by Jorge Rivero González
After a few days in Cacoal, Rondonia, we packed our belongings and were ready to spent the last four days of the BraBo Expedition visiting two villages of the Surui indigenous community. I think I can speak for my fellow GalileoMobile team members when I say that what we experienced there exceeded our biggest expectations. For four days, the Surui people opened their hearts, traditions and houses and let us feel part of their big family.
But all of that would have not been possible without the kind help of María do Carmo Barcelos. María is one of these exceptional persons we have found during these years. She is an indigenist that have been working with the Suruis for almost 40 years. People call her María dos Indios, which means María of the Indians in Portuguese. The Suruis consider her one more of the tribe and her presence opened the doors of the Suruis to us. Two years ago, she met by chance our team member Patrícia, while she was taking an astronomy course in Sao Paulo, heard about GalileoMobile and they both loved the idea of someday bringing GalileoMobile to work with the Surui people. She was the perfect host and we are deeply thankful to her and her whole family who made our week in Acre unforgettable. I could talk more about María but the interesting story of her life would take many many posts so I guess it’s better that you watch a documentary about her life here.
The Suruis are indigenous people living in the Brazilian states of Rondônia and Mato Grosso. They have their own language called Tupí-Mondé and parliament since 2010. Its current population is about 1,350 people that live in 25 small villages located in around 250,000ha of rainforest called Terra Indígena Sete de Setembro. This land is namedm after the day the Surui were in contact for the first time with the white men, as they called it, in 1969. This rocked the Surui world and made their population shrank dramatically from 5,000 to 250 people in a short-time from diseases and fights with the Brazilian government for defending their lands. Since then they are trying to live in a new world fighting hard to not lose their traditions. The first of the villages we visited was the number 14th, the tribe of the first contact, which is now located just 1 km away from that point. We stayed at the school, a center point for the community.
After we arrived, María introduced us to the community and we talked about who we were and about the stars. We took out the Galileoscope and made projection of the Sun and practice telescope pointing. We had a wonderful lunch and swam and play ball with the children on the river. We made more activities during the afternoon and heard stories about them. Played football and fought with the mosquitos and then the night fell and we were witness of the most beautiful starry-sky of the whole BraBo Expedition. It was a beautiful night where we held activities related with cinema (see Felipe’s post about it) and observed Mars and Saturn with our telescopes. The next day we woke up and the first thing we saw was the children’s small faces peering through the school’s windows. They were awaiting for us to wake up so they could hang out with us. We spent the day learning more about the Suruis and got the great honour of get our bodies painted with jenipapo fruit, which the Surui use to paint their bodies when they were at war and during celebrations. We closed the day with a ceremony that linked GalileoMobile with the Surui people and promised to come back (see other post about it).
Another day came and we said goodbye to Fer and Felipe, my companions during the whole expedition, that had to leave back to Sao Paulo. No time for sadness because we had another village to visit. This time the children did not speak Portuguese but that was not a problem because one of the teachers help us with translations. He was really motivated, you can see it on his smile. That day was filled with more activities and astronomical observations during the night with all the community.
And then then our last day at the community arrived, but, before leaving we went for hike around the Amazon forest to visit a lake. We were in the middle of nowhere and I was amazed about how they could orientate there. It was really beautiful and I thought about Felipe and Fer, they would have loved being there, one last dangerous adventure together.
Time to pack and say goodbye and thank them for their warm welcome. Tears were shed and we travelled back to Cacaol in silence most time in the car processing our time with the Surui people.
It’s been more than a month since those days but there are many memories on my mind on how special that time was that are impossible to depict here. For instance, I recall that suddenly children appeared and gave us presents (rings or collars made by them) to thank us for our visit. A bunch of girls liked Pati a lot and were always following her, it was very funny, especially one that I started to call mini-Pati after that. Nuno was very curious and was always making questions and they were patiently telling stories about the traditions of the Suruis. Fer and Felipe were very busy trying to film every moment for the documentary and Edu was making up a thousand games for playing with the children. They loved him. But I guess the thing that I remember the most is to feel part of their big family for some days and that is something any of us won’t ever forget.