Courtesy Aline Scolfaro of the Socio-Environmental Institute (ISA in Brazil)
Knowledge keepers from Bara and Barasana communities converse about the history and meaning of the rock formations in a sacred site near the town of St. Peter (Sao Pedro) along the Uaupes River.

Mapping Sacred Indigenous Sites Along the Black River In Brazil

Rick Kearns

The mapping of sacred indigenous sites along the Black River (Rio Negro) in Brazil’s Amazon, known as the Anaconda Expedition, moved into its second phase this year, bringing together indigenous leaders, environmental activists, government officials and filmmakers according to one of the sponsors, the Socio-environmental Institute (known as ISA in Brazil) as part of an effort to preserve and protect the sites.

The first part of the Anaconda Expedition took place in January of 2013 with the group traveling close to 500 miles along the Black River to track the route of origin of sacred sites of the Indigenous Peoples of the eastern Tucano language group. (According to scholars, there are 5,000 speakers of this language in Brazil and Colombia.)

Participants in this year’s effort included knowledgeable leaders from six indigenous communities – Desana, Pira-tapuia, Tukano, Tuyuka, Bará and Barasana – along with members of the Indigenous Agents of Environmental Management (AIMAS in Brazil), young indigenous people from the Uaupes River area, researchers from ISA, Director Nildo Fontes of the Federation of Indigenous Organizations of the Black River (FOIRN in Brazil), officials from the Ministries of Culture of Brazil and Colombia and indigenous and non-indigenous filmmakers.

This year’s team left the town of Camanaus in the northern Brazilian state of Amazonas on January 27.

Following the Black River from that point, the expedition registered sacred sites on the outskirts of the town of St. Gabriel and outside of the towns of Cabari, St. Louis and Yauawira where the participants were received with a celebration.

From Yauawira the group sailed onto the Uaupes River and traveled 124 miles to their final destination, the Ipanore Falls. Along this route the group stopped at all 11 indigenous communities located beside the Uaupes. According to the creation history of the local Indigenous Peoples, the Ipanore Falls is where the first peoples appeared after a long underwater voyage along several rivers.

In 12 days the group registered close to 40 sacred sites. According to the ISA report, some of the locales included “complexes of marks and signs that were spread out across rocks, islands, beaches and hills along certain stretches of the river and its creeks.” The people who knew these sites were mostly elders from the indigenous communities who had learned the histories from their parents and grandparents, and who knew the restrictions on behavior and the dangers connected to the sites.

One of the unexpected problems of the project involved the effects of climate change. The researchers and elders had scheduled the visit to certain areas of the Black River based on the time normally known as the dry period. This year, however, when the group reached those areas they could not see the various petroglyphs and marks due to the “climactic disorder” that resulted in the targeted sites being underwater and not accessible or visible, according to the ISA report.

Upon completion of the second journey the filmmakers had recorded over 100 hours of film and plans are underway to produce a series of videos about the sites and their history.

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