Sweden), a Master degree in Geography from Stockholm University (Sweden), and a Bachelor’s degree in International Relations from São Paulo State University (Unesp, Brazil). Her research interests revolve around rural and gendered livelihoods, with particular attention to land/territorial rights of smallholders and Indigenous groups. In her work, she strives to embrace anti-oppressive methodologies and to merge research and praxis.