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.
The Ruins and Those Who Were Hidden
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.
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.
“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.
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
By Leonardo Carrato
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