Brazil’s other Olympic Games
Xikunahity (football played with the head). Image: on Flickr While Rio de Janeiro was still in raptures over its selection for the 2016 Olympic Games, 3,000 kilometres north of the city, in the Amazon basin, another sporting competition was taking place. This one, with barely a journalist in sight. Welcome to the Indigenous Peoples' Games.
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Xikunahity (football played with the head). Image: Wagner Meier on Flickr.
While Rio de Janeiro was still in raptures over its selection for the 2016 Olympic Games, 3,000 kilometres north of the city, in the Amazon basin, another sporting competition was taking place. This one, with barely a journalist in sight. Welcome to the Indigenous Peoples' Games...
Some 1,200 athletes from 28 different ethnic groups gathered in the north-eastern city of Paragominas to compete in the tenth edition of the event. From October 31 to November 9, athletes from the ancient communities of Enawêne Nawê, Gavião Kyikatêjê and Ka'apor battled it out in traditional Olympic disciplines like football, swimming and athletics, as well as more unusual challenges like blowpipe shooting and running with a tora (tree trunk). Some very unique disciplines were also present, like xikunahity - football played with the head - and rõkrã - a game somewhat like field hockey. The games are held every two years with funding from the Brazilian government.
Archery. Image: Tarso Sarraf on Flickr
Running with a tora (tree trunk). Image: Wagner Meier on Flickr
“There are no medals and no rankings, only the experience of competing together”
Maíra Elluké is Brazilian of mixed race; her father hails from the Terena community in the south-west, near Paraguay. She helped organise this year's Indigenous Peoples' Games.
The idea of gathering together indigenous communities from across Brazil was thought impossible when the Terenas originally suggested it. Today the Games have become a very important way for the groups to share their millennial cultures. This is evident when you think it takes some groups up to six days of travelling to get to Paragominas.
The games begin with a ‘ceremony of the sacred fire' so that, with the blessing of the pajés [shamans]; the event is well seen by the divine forces of nature. This ritual is a way of asking the divine forces for permission to hold the event, because for us culture and spirituality are very closely linked.
The Games do not aim to promote high performance sport and find future champions, but to strengthen the cultural identity of indigenous peoples. There are no medals and no rankings, only the experience of competing together. The event reinforces the spirit of brotherhood between communities, by allowing them to share their beliefs and rituals with each other. By giving their cultural traditions such a prominent place, it also heightens their pride in being indigenous.
In my opinion, the biggest draw to the event is witnessing the chants and dances of the different communities, as well as their ornaments and their body painting. More so than the competition."
Rope pull. Image: Raoní Beltrão on Flickr
Canoeing. Image: Tarso Sarraf on Flickr
Image: Raoní Beltrão on Flickr
Image: Wagner Meier on Flickr
Image: Wagner Meier on Flickr