Photographer Filmmaker Leonardo Carrato is the Edge of Humanity Magazine contributor of this documentary photography.  From the project ‘The Ruins’.  To see Leonardo ’s body of work, click on any image.

 

11-17-2019: Portrait of Cleonice Pankararu in the backyard of her home, only a few meters away from the former Krenak Reformatory, in the city of Resplendor, state of Minas Gerais, Brazil. In the 1970s, her grandfather, Antonio Vieira Pankararu, was arrested in his native land, in the state of Pernambuco, and brought by the military to the indigenous prison. As a local leader, he was accused of instigating social resistance against Brazil’s economic progress at the time. Cleonice says that she and her family had no information about her grandfather’s whereabouts after the arrest, but decided to go searching for him anyway. They walked for more than two years over two thousand kilometers until they finally reached Resplendor, where their grandfather was imprisoned. They decided to settle there and remain close to their family member even under the strong repression of the military regime. Over the years, she has lost her indigenous identity due to the prohibitions imposed by the army and the death of her parents and grandfather. With the deactivation of the prison, she is slowly recovering her essence and is an example for her two children who follow the in same steps of rebuilding an indigenous identity.

 

 Krenak Reformatory

The Ruins and Those Who Were Hidden

Integration, 1968

The indigenous communities inhabited key lands for the construction of roads, railways, and hydroelectric plants. A stone in the shoe of the Brazilian government. A huge obstacle to “progress”. The solution? Forced confinement and the construction of the Krenak Reformatory. An exclusive prison for indigenous peoples. And one of the biggest atrocities committed by the country’s leaders during a bloody and cruel military dictatorship period that ruled Brazil from 1964 to 1985.

The Krenak Reformatory was a prison center for the correction of all indigenous peoples that the government considered a problem. No judges. Without any right of defense. The prison was built in the city of Resplendor, Minas Gerais, a territory occupied by the Krenak ethnic group. Over time, indigenous peoples of different ethnicities from all over the country were forcibly relocated to the area, not only as prisoners but also as traumatized individuals in a search of their disappeared family members.

Prohibited from speaking their own language. Forbidden to perform their rituals. Prohibited from doing any activities related to their culture. The reason? Exist. To exist, simply. And be the people who own a coveted land.

The state of affairs worsened with the creation of the Indigenous Rural Guard (GRIN), an alternative for the government to end the relationship problems between soldiers and indigenous peoples. This guard was formed exclusively by indigenous peoples who, forced to leave their lands, were trained in fighting tactics – and even torture – to control the prisoners. Once again, the arbitrary use of power, abuse in all spheres.

 

11-14-2020: Taylor Pataxó, dressed in traditional costume, waits for his bride, Ingrid, getting ready behind the curtains, to get married in the indigenous cultural center in the city of Carmésia, state of Minas Gerais, Brazil. Traditional costumes are worn only on special occasions and important rituals by the residents of the small village. An indigenous marriage ceremony is still one of the few original celebrations that remain after the so-called “integration,” celebrations that are gradually being revived by the new generation that seeks to establish their indigenous identity. Taylor’s grandparents were brought to the village by the military, but due to the lack of information and documents, he doesn’t know much of his family history or the events of the relocation. Being born in a former prison area has shaped his personality considerably, as he wrestles with questions of identity and seeks his place in the world as an indigenous man.

 

11-08-2021 – During a moment of reflection, Gabriel Pataxó, 24 years old, sits at the window of one of the remaining ruins of the old Krenak Reformatory, in the city of Carmésia, state of Minas Gerais, Brazil. Even though he was born after the reformatory was deactivated, Gabriel reports that the presence of the ruins are still a controversial symbol of the traumas of this cruel recent past. He often visits relatives who survived to tell him the stories of what really happened. As the indigenous language is more spoken than written, this attitude resembles the native indigenous culture of passing on knowledge through conversations between older and younger people.

 

In 1972, another coup. Local farmers showed interest in the lands where the prison was located so the military command decided to transfer the entire population of Resplendor to the city of Carmésia, also in Minas. To forcefully transport all the indigenous peoples, they used closed cargo wagons and handcuffed the most resistant.

Involuntary removals at gunpoint. Internments were analogous to concentration camps. Forced labor. Exile. Sexual violence. Socially degraded ethnicities. Physical and cultural destruction. Torture and violence of all kinds. The horror was so intense in this attempt to decimate the culture of the original peoples that it compares with the worst crimes against humanity in history. These three episodes constitute serious violations of human rights. The Krenak Reformatory is seen as a judicial aberration, an idea whose sole intention was to commit ethnocide.

Only at the end of the 1980s, the prison was deactivated and the Krenak indigenous people returned to their land, in Resplendor, where the ruins of the old prison now remain. Others, with nowhere to go, remained in Carmésia. Many members of GRIN, who belonged to the Maxacali ethnic group, sought shelter in new lands, one of them in the city of Ladainha, in the state of Minas Gerais.

 

02-11-2020: Rogerio Maxacali refreshes himself in a small body of water located in his village in the city of Ladainha, state of Minas Gerais, Brazil. His grandfather was one of the natives trained to be part of the Guarda Rural Indígena (GRIN) at the time of the Krenak Reformatory, the former indigenous prison. Before being forced to become a guard and loose his entirely indigenous ontology, his grandfather was a powerful Maxacali shaman. Today Rogério has the desire to follow his footsteps and intends to become a spiritual leader soon in a symbolic gesture to his fellow Maxacalis members and to connect in a spiritual level with the new land. But, he says, the contemporary challenges of living in these psychological conditions seem to drain all his energies.

 

11-13-2020: An abandoned classroom in one of the integration centers of the former indigenous prison, the Krenak Reformatory, located in the city of Carmésia, state of Minas Gerais, Brazil. The place was used by the military for indoctrination, a program of “learning” how to be a Brazilian citizen. The Portuguese language, modern agricultural techniques, and Christian religion were amongst the topics forcibly exercised through terror by the Brazilian army.

 

 

Integration, 2012

 

 “Our project for the Indigenous communities is to make them just like us.”

Quote from the president Jair Bolsonaro.

 

The prison is still there but in ruins. The people too. The military government is back.

Brazil is a country built through untold stories. The problematic historical development occurred with cruel colonialism, slavery, and the decimation of native populations. The project investigates the consequences of this development on the identity and the relationship with the territory of indigenous communities in an attempt to unveil the construction of the collective memory based on a racial democracy that in fact never existed. A large part of Brazilian society considers the military period milder than in other Latin American countries. Our collective memory was built mainly by unawareness of the hidden facts, destroyed documents, and manipulation of the country’s history. We need to investigate. Analyze. Report. Debate.

It is necessary to shed light on all the traumas of those who were impacted not only during this period but since the arrival of the first Portuguese ships on the shore. This is one more episode, unknown by most of the population, of an ongoing war against the native population over more than 500 years. A considerable amount of issues forms us as a problematic society and as a troubled nation. Knowing our roots is essential to get anywhere. Where echoes of progress and integration ring again in government palaces, the time is now.

 

03-04-2020: Manoel Pankararu wears his cowboy hat in front of the window of his house located in the city of Resplendor, state of Minas Gerais, Brazil. He is one of the survivors of the Krenak Reformatory, the former indigenous prison. According to his testimony, he was brought by the military from his original land, in the state of Pernambuco, northeast Brazil, where he was one of the local community leaders. The memories of that time are already fading away and he no longer remembers how long he was imprisoned. What is known is that he was one of those who went through the whole “integration” process not only in Resplendor but also in Carmésia. Currently, Manoel raises a few heads of cattle for a living in Resplendor. He is not allowed to return to Pernambuco because, after so much struggle, he is considered polluted by foreign culture and not recognized as a true member of his ethnic group, Pankararu.

 

01-30-2020 – a portrait of Baiano Pataxó showing objects which he manufactures indigenous culture handicrafts for sale. Handicrafts along with agriculture are one of the few forms of income for the inhabitants of the place where the Krenak Reformatory was located in the city of Carmésia, state of Minas Gerais, Brazil. Today, Baiano lives in one of the buildings, together with old religious statues, which were used as a supposed “classroom” where the military forced the indigenous people to learn the customs of the so-called modern society. The statues represent the historical power of religion since the colonial period and which today are hidden, but still can haunt, demonstrating the willingness of the inhabitants to conquer their own identity and return to their original culture.

 

Begun in 2019, the project whose visual approach aims to transcend the fact itself, to reveal not only the survivors’ underground memories of an agonizing series of atrocities, but also to inspire the search for the identity of a new generation, who must live, quite literally, in the midst of the ruins left by a period that devastated their ontology. The intention of this project is to investigate the psychological damage on those who were forced to stay and carve a life out of a place with wounds of past trauma, trying to find a sense of place in a world that is not theirs, and is yet the only world they have ever known; to unveil the faces scarred by oppression, the landscapes that were previously only known from behind bars, and the objects that today are a symbol of those who were brave enough to be still standing. This story is concerned with Brazil’s indigenous peoples outside the Amazon who have been always considered part of the “problem” throughout Brazil’s historical development. No stereotypes.

For a Brazilian photographer, seeing the past of my country with my own eyes brings me a complex package of feelings and emotions. To tell these stories at this particular moment is almost like a duty to every local storyteller. The new government led by President Jair Bolsonaro declared war on the indigenous communities since day one. The threats are closer and closer each day and the matter is urgent. The project intends not only to be photographic but also a historical document.

 

 

 

All images and text © Leonardo Carrato

 

 

See also:

En Bora

By Leonardo Carrato

 

 

 

 

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